There is no more snooker this year so it’s time to take stock, preferably with as much food and alcohol as possible.
It’s traditional to review the season rather than the calendar year but the whole concept of seasons has become somewhat irrelevant in this era when snooker rolls on and on. No sooner does the World Championship end as the new ‘season’ is about to start.
So as we have this chance to pause, we can reflect on 2013, a year in which there were many events, many winners, many terrific matches, controversy, drama and much more besides.
To simplify, there were hits and misses. Here are mine:
O’Sullivan predicted his return at the Crucible would be a ‘car crash.’ In fact, he motored to a sensational victory, proving once again that he produces his best when the odds are apparently against him.
This was one of snooker’s most notable achievements, but just as notable was the fact nobody had stepped up and taken him on. This has changed now that O’Sullivan is playing more snooker…but the Crucible is a different prospect and he goes there clearly capable of making it six world titles.
In winning three successive ranking titles, Ding proved that it is possible to dominate: you just have to be exceptional. Steve Davis was. Stephen Hendry was. Ding at his best is sublime and his patience and discipline got him through the various dodgy times in matches he may have lost a couple of years back.
It’s still five months until the world final. If Ding is in it then the viewing audience in China will be colossal. And if he’s in it playing the snooker he’s already produced this season then he will take some stopping.
CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
This was a welcome new event for several reasons. First, it was for the elite. There was one table, not ten, and the game’s best were rewarded for their achievements.
ITV4 also provided excellent coverage, the crowds were good and it gave snooker in the UK a shot in the arm. One thing though: Matchroom should announce now what the criteria is for places next season. Anthony McGill came up with a good idea: invite the last 16 major tournament winners and thus avoid any arguments.
Robertson’s century tally for the season now stands at 60, just one off Judd Trump’s seasonal record set during 2012/13. The Australian completed the triple crown at the UK Championship and ends 2013 as world no.1.
More than that, he is an eloquent speaker and his positive attitude is refreshing in a sport where so many enjoy a moan.
Hearn is Britain’s leading sports promoter. I know because he told me. But behind his boastful demeanour, Hearn is a shrewd operator with a genuine sense of what the public wants and the business savvy to make it happen.
Many top players disagreed with the flat draw system but in the early stages of this format they have been the main winners: literally – at the recent World Open qualifiers every member of the top 16 made it through.
Fans can now interact with players and others in the snooker world in a way impossible and unimaginable years ago thanks to Twitter.
Not every tweet is helpful or edifying but they each represent the truth of the moment for players and are a world away from shiny and false PR. Players are human beings, not robots. For good and bad, Twitter has provided a window on the range of human emotions which come with life as a sportsman.
This has been another successful year for a successful exhibition series which showcases some of the players who did so much to put the game on the map in the first place.
The Legends nights have the right mix of fun and competition and the televised event in Bedworth last May was a good way to wind down after the World Championship.
THE WORLD OPEN
There’s nothing wrong with this as a tournament but the complete lack of atmosphere due to low crowds was a disappointment. Participation levels in China are remarkable but ticket prices remain a problem. Quite simply, many ordinary Chinese snooker fans are priced out of attending live matches.
It was a particular shame in Haikou because it marked ITV’s return to broadcasting snooker. They are not understood to be particularly keen to show the World Open again.
2013 was a disappointing year for Trump’s fans as he did not win a professional title this calendar year, having won at least one each year since 2008. He had a good run in the World Championship but lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals. This season, results have been hard to come by.
I think one of his problems is that the fear factor he had a couple of years ago when he was the exciting new kid on the baize has gone. There is also the pressure of raised expectations: before he was winning titles, 2013 would have been judged a successful year, now he’s there to be shot at. But there’s another year on the way and Trump remains both young and talented. All great players have endured slumps and found their way out.
Nothing whatsoever was heard about this in 2013 beyond a vague announcement of an event last March which never happened.
The truth is, there was never anything wrong with snooker as a game, just how it was being run. Now that has been addressed the traditional game is flourishing and gimmicks will recede into history.
Lee’s appeal against his 12-year ban for match and frame fixing will be heard on January 30. If he is unsuccessful his snooker career is over.
Snooker is no more susceptible to cheating as any other sport but neither is it immune. It has embraced the betting industry but needs to remain constantly alive to ensuring players are not led astray by those looking to make a fast buck, which appears to be what happened to Lee.
World Snooker launched a ‘Ladies Day’ at the Crucible where warm words were spoken about helping the women’s game but when Reanne Evans qualified for the Wuxi Classic she had to play a wildcard and, had she won, would have played Neil Robertson in a session not televised in Europe.
The good news for the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association is that Mandy Fisher, who has probably done more than anyone to champion the women’s game, has returned to the helm, which should hopefully help their circuit to grow again.
This service has taken a few backward steps this year. They dispensed with commentary to cut costs and also reduced the number of cameras used.
Always the problem on the Internet is how to make money out of something when people can get it for free. Those who have watched on dodgy streams rather than subscribing certainly haven’t helped but by and large people do pay if they feel a service is worth it.
The professional circuit is still comprised of 75% British players, largely because the entire qualifying set-up has been based in Britain for decades. But all six major ranking events this season have been won by non-British players, with only two British finalists.
This does not represent the end of snooker in the UK but does point to the game becoming more global, which is the key to its ultimate survival as a big money sport.
And with all that, and plenty of snooker to look forward to in 2014, I wish a very merry Christmas and happy New Year to all readers of this blog.