Snooker resumes in 2021

January is full of tournaments

Happy New Year! This blog is now 3 months old! If you are reading this, thank you! Now to the first post of 2021...

Judd Trump is on his way to become a dominant force in the sport like Stephen Hendry was in the 90s. Trump won the last tournament of 2020, the World Grand Prix, defeating Jack Lisowski 10-7 in the final. Lisowski is yet to win his maiden ranking title despite having played in four finals. I never thought there would be such a dominant player in the sport because the standard has improved so much, and the competition is fierce. Trump has now 20 ranking titles, which places him in front of Neil Robertson and Mark Selby, two of the best players in the season. If Trump keeps his current form, he will certainly become one the greatest of the game in the years to come.

The only problem is that I don't want snooker to become predictable and ultimately boring. I would love to see an underdog lift a trophy every now and then. If you look at the winners this season you will see the same faces more than once. That's the topic for this post. Fortunately, there are some players other than Mark Selby and Neil Robertson that could possibly steal some silverware from the world number one, and I will dedicate this post to such players. Note that I will not consider veterans of the game who have won multiple Triple Crown events over the years; only the ones that have not yet fulfilled their true potential in the game.

The first name that comes to my mind is Kyren Wilson. The world runner-up prevented Trump from lifting the Crucible curse last year. Kyren has "only" four ranking titles in his CV: the Shanghai Masters (2015), the Paul Hunter Classic (2018), the German Masters (2019), and the Championship League (2020). Kyren has an impressive head-to-head record against Trump and is definitely capable of winning every tournament these days. In my opinion, the only aspect of his game that is keeping him from winning more is his cue ball control. Kyren is a heavy scorer and a formidable rest player, but sometimes he relies on rest shots too much, making it harder for himself to win frames in one visit.

Another candidate for a rivalry is Ding Junhui, the best player that China has ever produced. Although having won Triple Crown events multiple times, Ding is not exactly a veteran (he is young) and has many years left on tour to compete with Trump. Ding won five ranking titles during the 2013/2014 season, a joint-record with Stephen Hendry at the time. He won the UK Championship for a third time in 2019, beating Stephen Maguire 10-6 in the final, but he has not won anything this season. The Chinese player is a solid breakbuilder, but has failed to produce his best since he won that major in 2019. To be more specific, he has played in four quarter-finals this season and won none.

Mark Allen is a very good player who can score heavily and swiftly. He has a unique style of play - a very peculiar technique - which is effective, nonetheless. He is the current champion of champions, having defeated the top 3 players Ronnie O'Sullivan, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson to get his hands on that trophy. The intriguing thing is that his best result since that prowess was reaching the last 16 at the Scottish Open. Mark Allen has won five ranking titles in his career. His first and only Triple Crown title came at the Masters, when he beat Kyren Wilson 10-7 in the final. Allen is sort of an unknown force in the game for me. He has tremendous potential but somehow lacks the consistency to win tournaments on a regular basis.

Yan Bingtao is a very young Chinese player who is also in the top 16. He came close to become the youngest player to win a ranking event at the final of the Northern Ireland Open in 2016, where he narrowly lost to Mark Williams 9-8. Had he won the match, he would have broken O'Sullivan's record established in 1993. His first and only ranking title came in 2019 at the Riga Masters. Because he is so young and already in the top 16, I believe he shall achieve much more during his career.

Jack Lisowski is one the best players to watch. His technique stands out as one of the best on tour, if not the best. He lacks consistency, though. In fact, he has enormous, unfulfilled potential. He has never won a ranking event, despite being a professional since 2010 and being in four ranking finals before, including the already mentioned final of the World Grand Prix. Judging by the way he played against Trump in the final, I strongly believe that his time will definitely come, and will come sooner than most snooker fans think.

The last top 16 player in my list is Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. I like to watch fast players because they make the game feels so natural and effortless. The only problem with Thepchaiya is that sometimes he misses some easy balls; he makes too many unforced errors. I have always been told that snooker is more than just potting balls and that surely applies to Thepchaiya. Perhaps his safety play needs some improvement. The truth is that, despite his natural talent and speed, Thepchaiya has won only one ranking event: The Shoot-Out in 2019. He is going to play at the Masters this month for the first time in his career. His opponent will be the defending champion Stuart Bingham.

Finally, the last player in my list is Anthony McGill. Although not in the top 16 at the moment, the Scottish has been there before. McGill is young (even younger than Trump) and very talented. He has two ranking titles in his CV, one of those is the Shoot-Out. Long story short: he certainly has the game for more titles. And I don't doubt he will get some silverware very soon.

Now to finish my first post of the year. The frantic snooker calendar continues. That's awesome for viewers like me. Another Championship League starts tomorrow (January 4) at the Arena MK in Milton Keynes. This pandemic situation is not improving so the players are back at this venue. The Masters starts the week after (January 10) in Alexandra Palace for a change, but sadly, behind closed doors. Right after the Triple Crown event, snooker’s new tournament, the WST Pro Series will take place in Milton Keynes followed by the Garman Masters. Both in January! Never a dull moment, right? I guess snooker is better than no snooker. Holiday season is over so who needs vacations, after all?

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