The class of 92 has never ceased to deliver. Mark Williams won the inaugural WST Pro Series. This is the 20th ranking title of his career. The WST Pro Series was a long-lasting event which started in January and ended in March. As always, it was staged in Milton Keynes. The Welsh Potting Machine lifted a bad-looking trophy and didn't look very happy with his achievement on the day of his 46th birthday. Nonetheless, it was a ranking title and he had to overcome quality opposition to get his hands on that trophy. The last group had another seven top players in it: Ali Carter, Sam Craigie, Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham, Xiao Guodong, Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski. Williams won his first six matches and lost his last match against Stuart Bingham, thus scoring 18 points, which were more than enough to top the group and win the event. The prize money was modest in comparison with other high-profile events, but it is not always about money. By winning the WST Pro Series, Williams has booked his place in this year's Champion of Champions which will be staged somewhere in November. Usually, the event takes place in Coventry.
The Aussie Neil Robertson won the last prestigious event before the WSC: the Cazoo Tour Championship, whose competitors were the top 8 players in the one-year list. The tournament took place at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, the same venue where the Welsh Open was staged. It started on March 22nd. The world number one Judd Trump lost his first match to Barry Hawkins 10-7. The reigning world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan, who said he had considered withdrawing from the event due to some issues with his cue, managed to beat John Higgins 10-8 on the first day of competition. As for the remaining matches in the first round, Neil Robertson comfortably beat Jack Lisowski 10-5 and Mark Selby demolished Kyren Wilson 10-3. In the semi-finals, it was Neil Robertson's turn to thrash Mark Selby 10-3, making 3 century breaks in the process. The other semi-final between O'Sullivan and Hawkins was a more dramatic affair. Hawkins started very well with two total clearances of 125 and 138. The Hawk won the third frame and then O'Sullivan came back strongly, winning the next 4 frames. The first session ended tied (4-4). In the second session, however, Hawkins built a convincing 3-frame lead and needed to win one last frame to get into the final. And then O'Sullivan made an incredible comeback to win the next 4 frames and the match, booking his place in a fifth final in one season.
The final was played last Sunday, March 28th. The first session portrayed high-quality snooker from both players. Each finalist made a pair of centuries and the session ended up tied (4-4). The second session, however, was a different story. It was the Aussie show. Robertson found no opposition whatsoever. Ronnie O'Sullivan scored only 26 points throughout the whole session and his highest break was 8. Robertson was in a different league as he scored more than 650 points and made another three century breaks (he made five in total): 123, 119 and a 114 to clinch his 23rd ranking title, his second in the season. He was on his 'A' game all day long and O 'Sullivan couldn't keep up. With yet another defeat, O'Sullivan has broken his own record of losses in finals. The legendary world champion became the first player in the history of the sport to lose five finals in one season. Given the fact that the Tour Championship was the last important tournament before the big one, it is possible that his confidence is shaken. Being a runner-up five times in one season is not exactly something to be proud of. Unlike his rival, Neil Robertson has found his top form just in time. The Aussie is now a strong contender for conquering the Crucible for a second time. I still consider Judd Trump as the favorite along with John Higgins and Mark Selby. All these guys have been consistent all season long and are used to enduring 17 days of competition.
The WSC qualifiers will start next week. The most notorious first-round match is the clash between two of the greatest players in the history of snooker: the seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry will play Jimmy White. For those who don't know about their past, White is the best player who has never been world champion. He reached the final of the WSC five years in a row (from 1990 to 1994) and lost them all. White lost the 1991 WSC final to John Parrott and lost all other finals to Hendry himself. White was demolished in the 1993's final which ended 18-5. The clash of old legends is scheduled for April 5th. The complete schedule is available on the official website (Betfred World Championship 2021 Qualifiers). It is evident that this particular match has drawn the attention of snooker fans worldwide. Jimmy White (58) is a veteran who still plays on the main tour, while Stephen Hendry (52) has come out of retirement to have another go on the main tour in the next few seasons. By the way, two ladies are competing to play at the Crucible this year: Reanne Evans will play Andy Hicks and Rebecca Kenna will play Brandon Sargeant in the qualifiers.
The recurring Championship League shall come to an end this week. Mark Williams topped group 7 and will play in the winners group tomorrow. In the end, the CLS is another opportunity for the remaining players to have paid practice on proper conditions before the real action starts in Sheffield. Using an invitational event for preparation seems much more appealing than having usual practice sessions at snooker clubs. A lot has been said about this topic, and I still fail to see why a top professional would get "mentally fatigued" by playing in a lot of tournaments. Why not use some of them just to sharpen up?
And last but not least, there will be an audience at the Crucible. The theater can accommodate approximately 900 people and it seems that 300 tickets are available to the public. And obviously, the fans that wish to attend are hoping that the British government will not change their resolution like they did last year. It appears that all fans will have to get tested for COVID-19 to be allowed into the venue. I don't know the details, but it is pretty clear that things are far from "normal" in these crazy times, unfortunately.
Featured images credit: wst.tv