The season with few events

The September drought

I'm coming back from a period without any posts. It’s not like I lack the willingness to write about this beautiful British sport created by bored military. The first item on the agenda is the amazing achievement of Englishman David Gilbert, who won his first career title. Gilbert won the BetVictor Championship League (CLS) in August with a convincing 3-1 win against Mark Allen in the final. I thought Allen would take the trophy home because he breezed through his opponents throughout the competition and reached the final undefeated. The problem was that Allen did not play the final as well as he had been playing in the early stages of the tournament, and Gilbert took advantage of his mistakes. By winning the title, David Gilbert secured a spot at the prestigious Champion of Champions, which will take place in mid-November. In addition, he dropped off the list of "the best players who have never won anything". The first name that comes to the minds of snooker fans now is that of Jack Lisowski, who shall suffer enormous pressure for not having won anything yet, despite the huge amount of talent he has.

Regarding CLS abstentions, Neil Robertson and current world champion Mark Selby decided to extend their off-season period, and Ronnie O'Sullivan didn’t show up in the second stage of the competition (no comments on this one). The event was criticized on social media for lasting too long and being "boring". My opinion is that every event is welcome, especially in these troubled times that we live in. Ultimately, no one is obliged to play, and no one is obliged to watch either. I have no doubt that the CLS will be extinguished by the time it becomes truly uninteresting as a business.

The ladies circuit is back. The English Women's Open was staged in early August and won by England's Rebecca Kenna, who defeated Mary Talbot Deegan in the final 3-1. The event had a Taiwanese player in it, Yo Lun Yen. All the other ladies were from England. There are numerous WWS (World Women's Snooker) events this season; the UK Women's Championship will take place in September in England, and the Australian Women's Open will take place in early October in Sydney, Australia, obviously (I doubt that will happen, but I hope I'm wrong). The last event of the year, the Women's Masters will be held at the end of November in London. I confess that I don’t follow the women's circuit too much so it doesn’t feel right for me to assess the performance of the female players, but with so many tournaments on the WWS tour, it wouldn't be fair to ignore these talented ladies from now on.

Back to the main circuit, Welshman Mark Williams won the British Open with a 6-4 victory in the final against England's Gary Wilson. There was much criticism regarding the format of the tournament, which returned to the calendar after 17 years; best-of-5s in the first four rounds, best-of-7s in the quarterfinals and semifinals and a best-of-11 in the final. Unlike the format, the prize money was mouth-watering: £100,000 for the champion! Good for Mark Williams, who climbed 3 places in the rankings and is now at the top 8. There were also abstentions at this event: Neil Robertson and Ronnie O'Sullivan once again. Scotland's John Higgins started the tournament by making the twelfth 147 of his career and was joined by England's Ali Carter, who made a maximum break in the fourth round of the event.

Mark Williams won his 24th ranking title!

Two unusual episodes caught the attention of both the public and the media at the first round of the British Open. Mark Allen had to play against his ex-wife, Reanne Evans, and despite the hostile reception from the fans (yes, the crowd is back), he managed to win the game 3-2. Evans refused to touch elbows with him both at the beginning and at the end of the match; something I consider unsportsmanlike. Allen was defeated in the second round by Iran’s Hossein Vafaei. Evans hasn’t won any match this season, as she also lost in the qualifiers for the Northern Ireland Open, which will take place in October. The other episode that caught the attention of the public was the clash between world champion Mark Selby and world runner-up Shaun Murphy. The game ended with a narrow 3-2 win that saw Selby through to the next round.

Mark Williams' 24th career title brought up the discussion about the age of players who have been consistently winning titles. With a few exceptions, it seems that the more mature the player, the more titles he wins. For example, Mark Williams had been thinking about retirement before becoming world champion for a third time back in 2018. Three years later, he remains a top 16 player. Simply put, humble Mark Williams and John Higgins (who are both 46 years old) continue to play at a very high level after 30 years as professionals on the main tour. In addition, both have won tournaments last season. Williams' achievement also came as a gift to the youngest member of the “class of 92”, O'Sullivan, who is guaranteed to compete at the Champion of Champions even without having won any tournament. The fact that he is the world number 3 will grant him a spot off the rankings since there aren’t 16 different champions since last year’s Champion of Champions.

Judd Trump is no longer the best player in the world. Selby is the new number one. This is due to the way the ranking works: the sum of the prize money over the last two years determines how many points a player has. Invitational events do not count for the ranking system. Trump won important tournaments in China back in 2019 and did not have the opportunity to defend those points. There have been no events in China since the beginning of the pandemic. In addition, given the scarcity of snooker tournaments in recent years, the world championship takes a significant role in the rankings. For example, if a pro player in his debut season became world champion, he would earn 500,000 ranking points, more than enough to be at the top 16, or perhaps top 8. Trump has already "lost" the 500,000 points from the 2019 World Snooker Championship and has failed to reclaim those points. Regardless of the past, Trump and Selby are very close in terms of ranking points and it is certain they will be competing to be at the top of the rankings in the coming months.

Finally, the Turkish Masters, which was scheduled for September, was postponed to 2022 because of the pandemic. No surprises here. The problem is that this has left a gap in the calendar, because unfortunately there are no tournaments in September beyond the qualifiers for the Home Nations Series (these tournaments have now a qualifying stage instead of the first 4 rounds, which have turned into 3). The top 16 compete at the qualifiers immediately before the main events and at the venue of those events (a well-deserved special treatment).

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