Thursday, 29 December 2011

Review of the year: 2011 (part 1)

This year has seen Barry Hearn's snooker revolution really find its rhythm.

Action on the baize has been non-stop and full-on all year long.

With 2011 drawing to a close, OnCue looks back at the highs and lows, the twists and turns and the stand-out moments on and off the table.


You'll soon see that a regular theme across 2011 is change. That was definitely evident in the first calendar month of the year.

The sport saw its first ever all-Asian final in January as Ding Junhui played Marco Fu in the Masters showpiece.

Ding emerged a 10-4 winner, added another prestigious title to his growing trophy cabinet and drew a strong line under his 2007 Masters final appearance where he lost to Ronnie O'Sullivan and ended the match in floods of tears.

But the biggest winner here was Asia, still one of the game's biggest emerging markets. Ever since Ding won the China Open in 2005, interest in the sport in China has rocketed but this final shows how far Asia has come and is evidence of changes in tides for snooker.

More change this month saw the first Shoot-Out tournament. It was fast, furious and overall branded a success.

Although only a pale replica of the game in its traditional format, it captured the imagination of the fans in Blackpool and brought a welcomed and structured novelty act to sit alongside the main tour.

Nigel Bond won the tournament and plenty of plaudits for adding this title to an already varied career. The event served its purpose as a great bit of fun to go alongside the serious business of ranking events, and could easilyc become an eagerly-anticipated annual event.


This month saw the return of ranking event snooker with the Welsh Open and German Masters leaving plenty to feast upon as the roadshow took a trip to Berlin and returned to Newport.

It's acceptable to say the German Masters didn't get off to the best of starts. First, Ronnie O'Sullivan withdrew before a cue ball had even been struck, to the disgust of many snooker fans and then John Higgins was forced to make an early exit after the death of his father.

After these setbacks, the tournament did pick up, of course.

Mark Williams won a tense final 9-7 against Mark Selby but the big winner by the end of the week was snooker. A full house stood to applaud the finalists as they took to the stage for the match and the German fans were the stars all week. They turned out in their droves and proved the snooker boom in Germany is well and truly live and kicking.

Higgins did manage to end the month on a good footing despite his disappointing news earlier on. He again showed his determination to bounce back and ended up winning the Welsh Open. He beat Stephen Maguire 9-6 in the final, sealed an emotional victory and devoted it to his father.

There was another Scot making the headlines this month as well. Stephen Hendry scored another impressive 147 break in the first round in Newport. This was a timely reminder that he's still got it but sadly it only punctuated another disappointing display at a ranking event for the seven-time world champion.


This month was dominated by the road to Sheffield, with the biggest tournament of the calendar year fast on the horizon.

Andrew Pagett and Jimmy Robertson earned Crucible debuts and as usual, the plots of the qualifiers were numerous. Some great coverage from ProSnookerBlog and Snooker Island showed the power of Twitter and blogs alike as the qualifying rounds of the World Championship enjoyed greater coverage than ever before.

Later in the month came Shaun Murphy's triumph at the first PTC Grand Finals. Earning reward for his terrific attitude towards extra tournaments, he beat Martin Gould in the final and continued to enhance his reputation as one of the most consistent and committed top professionals.

Matthew Stevens captured a place in the Premier League through the Championship League and off the table Mark Allen announced he was suffering from depression. Build-up to the World Championship was bubbling nicely...


A month that belonged to Judd Trump.

He won his first major ranking event at the China Open and masterminded an incredible run to the World Championship final.

This was the month terrific Judd proved he was the real deal. His win against Selby in the Beijing was particularly impressive, dispelling any myth that he hasn't got a safety game. It may not be his biggest asset but he does have it in the locker.

His greatest quality was on show at the Crucible just a fortnight later as he began dethroning world champion Neil Robertson in round one and got stronger and stronger beating Gould, Graeme Dott and Ding on a magical run to the final. He put on a festival of potting and won fans all along the way.

The quality at Sheffield this season was as high as ever but when one man steals the show, you know they're a bit special.


Higgins completed a full circle this month by capturing the world title for a fourth time.

A year ago he was exposed in the News of the World of plotting to match fix. Here, he was world champion again and stood tall as the comeback king.

You can't help but feel only Higgins was capable of beating the new kid on the block

His 18-15 triumph in the final was victory for one of the game's greatest champions and a reminder of the power of steel, grit and determination. Higgins is capable of scoring as well as the best of them but with Trump intent on potting the lot, it was his ability to scrap it out that saw him lift the trophy.

While the month began with Higgins on top of the world, it ended with the game's younger stars taking stage at another of Hearn's innovations, QSchool.

With snooker intent on becoming a truly level playing field, 12 players won places on the professional circuit for the season after coming through the new jungle of a system where amateurs shoot out for the final cards.

Although QSchool attracted some criticism for being a lottery style event,  I think many players were pleased to be given a last shot at professional status, where in seasons gone by they wouldn't have. It proved great excitement seeing players scrambling for the final cards and was an excellent way of giving the thriving amateurs greater exposure.


There was once a time when June would never even feature on a review of the snooker year; not anymore.

The season started early this time around with qualifiers for the Australian Ope underway and the first PTC of the season done and dusted.

Incidentally, it was Mr O'Sullivan who began with a win. Although only short, a summer away seemed to bring Ronnie back raring to go again. He looked refreshed and revitalised sealing his first trophy of what is undoubtedly a big season for him.

OnCue will be back with part two of the  review of the year tomorrow...

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