Thursday, 1 March 2012

Time for Lee to win big again?

Stephen Lee's recent reemergence to form begs one potent question; can he return to winning the sport's biggest titles again?

If you discount the PTCs, you have to go back as far as the Welsh Open in 2006 to find his last major win.

Not too long ago, many people - although still realising his exceptional talent - had resigned his best days into the past tense.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Maybe they were too quick to mark his card.

An impressive 5-2 win against Neil Robertson in China today took him to his third consecutive ranking quarter-final and things could hardly look brighter for him.

He made three centuries en route to beating the Australian and is cueing as beautifully as ever.

His win also sees him inside the top 8 of the world rankings for the first time since the 2004/05 season. His confidence is clearly sky high, so it would be difficult not to place him back within the pool of top players who should realistically be competing for honours.

It is always the case that with good performances follow greater expectations but Stephen has never been one to shy away from what he can achieve on the green baize.

Lee always has been and still is a wonderful player. I am one of his biggest admirers.

But from what I've seen, the key to him playing well is how happy he is when playing. For a long time he has lost the enjoyment for snooker.

Now, things have turned around again. He appears to be one of the great beneficiaries of Barry Hearn's new snooker regime. He's been playing regularly over the past two seasons and it's helped him regain his place among the world's top 16 and return to somewhere near his best.

Even more recently he's got a new tip on his cue, is practising more regularly and making the most of matches on the circuit. I believe he can return to winning ways and add another trophy to his cabinet.

Stephen Lee in top form adds great value to a tournament but he's not the only left on Hainan Island who intrigues me.

His quarter-final opponent Graeme Dott has so far gone quietly about his business but could do with a boost himself. Then there's Mark King and Robert Milkins who have surprised a few this week. It's great to have new faces at this stage of the event.

John Higgins is looking solid. He's had an unusually patchy season but you get the feeling he could be about to crank it up just in time for the run to the all important World Championship.

Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby are still in the hunt. That's no surprise. They're two players who travel well and apply a great attitude wherever they play.

Then there's Mark Allen. He took the prize scalp of Judd Trump today; recovering from 3-0 down to pip him on a decider. He's attracted plenty of attention for what he's chosen to say off the table again with a number of harsh quips at China.

The most important thing for him is that he's doing his talking on the table too.

Quarter-final line-up:

John Higgins v Robert Milkins
Graeme Dott v Stephen Lee
Mark King v Mark Allen
Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy