Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Seasons greetings

There really is no rest for the wicked on the green baize these days.

It hasn't even been a month since Ronnie O'Sullivan rounded off a fine campaign with the capture of his fourth World Championship triumph, and we're already under way with a fresh one.

This my friends is the reality of modern day snooker.

Long gone are the days of professional players dusting down their cues six times a year to play in major tournaments and left to their own devices to keep match sharp in between. Players are now well and truly full-time sportsmen and will play up to 50 weeks of snooker in the new season.

There used to be a time when snooker would shut down for three or more months after the Crucible conclusion on the first May bank holiday weekend.

But it's only early June and it's already back to business.

While fans of the sport can joyfully lick their lips at the prospect of another busy season, what does this packed schedule mean for the players?

First, there's Ronnie. He says he won't be back to play until Christmas but this is unlikely to be the norm. I expect some of the higher-ranked players to pick and choose when they play this season, with the sheer volume of tournaments and expenses of travelling bound to take its toll.

The Wuxi Classic - where qualifiers for started today - will not be attended by everyone and the second Australian Open could see even fewer make the trip.

This is a luxury players can afford with such a busy workload. Tournaments will have to stand up to the scrutiny of the players who, at the end of the day, are in the sport to make money.

But on the whole, I believe most tournaments will be packed with participants. Most players want to go to work to earn a living and build a successful career, like anyone else. If they don't, they won't survive.

The young players lower down the rankings list need to play in everything as they continue in their quests to carve out a name for themselves and climb higher, while the older players down the rankings fear sliding further.

Then, there are the higher-ranked players. They need to play in nearly everything to protect their position and keep the ranking points ticking.

Sure, the new packed calendar does give players relative freedom to skip the odd event, but the sport's growth under the stewardship of Barry Hearn has seen a relative part-time game develop into a full-time profession. This is a reason to celebrate and the reason you'll see many, many hard-working players doing their utmost to take as large a slice of the growing  prize fund pot as possible.

So, strap up, sit tight and enjoy of another season of drama in the world of snooker. This is a sport for the modern man and one that is moving faster than ever before.

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