Saturday, 17 November 2012

Talking Snooker with...OneStepSnooker

It's that time of the season again when OnCue takes a look back at some of the baize action we've enjoyed in recent weeks, with another helping of Talking Snooker.

Joining the debate this time is Brett, who operates under the Twitter account OneStepSnooker. A keen fan and tipster, he shares his snooker insights on the blog.

We talk Ronnie O'Sullivan, our world number one Judd Trump and the new International Championship...

OnCue: Thank you for joining me Brett. I've been reading lots of your tweets over the past few weeks. Some of your tips have brought me a bit of luck as well, so thanks very much.

Let's kick off with Mr O'Sullivan, who has got everyone talking again. He says he won't be playing again this season. What did you make of that news? Were you surprised?

OneStepSnooker: You're never surprised with Ronnie but I couldn't imagine for one second that he wouldn't go back to the Crucible to defend his world title. I would have thought he was more than 90 per cent guaranteed to play there, but apparently not. That's shocked me and in my own mind I'm still not convinced about it.

OnCue: I think there was a bit of confusion about when the deadline for the World Championship is. It sounds like O'Sullivan still has a bit of time to reconsider his decision and maybe enter the tournament. Let's not rule that out completely yet.

OneStepSnooker: I don't think anyone knows exactly when the deadline is yet. So there could be another twist to come...

OnCue: I'm sure if Ronnie, as defending world champion, turns around saying he feels good and wants to play at the Crucible then Barry Hearn won't say no to him. He's such a big draw for the game. I still hope he'll be there. It would be sad to go to Sheffield without him in 2013.

OneStepSnooker: I think he'll have right up until the draw to make a decision. A lot can still change.

OnCue: As much as Ronnie is loved in the game, he does attract a lot of criticism as well. I posted some thoughts saying this was a bit unfair. I don't think he owes the sport anything anymore. He's given us so much entertainment down the years. He needs to do what is right for him now and clearly things away from the table are dictating.

OneStepSnooker: I read your post and agreed with it on the whole. I would sooner he pulled out of events now and tells us up front that he's not going to play in them. If his head isn't right, he needs to get it sorted. He deserves credit for being so open about it. This situation is much better than him pulling out just a couple of days before an event when lots of people have bought all their tickets and the draw has been made. For as talented as the man is, it's out of order and it's painful to watch him when he plays in tournaments that he clearly doesn't want to be in. If he doesn't feel right to play, it's better he's not there.

OnCue: Things change with Ronnie quickly. I watched his recent ITV documentary. He clearly loves snooker and could get back an appetite to play at any moment. Snooker doesn't sound like it's his problem. It is all about external factors that are as important to him.

OneStepSnooker: The documentary answered a lot of my questions. His Dad used to tell him that watching him play snooker on TV was like a visit and the only thing he looked forward to. That maybe explains why he was carrying on when he was struggling. He clearly didn't want to let his Dad down and that pressure is released a bit now. I'd say his sport psychologist Steve Peters probably helped him prolong his career from when his Dad came out of prison to now.

Also, the player Ronnie always speaks most highly of and admires is John Higgins. I think he was motivated to equal his world title tally of four. Now he's matched him, I think he might be a little more satisfied with himself.

OnCue: If Ronnie walked away for good now I don't think he'd ever think he had unfinished business. He would have finished on such a high and has a superb record. One to be proud of despite all of his troubles.

OneStepSnooker: If his head was right more often I think he would have easily have won a lot more. I have no doubt about that in my mind.

OnCue: It's a bit of unknown debate but it's hard to argue with that. I think Ronnie's decision has probably been coming a while. The schedule these days in the game is tough for everyone. But someone as fragile as Ronnie and as far into his career as Ronnie was always going to struggle that little bit more. He hasn't play in nearly as many tournaments as some players and that was never going to change.

OneStepSnooker: That may have been the crucial factor in him winning the World Championship in the end. He applied himself very well in Sheffield and was fresh mentally, while others around him were coming to the end of a very long and tough campaign.

OnCue: Ronnie's time in the game is winding down but the next big entertainer looks more and more likely to be Trump. He won the International Championship and is now our new world number one. You can't help but feel that he really deserves it as well...

OneStepSnooker: He's an absolutely fantastic player. He's just what the game needs along with Mark Allen. If we didn't have attacking players like this coming through when the likes of Ronnie, Mark Williams and Higgins are in the twilight years of their careers then we'd be lacking a little. Trump and Allen are real flair players. They're both great for the sport. They're exciting prospects.

OnCue: Judd is an out and out box office attraction, but he's not always been universally praised. He's taken some stick for the way he plays the game. He is very, very attacking and I think he deserves credit for sticking so resolutely to his game. He's got great trust in his ability. When it works, it's a pleasure to watch and could bring him unrivalled success. Saying that, it also looks like he's been working extremely hard to improve his safety game, so he knows he needs something to fall back on.

OneStepSnooker: I think the only thing that might stop him winning the world title this season is not paying his opponents enough respect. He has to learn he can't always push the boat out. I think he always becomes tempted to do it when he gets a bit of a lead in a match. He did it against Higgins in Shanghai and you just can't do it against a player of his calibre. He was punished. But if he's in form, he'll be very tough to beat this season at the Crucible.

OnCue: I was backing Neil Robertson going into the second session of the International Championship final. He has such a formidable all-round game and more often than not produces his best in finals, so I thought he'd see out the job. Trump's win therefore felt like a big milestone. It was a big win in a big final against one of the very best. He found his extra gear for the final four frames like the great players inevitably do. I think he's arrived at the top table and is here to stay for a long time.

OneStepSnooker: He answered a lot of questions in that match. I never believed at any stage that Judd was going to win. I was at his defeat at the World Championship against Ali Carter. It was an electric atmosphere and he came up short. Then he lost a big lead in Shanghai, so I was genuinely beginning to wonder about whether he could deliver in the biggest matches. But he showed great bottle against Robertson. Fair play.

OnCue: Judd has been in irresistible form lately. Only Higgins has been able to get the best of him. But I don't think it will bother Judd. His positive attitude is unwavering. I reckon he'll get the last laugh this season and will stay at world number one for some time to come.

OneStepSnooker: It's a great rivalry developing. Higgins is the best all-round match player on the tour whereas Trump is the most fearless attacking player. I think any future match between the pair will be close.

Trump can only get stronger whereas Higgins may decline. At the moment I think Higgins is one of the few players Trump can't pot the fear into. He has great patience. But Trump is growing in confidence all the time and surely it won't be long before he gives Higgins a beating.

The future for Judd depends on how he handles himself. We know he's got the talent. We know how good he is. But is he going to be in and out of night clubs? Or is he really going to apply himself?

OnCue: I think he works hard and plays hard. I think he's got fantastic dedication. He goes out and enjoys himself after big successes, but that's exactly what he should be doing at his age.

OneStepSnooker: There's no doubt he needs to enjoy his wins but he's also a professional sportsman, so he needs to get the mix right. I hope he keeps his feet on the ground but I also hope he doesn't play in too many events either. He's number one in the world. He shouldn't burn himself out.

OnCue: I really enjoyed the whole tournament in Chengdu. It was probably the biggest event we've ever had in China. I thought it was a roaring success.

OneStepSnooker: It felt identical to the UK Championship in its layout, big top prize, prestige and the attention it received.

OnCue: I think it's an event that is here to stay for a long time on the calendar. It proves again that events are all about format. A lot of Chinese tournaments have been criticised but this proves that in the right conditions they can create a big buzz in the UK and match up to the more traditionally prestigious events.

OneStepSnooker: One of the best parts of the tournament for me was watching young Lu Haotian play. It's so exciting to see how good he is. It's remarkable to think at 14 that he's the world under-21 champion. There's quite an illustrious list of players who have won the event but there are plenty who haven't so it puts into perspective exactly how good he is.

OnCue: What impressed about him is his ability to mix it up. You'd expect him to be a raw potter but he appears to be such a well-rounded player. He's got a methodical approach and he's only going to get better.

OneStepSnooker: His performance against Ken Doherty was quite complete for someone so young. These wildcards have a habit of frightening the life out of me with their potting but Lu played plenty of safety too and looked more than happy doing it. His shot selection still has a way to come but I really enjoyed his displays.

OnCue: He could be the Chinese player of the future. Ding Junhui is still very much the Chinese player of now and is still quite a way out on his own for them. I think it's important for someone young to join him up in the top 16 pretty soon to support him and give this super snooker nation another star. Lu looks capable of doing that but ideally there will be someone before him even.

OneStepSnooker: I think Cao Yupeng is an excellent player. He's got the potential to fill that gap. I rate him slightly higher than Xiao Guodong. There are a lot of matches in the qualifiers we don't really see because they're behind closed doors but his television performances have been of the very highest order and suggest he has a bright future.

OnCue: It was interesting to read on ProSnookerBlog that Ding has got a little bit of work to do to secure his top 16 place. That really surprised me. It's crazy. It shows how competitive the top end of the game is.

OneStepSnooker: He should be ok but he's really got to do something this season.

OnCue: He won the Welsh Open last season. He probably needs another trophy to get him the points to be comfortable and also give him a bit of a boost.

OneStepSnooker: When he plays his best, I swear I've never seen anything like it. I can be mesmerised by him. He pots ball from anywhere and off any cushion. He can be unbelievable. I hope he can recapture that form again.

OnCue: He's got excellent technique. He's a very good player at judging canons and keeping the white under close control. He just needs to find his swing again and focus 100 per cent on playing snooker rather than all the other factors come with the game.

OneStepSnooker: I still don't think he enjoys playing in China. He's under far too much pressure there. He looks a better proposition in the UK. He looks more settled. If a second Chinese star evolved it would help him to relax and fulfil the potential he's clearly got having already won two UK Championship titles and The Masters.

OnCue: If we're looking back on the form of players so far this season, it's worth mentioning Peter Ebdon. He's kicked on from his China Open win. He's had another final in Australia and a semi-final in Chengdu. He's showing more of the tenacity he's famous for.

OneStepSnooker: He's playing like Steve Davis was ten years ago. He's getting towards the end of his career, his game isn't as good as it was. He's a bit jabby but through shear quality of shot selection and experienced safety play, he's still competing and producing strong performances. He's grinding out results. But I still think there are only certain players that these tactics will work against. Trump or Robertson won't let it effect them.

OnCue: He is so loyal to his gameplan. He draws players in. It's commendable. He's a class act, still.

What about Selby? He's slipped from his number one spot. I always felt he enjoyed and felt proud of being at the top of the rankings. I hoped he might go on from there to win one of the biggest titles. Do you think the world number one status weighed heavier on his shoulders than it will with Judd?

OneStepSnooker: I'm not sure about that. He has been suffering a lot with his neck problems. I think Selby in top form is a superb player and maybe still capable of being the best in the world. He's showing signs of hitting his best again. I just think he plays a lot of matches not to lose instead of going out for the win. For him to the World Championship, he's going to have to come out and give the first two of three players a battering.

When he wins close matches, it takes a lot out of him. He's burns himself out within tournaments, which stifles his own ability.

OnCue: I really admire his scoring ability. He's got the shot making quality to match the very best. He makes lots of centuries and scores heavily. When he's in that kind of form he's as good as anyone. I think he's close to winning something.

The next big tournament is the UK Championship. It's always an exciting one for me. I go every year. Who do you see as the players to beat?

OneStepSnooker: If the winner comes outside of Trump, Allen, Robertson or Higgins I would be very, very surprised. I think they're quite a way out in front right now. I live in Telford. I was disappointed when the tournament moved. I won't be going this year but I'll be watching every frame on the TV.

OnCue: The Barbican in York is such a fantastic venue for snooker. I can't wait to get back there. There are so many story lines to be played out at the tournament. I'm very pleased Mark Davis has a chance in the top 16 because of Stephen Lee's suspension. He really deserves it.

OneStepSnooker: He's been pressing hard for a seeded place. He's had a good couple of years. I hope he enjoys his moment.

OnCue: Too right. Well thanks for joining me. It won't be long until it's here... 

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