By Fin Ruane
So three months into the new snooker season and with the first ranking cut off last weekend it’s time to run the rule over the winners, movers and shakers of the 2012 /2013 season.
With qualifiers starting for the Wuxi Classic and Australian Open just a couple of weeks after the Rocket’s win in Sheffield, players were now slowly becoming accustomed again to playing during the summer months.
The first ranking events of the season saw the snooker roadshow take in China for the Wuxi Classic, Australia for the Goldfields Open whilst sandwiched in between saw those invited head to Bangkok for the World Six-Reds Championship and the first of the new Asian Players Tour Championship events.
There, Stuart Bingham sent out his intentions for the forthcoming season with a 4-3 victory over Stephen Lee. It was then onto the main event in China where Ricky Walden secured his second ranking event win, and his second on Chinese soil, when he defeated Stuart Bingham in the final of the Wuxi Classic. Although several top names were missing from the line up there was no denying Walden his win and even a maximum break from Bingham in the final wasn’t enough to stop Liverpool supporter Walden securing the first ranking event of the new campaign.
The next stop after China was Bangkok for the Six-Reds World Championship. 48 players contested the event this time around including nine of the current top 16, with top Irish Amateur Rodney Goggins and legends Steve Davis and Jimmy White also in action.
The round-robin format threw up some noticeable results, none more so than Goggins’s defeat of Judd Trump. Goggins went one better and qualified from his group but fell at the last 32 hurdle along with fellow Irishman Ken Doherty. The all-English final saw Shaun Murphy play Six-Reds specialist Mark Davis in a highly entertaining final. Davis had won a previous World Six-Reds in Killarney a few years ago and in Bangkok he would repeat this feat with an 8-4 win over Murphy for the title and the handsome £40,000 first prize.
The final stop on the Asian/Australian leg was Bendigo for the second staging of the Goldfields Open. Once again the Australian public turned out in their droves to support the event. With several top names missing from the line-up it was a great chance for Stuart Bingham to aim for a successful defence of the title he won last season. Bingham, though, went out in the opening round to eventual qualifier Matt Selt, who went on to reach the last 8 for the second successive year. The final was between Peter Ebdon and Barry Hawkins and the ‘Hawk’ wasn’t to be denied his shining moment. Although the final was a gruelling affair over the determined Ebdon, Hawkins landed his first ranking title and with it he became the 50th player to win a ranking event.
Following four weeks abroad the snooker roadshow returned to familiar shores with near back-to-back stagings at the SWSA of PTC 1 and PTC 2. Stephen Maguire won the first by beating Jack Lisowski 4-3 on the final black whilst Martin Gould won last weekend’s event, edging Maguire by the same score line.
So with two ranking events in and two PTCs completed how are the rankings effected after the first cut-off? Well, the top four remain the same with Selby, Trump,Williams and Maguire holding firm whilst the only other entry in the top ten saw Wuxi Classic winner Walden climb five places to 10th place.
Goldfields Open Champion Barry Hawkins moves up to 19th whilst Mark Davis’ great start to the season sees him move to 18th. Crucible quarter-finalist Jamie Jones hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts, managing to win only one game, and as a result has slipped five places from 29th to 34th place. With no other major movers in the top 32, Ken Doherty finds himself back in at 31 from a season starting 35 while fellow Irishman Fergal O’Brien is at 33rd spot.
World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has been the subject of much talk throughout the early part of the new season, made good on his promise to take time off away from the game, and in my opinion the break was well deserved. He has since signed the players contract and will now be involved in the remainder of the season so his slide from 9th to 15th in the rankings may not be as alarming as it had looked two weeks ago.
Next up is the beginning of the Premier League, and with a new format this season and no O’Sullivan it promises to be as exciting as ever and should keep us all entertained on Thursday evenings throughout the Autumn. Sandwiched in between are European PTC events in Poland and Germany where the annual Paul Hunter Classic is played and a trip to Shanghai for the Shanghai Masters.
So mid-August and at a time when once upon a time players were normally still on holidays or gracing the fairways the snooker season is well and truly under way. With 19 more ranking events made up of main events , PTC and Asian PTCs, and a possible two extra ranking events along with the Masters , Sky Shootout and Premier League, this season promises to be one of the most exciting yet.