First and foremost, Happy New Year to one and all. And what a year we have in prospect for snooker in 2012.
2011 was one of the sport’s greatest years – particularly in terms of the last couple of decades – with a further influx in new tournaments and an emergence of a heralded star.
Indeed, not only were these fresh events a welcomed respite to the drawn out norms of the last decade, most of them turned out to be resounding successes.
Events in Germany conjured up crowds in excess of 2000 people while there were other notable Players Tour Championship tournaments in Warsaw, Antwerp and Dublin.
The World Cup returned for the first time in fifteen years in Thailand and, while the crowds were not particularly great throughout, it should lead to further growth in the future.
Likewise, the inclusion of the Sky Shoot-Out in Blackpool at the outset of the year offered fans the opportunity to see quick-fire, single-frame snooker with shot-clocks and time restrictions.
The event won by Nigel Bond returns again at the end of January and it is a variation like this one that is helping to keep the calendar refreshing while not wholly damaging the traditional side of the game.
An arrival of exuberant, young talent emerged onto the scene last year with the likes of Jack Lisowski, Michael White and Jamie Jones standing out from the “home” players with Xiao Guodong looking odds on to be the next Chinese superstar.
Stalwart of the Main Tour, Stuart Bingham, claimed his maiden ranking title but 2011 was owned by one young man and one alone – Judd Trump.
The Bristol baize boy kickstarted his career in spectacular fashion by winning the China Open, a trophy quickly followed with a run to the final of the World Championship at The Crucible.
In Sheffield, he showed unbelievable attacking prowess, triumphed in arguably the greatest semi-final encounter of all time with fellow young rival Ding Junhui before falling just short in a belter of a final against John Higgins in the midst of an electric, cauldron-like atmosphere.
The 22 year-old backed his new-found stardom up with a pair of PTC wins and then ended the year as I’m sure he would like to begin this one – by winning one of the sport’s three majors, the UK Championship.
The Masters gets under way in just over a week at the Alexandra Palace and it should prove to be one of the most competitive yet as the elite Top 16 has never boasted so many top quality performers on the big stage.
The remainder of this season is chockablock with snooker – so much so that this blog will probably be updated practically every day from now until Q-School in May.
Snooker will return to Germany at the end of this week for the climax to PTC 12 as well as the German Masters in February while two further trips to China will be made subsequently.
The Welsh Open is back at Newport, Galway will host its first major snooker tournament when the PTC Grand Finals are held in the west of Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day weekend while the Championship League returns over the coming months.
All this before the swan song of the World Championship in less than four months.
Who will be the winners and losers? Who will be in the Top 16? Who will drop off the Main Tour?
All these questions and more will be answered in an action-packed period of snooker in the first half of 2012.