Consistently Consistent

In the 1980s Steve Davis dominated snooker and won the majority of the titles each season.

The very same, even more so perhaps, could be said about Stephen Hendry’s dominance in the following decade – particularly the first half of it.

With the emergence of Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams from the school of ’92, it led to a triangular stranglehold of tournaments each year post Hendry era.

But as time has progressed, snooker has become a sport that has incorporated not one, not two and not even three winners, but a collective mini circuit of champions in their own right.

Nearing the halfway point of this campaign, there have been 11 different players emerging victorious from as many ranking events staged – three fully fledged, eight minor PTCs.

Ricky Walden, Barry Hawkins, John Higgins, Stuart Bingham, Stephen Maguire, Martin Gould, Mark Selby, Rod Lawler, Stephen Lee, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen have all enjoyed a precious moment inside the winners enclosure.

What is the reason for this? Well, an obvious answer is the dramatic influx of new events seen in the last three seasons, including this one.

The tour went from a paltry half-dozen tournaments to a 20-strong circuit, and that’s only ranking tournaments; there are ten or so more invitational events.

It is easy to forget that the number of players playing on the circuit is still actually relatively small – in professional sporting terms.

Although increasing next year, the number playing regularly on the Main Tour remains below 100 and, in the past, with so few opportunities to play it was always going to be difficult for the majority of these to make any major headway.

But the reality is that most, if not all, of these players have the ability to challenge the very best on any given day.

Now, with the chance of plying their trade week in, week out we have seen the likes of Stuart Bingham, Barry Hawkins and Martin Gould – players who, without disrespect, would have simply made up the numbers of a Top 16 list in years gone by – become deserved champions.

Former ranking event winners like Stephen Lee (forgetting for a moment the predicament he currently finds himself in), Matthew Stevens and even Ricky Walden, at still only 29, have battled their way back into the elite bracket having previously potentially felt that the best days of their career could well have been behind them.

Players into their 40s have proved that it doesn’t always have to be a young man’s game, like so many are predicting will soon be the case.

Peter Ebdon surprisingly returned to winning ways in China, Rod Lawler enjoyed a maiden pro triumph at the tender age of 41 and Joe Swail defied his amateur status to embark on a magical run to the final of a PTC event in Fuerth in August.

It has gotten to the stage now where a top player must be content if he can claim one trophy, never mind a handful – and certainly not dominate.

But will it stay this way? The indications point to a resounding yes.

There are no players emerging in the same ilk as a Davis or Hendry – and the primary reason for that is because the overall standard is strikingly higher than it was in their periods of supremacy.

A quick scan down the ranking list and one can easily pick out at least seven players who could definitely feature at the business end of each tournament for many years to come – and that list of seven doesn’t even include the trio of O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams.

And it is mainly for this reason that a lot of analysis and pre-tournament previews will include lines such as “player X has enjoyed a consistent season but has failed to win as often as he’d like.”

The likes of Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Ding Junhui could all probably testify to this. And none more so than Mark Selby, who has this argument frequently asterisked against his world no.1 status.

Last season, taking in all competitions, O’Sullivan ruled the roost with five trophies while Judd Trump and Neil Robertson enjoyed three successes each.

A player will be doing well to come out of this campaign with more than three titles to his name.

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