The Best Player Without a Ranking Event Win

From time to time the subject of the best player to have never won a ranking event raises its head once again.

Anthony Hamilton is a popular name mentioned. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

It has been a popular debate down through the years, and obviously a topic which becomes increasingly more difficult to determine a conclusive outcome as time progresses and more players enter the conversation.

Last week, in the run up to the conclusion of the English Open in Manchester, it duly popped up on social media with many users begging the question for an umpteenth time.

Liang Wenbo would have been a contender quite high on the list seven days ago but, of course, subsequently went on to capture his maiden ranking event title with a 9-6 triumph over Judd Trump last Sunday.

But who then is the greatest player to have never lifted a ranking event trophy in the sport?

Well, based on the previous three World Championships, rankings weren’t introduced until the 1976/77 season, so the first actual ranking event was in fact the 1974 edition of the blue riband tournament – won by Ray Reardon.

The World Championship was the only annual ranking event until 1982 so in the early years it wasn’t exactly easy to join the illustrious group of champions.

Prior to that, the likes of brothers Joe and Fred Davis, along with fellow Englishman John Pulman, had accumulated multiple world titles between them but obviously none under the guise of a ranking event.

Toward the end of the 1980s and into the following decade, snooker was enjoying its first boom period and with that a flurry of new events boasting ranking status were founded.

This coincided with an opening up of the sport, briefly allowing practically anyone with a cue the opportunity to turn professional, with competition for places up and down the rankings list gradually becoming more fierce.

With the influx of fresh young stars, all desperate to join in the glory and riches first generated by Steve Davis’ dominance, then Stephen Hendry’s, standards across the board raised and the generation of monopoly came to an end.

Ranking titles were shared out between a growing number of quality cuemen; even though the school of 1992 triumvirate in Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams collected a huge array of trophies, several others were able to enjoy the fruits of snooker’s growth as well.

For a stretch, around a decade ago, the future looked to be in grave danger when mismanagement, coupled with the loss of tobacco sponsorship revenue which hit the overall funding hard, almost threatened snooker’s long-term existence as a sport in the public eye.

However, renowned promoter Barry Hearn took over at the helm in 2010 and since then snooker has enjoyed its second wave of growth.

Development so fast and so vast that the current campaign will brag an unbelievable 19 ranking events.

While some will argue, perhaps rightly, that its status has been devalued with the inclusion now of the likes of the single frame Shoot-Out and other short formatted competitions, it does undoubtedly provide players with a greater earning power and an opportunity to join the elite circle of ranking event winners.

Ryan Day German Masters
Is it Ryan Day? Who is your pick? Photo credit: Monique Limbos

Then back to the initial question – who is the best player to have never emerged victorious in one?

Well, even though there are now 56 different ranking event champions – headed by Scotland’s Hendry who has amassed an incredible 36 of his own – there are still many names who one would expect to be among this group, yet aren’t.

Going back a few decades, the likes of Patsy Fagan and John Virgo never managed the feat despite having previously won the then unranked UK Championship.

South African Perrie Mans claimed the 1979 Masters and also reached the final of the prior World Championship at the Crucible, while Kirk Stevens was a much more talented international player who failed to capture any noteworthy title outside his own native Canada.

Later, the likes of Maltese Tony Drago and Darren Morgan of Wales consistently threatened but, perhaps understandably, it is the players who have competed more regularly at the higher echelons over the course of the last 15 or 20 years who will feature most prominently in the recurring debate.

There are cases to be made for a few but Ryan Day is a name bandied around more and more.

At 36, he still has plenty of time to remedy the missed chances of his past, where he has played and lost in three ranking event finals.

Day continues to threaten at the business end of tournaments from time to time but it has been eight years since his last final appearance.

Someone with arguably more talent, but less time remaining, is Nottingham’s Anthony Hamilton.

The 45 year-old, a professional since 1991 and a cueist with a natural prowess for break building, was narrowly defeated in the finals of the 1999 British Open and 2002 China Open.

Hamilton, who also reached four Crucible quarter-finals between 2000 and 2007, was potentially curtailed by the fact his prominent years coincided with the aforementioned age of O’Sullivan, Higgins, Williams and Hendry, not to mention other stars of the time including Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon, Paul Hunter and Stephen Lee.

Arguments could be made for supplementary characters, but in truth the decision probably comes down to a flip of the coin between Day and Hamilton.

This author opts, with conviction, but also with the trepidation that things indeed may change with a little more time, for the latter.

The International Championship is the upcoming opportunity for both Day and Hamilton, among others, to attain membership to the ranking title club.

The action begins in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Click here to view the draw.

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