As 2016 draws to a close it’s time to reflect on what has been another enthralling year in snooker.
There have been many talking points over the course of the last 12 months both on and off the table.
Yesterday we took a look at the lows but today let’s end things on a brighter note with some of the most memorable moments from 2016.
2016 was a year in which one high simply wasn’t enough for Mark Selby.
After ending 2015 on a bit of a whimper without a title since that April’s China Open, the world no.1 began a year of resounding success in Poland at the Gdynia Open in February. That was only a taster for what was to come.
He raised a few eyebrows when he pulled out of the Players Championship and his defence in Beijing, but subsequently returned with a bang to beat Ding Junhui in an epic World Championship final to collect his second Crucible crown.
Seven months later he added another UK title to his collection to join the illustrious band of multiple Triple Crown champions. Oh, and he also triumphed in the International Championship and Paul Hunter Classic as well, with his earnings at the top of the rankings now approaching the incredible one million pound mark.
Not too shabby!
As the seasoned adage goes, “never write off John Higgins.”
And so it was proved once more with the 41 year-old accumulating more than £300,000 in prize money after a pair of invitational victories and a 147 to boot in what was a bumper November for the Scot. Higgins wasn’t suffering any dramatic slide down the pecking order this year but neither had he shown much to suggest that he was about to return to what many regard as being somewhere near the form of his life.
At the start of the eleventh month, Higgins banked the largest cheque ever awarded in a tournament outside the UK at the inaugural China Championship. He followed that £200,000 purse by collecting an additional £100k when ending Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Champion of Champions dominance in Coventry. The icing on the cake was an eighth career maximum at the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.
That Marco Fu knocked the cherry off the top by stealing success in Higgins’ home event at the Scottish Open before Christmas was the only blip in an otherwise blistering climax to the year.
European Euphoria for Boileau
As eluded to in yesterday’s rundown of low points, it’s not exactly been a strong period for professionals from the Republic of Ireland in recent times. One young player who many in the country have pinned their hopes on is Josh Boileau.
Expectations for the 21 year-old to succeed have been growing for the best part of a decade as he first dominated the junior scene at domestic level and then developed his game sufficiently to compete internationally. Narrow misses came in 2014 when he lost in both the finals of the World and European Under-21 Championships.
However, in February the Kildare cueist finally went one better in the latter, when he brilliantly overcame Brandon Sargeant 6-1 to become the European under-21 champion in Poland. With victory, Boileau earned an invitation to fulfill one of his dreams and ply his trade on the Main Tour.
Initial progress on the professional circuit has been slow, with just three victories to his name so far, but both time and talent are on his side.
Mark King’s Emotional Speech
There were many great victorious moments in 2016. Martin Gould, Anthony McGill and Liang Wenbo each joined the ranking event winners’ group, while Ali Carter completed his remarkable recovery from cancer by claiming the World Open title in July.
Yet, arguably eclipsing all of those was Mark King’s maiden ranking success at the Northern Ireland Open.
At 42 and seemingly his best years behind him, King’s run to the final was a shock in itself. The Londoner’s comeback from 5-1 down to overcome favourite Barry Hawkins in a thrilling final that went the distance was even more of a surprise.
25 years as a professional in which he had numerous ups and downs both on and off the baize spilled across into the post-match interview in which an honest King, a likable hardman, hailed Gamblers Anonymous for aiding him beyond his betting addiction, and the precious moments he was able to just share with his beloved family.
His only disappointment was that his 83 year-old father Bill, who had lent his son money to even enter the Home Nations series event, was unable to attend as he wasn’t fit enough to travel. Not a single dry eye in the house!
Welsh Wickedness from O’Sullivan
This one is not so much a high, but a case of a moment that will be remembered for quite some time to come.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, who had just coasted to a sixth Masters title at the Alexandra Palace, headed to Cardiff for the Welsh Open in buoyant mood. Not to mention a cheeky one.
Apparently on course to compile a record 14th maximum break in his opening round fixture with Barry Pinches, the ‘Rocket’ declined the opportunity upon being told that the prize money for the feat was, in his eyes, a “cheap” £10,000. Instead of continuing his streak of blacks, a grinning O’Sullivan took the pink from the penultimate red and duly went on to make what is, in fact, an even rarer break of 146.
World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn labeled O’Sullivan’s behaviour as disrespectful but the head of the sport wouldn’t have been complaining too loudly about the mammoth media coverage that O’Sullivan unexpectedly generated as a result of his antics.
The five-time world champion duly coasted to the Welsh Open title, losing just 11 frames in the process.