Features and Interviews

Snooker’s Next World Number One

Shaun Murphy was yesterday quoted as saying that he wishes to challenge Mark Selby at the top of the world rankings.

selby-murphy-berlin-15-ml

Selby has been world no.1 since winning the 2015 German Masters when he beat Murphy in the final. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

It begged the question as to who might be the next new world number one in snooker?

While it will inevitably happen eventually, one thing seems for certain – it won’t materialise any time soon.

Selby is so far in front of the rest of the chasing pack that it is undeniably possible that it could be at least two years before anybody will come even close to toppling him.

When he is surpassed, there’s no guarantee that it’ll even be a new face at the summit of the standings – which is based on money earned in ranking events over a rolling two-year period.

Murphy said on Friday: “I’ve never been to the top of the rankings. I’ve never been able to say that I am the best in the world.”

“I think it would be a great thrill to see the title of world number one beside my name. That is something that gets me out of bed in the morning. I’d like to try to push Mark from his perch at the top.

“There haven’t been many world number ones in snooker bearing in mind how long the rankings have been running. It’s something I’m very keen to do.

“To prove that over a period of time you are the best in the world at your chosen sport would be a very special feeling. If I don’t ever achieve that it won’t be for a lack of trying.”

Murphy, now 34, is currently ranked fifth in the world rankings having previously been as high as third in his career.

However, his total earning tally over the full two years is just a smidgen higher than what Selby has pocketed in the last seven months.

For Murphy, while he has consistently been a top player for the last dozen years since his surprise World Championship triumph as a qualifier in 2005, the Englishman has never really offered any signs that he could be a dominant force in the game, reeling off numerous title wins in quick succession.

Now in his mid-thirties, time is naturally of concern for somebody like Murphy but perhaps not as much as it was a decade or two ago.

Several players have demonstrated an ability to not only prolong their careers into their 40s, but also improve their game sufficiently to challenge for titles and honours where they failed to ever challenge before.

This was arguably highlighted the most by Stuart Bingham’s Crucible success, which ironically came at the expense of Murphy in 2015.

Stuart Bingham and Mark Selby

Bingham was desperately close to the top spot at the end of last season. Photo credit: World Snooker

Bingham hadn’t even tasted glory in a ranking event before 2011, when he had just turned 35 and was then ranked outside the top 16.

As the Basildon potter began the defence of his World Championship trophy last April, Bingham had the opportunity to become the newest world number one.

However, a first round exit put an end to that fantasy as Selby’s own success ultimately cemented his tenure at the top in any case.

Bingham remains the closest challenger to Selby – a mere £477,930 behind the ‘Jester from Leicester’, who has been laughing his way all the way to the bank in recent times as he draws ever closer to the million pound landmark.

The £300,000 that Bingham earned for world glory in 2015 is set to be deducted from his sum at the end of this campaign so it’s unlikely that ‘Bingo’ will ever call on the number one spot again.

The other four players in the top seven – John Higgins, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson – have all experienced the jubilation of becoming the world number one.

For the latter three, one would expect them to continue challenging near the top for many years to come, while even Higgins has proven his tenacity in refusing to fall down the pecking order.

In the chasing pack there are Marco Fu, Joe Perry, Mark Allen, Liang Wenbo, Barry Hawkins and Ali Carter.

Nobody would bet their house on any of those competitors, as good as they may be, ever reaching the peak of the world rankings.

Northern Ireland’s Allen is probably the most likely candidate out of those pretenders but the 30 year-old has underachieved in his professional career so far.

A major victory could change his mentality but the problem is that, bar his 2011 defeat to Judd Trump in the UK Championship final, Allen has rarely even threatened to win one of the traditional big ones.

Then, who?

Well, all the way down in 16th place in the current list is 25 year-old Kyren Wilson, who many are tipping as a future star of the sport.

Kyren Wilson Worlds 2014

Can Wilson or perhaps one of the young Chinese contingent challenge? Photo credit: Monique LImbos

Wilson had an unsuccessful first season on the Main Tour as a teenager but returned in 2013 as a rejuvenated force.

It took the Kettering cueist just three years to break into the elite bracket of 16, aided of course by a maiden ranking event success in the 2015 Shanghai Masters.

Of all the players, Wilson appears to have the most attributes required to eventually challenge for a world number one position for the first time – he’s still young, he has the ability, and he also boasts a wonderful temperament.

When that might prove to be, though, is anyone’s guess.

Since the rankings officially started in 1976, there have been 11 different world number ones.

For the first 35 years, there were only seven players who were good enough to lead the pack.

Then, between 2011 and 2014, as the tour structure changed dramatically during the first few campaigns of the Barry Hearn era, four more quickly joined the illustrious group of names, leading many to question whether or not the ranking system had become degraded.

Yet, Selby has now reigned for almost 100 consecutive weeks and his spell in power doesn’t look like letting up in the near future.

Who knows, perhaps the 12th world number one isn’t even on the circuit yet.

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