As 2017 draws to a close, we can continue our reflection on what has been another enthralling year in snooker.
There have been many talking points over the course of the last twelve months both on and off the table.
Yesterday we took a look at a few of the low points but today let’s celebrate some of the more memorable moments from 2017.
This time last year, Mark Selby fronted this list and it’s the same old story twelve months on. World Championship winner? Check. International Championship winner? Check. The only major repeat he didn’t manage was at the UK Championship in York in December.
Despite his Daqing success in November, Selby hasn’t quite been at his best for most of this campaign so far, in fact struggling in a lot of the tournaments to discover any kind of form at all. But in 2017 he still managed to bring his A-game to the table when it absolutely mattered the most – at the Crucible Theatre.
Not only did Selby become just the fourth player to defend the World Championship crown in Sheffield, the Leicester man also broke the “Curse of the China Open”, becoming the first player to collect the pair of trophies back-to-back at the tail end of a season.
The £933,428 that Selby earned for the 2016/17 campaign was a monstrous record that took his overall earnings on the two-year rolling ranking system well beyond the million pound mark. Selby could remain as the player to be caught for quite some time, although he has one interesting and familiar foe currently on the chase…
There was a while there where it seemed like 2017 might mostly be a year to forget for the “Rocket”, but then he duly fired up those afterburners in typical style. What an end to the calendar year it has been for O’Sullivan! He began it with a record seventh Masters crown and he concluded 2017 by matching Steve Davis’ long-held haul of six UK Championships.
In between, O’Sullivan fired in ton after ton as he eclipsed the 900 mark in his inevitable quest to reach the landmark 1,000, while there were two further ranking event glories in the English Open and Shanghai Masters to boot. O’Sullivan unexpectedly lost two invitational finals in the Hong Kong Masters and the Champion of Champions but since the summer, in general, he has been in a class of his own – much as he has been for most of his illustrious career.
It has been more than seven years since O’Sullivan, who in that time has opted to predominantly pick and choose the tournaments he enters, has held the number one position in the world rankings. The 42 year-old has risen back up to the second spot behind Selby and is still around £700,000 behind his countryman on the official list but, with the latter set to lose around £280,000 more than O’Sullivan in the run-up to the Crucible and with a record £450,000 on offer for the champion in Sheffield this year, just who knows?
All Hail Anthony Hamilton
There’s hardly a player, fan, or official who would have begrudged Anthony Hamilton his maiden ranking event triumph at the German Masters in February. Easily one of the highlights of the year, the 45 year-old put years of being billed as the best player to have never won a ranking event well and truly behind him with an inspired performance. Hamilton could hardly have chosen a better place to complete the feat.
In the last seven years, the Tempodrom in Berlin has become one of the very best venues to compete in with wonderful crowds and spinetingling atmospheres now the norm every twelve months. Having won the two qualifiers to reach the venue stages, Hamilton invited his parents over to the German capital because he thought it might be their last chance to experience the city. Little did he know that after amazing victories over Mark Williams, Mark Selby, Barry Hawkins, and Stuart Bingham, his mom and dad would be watching him compete in the final in front of 2,500 fans.
Against former champion Ali Carter, Hamilton was the underdog like he had been in all four of his previous battles, but he again rose to the occasion and banished all of those missed opportunities he had failed to take in the past with a 9-6 defeat of the “Captain”. The fact that only a year earlier he had to win a couple of matches in Gdynia to simply survive the cut on the Main Tour made his achievement even more remarkable.
A mention must go to Ryan Day too, who also managed to get the unwanted mantle of never having won a ranker off his back with his success in the Riga Masters, but Hamilton’s is the one that will live longest in the memory.
Ever since Ding Junhui burst onto the scene as a shy teenager with overwhelming victories in the 2005 China Open and UK Championship, there has been a constant prediction flippantly made from certain analysts and pundits that “half of the top 16 in the world rankings will be Chinese in the next five years.” In fact, it’s twelve years later and only one player has joined Ding in the elite bracket in that period – Liang Wenbo.
However, 2017 has provided us with the biggest signs yet that the seemingly inevitable prospect is drawing nearer and nearer to becoming an actual reality. The 20 ranking events staged during this year produced nine different Chinese semi-finalists while Yan Bingtao and Cao Yupeng came within a whisker of matching their more illustrious compatriots Ding and Liang as ranking event champions. Cao has arguably represented the biggest surprise, or improvement, of the season but Yan is likely where the country’s primary hope of further success lies in the future.
That said, there are so many emerging and this latest wave of talent from the conveyor belt in China appears to be better equipped to handle the expectations of rising to the higher echelons of the sport. Never mind five years, how many Chinese players will be in the top 16 this time next year?
Just by the sheer numbers of who play and watch the sport in China, its emergence as a dominant force has been widely foreseen as a foregone conclusion in the last decade. However, the continued success across Mainland Europe in recent years has ensured that there are several other countries looking to become contenders for the top honours at the professional level. This was underlined a number of times in 2017.
The standout moment for European snooker this year was obviously Luca Brecel’s fantastic victory in Guangzhou’s China Championship during the summer. Not only did it represent a maiden triumph for the Belgian, it marked the first ranking success for any European country outside the UK and Ireland. Brecel has risen into the top 16 in the world and, despite the fact that it seems as though he’s been around forever, it’s important to remember that he is still only 22 years-old.
Brecel isn’t alone in the headline-making department, though. Swiss 21 year-old Alexander Ursenbacher, who won less than 10 games in his initial stab at being professional between 2013 and 2015, claimed glory in the European Under-21 Championship in March – earning him a second ticket onto the Main Tour. Since then, Ursenbacher has been a different force, going within one victory of qualifying for the Crucible while still an amateur before reaching the semi-final of the English Open as a transformed professional in October.
In addition, Germany might have finally found a budding star to cheer for in Lukas Kleckers after the 21 year-old surged through Q-School to gain professional status before recording an incredible 4-3 victory over defending champion Neil Robertson in the Riga Masters.
None of this would have been possible only for pan-European sports network Eurosport, which has backed snooker for 15 years and will continue to enlighten new fans and potential players across the continent for the next decade, guaranteed.
Don’t miss the next end-of-year review piece on Thursday with SnookerHQ’s Player of the Year for 2017!