world number one race
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Ronnie O’Sullivan in World Number One Race

One subplot worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of this season is the world number one race heating up between three of the sport’s marquee stars.

world number one race
O’Sullivan has won just under a million pounds from ranking events in the last two years. Photo credit: World Snooker

When runaway leader Mark Selby lost in the first round of the UK Championship last week in York, there was an opening for Mark Williams to snatch top spot from the “Jester”.

Selby has dominated the rankings list since usurping the Welshman in 2011 and has now been at the summit of the standings for almost four consecutive years.

Since capturing the German Masters crown in February, 2015, Selby has triumphed in 11 ranking events – by far the most of any player in that spell.

There has rarely been a point in that period in which his reign has been in doubt, especially after his record-equalling 2016/17 campaign when he landed five ranking titles.

However, a dip in form in tournaments outside of China, coinciding with a recent surge from Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan, has significantly opened up the world number one race.

Latest Provisional Rankings (WPBSA)

With the ranking system working off players’ records from the previous two years, a huge amount of Selby’s tally is being deducted from his tally this season.

The 35 year-old was unable to defend any of the £170,000 that he pocketed for winning the UK Championship two years ago following a shock loss to amateur James Cahill at the Barbican Centre.

With just shy of half a million pounds still to be taken off this season for his mega-bucks victories in the China Open and World Championship from 2016, Selby actually finds himself behind both Williams and O’Sullivan in the provisional end-of-season list.

Both members from the fabled “Class of ’92” enjoy a much easier run-in with less than £100,000 each to defend between now and the Crucible.

As reported last week, Williams is the player best placed to make an immediate challenge but perhaps a more realistic threat is going to come from elsewhere.

While Williams’ form has somewhat tailed off since succeeding in August’s World Open, O’Sullivan has continued to churn out one strong outing after another.

The “Rocket” is constantly in the headlines at present complaining about the rankings and the schedule but he doesn’t have much reason to resent a system that is rewarding him handsomely.

Back to number three in the pecking order after a stellar season last time out that produced five ranking titles, O’Sullivan stands just over £250,000 behind Selby in the world number one race – ahead of his last four clash with Tom Ford in the 2018 UK Championship.

Should O’Sullivan defend the Triple Crown event on Sunday, that’ll be an additional £135,000 nearer his old rival.

A quick glance at the upcoming schedule would suggest that the 43 year-old has an opportunity to reclaim the top spot for the first time since 2010.

The next two ranking events in Scotland and Germany could sway the numbers a little one way or another but it’s into February and March where the dramatic changes could occur.

Already qualified for the inaugural Coral Cup series, there is the potential for O’Sullivan to bag a bundle of riches in a short period.

The five-time world champion has enjoyed a love-affair with tournaments boasting elite fields throughout his career but especially in the last few years.

This is highlighted by his record in the prestigious Masters, the Champion of Champions, and this year’s Shanghai Masters.

Indeed, two of O’Sullivan’s ranking glories last season came in events that will make up this term’s Coral Cup series.

The World Grand Prix, which will feature the top 32 on the one-year money list, will boast a top prize of £100,000 before the top 16 move forward to contest the £125,000 on offer at the Players Championship.

Added to the calendar this season is the Tour Championship, where the top eight in the one-year rankings will play for a champion’s cheque worth £150,000.

It’s foreseeable that O’Sullivan could threaten in all three of these and, if he does, Selby would have to find a way to eradicate his dismal form on home soil of late.

Williams, of course, remains in the world number one race too but his lackadaisical approach to competing since landing an unexpected third World Championship crown in May could prove his undoing – not that he seems to care much about it all at any rate.

In his now tiresome tirade on the current state of snooker, O’Sullivan is ironically the man primed to take full advantage of the busy schedule.

O’Sullivan, who has played in only three out of the nine ranking events played during the 2018/19 season so far, could take the remainder of the campaign off and still comfortably lie in the top five of the world rankings.

But as we have heard him say on countless occasions over the last week, seemingly contradicting everything he claims to stand for against Barry Hearn’s leadership of the sport, all he wants to do is play.

If that’s true, most of us already know that he’s the best player in the world but statistically speaking that could become a reality before this season’s conclusion.

Write off Selby at your peril, though, as out of the three contenders he is the one who undoubtedly wants to win the world number one race the most.

Either way, it should be fun to watch the mini drama unfold over the coming months.


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