After each big tournament this season we’ll be reflecting on the latest action, so let’s take a look at a few things learned after the Tour Championship.
Class Really Is Permanent
The “form is temporary, but class is permanent” adage is a popular one in sport, but it does seem to fit the profile of Stephen Maguire this term.
The Scot has been in the upper echelons of the sport for almost two decades, but in recent years he has become known as one of the great underachievers.
After breaking through with victory in the 2004 European Open, Maguire produced arguably one of the most crushing tournament performances ever as he completely dismantled the opposition’s challenge to capture the UK Championship later that same year.
It led many, including then reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, to opine that the young Glaswegian was set to dominate the game.
As what generally happens when lofty predictions like those are made, it didn’t quite transpire in that fashion, and even though Maguire has carved out a creditable CV, it’s notable in its lack of other major pieces of silverware.
Maguire’s last ranking event success was all the way back in 2013 and his immediate concerns began to revolve around hanging on inside the world’s top 16 instead of challenging for trophies.
A talented and fiercely competitive individual, Maguire’s hot-headed temperament often got the better of him in the big moments, and it really did seem like his best days were behind him.
But triumphs in the World Cup alongside partner John Higgins and in the Six Red World Championship instilled a renewed belief in his game, providing the catalyst for an unlikely run back to the UK Championship final last December.
Maguire missed out on glory to Ding Junhui, but his attitude appeared to take a notable change, and after getting the call to replace the absent Chinese cueist at the Tour Championship, the 39 year-old took full advantage.
Perhaps benefiting from the lack of a crowd that he would normally be feeling the pressure from to perform in front of, Maguire was a much calmer presence in Milton Keynes last week and relied on his powerful game to outlast three of the very best players in the current climate of the sport.
After the Tour Championship, Maguire will head to Sheffield next month for the rescheduled World Championship as a much-hyped contender again – in the mix of a conversation he ought always to have been involved in.
Whether he’ll be able to sustain this form remains to be seen, but at least he has finally reminded everyone of the standard he has always been capable of producing.
Maguire deserves all the plaudits for what he achieved at the Marshall Arena, but of course it’s important to mention that he shouldn’t have even been there.
A line-up comprising the top eight players on the one-year money list, Maguire was ninth and only qualified at the last minute as a result of Ding’s decision to withdraw.
The former world number one, who returned to China near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, decided that it was not possible to return to the UK in time for the prestigious finale to the Coral Series.
Barry Hearn, along with his teams behind the World Snooker Tour and Matchroom Sport, has done an impressive job in getting snooker back to some sort of normality so quickly.
But it isn’t perfect, and huge problems persist when it comes to accommodating members of the Main Tour who do not come from the UK.
The Championship League was less of a concern because it didn’t carry ranking points, but the Tour Championship and the World Championship next month will influence a player’s position in the standings, not to mention the significant loss of potential income.
Hong Kong’s Marco Fu has already expressed his decision to not enter the World Championship this year, adhering to advice from his government not to travel to the UK, and it’s expected that other international players will be forced to do likewise.
People, somewhat fairly, argue that the show must go on, but what if that comes at the expense of the sport’s global integrity?
The calendar is already tailored to suit UK-based players, and the coronavirus situation is serving to strengthening their hand.
What Hearn and friends achieve in the next few weeks in safeguarding the international contingent’s participation in the World Championship, and avoiding more high-profile withdrawals like with Ding and Fu, will go a long way in outlining whether or not this hasty comeback has been a genuine success or not.
Big congrats to Stephen Maguire 👏👏👏
Well done also to WST and ITV Sport for bringing this event to fruition, and to the guys at @LoopProduction for their amazing effort across 18 days of live snooker in June.
— David Hendon (@davehendon) June 26, 2020
After the Tour Championship, Maguire will be laughing his way to the bank having earned a whopping £260,000.
The former world number two collected £150,000 for winning the tournament, a £100,000 bonus for securing top spot in the Coral Cup, and an additional £10,000 for the wonderful 139 total clearance that he compiled during the final against Mark Allen.
Maguire certainly has nothing to complain about, but the same couldn’t be said for a couple of his opponents during the week’s action.
Sportspeople love to moan when things don’t go their way, and never was this more evident than with the contrasting feelings expressed by Neil Robertson and Judd Trump following their defeats to Maguire in the opening two rounds.
Robertson, who had to sit in his chair as Maguire reeled off a record six century breaks in a best of 17 frames tie, lamented that the conditions were too easy in the aftermath of his 9-5 reverse.
Trump subsequently whined that, in hot and humid surroundings, the conditions were too hard as he was downed 9-6 by the eventual champion.
Usually it’s Maguire letting the situation overwhelm him, but on this occasion he certainly had the last laugh.