The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
The arrival of Barry Hearn at the helm of the sport had people excited for the future, but few could have predicted the immediate impact during the 2010/11 snooker season.
It was a new decade and a completely new regime, one in which the governing body, the WPBSA, was now distinctly separated from the professional game’s commercial arm of World Snooker.
While ex-player Jason Ferguson was left in charge of the former, Hearn went to work on the business side of things in an attempt to reinvigorate an ailing commodity.
Two notable aspects of the circuit needed fixing – the players required more playing opportunities while an injection of prize money, helped by the acquisition of new sponsors, was also imperative in order to make the tour more sustainable overall.
While the 2009/10 campaign was notable in its lack of competitive action, everything dramatically changed from the 2010/11 snooker season onward.
Six ranking events became eight and a new minor-ranking series was established to remind players that they actually were members of a full-time profession.
This set of weekend pro-am tournaments, titled the Players Tour Championship series, incorporated competitions in the UK and across Europe, had the general backing of broadcaster Eurosport, and culminated in the new PTC Grand Finals.
Prize money was initially low with only £10,000 on offer for the winner of one of these satellite tournaments, and it would be remiss to leave out the fact that there were teething problems.
The often enormous fields mixed with both professionals and amateurs meant a frenetic schedule, while the reduced best-of-seven format took a while for both players and fans to get accustomed to.
That said, it was generally deemed a success as players finally had the opportunity to compete on a regular basis, and the introduction of a flat and open draw for Main Tour players ensured that the opportunity for all was equal.
Mark Williams and Mark Selby won the first two PTC events, suggesting that not much had changed in terms of the cream rising to the top.
But later tournaments in the inaugural term produced first-time tour winners in Tom Ford, Barry Pinches, Marcus Campbell, and Michael Holt.
Stephen Lee, Dominic Dale, and a young Judd Trump also emerged with titles in the inaugural PTC season, in which Shaun Murphy was ultimately crowned the Grand Finals champion in March at the Helix in Dublin.
In Trump, though, Hearn boasted a potential on-table star that could help spark new life into the game.
Around this time, Ronnie O’Sullivan wasn’t performing to the peak of his abilities, and while he was still by far the sport’s biggest draw, his off-table demons combined with a poor run of form on the table ensured that he was an unreliable figure to lead the new era.
Near the end of the 2010/11 snooker season, Hearn hit the jackpot then when Trump landed his maiden ranking event success in the China Open, beating Selby 10-8 in the final.
The 21 year-old headed to Sheffield as a qualifier for the World Championship brimming with confidence, and it immediately showed as he inflicted the “Curse of the Crucible” on reigning champion Neil Robertson in the very first round.
Trump had long been hyped up as a future star and had already shown signs that he would eventually elevate himself into the higher echelons.
Four years earlier when just 17, Trump became the third-youngest World Championship qualifier before losing in the first round to Shaun Murphy, while in 2009 he triumphed in the Championship League – a short-formatted invitational series played behind closed doors that had been recently launched.
But at the Crucible in 2011, Trump announced himself properly to the wider public as he orchestrated an incredible run to the final.
Potting balls from audacious positions and boasting a fearless exuberance that mirrored his attacking personality, his own brand of “naughty snooker” came at just the right time to remind people that snooker wasn’t dead just yet, and in fact had plenty more to offer.
With the famous trophy on the line, Trump faced John Higgins, who only twelve months earlier had been embarrassed by a newspaper sting that tarnished his name as an alleged match-fixer.
Higgins had been cleared of the more serious charges but was given a six-month ban for failing to report a murky incident caught on camera – in which he was offered money in exchange for losing frames – to the appropriate authorities.
The Scot’s comeback from the suspension couldn’t have been more emphatic, winning a European PTC event in Germany before miraculously fighting back from 9-5 down to deny old foe Mark Williams in the UK Championship final in December.
Despite missing the first half of the 2010/11 snooker season, Higgins was already back in the world number one position as a result of a new rolling two-year ranking system that finally consigned the unfair protection that top 16 players received each year to the history books.
Two months later, Higgins beat Stephen Maguire to lift the Welsh Open trophy, an outstanding achievement given that it occurred only a couple of weeks after the death of his father.
It was fair to say, then, that the “Wizard of Wishaw” was the favourite for glory when he took on Trump in the World Championship final in May.
Yet, the latter rarely played like the underdog, and at one point it appeared as though he was set to become the second youngest winner of the tournament.
Trump led 10-7 heading into the final day, but his all-out attacking approach finally caught up with him as one miss too many allowed his esteemed opponent in to fight back.
An electric final session in which both players entered the arena to a rapturous reception concluded with Higgins completing the turnaround for an 18-15 success and a fourth world crown, stamped with an emotional victory speech that reflected on his turbulent period both on and off the baize.
Despite dominating the second half of the term, Higgins didn’t actually hold onto the world number one spot with Williams instead returning to the top position for the first time in seven years.
The Welshman had been consistent and triumphed in the inaugural German Masters that was staged at an imposing new arena for snooker, the 2,500-strong Tempodrom in Berlin.
Neil Robertson also briefly held the number one spot for the first time in his career, winning the World Open – formerly the Grand Prix – at O’Sullivan’s expense near the outset of the campaign, while Ali Carter’s Shanghai Masters victory temporarily took him to a career-high of number two in the world.
Elsewhere, several other new events were initiated in addition to the PTC series during the 2010/11 snooker season in the hope of attracting a new breed of supporter.
The Snooker Shoot Out, an updated and very loose interpretation of the old Pot Black, was staged for the first time and incorporated the controversial use of shot-clocks and rule variations.
Those changes weren’t as dramatic as a completely new game titled Power Snooker, which dumbed things down even further but enjoyed much less success and was dumped from the calendar not long after.
Separately, the World Seniors Championship was launched with the help of former world champion Joe Johnson, with Jimmy White beating Steve Davis 4-1 in the final.
A short time before that, the Snooker Legends Tour was set up by Jason Francis with the hope of giving older fans the opportunity to watch some of their former heroes again.
The “Whirlwind” was of course among the high-profile figures involved, and the plan was to enlist the support of the sport’s original marquee name in Alex Higgins.
Higgins, the 1972 and 1982 world champion, participated in the first exhibition at the Crucible Theatre but by now was a frail figure and suffering from pneumonia, as he struggled with various illnesses and addictions.
In July, 2010, it was announced that the “Hurricane” had passed away at the age of 61 in his native Belfast – a sad and lonely demise for a player that once transcended the sport.
While certainly different in terms of their personalities, in Judd Trump there was at least an up-and-coming sensation who would embody Higgins’ sporting values to attack, to conjure up flair shots, and, perhaps most importantly, to entertain.
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2011/12 Snooker Season–>
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