The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
After a successful first full campaign under Barry Hearn’s rule, the sport had been transformed and his hard-working ideology continued into the 2011/12 snooker season.
Once again, the calendar was packed full of action, and gone were the days when the players could enjoy a summer break as tournaments began to pop up more frequently during the sunshine months.
The first Players Tour Championship event out of a dozen took place as early as June with Ronnie O’Sullivan emerging as the champion following a 4-0 success against Joe Perry in the final.
The PTC tournaments were small but frenetic pro-ams that were staged over the course of a long weekend, and even though they only boasted minor-ranking event status they were still good tournaments to win.
Early-season victories for the likes of Mark Selby, Judd Trump, and Neil Robertson led to more prestigious glories later in the year, while the likes of Ben Woollaston, Andrew Higginson, Michael Holt, and Tom Ford all enjoyed rare tournament victories of their own.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, had endured a disappointing last couple of seasons by his standards and his love/hate relationship with the sport was a constant source of news.
By the time the German Masters came around in February of the 2011/12 snooker season, it had been more than two years since O’Sullivan’s last victory in a full ranking event – his longest barren spell in 15 years.
It may be difficult for some to believe this, but at that point in his career there were many who questioned whether or not the Rocket’s best days were behind him.
At 4-0 down to Higginson in the last 32 at the Tempodrom, there was little to suggest that this was going to be the week to reignite his form.
Yet, motivated after the mid-session interval and buoyed by an enthralled crowd, O’Sullivan fought back to prevail in a decider before proceeding to etch his name onto the trophy with a 9-7 victory against Stephen Maguire in the final.
That edition of the German Masters can be pinpointed as a Y-junction of O’Sullivan’s career, and a route that ultimately continued his upward trajectory to becoming one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Three months later at the Crucible Theatre, O’Sullivan was rarely troubled – destroying old foes Peter Ebdon and Mark Williams in the first two rounds before securing a close victory against Neil Robertson to reach the last four.
A comprehensive win against surprise semi-finalist Matthew Stevens set up a showdown against Ali Carter in what was a repeat of the 2008 World Championship final.
The outcome was the same, with O’Sullivan romping to an 18-11 success that earned him his fourth world title and a seat firmly back at snooker’s top table.
Of course, what he was to go and achieve the following term was to become one of the most bizarre and brilliant displays of them all, but more on that next time.
Meanwhile, the 2012 World Championship was memorable for another standout reason after seven-time Crucible king Stephen Hendry announced his immediate retirement from the sport.
Long having struggled to produce his A-game on a consistent basis, Hendry managed to conjure up one more performance to remember with a magnificent 147 maximum break against Stuart Bingham in the opening round.
Hendry proceeded to stun defending champion John Higgins in the last 16 but was thumped 13-2 by Maguire in the quarter-finals, and he later waved goodbye to the crowd amid emotional scenes at the Crucible Theatre.
The Scot could still play well on occasion, but he had realised that he would be unable to keep up with the latest wave of talent – many of whom managed to land silverware of their own during the 2011/12 snooker season.
Robertson, Selby, and Ding Junhui shared notable titles between them with wins in the Masters, Shanghai Masters, and the Welsh Open respectively.
Elsewhere, Judd Trump built on the confidence gained from his terrific end to the previous term by storming to victory in the UK Championship at the Barbican Centre in December, beating fellow young hotshot Mark Allen in an entertain battle.
A few months after that, the latter finally captured his maiden ranking event crown by winning the World Open despite having strong, and less than complimentary, words to say about the tournament’s location in Haikou.
Trips overseas were becoming more frequent than ever, with an influx of tournaments in China and across mainland Europe in particular, while other parts of the world were trialled with varying degrees of success too.
The Australian Goldfields Open was staged for the first time in Bendigo and won by Stuart Bingham, a player who would take full advantage of the extra playing opportunities to reap remarkable rewards from the sport over the course of the following decade.
A non-ranking event in Brazil proved less memorable, and Shaun Murphy’s victory over Graeme Dott remains the last time players on the Main Tour took a trip to South America for any tournament of note.
Towards the end of the 2011/12 snooker season, a couple of the more seasoned campaigners also returned to winning ways with Peter Ebdon edging Maguire in the China Open final and Stephen Lee’s upsurge in form culminating in a PTC Grand Finals triumph in Galway.
Lee had featured in the latter stages of the prior three ranking events too, including the title decider of the World Open against Allen, and having previously dropped outside the world’s top 16 the Englishman would end the campaign back inside the top eight.
The 37 year-old’s resurgence led to suggestions that the player labelled with possessing the silkiest cue action might finally challenge for some of the game’s major trophies, but all that promise was to be trampled on in the midst of spectacular controversy midway through the 2012/13 term.
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2012/13 Snooker Season–>
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There’s a video on YouTube, originally broadcast on the BBC, that very much underlines your point about how people were starting to question whether O’Sullivan could still mix it at the business end of the sport. It was bordering on a career obituary.
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