More and more players into their forties are featuring at the business end of tournaments.
Victory for Mark Williams in this season’s British Open means the Welshman now possesses two of the all-time top five oldest ranking event victories.
The three-time world champion defeated Gary Wilson 6-4 to claim the revamped competition in August, and at 46 years and 156 days old he is one of the most senior winners ever on the Main Tour.
Indeed, Williams now boasts the fourth and fifth oldest winning ages having earlier this year also triumphed in the WST Pro Series on what was his 46th birthday.
Only countrymen Ray Reardon and Doug Mountjoy stand above him on the list of oldest ranking event winners.
Mountjoy, who passed away in February this year, won two titles in quick succession during the 1988/89 snooker season when he, like Williams, was 46.
For Reardon, the six-time world champion bagged his final ranking success at the tender age of 50 years and 14 days by capturing the Professional Players Tournament in 1982.
At one point not so long ago, the idea of someone breaking Reardon’s record seemed like an improbability, but in recent years that outlook has dramatically changed.
In fact, it’s now seeming more and more likely that one from the current crop of competitors will be able to bag glory beyond the half-century mark.
Back in 2004 when Jimmy White, who was on the receiving end of Reardon’s record triumph 22 years earlier, rekindled old form to win the Players Championship at the age of 41, it was heralded as one of the great victories of that era.
At that time, the game was flooded with outstanding young talents in the form of Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Matthew Stevens, Stephen Lee, and Paul Hunter.
Stephen Hendry, who had dominated the 1990s, was still only 35 while there was the impending emergence from the likes of Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, and Mark Selby adding to the fold too.
The oldest ranking event winners. MJW is 46 yrs, 154 days old.
50 yrs, 14 days – Ray Reardon (1982 Pro Players Tournament)
46 yrs, 221 days – Doug Mountjoy (1989 Classic)
46 yrs, 172 days – Doug Mountjoy (1988 UK Championship)
46 yrs, 0 days – Mark Williams (2021 Pro Series)
— David Hendon (@davehendon) August 22, 2021
Even by 2012, when Peter Ebdon similarly at 41 claimed the top prize in the China Open, there was still a sense of rarity at how a player into his forties could win on the circuit.
Almost a decade later and it has, of course, now become a familiar occurrence with so many players successfully plying their trade into a fourth or fifth decade and managing to get their hands on silverware.
In fact, these days it’s more of a surprise when a younger player – young in today’s snooker being under 30 – ends up with his name etched onto the trophy.
A significant number of those players who were at the forefront of the game ten to 15 – or even 20 to 30 – years ago remain the ones challenging for the biggest prizes on offer today.
The three who are obviously most likely to eclipse Reardon’s milestone in the foreseeable future are the members from the fabled Class of ’92 – Williams, O’Sullivan, and Higgins.
The former boasts two out of the top five spots at the moment, but a betting person would probably place their money on one of the other two illustrious names ultimately breaking the record.
O’Sullivan, who became the oldest world snooker champion since Reardon when he won the 2020 Crucible edition at the age of 44, is surely the most likely overall to keep winning well into his fifties.
The Englishman has defied his numerous threats of retirement and continues to feature prominently at the business end of Main Tour events.
Last season may have been a blip with his unusual failure to add to his ranking event tally, but by reaching five finals he proved that his consistency remains strong, and it would be a surprise if he didn’t add several more wins in the coming campaigns.
Indeed, these sportsbook reviews feature many online outlets that rate O’Sullivan as one of the outright favourites for glory in next month’s English Open and December’s UK Championship.
Higgins too has proved time and time again that any potential demise is premature, particularly in February when he produced an outstanding display to dismantle the entire field at the Players Championship in Milton Keynes.
The Scot may have narrowly missed out on glory in the Northern Ireland Open final on Sunday, but his dedication to a new fitness regime in order to prolong his tenure at the highest echelons also serves to highlight how he could still be raising trophies aloft for many years to come.
With so few young pretenders emerging in the sport compared to the past, the opportunities may continue for the likes of Selby and Robertson well into the next decade of their careers, particularly as they both already attribute a high degree of importance to maintaining strong fitness levels as well.
Then what age will the oldest ranking event winner be? Of course, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty, but Reardon’s once unbeatable looking record now appears as though it almost certainly will go at some point.