Continuing the annual review on SnookerHQ, it’s time to reflect on the snooker player of the year for 2021.
In recent years there has generally been a standout performer, but on this occasion it’s not so straightforward choosing the best competitor from the 12-month period.
There are numerous contenders who have enjoyed considerable success on the baize without having actually dominated in the same manner as the likes of Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and Mark Selby have managed in most of the last six or seven years.
Let’s have a look then at the cueists who could lay claim to being the 2021 snooker player of the year.
Trump, the front-running player from 2019 and 2020, was again the most prolific on the circuit by winning three titles during 2021 in total.
The Englishman defending his crowns in both the German Masters and the Gibraltar Open, and more recently added a maiden Champion of Champions trophy to his impressive CV.
However, Trump’s level has undoubtedly dropped in comparison to the previous two years in which he became such a dominant force.
Trump missed the Masters at the start of the year after a positive COVID-19 test, only reached the last eight at the Crucible, and hasn’t been in a ranking event semi-final this season so far.
One thing that seems to be guaranteed in snooker is an annual title or two for the Thunder from Down Under.
This year was no different, with Robertson capturing the Tour Championship toward the end of last season and the English Open near the beginning of this term.
If Robertson had won the World Grand Prix just before Christmas he probably would have been a shoe-in for the snooker player of the year in 2021 given the prestige of the events in question, but the 39 year-old fell just short in a close defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Robertson, who missed some events in the summer while he was getting married, lost at the quarter-final stage of the World Championship – again failing to back up his bravado talk in Sheffield.
Higgins participated in six event finals throughout 2021, the most of any player on this list, but the Scot could only translate that into one success.
It was quite a victory, though, with Higgins romping to one of the most commanding triumphs in history at the Players Championship in February.
The Wizard of Wishaw was at his brilliant best and lost only four frames in four matches as he collected the £125,000 top prize.
Higgins, benefiting from a new fitness regime in the second half of the year, came within touching distance of landing the silverware in the Masters, the Northern Ireland Open, and the English Open, and he was also the runner-up in the Champion of Champions and the Scottish Open.
Selby’s year centres on his triumph in the World Championship in May, a fourth glory at the Crucible Theatre that reinforces his status as one of the all-time greats of the game.
Helped by the £500,000 champion’s cheque from Sheffield, the Jester subsequently returned to the world number one position during the summer and holds onto that coveted spot at the end of the year.
Yet, even though he was brilliant in the World Championship, Selby hasn’t really featured prominently at the business end of many events in 2021 – particularly this season.
Selby reached the final of the Shoot Out in February, but more recently during this term the 38 year-old boasts only one semi-final appearance in a ranking event to his name.
It seems a little strange to include O’Sullivan in this list given how he’s obviously performed well below par for much of the year.
The funny thing is, on paper at least, the Rocket’s 2021 hasn’t been that bad and his record during that time of one tournament victory, three runners-up positions, and two semi-finals would be a source of immense pride for the majority of others.
The 46 year old’s late trademark burst to pip Neil Robertson to success in the recent World Grand Prix put a shine on an otherwise strange 12-month spell, though.
O’Sullivan was rarely, if ever, on top form, consistently struggling against other elite players and relying frequently on his overawing status to get past lower-ranked opponents he’d usually steamroll.
It’s a very tough choice as so many players have arguments for and against, but on this occasion John Higgins just about nicks it.
Higgins didn’t win the World Championship, raised fewer trophies aloft than Trump and Robertson, and some will rightly point to how his record isn’t that dissimilar to that of O’Sullivan.
But in terms of consistency from the start of 2021 all the way to its conclusion, Higgins was probably number one, while his annihilation of the strong Players Championship field unequivocally stands out as the performance of the year.
The 46 year-old has dedicated himself with a new fitness regime in order to get the most out of the end of his career, so for all those reasons he represents the snooker player of the year for 2021.
Featured photo credit: WPBSA