The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
A campaign like no other, the 2020/21 snooker season is one that few will forget but most will hope its kind never happens again.
With the world struggling to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, normal was thrown out the window and makeshift methods of survival were being enacted in all walks of life.
Snooker was no different, so with intermittent lockdowns and travel restrictions implemented across the globe, a term almost fully behind closed doors was required.
For the first time in the modern era of the game, there wasn’t a single event staged outside Great Britian.
All China-based tournaments were cancelled as the country adopted one of the strictest international regulations to combat the threat of the coronavirus.
Planned trips to familiar destinations like Ireland and mainland Europe were also scrapped.
Instead, the World Snooker Tour found a suitable base from which they could host the majority of tournaments within its own bubble.
And so it transpired that the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes became the new, practically permanent, home of snooker during the 2020/21 season.
Between September and April, 14 events in total were staged at the venue, each with no crowd and no atmosphere.
The various production companies that were aligned with each competition tried their best to make every tournament unique, but there was only so much they could do.
Everyone appreciated the fact that Milton Keynes was there to support snooker when it needed to put on a show and keep players in a job.
But by the end of it all, one tournament was beginning to flow seamlessly – and monotonously – into another, and rather than becoming snooker’s new home, it developed a more claustrophobic feel as its graveyard.
As it turned out, the change in environment didn’t really act as a leveller and the majority of the silverware ended up in the usual hands.
For the third term running, Judd Trump played a starring role as he added another five ranking titles to the record six he captured during the previous season.
Trump edged Neil Robertson 9-8 in a gripping English Open tie in October and soon after beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 for the third year running to successfully defend the Northern Ireland Open.
Either side of the new year, the Ace in the Pack twice beat close friend Jack Lisowski in title deciders – first at the World Grand Prix in December before repeating the trick at the German Masters in January.
Two months later, the same pair contested the final of the Gibraltar Open with Trump again consigning Lisowski to a painful reverse at the last hurdle of a competition – taking the latter’s miserable tally of ranking event final defeats to six.
Trump, though, didn’t have it all his own way and lost arguably the final of the entire 2020/21 snooker season.
A UK Championship that was originally scheduled for York but at the last minute had to be transported to the Marshall Arena concluded with an enthralling and tense showdown between the Englishman and Robertson.
In amongst the balls and clearing the table to seemingly pinch glory on the final black, Trump inexplicitatly botched a pink off the spot and Robertson, who a month earlier was denied success in the Champion of Champions by Mark Allen, pounced for his third UK crown.
Meanwhile, world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan continued to be a familiar presence at the business end of events.
However, the Rocket was unsually struggling with peak form and was making his way through the rounds more on reputation rather than by producing his best play.
O’Sullivan featured in five ranking event finals throughout the 2020/21 snooker season and uncharacteristically lost them all.
After being denied in the Northern Ireland Open again by Trump, the Englishman was beaten by Mark Selby in the Scottish Open and Jordan Brown in the Welsh Open in what was one of the all-time great upsets.
There wasn’t much O’Sullivan could do in the other two showpiece clashes, however, as he was dismantled in the finals of both the Players and Tour Championships.
In February’s Players Championship, old rival John Higgins romped to a 10-3 success to cap a dominant tournament in which he surrendered just four frames in total.
Exactly a month later, Robertson produced a scintillating second session of snooker to reel off the last six frames and pummel O’Sullivan 10-4.
That Tour Championship and the Welsh Open from the previous month were the only two events that saw the players venture away from Milton Keynes, with both staged at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.
There were fears that the World Championship would have to follow a similar fate, so there was relief when it was announced that the blue-riband tournament could be staged at the sport’s spiritual home of the Crucible Theatre.
A limited number of fans were welcomed back as well, which added to the excitement as a degree of normality returned to tournament snooker.
Around the time when many were calling for a change of venue for the World Snooker Championship, it was pleasing to see the players back in Sheffield after what had been a period of turbulence.
O’Sullivan’s quest for a record-equalling seventh world title never really got going, though, and the 45 year-old was pipped in a second-round decider by Anthony McGill.
Instead, Mark Selby concluded the campaign just as he had begun it, with the trophy raised aloft in his hands.
After edging Martin Gould in a decider to win the season-opening European Masters before adding the Scottish Open in December, Selby had equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of winning 11 consecutive ranking event finals.
The Jester was pretty miffed then when his streak was snapped in the unpredictable single-frame Shoot Out following defeat to Ryan Day.
But the season ended on the highest note possible for Selby as he overcame Shaun Murphy in an entertaining World Championship final with an 18-15 scoreline.
Elsewhere, Kyren Wilson and Mark Williams enjoyed success in the various league competitions that were established.
Williams triumphed in the forgettable WST Pro Series that utilised best-of-three frame fixtures across its entirety, while Wilson won both versions of the Championship League.
At the Masters, Yan Bingtao took advantage of a more serene setting in Milton Keynes than the atmoshphere that’s usually generated by raucous supporters at the Alexandra Palace in London.
The young Chinese cueist demonstrated his all-round attributes and terrific temperament by winning his first three battles in deciding-frame thrillers, before edging Higgins 10-8 in the final.
Yan’s emergence with a Triple Crown title would spark a remarkable run of success for players from his Victoria Snooker Club in Sheffield and the emergence of another star from China during the next campaign.
<–2019/20 Snooker Season
Featured photo credit: WST
The Snooker Seasons series will continue in the future.