It’s time for the annual highs and lows review, and there are many talking points over the course of 2023 in snooker to recall.
In part one on Friday, we took a look back at some of the low talking points from the last twelve months in the sport.
For part two today, let’s review just a few of the best and most memorable snooker moments from 2023.
Brilliant Luca Brecel
If you’re to believe what you read on social media, the jury has already offered its verdict that Luca Brecel fluked his way to World Championship glory.
People have short memories.
All World Championship triumphs are special, but the Belgian Bullet’s success in Sheffield was one of the best in recent memory.
Having never won a match before at the Crucible Theatre, Brecel finally got that monkey off his back at the sixth attempt with a nerve-jangling 10-9 win against Ricky Walden.
There was to be plenty of drama in the games that followed, too.
Brecel edged Mark Williams 13-11 in a high-quality duel before orchestrating outstanding comebacks to deny reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals and Si Jiahui in the last four.
Mark Selby, bidding for a fifth title since 2014, was the favourite to finally put an end to Brecel’s charge.
But the 28 year-old saved arguably his best for last, with a fine display etching his name onto the trophy.
In overcoming Selby 18-15, he additionally became the first world champion from mainland Europe.
Record Man Ronnie
He comes and goes, his emotions run high and then low, but one thing remains pretty constant – Ronnie O’Sullivan is a serial winner.
In 2023, the Rocket proved that once again by landing another couple of prestigious titles.
O’Sullivan’s ability to win the most important tournaments on the calendar, not only once but several times, is amazing.
Victory in the Shanghai Masters was his fourth in a row and a fifth in total, but even better was to come at the UK Championship.
His triumph over Ding Junhui in York took his tally of UK crowns to eight, another new record to add to his collection, while his ranking event and Triple Crown totals were also extended to 40 and 22 respectively.
The UK success came almost 30 years to the day after his maiden ranking triumph at the same tournament in 1993.
O’Sullivan turned 48 this month but is still snooker’s world number one, and he is showing few signs that his tenure among the highest echelons is approaching its end.
Three in a Row for Trump
The other Triple Crown winner in 2023 was Judd Trump, who back in January emerged victoriously at the Masters for a second time.
That in itself was a great achievement, but towards the back end of the year he produced something very rare and special.
Trump went undefeated during the entire month of October, a period that saw him capture a hat-trick of ranking titles in just four weeks of play.
Victory first came at Zhang Anda’s expense in the English Open, and he quickly followed that up with triumphs in the Wuhan and Northern Ireland Opens as well.
The 34 year-old became only the fifth player in snooker history to win three ranking titles in a row, matching esteemed players Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, and Ding Junhui.
Back in China
A four-year absence from arguably the sport’s most important market was felt with reduced tournaments and plummeting prize money.
But snooker finally returned to China in 2023 after the country lifted its strict coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
There is no escaping the fact that snooker needs China’s interest in the game to continue.
It was great, therefore, to see well-attended venues at each of the three Chinese tournaments held this season so far.
The Shanghai Masters is usually one of the best events on the calendar when staged, but the Wuhan Open and Tianjin’s International Championship both boasted impressive crowd numbers too.
Following on from the match-fixing scandal that resulted in ten disgraced Chinese players receiving bans of varying lengths, it was a relief to see these events being run so successfully.
It would be beneficial for the sport to expand the game’s reach into more territories, therefore not having to rely so heavily on the Chinese market.
But while the vast country is willing to stage these lucrative events, where the players are treated like royalty, snooker’s return to China can only be seen as a positive.
The Milkman Delivers
There were a lot of heartwarming victories during 2023.
For the most part, the positive stories outweighed the negatives one, and it would be difficult to fit them all into just one review.
A few stood out, including Gary Wilson’s recent defence of the Scottish Open and Chris Wakelin’s glory in the Snooker Shoot Out.
Si Jiahui’s run to the semi-finals of the World Championship on his debut was just the kind of immediate tonic Chinese snooker needed following the aforementioned match-fixing scandal.
In early-October, 48 year-old Mark Williams became the oldest ranking event winner since Ray Reardon by claiming the British Open crown in Cheltenham.
Possibly the greatest story that unfolded, however, was with Robert Milkins and his pursuit of the BetVictor Series bonus.
In last year’s review of snooker in 2022, Milkins featured in the Lows article for his drunken escapade at that year’s Turkish Masters.
Twelve months on, the Englishman had turned his fortunes around with some strong displays and duly won the Welsh Open at Shaun Murphy’s expense in Llandudno.
The £80,000 champion’s cheque helped him to top the BetVictor Series rankings, which earned the Milkman a £150,000 bonus and the biggest payday of his 28-year pro career.
The 2023 snooker review will continue on Sunday with our next quiz. If you missed the first quiz, click here.
Featured photo credit: WST