Continuing the annual review on SnookerHQ, it’s time to reflect on the snooker Player of the Year for 2023.
Like any other, this year has been filled with memorable moments and incredible victories from a range of different players.
A few, though, stood out above the rest. Let’s take a look at the snooker Player of the Year contenders.
There were a few moments when it looked as though he might relinquish his stranglehold at the summit of the world rankings.
But as it turned out, Ronnie O’Sullivan went the entire year as the sport’s world number one on the official two-year list.
The Rocket generated headlines for his repeated withdrawals from tournaments, including at the Champion of Champions where he was due to defend his crown.
There was also significant attention surrounding the release of his documentary film, Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Edge of Everything.
Consistency and desire weren’t always evident at the table, but O’Sullivan still managed to collect a couple of prestigious titles.
A fifth Shanghai Masters victory was followed a few months later with a record-extending eighth UK Championship.
O’Sullivan’s 10-7 triumph over Ding Junhui in the final in York came almost 30 years to the day after his 1993 success at the same tournament.
At 48, O’Sullivan continues to prosper at the top of the game, and he shows few signs that his tenure among the highest echelons is nearing an end.
A lot of the focus on Judd Trump in 2023 revolved around his outstanding month of October.
The 34 year-old went undefeated amid a dizzying surge of form that saw him bag a hat-trick of ranking titles in the space of just four weeks.
But Trump’s calendar year was actually strong from start to finish.
Despite not performing at his peak, the Englishman began 2023 by winning the Masters for the second time in his career.
There were four more appearances in finals – losing to Mark Allen in the World Grand Prix and again to the Northern Irishman at the Champion of Champions.
Trump was also denied glory at the European Masters by an inspired Barry Hawkins and at the invitational Championship League by John Higgins.
Losing in the first round of the World Championship represented a major source of disappointment.
Yet Trump’s confidence is almost back to the level shown between 2019 and 2021, and he has risen back up to number two in the world rankings.
When he is producing his best form, he is nearly unbeatable, as he proved during that spellbinding month in October when he secured a treble at the English, Wuhan, and Northern Ireland Opens.
Despite getting his hands on three pieces of silverware, it was a somewhat strange 2023 for Mark Allen.
The year started off nicely with his victory at the World Grand Prix in Cheltenham, where he denied Trump in a 10-9 thriller.
There was also a burst of success near the year’s end, with Trump again on the other side of the table as he captured the Champion of Champions in November.
A month later, Allen became the first ever current member of the top 16 to win the unpredictable Snooker Shoot Out.
A decent World Championship also saw the Pistol challenge in Sheffield for the first time in years, reaching the last four where he was beaten by Mark Selby.
But other than that, there were a lot of disappointing displays that were reflected by his failure to land the world number one spot.
Allen had chances to force his way to the top position for the first time in his career but couldn’t get the job done.
Still, following on from 2022 where he defended the Northern Ireland Open and won the UK Championship, it was another strong year for the Antrim man.
Like Allen, Shaun Murphy captured three titles during 2023 and should at least get a mention in the Player of the Year debate.
Indeed, for a two-month spell between February and early-April, Murphy enjoyed temporary status as the best player in the world.
An unexpected defeat to Robert Milkins in the Welsh Open final was followed by mesmorising performances to win both the Players and Tour Championships.
Murphy subsequently won the 2023/24 campaign-opening Championship League, but the Magician’s form has unfortunately fallen off a cliff since then.
Luca Brecel, meanwhile, produced one of the most memorable fortnights of snooker ever to claim the World Championship trophy for the first time.
The Belgian Bullet hadn’t even won a game at the Crucible Theatre before, but that all changed in dramatic fashion in 2023.
A 10-9 first-round triumph over Ricky Walden was substantiated by further victories against multiple world champions Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Brecel then fought back remarkably from 14-5 down to pip debutant Si Jiahui in a thrilling semi-final before outlasting Mark Selby in an entertaining showdown for glory.
The 28 year-old may not have done too much since then, but during that period, his unbelievable natural talent was there for all to see.
Finally, one other unlikely snooker star should be mentioned in the Player of the Year discussion for 2023 – Zhang Anda.
Twelve months ago, Zhang still held the bizarre moniker of being the best player to have never been ranked inside the world’s top 64.
A professional on and off since 2009, Zhang finally put that right by ending the last campaign as the world number 58, but much more was to come.
The 31 year-old was a surprise finalist at the English Open where he was narrowly denied a maiden title by Judd Trump.
Then a month later, Zhang went one better by delighting his home crowd in China and winning the International Championship.
A meteoric rise up the rankings saw the diminutive figure known as Mighty Mouse join the top 16 and earn a spot at the upcoming Masters.
Verdict: 2023 Snooker Player of the Year
If Allen had a stronger middle part of his year, or if Murphy had continued that crazy form beyond just a few months.
If Brecel had built on his World Championship triumph by challenging for more titles, or if O’Sullivan had played in more events.
All of these competitors have had calendar years to remember, but there can be only one conclusion.
He produced a high and consistent level from the beginning of the year to the end, winning four titles and reaching four other finals.
The snooker Player of the Year for 2023 is Judd Trump.
Featured photo credit: WST