5 things we learned from this year’s World Snooker Championship
But at the end of a long and Covid-affected season, what did this year’s tournament say about the state of the game and its most high-profile players?
Here the PA news agency sifts through the evidence of just over two weeks of action in a bid to unearth some answers about what the future holds.
Crowds are good
Snooker proved more combat-ready than most as it battled through a Covid-affected season in Milton Keynes, and still proved capable of serving up a series of classics in spite of the sterile atmosphere. But their extended absence only made the gradual return of crowds at the Crucible all the more welcome, and clearly inspired some players – most notably Shaun Murphy – to greater heights. Never again will the rustle of sweet papers nor the untimely chirp of a mobile phone be frowned upon quite so much.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has defied the odds before – not least when he clinched his sixth Crucible crown in 2020 – but his second-round defeat to Anthony McGill may have scuppered his chances of matching Stephen Hendry’s record of seven titles at the famous venue. O’Sullivan claims not to care about the record, and it is probably just as well – as the 45-year-old’s career is increasingly consumed by other interests, it could be that he will never again get such a good chance to lift the trophy.
It is one thing sweeping all before you over shorter formats behind closed doors, and another outlasting your granite-cued rivals over two long weeks of action. That is the predicament facing Judd Trump, who fell well short again despite a season which saw him cruise to five tournament titles. Trump’s still-solitary world title win in 2019 was seen at the time as the start of a golden Crucible era. Now it looks increasingly like an achievement he will struggle to emulate, unless he summons the stamina and makes some serious changes.
Young guns go for it
Dig deep enough into the qualifying draws and there is plenty of cause for long-term optimism in the likes of Iulian Boiko, Ben Mertens and Jamie Wilson, all of whom are yet to see their 18th birthdays. But for the time being at least, the game faces a chronic shortage of emerging talent, and the late-thirty and forty-somethings continue to reign supreme. This year’s tournament featured only two debutants, and just three players under the age of 29. With the exception of Masters champion Yan Bingtao, the young guns are still failing to fire.
Bingtao’s Masters win has been predicted to usher in a new era of Chinese influence on the sport. But such enthusiasm merely echoes the claims made after Ding Junhui’s first UK triumph in 2005, and, with a couple of fleeting exceptions, they have barely come to pass. The next two years will prove crucial to the continued evolving of the game in China, with international tournaments set to restart, and the unlimited pool of raw young talent given the chance to make good on the inspiration provided by Bingtao’s win.