Snookerbacker

June 21, 2018

The New Season – Ones to Watch

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:00 am

A big season awaits

Amid all the hullabaloo of the World Cup, we might not notice that early July signals the beginning of the snooker season. The players head to Preston Guild Hall to play the Riga Masters and World Open qualifiers before another short break sees them launch into pretty much wall to wall snooker right up to Christmas. Before we know it the cold nights will have drawn in and we’ll be heading to freezing York for the UK Championship. Bliss.

It’s always exciting looking forward to what the new season will bring and looking at who the big movers and shakers will be. Last season was very much about the Class of ’92, O’Sullivan, Higgins and World Champion Mark Williams dominated the season and there was very little room for anyone else. There were only two breakthrough ranking winners in Ryan Day and Luca Brecel (I don’t count the Shootout, sorry Michael) as all the other events were captured by repeat ranking winners, so will this season see a different trend?

Well, the good news is I have found my crystal ball in a dusty old box in the attic and I’ve given it a polish to give you my players to watch this season, all for different reasons, maybe I think they will be holding trophies or maybe I think they will make giant strides in the rankings or just have a decent season without making the business end. Either way, here are my ones to watch, you can always list yours to me on Twitter if you have nothing better to do with your life.

The one I think will win trophies: Kyren Wilson

Kyren proved in Sheffield to any remaining doubters that he is the real deal. His run to the semi-finals was not unexpected and I’m happy to jump on board the standing-room only bandwagon that predict he is a future Crucible champion. My feeling is that it won’t be for at least a couple of years yet because he’ll have to get used to winning big events first and this is the season where I think that particular stage of his career can begin. He’s firmly lodged in the top 16 now and I see this as the year he goes top 6, I’d not be surprised to see him carry off a couple of the lesser ranking events this season and perhaps even push for the UK and The Masters, where I think he could well go one better than his runners-up spot last season.

The one I think needs to make that leap forward: Jack Lisowski

It seems like Jack has been around for donkey’s years, but in snooker terms he’s still very young. He’s always been a ferocious potter and by all accounts in practice you’ve got more chance of Elvis serving you your pie and chips behind the snooker club bar than seeing Jack miss. But he’s never quite fulfilled what everyone knows he is capable of and has also to some extent lived in the shadow of Judd Trump. Despite his crushing defeat at the hands of John Higgins at The Crucible he can take heart that he’s had his best professional season and that he is now not losing very often to players ranked below him. I hope he keeps his head down, continues to cut out the silly risks from his game (it works Jack!) and makes that big push. He’s as exciting a future prospect in terms of putting bums on seats that snooker has these days.

The dark horse who can have his breakthrough season: Chris Wakelin 

I have summed up here why I think Chris is one to watch this season, he’s a player that I think really has the temperament to make it into the top 16 in the next couple of seasons. He’s also probably won me more money betting on him in matches than 90% of the tour, not that this plays a part in my choice of course.  

The next big thing from China: Zhou Yuelong (aka Ghou Yolonge)

The vast majority of avid snooker watchers seem to believe that stablemate Yan Bingtao is the next Chinese sensation, but I’ve always thought Zhou was the more rounded player of the two and the one most likely to keep his nerve and his cue action when the pressure is on, something that I still think is the downfall of a lot of the Chinese players. His grounding in Sheffield with the other Chinese boys is obviously key to his success and the reason why I now think that we will see a challenge to Ding coming from someone other than Liang Wenbo. Whilst he is still young, he is already showing maturity in his game that I think can win him titles, I’d not be at all surprised if he won one of the lesser ranking events this season to a fanfare of ‘Chinese Revolution’ articles online and further afield.

Liam Highfield – improved a bit.

The lowly ranked improver: Liam Highfield

Liam caught my eye last season at the UK Championship when I was there and I thought immediately after seeing him close up how much he had improved since the last time I’d seen him play live the season before. His cue action was a lot more assured, his demeanour around the table was confident and he didn’t beat himself up when he threw in a careless one. He still thinks India is the size of Blackpool but you can’t have everything (little snooker in-joke there). His qualification to The Crucible will have given him added confidence going into the new season and I think he’ll be a player that makes his way quietly up the rankings and not looking over his shoulder like he has been for most of the last couple. He’s ranked 60th at the minute but I’d say he’s potentially top 32 so keep a close eye on him in match betting early on in the season as I reckon he won’t lose to many, if any, who are ranked below him and could easily shock a few who are higher up.

The second-chancer: Sam Craigie

Somehow, Sam managed to fall off the tour last season but immediately bounced back through Q-School to take his place back where he belongs straight away. For a player with his talent this should work as a wake up call to start really putting the graft in. I’m not exaggerating here when I say I really think he is a top 16 player in the making. His break building is solid, his shot selection is measured and his safety play is as good as anyone on the tour so one can only assume that the problems start and end upstairs in the department marked ‘Brain’. I hope the shock to the system that losing his place gave him will act as a positive, he’s got a second chance now and two years experience under his belt at this level, so now is the time to kick on.

The season begins on July 2nd in Preston with the qualifiers for the Riga Masters and World Open. Tickets are available on the day or through the Guild Hall website. 

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