Well this one’s quite self-explanatory. In this, I am going to go through ten predictions I have for the new season. As you probably know by now, my predictions are usually awful, so this could be quite… funny. Without further ado, let’s get started. (Oh, and for people pointing out the proximity of this to the actual start of the season, I’ve had resits for uni).
Prediction 1: Mark Selby will be World Number 1
This is probably the most obvious one. Mark has all the momentum of becoming the World Champion, and he played some of his best snooker ever during Worlds. This coming off of a very accomplished season means that he is going to be a feared threat through the season. Judd has had a couple of brilliant seasons, but that is the exact problem: he’s had such a good couple of seasons, he has a lot of points to defend.
Additionally, Judd’s had such a good couple of years that like with everyone, he is overdue a bad run of form. We saw it at times this season where he hasn’t played well, and when he isn’t at his imperious best, he is vulnerable. So at sometime this season, I think Mark Selby will return to the top of the ranking tree. Cue the moaning.
Prediction 2: Mark Allen will drop out of the Top 16
[DISCLAIMER: I have read the Belfast Telegraph’s article about Mark Allen filing for Bankruptcy. However, I already had this entry planned out before I read the article, and his financial state played no part in that.]
This feels inevitable. When he’s feeling good about his game, Mark is so fantastic to watch, and I love his blood and guts attitude on the table. But he’s not been right for a while, perhaps since winning the Masters.
It isn’t that Mark can’t put on a good performance anymore. Far from it. The problem is when he isn’t playing well. What used to be a willingness to fight for every point, doesn’t feel like it’s there anymore.
Now obviously every dog has it’s day. I just don’t think that on the days other than that, Mark has the same desire he used to. Which is a damn shame. Because his performance at the Crucible this year showed me that he is still a major threat to Triple Crown events.
Prediction 3: Ding Junhui will not be China’s #1 for the entire season
Just to clarify, what I mean by this prediction is that at some point this season, a Ranking event this season will end with Ding Junhui no longer being the highest ranked Chinese player in the world rankings.
It could be as simple as just saying “Yan Bingtao”, but I’ll explain further. Because this isn’t about how Yan has improved (I’ll save that for the mainstream). No. Instead, this is about Ding. And specifically, what’s changed in him.
Ever since he became a father, I’ve not seen the same desire from him. Yes he won the UK in 2019, but especially after that, it doesn’t feel like he wants to be the best anymore.
He’s lost that spark, and Ding without that spark doesn’t look like a player you expect to win events. Obviously fatherhood comes first, but I wonder if all the years of being the embodiment of a wish for millions of youngsters has finally caught up with him
And Yes, that is going to be something I discuss in depth eventually. Emphasis on that last word.
Prediction 4: Kyren Wilson will win a Triple Crown event.
I mean, surely, right? Kyren is a little bit of a mystery right now to me, because I can’t really tell if he’s getting the absolute most out of his talent and benefitting from kind draws, or if he’s underperforming all things considered. Worlds this year felt like his biggest chance yet for a crown, with a reasonably kind looking section of the draw. Instead he limped past a badly out of form Gary Wilson after a catastrophic start, threw away a significant lead against Barry Hawkins, and saw Neil Robertson fall apart in the last session, before succumbing to the pressure against Shaun Murphy.
His Triple Crown record is actually pretty bizarre reading. He’s reached the Last 8 or better in six of seven appearances at Worlds, but has only got past the Last 32 of the UK twice (2018 and 2020), and has only won two matches in the Masters since reaching the final. For whatever reason, Kyren seems to thrive in the big match environment of the Crucible Theatre (either that or he just REALLY likes South Yorkshire).
I do think this season is about time that he actually won one. And I’d actually wager on The Masters being his best bet. The reason for this is two fold. Firstly, he seems to thrive in the smaller number of rounds (his past three professional finals have been in tournaments where he’s competed in no more than five matches), and secondly, The Masters has always been a tournament which produces unexpected winners (three of the past four years have produced first time winners, two of whom have been first-time Triple Crown winners).
All in all, Kyren feels like he’s a major win from really establishing himself. Because right now, with the greatest of respect, he does not feel like a massive threat in the same way a Ronnie or a Selby or a Trump does. He doesn’t have that same air of near-invincibility about him, but taking one of the Triple Crowns home would truly underline that he is a major threat who is going to stick around.
Prediction 5: There will be a Ranking event winner from outside of the Top 32
I mean why not? Jordan Brown’s win in the Welsh Open last season feels like a little bit of a flash in the pan now. But it brought back the reminder of just how strong the tour is these days. The fact that an unheralded player can find their form, go on a run, and take on top players with a realistic hope of winning.
Now did it require Brown to hit his absolute peak at the perfect time? Yes. Did it also require some top players to underperform? Yes. But these are things that happen. There are so many players who have shown that if they can put their game together, they can have a real crack at ranking titles. And they are hungrier than ever, because they will all have seen this, and lots of them will be thinking “that could be me”.
The gap between the Top 16/32 and the rest of the tour is smaller than ever now. It used to be that there was a subselect of players who were simply better in every department than the players lower down the rankings. That isn’t as true anymore. Because they don’t have to be able to pot like Trump, or play safety like Selby, or steal frames like Higgins. That helps obviously, but they just have to be able to keep up.
If you ask a Top 16 player how often in a season they truly play their “A” game, it won’t be as much as you expect. You can’t keep up that standard week in week out for the best part of a year. Outplaying the top players is possible. And with the completest possible respect to Brown (whose achievement was simply tremendous), there is far more qualified players to win a ranking title down the rankings than he. Players who we have seen beat the top guys with incredible performances, but have never quite made the next step. And there are more tournaments than ever for them to find these performances.
One last point that needs making is that players from all around the rankings are practicing with each other more than ever. You’ve got Sohail Vahedi practicing in Glasgow with the likes of Higgins, Maguire and McGill, you’ve got Jackson Page under the wing of Mark Williams, even Shaun Murphy travelling to Dublin to practice with Jordan Brown and Fergal O’Brien and Martin Gould practicing with Ronnie. Players are more willing than ever to sharpen each other up, and with that comes better players further down the rankings and ergo closer matches. All it takes is one good day.
Prediction 6: Jamie Jones will be inside of the Top 32 at some point during the season.
Jamie Jones has returned to the tour as a man on a mission. That mission? Show everyone that he’s more than just a decent player who got banned. Last season he truly showed that he’s taken advantage of his enforced time off. He’s come back tougher, he’s got more of a steely gaze now, and he’s got a never say die attitude.
A classy player in the balls, Jamie is the archetypal player who rises steadily through the rankings. His game has no significant weakness, he has no fear of the top players or the big occassion, and he has both bottle and experience. He starts the season 55th, but he’s only around £44,000 off of the Top 32 at the moment (which for context is slightly over half of his earnings last season).
And then you consider that some players higher up have A LOT of money coming off of their rankings. On the other hand, Jones is on the second year of his tour card, meaning that he has nothing coming off at all. That means it’s a golden opportunity to take advantage of other players falling away from their peaks. I’m not saying he’ll finish the season there, just that he’ll be in the 32 at some point.
Prediction 7: Anthony McGill will reach the Quarter-Finals of at least two Triple Crown events.
Talk about peaking at the right time. The past two years, Anthony McGill has peaked at Worlds, going deeper in Sheffield than any other tournament during the season. He really has become a long format specialist, and there’s a lot to be said for that. So why have his performances been so much worse in the UK Championship?
In York, Ant has only ever reached the Last 8 once (2014, lost 6-4 to Ronnie). In fact so bad is his record, last season was the first time since 2014 that he got beyond the Last 64. As for the Masters, he lost in his only match there in 2018 (6-4 to Higgins), so we don’t have a huge amount to go on in that respect.
So why do I think Ant will reach two Triple Crown Quarter-Finals? Simple – I think he’s improving. Every time I watch him compete in longer matches, I feel like he’s getting better tactically, he’s becoming a battle hardened veteran, and when he’s playing decently, he’s really difficult to beat. I don’t think anyone would bet against him reaching the Last 8 in Sheffield again, and reaching that stage in the Masters only requires a single victory. I wouldn’t bet against him reaching a final, but at the very least, he’ll be in the late stages.
Prediction 8: Luca Brecel will reach the Quarter-Finals of at least two Ranking Events
How has Luca not done more? I remember when he first appeared on television in Power Snooker in 2010, he was being talked up as the next big thing in Snooker. And he looked like he could be the real deal. Then he won the China Championship in 2017 after a few years of establishing himself, and ended up as the 11th best player in the world. Where did it all go so wrong?
It’s amazing to think he was in such a position now, as four years later (as I type this it’s just 9 days until the 4th anniversary of his CC win), he’s now 39th in the world and has reached one ranking event Quarter-Final since then. There’s dips in form, and then there’s simply losing the plot, and Luca seemed to have done that for a while.
He’s improved again now, but seems to keep getting killer draws, such as Worlds where he was in fine form but was in the same section of the qualifiers as eventual Semi-Finalist Stuart Bingham. I think that the draws might fall a little kinder for Luca this season, because he does seem to come up short against the top players. There seems to be a mental block there where he can’t produce his natural game to any great degree against the big boys.
If the draw falls nicely for him in events, and he keeps up the form improvement, I’d back him to reach a couple of Last 8s. That would at least halt his slide down the rankings, and probably be enough to launch him back into the Top 32. From there, he needs to keep the momentum, because he’s running out of get out of jail free cards for his form. He’s now 26 and has been a professional for a decade. He isn’t running out of time by any means, but it feels like he’s been left behind somewhat. Still great to watch though.
Prediction 9: Louis Heathcote will win at least 20 matches.
Now long-term readers of this blog (i.e. anybody who read my UK Championship predictions last season) will be aware that I’m extremely high on Louis Heathcote. He’s a young player still and does occasionally show his inexperience, but he has a great potting game, and his tactical mind is extremely underrated for me. Plus he doesn’t tend to show signs of being under pressure, approaching each shot exactly the same.
I was disappointed when Heathcote failed to finish in the Top 64 last season, because I felt like it would be a great base to continue from this year. Nevertheless, he’s got two more years, where he’ll continue to develop. There’s a fair amount of events scheduled for this season, and I don’t think he’ll have any issues in picking up 20 wins. He’s a real prospect for the future (although I could just say he’s from Leicester and leave it at that!), and I would be surprised if he isn’t in the Top 64 by the end of next season.
Prediction 10: A Ranking Event will be announced for the Americas for the 2022/23 season
The growth of the game in the American subcontinent cannot be underestimated. Now yes, we do have a situation where there was several Canadians on tour back in the day and there isn’t now, but that was a far more basic time when anybody who was good at any cue sport could at least do decently well. The game has developed a lot more since then, with all sorts of technical shots being pretty much invented on a daily basis.
The game has gone from basically not existing in a lot of the subcontinent though to now, where the Pan-American Snooker and Billiards Association growing on a daily basis, with Latin America starting to develop their game, there’s hopes of a Latin American snooker league being formed sometime soon, and Igor Figueredo’s successes will only inspire more and more youngsters from these countries to pick up a cue. How better to promote the game than announce an event for the continent in the new season, as Snooker looks to wean itself off of its total dependence on the UK and China, and establish itself as a world sport again.
So that’s the list. Sorry this has taken so long, life gets in the way sometimes. I hope to have more regular uploads now, although no guarantees. If you enjoyed this, drop me a comment or tag me on Twitter @M18Snooker. Until next time, thanks for reading.