sport

23rd July 2019

A post-Ronnie O’Sullivan era for World Snooker

For over two decades, O’Sullivan has been the face of snooker and his staggering fifteen 147’s and 1,009-century breaks, make him arguably the greatest player to ever grace the baize. However, a constant battle with the sports administrators has often overshadowed his brilliance and dominance. Following the announcement that last season’s World Championship would likely be his last, it looks as though World Snooker is about to enter a new era.

O’Sullivan’s gripes have always been over media commitments, and given his time in the game this can perhaps be expected. However, as snooker continues its resurgence, his stance is also not one that can be accepted by World Snooker. Media commitments are part and parcel of the game and a necessity to continue growth and fan engagement. Prize money continues to climb year-on-year and as such the trajectory of World Snooker and those who play under its umbrella also continue to blossom. The glitz and the glamour, that has become such a problem for Ronnie, is something that is simply now an imperative duty of any professional sportsman playing at the top level.

With multiple stars at the centre of the sport, snooker looks poised to enter a golden era of competition. The talent coming through from both Europe and Asia leaves anyone associated with the sport a huge amount to be excited about. The last five seasons have seen an incredible 14 maiden ranking event winners, underlying the strength in depth of players propelling themselves into ranking contention.

Tepchaiya Un-Nooh’s victory in last year’s Shoot-Out was another major victory for the game and its evolution. Un-Nooh is the fastest player on the Tour and for this reason, is thrilling to watch. The Shoot-Out format rewarded Tephaiya’s fast play but also rewarded World Snooker for innovating within the game. Encouraging players from Un-Nooh’s ilk to trust their game and persevere with their natural speed, will continue to grow snooker in new directions and with new fans.

The 2019-20 season will include 19 ranking tournaments and six invitational events.

With two new exciting bonus funds up for grabs, prize money this year could reach over £16m. If the players can hit twenty 147’s on the main tour this season, a bonus of £1 million will be shared among the players who help achieve this. There will also be a £1 million bonus for any player who manages to win all four Home Nations events. These fantastic initiatives highlight the healthy state World Snooker finds itself in. This was reiterated by World Snooker Chairman, Barry Hearn, last week:

"Our sport continues to grow, our global audience has reached half a billion in over 120 countries. We have had spectacular commercial success over the past decade, bearing in mind that 10 years ago the sport had six ranking events and £3.5m total prize money."

The season gets started in Riga, Latvia and there is a total of £278,000 up for grabs amongst the 128 players competing in the main draw. There will be 15 nationalities from three continents represented with a particularly strong English (27) & Chinese (13) presence.

Neil Robertson, last year’s winner, will be bidding to get his season off to a flyer by winning at the Arena Riga. He beat Jack Lisowski 5-2 in the 2018 renewal and a repeat would see Neil record his third Riga Masters title in four years. With the likes of Judd Trump, John Higgins, Ding Junhui and David Gilbert all not in the main draw, it looks a good opportunity for a fresh star to put his name in lights ahead of the new season. Can the likes of Gary Wilson, Michael Holt, Yan Bingtao, Robert Milkins or Xiao Guodong be the ones to do it this week?

Three games to watch out for in Round 1:

Luca Brecel vs Lyu Haotian

Neil Robertson vs Robert MIlkins

Xiao Guodong vs Kyren Wilson

It is always an exciting time as the new season gets underway and we can’t wait for the action to get started from Riga on Friday.

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