It began in the summer and will end in the summer. The 2019/2020 snooker season has been one like no other, the world around us, at times, barely recognisable, and even on the green baize, a shift in the lie of the land has brought new dawns and threatened to end old conventions.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is no longer king. Yes, Ronnie is no longer king. Instead, the crown has been taken by World Snooker’s new poster boy. Judd Trump is on six ranking titles already this term and will return to Sheffield in a matter of days to defend his World Championship.
Six ranking wins in a single season is a new record, one unlikely to be broken again, and on the back of 15 months of utter dominance, it is an accolade he deserves to have on his CV long after the next generation have outmuscled, outworked and outclassed him in years to come, just as he has done to likes of O'Sullivan and John Higgins this term.
Snooker has generally bucked the trend, laughed at the notion that sport has no place for old bones, but even two of the greatest of all time haven’t had the legs to keep pace with a rampant Trump this season and the fact Higgins has lost his last seven meetings with an opponent he had the wood over for so long suggests the baton has well and truly been passed.
Despite finding Trump an impossible nut to crack, the Scot has endured a largely consistent campaign ahead of his bid to make his fourth final in a row in Sheffield while we had been promised business as usual when O’Sullivan coasted to victory in Shanghai.
He wouldn’t win again, however, despite pushing Trump hard as master and apprentice played out a high-quality final of the Northern Ireland Open for the second year running in November.
That victory was Trump’s third of the season, all before the Christmas lights had been hung on Belfast’s City Hall, having already won the International Championship on his first appearance since being crowned world champion and then added the World Open soon after.
He didn’t have things all his own way, though, as Nigel Bond rolled back the years with a dream run at UK Championship before Ding Junhui finally recaptured his best to claim the Triple Crown event for the third time, beating O’Sullivan along the way before overpowering Stephen Maguire in a big break-laden final.
For Maguire, the current campaign has already been a huge a success having followed his runner-up finish in York with a run to the last four of the Players Championship before taking full advantage of his late call up to Tour Championship, blitzing everyone in sight and picking up a cheque for £260,000 in process.
Something of an enigma, a more mature Maguire finally looks ready to fulfil his huge potential and he can also reflect with some pride that he and close friend, Higgins, won the Snooker World Cup for Scotland back in June.
A month later, Yan Bingtao strongly hinted at the excellent season he would go on to enjoy when winning his first ranking title at the Riga Masters, aged just 19.
Bingtao has belied his experience with a series on deep runs since, driven by an excellent tactical game and unflappable temperament, and the World Championship promises to suit him so well that he could prove one the most dangerous of the outsiders.
If Bingtao was quickly out of the blocks, Shaun Murphy was simply electric and having made his third final in a row, he finally banished memories of a dreadful 2018/2019 season when edging out Mark Williams in a nervy encounter that went all the way.
That was as good as it got for Williams, whose fortunes continue to nosedive, but Mark Selby would have entered the Christmas break with his confidence buoyed and his bank balance looking very healthy following wins at the English and Scottish Opens.
As the New Year rolled in, all eyes turned to The Masters but there was a proverbial elephant in the room this year and the event had a very different look to it.
O’Sullivan’s decision to skip a tournament he had once made his own handed the sport a severe jolt it could have done without but Ali Carter didn’t mind, stepping in for his old foe and scrapping and snarling his way to the final - where Stuart Bingham broke his heart.
Neil Robertson had crashed out early in London having built up a seemingly unassailable lead in his match with Maguire but the Australian quickly made amends, reaching three finals in as many weeks and taking home first prize at the European Masters and World Grand Prix.
Those exertions eventually took their toll on him at the Welsh Open, an event where O’Sullivan looked on course for a record-breaking 37th ranking title as he fairly cruised into the semi-finals before just coming up short.
It would be Murphy would eventually prevail in Cardiff as he continued to prove a regular feature at the business-end of major events while Michael Holt finally got his way when reigning supreme at the Shoot Out.
O’Sullivan was a welcome entrant there as he made a last-gasp bid to qualify for the lucrative Coral Series but his efforts were in vain as Trump was on top of the world again, supplementing his success at the German Masters a month earlier with victory at the Players Championship.
And still he wouldn’t rest on his laurels, brushing aside the now very real threat of Covid-19 by beating Kyren Wilson behind closed doors in the final of Gibraltar Open.
Former rivals, détente appears to have been called between the pair and they did their sport proud in a match that wasn’t short of quality despite the empty arena it was played in front of.
Of course it had to be Trump, winning for an unprecedented sixth time in a single season, but Wilson hinted that he might have turned a corner and Sheffield has always been his thing.
He will be a threat there but in the immediate aftermath of events in Gibraltar, the world was finally waking up to a threat like nothing we had seen before.
First went the Tour Championship, and then the World Championship as the sport was shut down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, but not even a heart attack could stop Barry Hearn from making plans for snooker’s return.
On June 1, the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes played host to Championship League before the same venue again took centre stage as the rescheduled Tour Championship finally took place.
As already alluded to, it was Maguire who relished the ‘new normal’ most as he floated around the empty arena as if he were practicing at his local club; all-out attack, scary potting, big breaks, no fear. Stephen Maguire.
Sheffield promised more of the same but Hearn’s latest magic trick, the announcement that a small number of fans will be allowed to attend the Championship at the Crucible, means we might be able to get back to the old normal sooner than we might have thought.
Still, snooker can be proud of what it has achieved already; beating the likes of football and racing in getting back to business and showing the way for many other sports, despite taking place indoors.
It hasn’t been easy - Jofra Archer’s recent error in judgement that put cricket's comeback in jeopardy shows that – but snooker is on the right path and we can finally look forward to the World Championship with the excitement and anticipation this wonderful event deserves.
It’s been a remarkable season, of that there can be no doubt, and having navigated the roughest of seas, the best might yet be to come.
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