Richard Mann looks back at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and picks out five key talking points from the action as we look ahead to next season.
Can the 'Class of 92' continue to dominate the sport?
The biggest story of this season is unquestionably the continued success of three of the sport’s elder statesman with Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams still going strong. The trio came through the junior ranks together and have gone on to become three of the greatest to ever play the game, 12 world titles between them just reward for over 20 years of brilliance.
Nevertheless, with a host of young Chinese players apparently on the up and the likes of Judd Trump and Kyren Wilson approaching their peak, there has been a very real belief that the titles could dry up for the so-called 'Class of 92'.
O’Sullivan has simply laughed at such predictions, dominating for much of the season on his way to five ranking titles while Higgins won a record fifth Welsh Open earlier this year to add to his Indian Open victory. With Williams lifting the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters trophies before triumphing at the Crucible, it is plain to see that the over-40s remain one step ahead of the younger generation and with all three seemingly still hungry and enjoying the game, their domination could continue for a little while yet.
From the younger generation, who has the potential to shake up the current world order?
Snooker is still yearning for the next big star to take over from O’Sullivan. Three world titles for Mark Selby have enhanced his reputation greatly but he hasn’t enjoyed his best season this term and has to steal everyone’s hearts.
Big things are expected of Chinese potting machine Yan Bingtao and he certainly looked a fine prospect when runner-up in the Northern Ireland Open and making the semi-finals of the International Championship. He failed to get through the qualifiers in Sheffield, though, while Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, for all he is a dream to watch when in full flow, has plenty of work to do on his overall match play.
Of the British, Jack Lisowski and Crucible semi-finalist Kyren Wilson looks best equipped to take on the likes of O'Sullivan, Higgins and Williams. Wilson might not be the most natural touch player when in the balls, but he boasts a rock-solid temperament to go with his excellent long potting and mature safety game. He still has improvements to make - particularly on his positional play – but he is one of the most committed players on the tour and perhaps only an inspired Higgins would have been strong enough to halt his impressive charge in their last-four clash.
A first triple-crown success for Wilson shouldn’t be far away.
Will a sixth world title prove a bridge too far for Ronnie O’Sullivan?
There is no doubt that the candle still burns bright in O'Sullivan. After all, he has produced an incredible level of snooker to win five ranking titles this season – the most of any player on the tour – and more importantly, he appears at peace with himself and the game. O’Sullivan's career total of ranking titles now stands at 33 and with Stephen Hendry’s record of 36 well within his sights, he seems sure to remain a dominant force in the game for a good while longer.
However, there is definite merit to the argument that the World Championship, and its gruelling schedule, doesn’t see him to best effect. In fact, O’Sullivan’s more recent Crucible record is modest, with a couple of quarter-final finishes the best he has managed in his last four appearances in Sheffield. Seventeen days of snooker, played over long matches and at the end of a taxing season, is a struggle for most players but for O’Sullivan, 43 years of age next and someone who loves to play a fluent style of snooker at a scorching pace, it is easy to see why he now favours shorter tournaments.
He is 4/1 favourite with Sky Bet to win next year’s World Championship but, even with those odds likely to shorten should he enjoy another strong start to next season, he makes little appeal.
The curious case of Judd Trump...
Plenty of column inches have been taken up by Judd Trump over the years, many of them good and a few less so. Trump seemed destined for stardom when turning professional in 2005 and won his first ranking title when lifting the China Open in 2011. He would go on to make the final of the World Championship later that year but succumbed to another brilliant John Higgins comeback on that occasion and Trump’s wait for a first world title still goes on.
Another European Masters success and a host of semi-final runs confirm that Trump remains one of the most dangerous players on the planet but his safety game is below the very best while he has struggled to get over the line in a number of close encounters. However, there is no doubt that Trump is maturing and he held his nerve well when pushed all the way by debutant Chris Wakelin in round one in Sheffield, while it is hard to knock him for again losing out to Higgins in an epic quarter-final.
The latter played out of his skin that night and Trump’s clearance to go 12-12 was a break of genius under extreme pressure. Expect more frustration next season but plenty more big wins, too, with a world title perhaps now within reach.
Should we be worried about the health of the game?
Administrators and fans are often at odds about the health of their beloved sports and snooker is not unique in this; plenty of debate continues about the health of cricket around the world while horse racing continues to crave a wider audience.
However, tickets for this year’s World Championship were sold out well in advance and there was a genuine buzz around the Crucible, inside and outside of the arena, all through the tournament.
Yorkshire folk have always loved their snooker but a look at different social media platforms on Monday night told you just how many people were engrossed in an absorbing final despite the glorious weather on offer outside at the end of a Bank Holiday weekend.
Snooker still has an audience if it can produce exciting sport played by likeable characters. The one slight concern would be the lack of young British talent coming through the ranks. This is quite the opposite in China - where the standard of young players coming through is strong - but if Barry Hearn wants to grow snooker’s European and British audience, investment in the amateur game and youth systems here might well be required.