With one of the wildcard spots in next year’s Wembley Masters won by Judd Trump this week, who deserves the other? Click below for my look at the merits of the most obvious candidates, as well as a few outsiders…
Front of the Cue
If achievements during the current season are anything to go by then Ricky Walden has to be top of the list having won the Shanghai Masters back in September. This, along with his other solid results, leaves him as the highest ranked player on the one year list who is currently outside of the top 16, similar to how eventual 2008 wildcard Marco Fu stood at this point last season.
His only problem might be that before his breakthrough success in Shanghai, he had never previously been past the quarter-finals of a ranking event so his profile is undoubtedly not as big as some of the other contenders for the wildcard. Obviously results and form are important factors in the decision, but so are commercial considerations and the fact that many casual snooker fans might not have heard of Walden could just go against him. I personally hope not because his victory in Shanghai against some top players was a magnificent achievment.
A good showing on the BBC cameras in the UK Championship would do him no harm at all…
A few weeks ago, the 2000 Masters winner Matthew Stevens would not have ranked too high on many people’s list for a wildcard spot, but his recent revival just goes to show how quickly things can change in this game. He played some excellent stuff to defeat the likes of Ryan Day and Stephen Hendry on his way to the Bahrain final, as well as going on another good run at the Masters qualifiers last week before coming unstuck against surprise package Mark Joyce in the semis.
As a former winner, a big name and a player in good form at the moment, if he can keep it up in the UK’s next month, he might just do enough to get the nod. One thing that may count against him however is that since he won the event in 2000, he has barely managed to win a match at Wembley…
In with a shot
Another former Masters winner, Steve Davis has had something of a return to form this season, making two consecutive ranking event quarter-finals for the first time in years. If there are indeed commercial considerations that may affect Ricky Walden, then they should not affect one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, even at the grand old age of 51.
Steve’s problem however is that despite his decent results in the ranking events, the brand of snooker that he has had to employ to get there has not been a particularly attractive one to watch. Some fans won’t care about the lack of century breaks and will just be glad to see a legend in action, but others might want to see the big breaks that Davis struggles to put together these days. Another negative is his Premier League form which has been awful by his own admission. Again, fans who have been watching him in action every other week on SkySports might not feel that he is someone that they would like to spend their cash watching now.
All in all therefore I think that while he has a decent shout for sentimental reasons, I would rather see someone younger given the opportunity to make a name for themselves at Wembley this year, sorry Steve!
For Dave it is a similar story to that of Steve Davis, some excellent results but is his brand of snooker one that people would want to be seeing at the Wembley Masters this year?
He has had a real return to form so far this season, playing some of the best stuff of his career, certainly since his run to the Masters semi-finals back in 2001. His final appearance in the season’s opening event in Northern Ireland helped him back up into the provisional top 16 again and he is only just behind Walden in the one-year list.
Unfortunately though, if certain posts on various internet forums are anything to go by, he is not exactly a fashionable player and one that many like to watch…
One of the big stories to come out of last season’s World Championship was the emergence of Liang Wenbo, but some snooker fans thought that it might be a one-off as the other players learned to cope with his ultra-attacking style.
This has not proven to be the case however as Liang reached the last 16 in Northern Ireland and the last 32 in Shanghai, before causing a sensation in the Bahrain qualifiers by making four centuries, including his first ever maximum in a best of nine match. It might just be that devastating bursts of form like this as well as his popularity earned during his Crucible charge last season will be in his favour and mean that he gets a chance at Wembley.
Much of what I said about Liang Wenbo could be said for Jamie Cope really as a number of good tournament runs and a magnificent 147 in Shanghai have highlighted what has been a solid season for the Stoke Shotgun.
His supreme long-potting and exciting, quick style makes him a great player to watch and surely one who would bring in the crowds, assuming that most fans are aware of this. While I think he would be a great wildcard though, I don’t think that his results have quite been good enough when compared to some of the names already mentioned in this article…
Mark J Williams
A double world champion and a twice Masters winner, it is impossible to ignore the claim of Welshman Mark Williams, but will his recent form prove to be too much of a stumbling block?
Unfortunately for Mark I think that this will indeed be fatal to his chances as he just hasn’t won enough matches this season to really justify a place at Wembley in my opinion. His season started off well enough with a last 16 run in Northern Ireland and a quarter-final in Shanghai, but since then he has suffered disappointing defeats in his next two ranking events and a heavy loss in the Masters qualifiers to Andrew Higginson.
Hopefully though he will reclaim a spot in the top 16 at the end of the season and be back at Wembley by right for 2010…
Another former ranking event winner, Stephen of course made the final of the Masters last season so it will be strange not to have him around this year for another shot at the title.
Like Williams though, his form has not been strong enough for a while now, indeed since that run to the Wembley final a year ago and when looking at some of the other contenders for the spot, it is hard to imagine that Lee will be back again this year.
On balance I think that it should certainly be Ricky Walden who is given the wildcard based on his Shanghai victory alone. I just fear that image will come into it and see Stevens given the nod which would be a shame given Ricky’s achievements this year. Nothing against Matthew at all I hasten to add, he has of course been great and had he won that Bahrain final, I think he would have had an excellent claim.