2008/9 Player Reviews: 17-32

Another day, another chapter of my 2008/9 season player reviews as today I take a look at the players who just missed out on a place in the top 16 for next season…

For Barry Hawkins (17th, 27175pts), there will be mixed emotions as he looks back at 2008/9 because despite playing well enough to move up ten places in the rankings, a poor finish to the season meant that he narrowly missed out on a return to the top 16.

Starting the campaign ranked 18th provisionally, Barry got off to an excellent start by qualifying for the last 32 in each of the first five tournaments, reaching the quarter-finals in Northern Ireland and Bahrain for good measure. As a result he found himself well inside the top 16 provisionally at this point and looked almost a certainty to regain the place he last held during the 2006/7 season.

In early 2009 however he seemed to really struggle, losing a close match 5-4 to Paul Davies in the Welsh Open qualifiers, as well as being whitewashed 5-0 by David Gray in the last 48 of the China Open. He did manage to qualify for the final stages of the World Championship with a gutsy 10-9 win over young Daniel Wells, but for a fourth successive year lost in the last 32, this time to Graeme Dott. Combined with Mark King’s run to the last 16, this meant that he could not hang on to a top 16 place and represents a something of a wasted opportunity for him.

Turning to Jamie Cope (18th, 26632pts), despite his impressive run to the second round of the World Championship in April, a mid-season dip in form meant that again he failed to quite make the breakthrough into the top 16. He got off to a good start, qualifying for the TV stages of the first three tournaments and making the second maximum break of his career during defeat to Mark Williams at the Shanghai Masters.

Following his Grand Prix quarter-final with Ryan Day however, he lost to Michael Holt in Bahrain, Jamie Burnett in the UK Championship and Barry Pinches in the Welsh Open, a run which effectively ended his hopes of securing a top 16 finish.

Hopefully though he will be able to take some positives from his run at the Crucible where he played very well to defeat Joe Perry and become one of just two qualifiers to win at the World Championship this year, before coming so close to knocking out eventual champion John Higgins in the second round. If he can become more consistent and play like that on a regular basis then surely it is only a matter of time before he makes the step up…

Like Hawkins, Dave Harold (19th, 26607pts), will be kicking himself to have missed out on a top 16 place as he could not take advantage of a brilliant start to the season where he reached his first ranking event final in 14 years. Following defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan in that Northern Ireland final he proved that it was no flash in the pan by continuing to play well, qualifying for a further five venues and reaching the last 16 in two.

Critically however, the two qualifying defeats that he did suffer both came at the English Institute for Sport as Dave failed to qualify for the biggest two events on the calendar. In the UK Championship qualifiers he lost out 9-6 to the improving Rory McLeod while in the World Championship he was dismissed 10-3 by 2008 quarter-finalist Laing Wenbo. As these tournaments carried the most ranking points of all, unfortunately these results undid a lot of the good work that Dave had done in the other tournaments and it remains to be seen whether this will be prove to have been Dave’s last big chance to regain the top 16 place that he lost in 2002.

One man who looks sure to step up into the top 16 sooner rather than later is Ricky Walden (20th, 26050pts), who finally delivered on the potential that he has shown for a number of years now. Not only did he embark on a sensational run to the Shanghai Masters title in September, defeating Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan along the way, but he also played at Wembley in the Masters for the first time and made his debut at the Crucible Theatre to finish the season.

Though he lost out to Mark Selby in the last 32 of the World Championship, he had done enough to end the campaign with over 50% more points than in 2007/8 and will start next season provisionally up in 12th place as a result.

Ricky will be keen not to experience a similar season to that of Stuart Bingham (21st, 25419pts), however as having come into 2008/9 up in 15th provisionally, a poor year ensured that he would remain in 21st in the official rankings once again. His best performances in a ranking event came at the Shanghai Masters when he defeated Mike Dunn and Peter Ebdon to reach the last 16, but following this he won just three more matches during the season. As a result he finished up around 4,000 points worse off than the previous season and next year will have to improve if he is to retain his place in the top 32.

Next up is Northern Irishman Joe Swail (22nd, 24894pts), who despite also finishing up with fewer points than in 2007/8, will probably be quite satisified with his work considering how badly he started the season. Indeed he seemed to suffer a real hangover from his defeat to Liang Wenbo in the 2008 World Championship as  he lost his opening round match in each of the four tournaments following it.

Perhaps inevitably though it would be another match with Wenbo which would prove to be the turning point, this time at the UK Championship qualifiers as Joe dramatically got his revenge, winning a tense match 9-8 to get his season up and running. From there he qualified for the Welsh Open and the World Championship and in the former finally reached a ranking event final for the first time in his long career, beating the likes of Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen along the way before coming up against an inspired Ali Carter.

Up six places is Steve Davis (23rd, 24544pts), who having slipped out of the top 16 at the end of 2007/8, enjoyed a consistent season, winning six of his eight qualifying matches. His best performances came early on as he became the oldest player to reach back to back ranking event quarter-finals for 24 years in Shanghai and the Grand Prix, though it could have been three had he not had to withdraw from Bahrain due to a clash of dates with the Premier League.

Though he did begin to struggle towards the end of the season, losing to Stuart Pettman in the China Open qualifiers before being hammered by Neil Robertson at the Crucible, having been slightly fortunate to qualify in the first place having gone 5-0 down to Lee Spick in the last 48, it was nevertheless a good campaign for Steve. Up in 13th place provisionally, he could yet find himself back up inside the top 16 once again, though it will certainly not be easy.

One player who has improved dramatically during the last year is Michael Holt (24th, 23225pts), who after a number of inconsistent seasons where he has struggled to remain focused during matches, has now taken a real step forward. Having dropped out of the top 32, some players might have felt disheartened but in fact it seems to have had the opposite effect on Holt as he won his opening match in each of the eight ranking event tournaments staged, reaching the TV stages of six.

His best run was to the last 16 on Bahrain but this proved to be bittersweet as from 4-0 up against Robert Milkins, the balls somehow conspired against him to the point where he lost the match 5-4. Still, he did not let the misfortune ruin a good start to the season and continued to win regularly, finishing the campaign with over 5,000 points more than he gained during 2007/8. If he can just start to win a bit more often at the TV venues then perhaps he could seriously challenge for a place in the top 16 next year…

Having found himself out of the top 16 for the first time since the 1996/7 season, Stephen Lee (25th, 23188pts), at least consolidated his position in the top 32 by improving significantly on what was a nightmare 2007/8. Highlights for him included a run to the quarter-finals of the UK Championship, as well as a brilliant comeback from 6-2 down in the World Championship qualifiers to overcome young prodigy Judd Trump 10-8.

Unfortunately though his tame defeat to Ryan Day at the Crucible Theatre typified what was an inconsistent campaign as a whole and while he is likely to remain in the top 32 at the end of next season, a return to the top 16 will be difficult.

The exact same could also be said for another top 16 player, Matthew Stevens (26th, 23132pts), as despite a promising run to the final of the Bahrain Championship in November, otherwise the results did not come. Indeed four opening round defeats, culminating in a 10-4 loss at the hands of Martin Gould  in the World Championship qualifiers ensured that he will start next season outside of the top 16 for a third successive year. The longer he continues to struggle, the more I wonder whether he will ever be able to get out of the rut that he is currently in…

On the opposite side of the scale however is Liang Wenbo (27th, 22825pts), who without quite repeating the impact he made at the 2008 World Championship, won seven of his eight opening round matches to ensure a good haul of ranking points. The highlight of his season probably came during the Bahrain Championship qualifiers when not only did he record four centuries, but he made a 147 and two other breaks of 139, all the more remarkable when you consider that his best break before that point was ‘only’ 134. Typically however, he then lost out the next day to Michael Judge!

Falling 15 places down the rankings meanwhile is 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott (28th, 22494pts), though having suffered a broken wrist at the Shanghai Masters and not won a match in the first four events, he did well to even remain in the top 32.

From the UK Championship however he began to look something like the player that had climbed as well as second in the rankings however and having reached the last 16 of three of the remaining four events, with a quarter-final in the China Open to go with it, he managed to limit the damage well. Starting next season 22nd provisionally, if he can adapt well to the conditions at Prestatyn and maintain the form that demonstrated during the second half of last season then there is every chance that he will be back sooner rather than later.

Another player to fall is veteran Nigel Bond (29th, 22357pts), who suffered a disastrous year in which he won just three matches, both in the last two events of the season. It will be even more disappointing to him because 2007/8 was actually very good and left him in with a slim chance of reclaiming a top 16 place.

Now however he will be starting 2009/10 in 42nd on the provisional list and though it could have been much worse had he not won two matches at the World Championship to finish the season, it leaves him facing an uphill struggle to even consolidate his top 32 status.

Next up is rising star Judd Trump (30th, 21901pts), who following a consistent season in which he reached his first ranking event semi-final at the Grand Prix, moves up into the top 32 for the first time in his career. Overall he managed to win his opening round match in seven of the eight ranking event tournaments, reaching the TV stages of five and for the first time beginning to look comfortable against the top players.

In addition to his ranking event success he also impressed in some of the invitational events, winning the Masters qualifying event to earn a debut at Wembley, as well as the second Championship League which means that he will be competing regularly in the Premier League next season. This experience is something that I can see really helping him over the coming years and who knows, perhaps it could be the making of him…

The penultimate name in this section is Fergal O’Brien (31st, 20795pts), who having won just three matches, all in the smaller events, is fortunate to hold on to his place in the top 32. Starting next season down in 48th place provisionally, he is going to have to raise his game significantly if he is to avoid losing not only his top 32 spot, but place in the top 48 too.

Finally comes Gerard Greene (32nd, 20751pts), who following a consistent season in which he won six of his opening round matches, just manages to sneak back inside the top 32 after a year’s absence. If he is to consolidate his position in the 32 or improve further however, he is going to have to qualify for more venue stages as despite his consistency last season, he managed to reach the last 32 on just two occasions.