A big season for…Matthew Stevens

While it is of course important for each of the 96 players on the main tour next season to perform well, it is perhaps inevitable that for some this applies more than others and in the first of a series of posts over the coming weeks, I will consider the future of former UK and Masters champion Matthew Stevens

It some ways it seems strange to look back and consider that just four years ago, Welsh star Matthew Stevens had just reached his second World Championship final, was up to a career high ranking of number 4 in the world and would soon go on to win the Northern Ireland Trophy and Pot Black events as he entered what should have been the peak years of his career.

When you consider the talent and standard of performance that he is capable of however, the only strange thing is how the intervening years have seen him plunge down the rankings to his current position of number 26. 2005/6 saw him win just two matches as he dropped 10 places to 14th position and although the following campaign was to be an improvement, the damage had been done and he lost his place amongst the top 16.

While the qualifying matches are far from easy, I and many others expected his exile to be a short one but two years on he is heading into his third successive season outside the elite bracket, down in his lowest position since 1998/9 at 26.

Quite why is hard to gauge from the outside, some say that he has taken his eye off the ball with regard to other activities such as poker and the birth of his baby son Freddie in 2004, while others cite the deaths of both his father Morrell and close friend Paul Hunter as key reasons behind his decline.

There have been a few highs, most notably his run to the final in Bahrain last season which he had hoped would provide a springboard to a sustained revival, but as his season finished with failure to qualify for the World Championship for the first time in over a decade, this proved not to be the case.

So what now? At 31 years old he is hardly old, but given the way the last few seasons have unfolded, you have to question whether we will see the best of him again on a consistent basis, or whether his peak has come and gone. To me this is a huge season for Stevens, either he will he begin to string some results together and show signs of returning to his best, or he will continue to stagnate outside of the top 16 and who knows, perhaps see his career peter out this way.

Which will it be? It is hard to say, the talent is evidently still there, but he has not lost matches and found himself falling down the rankings recently because he is playing at his highest level. Is the fire still burning or 15 years on from turning professional or is that desire now on the wane?

Only he can answer that but I hope that he can find his game because an on-form Matthew Stevens can only be a good thing for snooker…