A big season for…Jamie Cope

Today sees the third of my ‘big season’ articles and this time I look at the “Shotgun” Jamie Cope who at nearly 24 years of age and three years on from his first ranking final, has yet to make the breakthrough into the top 16. Could this be the year?

While the two previous subjects of this feature (Matthew Stevens and Ken Doherty), are players on the decline, Jamie is at quite a different stage in his career. Having experienced a tough first spell on the main tour, Jamie regained his place by finishing top of the Challenge Tour in 2004/5 and boy did he make the most of it. Not only was he able to do enough to retain his place this time, but by winning several qualifying matches to reach the last 16 of three ranking events, he became one of just two players to move straight into the top 64 that year.

His rapid progress continued during the following season with the first of his two career maximum breaks coming at the Grand Prix, as well as two ranking event finals which saw him climb up to a new career high ranking of 22nd at the end of the year.

Despite his inconsistency in the other events, at this stage it appeared as though a top 16 place would be just around the corner, but since then his results have not been quite as spectacular and he has failed to reach the quarter-finals of any ranking tournament in the two years since. On the positive side he did managed to qualify for the Crucible in both 2008 and 2009, losing in dramatic deciding frame finishes on each occasion, but still that top 16 place has eluded him.

So, will 2009/10 be the year that sees him do it?

Though his season as a whole was mixed, his performances against Joe Perry and eventual winner John Higgins (who he led 12-10 before losing the last three frames), during the 2009 World Championship were hugely impressive. His attacking, fluent game certainly caught the imagination of the watching fans and against anyone other than Higgins that day I have no doubt that he would have gone on to the quarter-finals. Still he can only have come out of that tournament with added confidence and he will stronger for the experience in the long run.

Although this helped him up to a career high ranking of number 18 however, three last 48 exits during the course of last season mean that he enters the new campaign down in 24th place provisionally and with some fine players standing between himself and the top 16. In reality the points situation in that area of the rankings is extremely close and he could easily move right up the list with a couple of runs deep into events, but as has been shown the last couple of years it will not be the formality that some seem to expect given his brilliant scoring on display at the Crucible.

While he is still a young man, I think that this is a crucial season coming up for Jamie as the longer he goes without moving into the upper echelons of the rankings, the harder it might get for him to do so. He could do a lot worse than to follow the example of someone like Mark Selby who not only managed to make the step up at the same age with that terrific run to the 2007 World Championship final, but built on it by taking his first ranking event title the following year.

With Jamie I would not be at all surprised to see him go even better and win a title this year which would certainly put him in a strong position, but if not then hopefully he will be consistent enough to at least reach the quarter-final stages of events and beyond once again. He certainly has the attacking game to do so, but has he got the all-round game to do so on a regular basis?