The Perfect Player 2009: Break Building

Slightly later than planned due to the staging of the Shanghai Masters last week, today I bring you the second instalment of my quest to identify the ‘Perfect Player’ from the current field. Today I consider the best break-builders in the game right now…

When the BBC panel considered who was the best break-builder that the game has ever seen back in 2000, unsurprisingly they went for seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry and personally I think that little has changed since then. As good as some players have been before and since, I do not believe that there has been anyone quite as lethal on such a consistent basis when in the balls as he was back in the 1990’s, as evidenced in part by his current total of 734 career century breaks.

This is not now the 1990’s however as Stephen will know all too well. He remains very strong when in the balls and his class was apparent at the Crucible Theatre as he made his ninth maximum this year, but his level of consistency is not what it was and he does now miss too many ‘easy’ balls now. This combined with a general decline of his game has contributed to a reduced amount of centuries from him during recent years and it is difficult to argue that the Hendry of 2009 is the class of the field in this area.

So who is? The obvious answer is of course world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan and looking at the statistics his case is indeed a strong one. According to the Cuefacts section on Global Snooker, last season he notched up 38 century breaks and in 2007/8 he fared even better on the way to victory in both the UK and World Championship. Already this season he has six on the board and with 573 in total, looks sure to pass the 600 mark by next May.

Beyond the stats also, you only have to watch his performance earlier this month in the Premier League against Marco Fu to see how strong he is in and around the black spot. Certain areas of his game may be beginning to decline in my opinion, but his break-building is not one of them. In the balls he makes the game look as easy as ever and in particular his middle-pocket potting is second to none.

Though he made 38 centuries last season however, one player who I believe made more was reigning world champion John Higgins. I say that I believe this to be the case because it was mentioned in commentary during the Shanghai Masters last week, though the Cuefacts site has him down as having made ‘just’ 29. Either way, John has always been a tremendous scorer and with over 400 career tons himself now, has to come into contention here.

On balance however I feel that John’s strength is his all-round game, excelling in virtually every area and whether in isolation his break-building is quite as strong as Ronnie’s in 2009 I am not so sure. At the major events such as the World Championship, UK Championship and Grand Prix he seems to be as strong as as motivated as ever, but this is not always the case in the others.

Another player very much in the Higgins mould of course is Mark Selby. Last season in particular he seemed to make centuries for fun, including ten in the World Championship – five of which were against Higgins in their quarter-final. Though his results over the last year or so have not been as good as he might have liked, his scoring has improved significantly as he has not only increased the amount of centuries he has made dramatically, but he has also completed his first max. This came at the Jiangsu Classic earlier this summer and came just months after he has made what was then a then personal best break of 145 in the Championship League back in March, again against Higgins.

As good as his scoring has been however, is he up there with O’Sullivan in this department? Probably not. I would say also that while his scoring has been excellent for the last year or so, he has not yet proven that he can sustain this over a longer period and it will be interesting to see what this season will bring.

He might not have won a ranking event title yet, let alone the World Championship but Welshman Ryan Day is another player who has to deserve a mention here. As one of a select group of players to have made over 100 centuries before breaking into the top 16 for the first time, his scoring has always been his strongest suit and his failure to win that elusive title cannot be blamed on this. Just think back to that terrific semi-final at the Grand Prix with Ali Carter where he crafted breaks of 120, 115, 104 and 68 on his way to a 6-5 victory.

The final player who I will single out here is Ding Junhui, a man who just took five seasons to reach 100 tons, a feat matched only by Ronnie O’Sullivan in the history of the ranking event circuit. While issues with his temperament may have proved to be his undoing over the last couple of seasons, when in a positive frame of mind his break-building rmeains excellent, as he showed towards the end of his last 32 match against Liang Wenbo at the World Championship this year when he knocked in breaks of 111, 91 and 63 in consecutive frames to win.


Again it is clear to me from this discussion that the game is blessed with a number of superb break-builders at the moment. The likes of Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter are all good scorers and I have not even found time to mention them.

Despite this however, it is clear to me that there is only one obvious candidate if asked to choose one and that is Ronnie O’Sullivan. Not only does he make 30+ centuries seemingly every season, but he makes it look incredibly easy in the process and perhaps that is the difference.