Late Developers

It is widely accepted that snooker players generally peak during their mid to late twenties and the in the case of some, perhaps even earlier. This is by no means a hard and fast rule however as has been shown by a number of players during the last couple of years who whilst well into their thirties, have shown that the best is not necessarily behind them…

A little over two years ago, the then 36-year-old Mark Davis had just suffered an emphatic 10-3 defeat at the hands of Mark Williams at the last 32 stage of the World Championship which although was a result good enough to see him cling on to a main tour place in 58th, did little to suggest that Mark would impact on the players at the top of the game in a hurry.

Fast forward to 2010 however and what a transformation we have seen as Mark has moved up into the top 32 for the first time, captured the inaugural 6-Red World Championship and is now regarded as one of the most dangerous qualifiers in the draw. Having maintained his consistent form at the start of the new season and still in the draw for both the World Open and Shanghai Masters tournaments, it is far from inconceivable that Mark could himself ranked within the top 16 for the first time at the age of 38, becoming the first player to do so for the first time at that age since Silvino Francisco back in 1985/6!

What has sparked this upturn in form? It is presumably no co-incidence that he began working with a new coach ahead  of the 2008 World Championship, SightRightUK’s Stephen Feeney and having put in the hard work is finally able to consistently record the results that his 1995 victory over future world champion Ken Doherty promised.

Other players to have enjoyed a strong couple of seasons recently include Mike Dunn and Rory McLeod who are currently ranked just outside the top 32 in 33rd and 34th respectively, both career high positions for players born in 1971 and professionals for nearly 20 years.

Rory in particular has made an impact by qualifying for a number of venues recently, notably becoming the first black player to wield his cue at both the Masters and the World Championship. Mike meanwhile has not reached quite so many venues, but he has consistently won his opening qualifying match and having never previously been ranked inside the world’s top 50 prior to 2008/9, now stands on the brink of entering the top 32 for the first time when the rankings are next revised.

It has been a similar story for Scottish duo Jamie Burnett and Marcus Campbell who too are both currently ranked in career high positions of 37th (EDIT: Jamie actually reached #27 back in 1999/2000, thanks John!) and 40th respectively. Marcus in particular has impressed during recent times, qualifying for this year’s World Championship following an epic victory over Matthew Stevens at the EISS, as well as recording two fine victories against the talented Judd Trump early in 2009/10. Having consistently won matches during the PTC so far this season, it is not inconceivable that the gritty Scot could also be pushing for a top 32 place at some point this season.

Last but certainly not least however comes Leeds’ Peter Lines who since returning to the main tour at the start of the 2008/9 season has been almost an unqualified success. Not only did he win his first 11 opening round matches since returning but his run to the quarter-finals of the 2009 UK Championship was at the age of 40 the finest run of his career to date.

With more events on the calendar it will be interesting to see over the course of the next couple of seasons who will benefit the most from the increased playing opportunities, be it the older players or the younger ones. I do suspect that the younger players in particular will benefit as when there were just six ranking events on the calendar, the pressure was intense and a couple of early defeats against players who in the main were vastly more experienced than them would almost end their tour spell in no time!

That said though, there is no reason why the more experienced players cannot also benefit from the chance to play in more events, just look at the performances of Anthony Hamilton and Barry Pinches recently, both excelling in the PTC despite both gone through a quiet few seasons before then.

History may suggest that it may be too late for players such as these to compete at the very top of the game and win the sport’s top titles and I would not disagree with that. As the likes of Mark Davis have shown however, every player is different and does not necessarily peak by the time that they are 25…