While the end of season rankings might not be as important as they once were given the more regular revisions these days, they nevertheless remain a talking point both in the run-up to and during the World Championship. Click below for my pre-tournament analysis and predictions…
Battle for Number One
Prior to the China Open it looked as though the battle for number one was a foregone conclusion given the lead held by Welshman Mark Williams at the time, but following his first round exit in Beijing, things have suddenly just got a little interesting as the top five in the rankings are all now mathematically in with a chance of finishing the season as top dog.
What does Mark have to do to make sure and who are the contenders? A run to the final in Sheffield will definitely be enough for Williams as second placed Mark Selby would fall 995 points short of his total even if he were to win the tournament. Indeed if Williams were to fall in the semi-finals, only a title victory from Selby would be enough to deny him, the other chasers finding themselves too far back.
If Williams were to fall in the quarter-finals then incredibly, a run to the final from Selby would be enough to pip him by just five points! Alternatively Ding Junhui would also be able to catch the Welshman by lifting the World Championship trophy on May 2nd. Still though, Williams remain favourite.
A last 16 defeat on the face of it would spice things up, but in effect it would actually change little as Selby would still require a run to the final and Ding would still need to win, the only difference being that a win from Higgins too would be enough to see him retain top spot, regardless of whoever makes the final from the other half.
Victory for Ryan Day though would blow the race wide open and really give us a race for number one involving Selby, Ding, Higgins and also world champion Neil Robertson. In that scenario a run to the final from Selby would still definitely be enough, while a semi-final appearance would be enough unless John Higgins were to win the tournament. For Ding the position is similar, although a run to the final would not quite be sufficient if Higgins were to go all the way in the other half of the draw. Another difference is that if Ding were to beat Mark in the quarter-finals before losing in the semis, then Mark would still edge him out by five points!
Strangely, Higgins despite being a few points further back is actually quite well-placed because of Mark and Ding sharing the same quarter of the draw, limiting the points that both can earn. For John for example a run to the final could well be enough, if either Selby or Ding were to lose to Robertson in the semis or worse. Keeping it simple however, John needs at least a final appearance to stand any sort of chance of finishing on top.
…but not if this man has anything to do with it!
Finally the position is also quite simple for Neil Robertson who must successfully defend his title and hope that Williams loses in round one, Selby loses in the quarter-finals or earlier and both Ding and Higgins lose in the semi-finals or earlier.
A long shot perhaps but far from beyond the realms of possibility. For example if Williams were to lose to Day, Ding were to beat Selby in the quarters, then lose to Robertson who goes onto defeat someone like O’Sullivan in the final, that would be enough for Neil.
Prediction: While not a guarantee, so long as Mark Williams wins his first match, I would strongly fancy him to finish the season ranked as number one. If Ryan Day can cause an upset however, Mark Selby would suddenly become the favourite, with John Higgins a danger in the other half. Ding too is in with a chance but being in the same quarter as Selby is a factor that I think will scupper him.
The Top Eight
While not a major cut-off, being inside the top eight is always an advantage as it means that in theory you can avoid coming up against the other top players until at least the quarter-final stages of events.
Should be safe
Surprisingly however, this year the race for the top eight is pretty straightforward as somewhat bizarrely a 7,235 point gap has opened up between Shaun Murphy in 8th and Graeme Dott in 9th. That means that only Graeme, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Peter Ebdon could possibly make a move and each would have to win the tournament to do so. Even then that might not be enough as opening round victories for Murphy, Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire would end any doubt.
Prediction: I cannot see anything dramatic happening here, the order will change but those currently inside the top eight will not. Probably.
The Top 16
During the last two seasons when I have prepared this piece the top 16 have been relatively well-set but that is definitely not the case this year with up to 12 players battling for six spots.
Who are those in the mix? Personally I would say that the top ten should all be safe, while those immediately below will be looking for one more win just to make absolutely sure.
The first of those is Judd Trump who following his remarkable success in Beijing last week has vaulted up the rankings and well inside the top 16 for the first time in 11th place. Could he be caught if he were to lose out to Neil Robertson on the opening day? Mathematically I make it that there are a possible twelve players who each individually could catch him so at first glance it would appear so.
On the rise…
Breaking down the draw and considering the fact that those players will all be taking points from each other however, it quickly becomes clear that it would take a freak series of results for this to happen.
For example, once such freak scenario would involve Marcus Campbell winning the final against Marco Fu, with Jamie Cope reaching the semi-finals, Ricky Walden and Stephen Hendry making the quarters, Matthew Stevens defeating Mark Allen and either Peter Ebdon defeating Stuart Bingham or Stuart winning and going on to make the semis. Hypothetically, if that were to happen it would put Judd down to 18th place but while I could certainly see two or three of those occurring, I cannot imagine that six or seven will.
By the same logic I feel that Peter Ebdon and Matthew Stevens are relatively well placed, certainly one more win would do it for those two and Peter also has the advantage of having more points to gain having not played his opening match yet.
For Stevens to lose his place therefore, with an opening round loss to Mark Allen it would then take four of the players below him making the quarter-finals. In simple terms then that means four from Stephen Lee, Stuart Bingham, Mark Allen, Ricky Walden, Jamie Cope and Stephen Hendry making it to the last eight. While possible, with the likes of John Higgins, Mark Williams and Mark Selby likely to be standing in their way, I would be very surprised to see it happen.
Work to do…
It is from 14th downwards however where things get really interesting as there then follow eight players who are all separated by little more than a couple of thousand points, plus the seeded Marco Fu a little further back who could also make a move.
Turning firstly to the qualifiers, Stephen Lee currently heads the group in 14th place but with arguably the toughest tie possible to come against John Higgins in the opening round, he looks vulnerable to me and with seeded players behind him needing just one win to leapfrog him, I can see him just losing out this time. Even if he can come through against Higgins, three of the four players immediately below him would all still move above him with an opening round victory so in my view Stephen really needs a quarter-final run if he is to stand a great chance of remaining in his current position.
Exactly the same applies to 15th placed Stuart Bingham except that it would only take two of those four players to jump him if he were to lose out to Peter Ebdon in his first match. If he were to defeat Ebdon then he would possibly move ahead of Lee, but again be vulnerable to the other seeded chasers.
A bit of a gap appears from there as far as the qualifiers are concerned with 21st placed Martin Gould requiring at least a quarter-final, but in all likelihood a semi-final if he is to threaten a top 16 place. Similarly Marcus Campbell and Barry Hawkins would also need to make it to the one-table set-up in order to stand any chance.
So who are the seeded chasers?
The first is Mark Allen who is currently on the brink in 16th place and almost certainly needing to see off Matthew Stevens in the first round to retain his elite status. If he can do so then while he would not yet be safe, he could move ahead of Stephen Lee and Stuart Bingham to at least give himself some breathing space. It is a similar situation for the next three, Ricky Walden, Jamie Cope and notably the illustrious Stephen Hendry.
Having been in the top 16 since the 1988/9 season, Hendry now faces the biggest threat to his status that he has faced since then and needs at least one win if he is to remain there after this tournament. Victory against Joe Perry would move him up to 14th place and put him in with a fighting chance, but victories for Mark Allen, Ricky Walden and Jamie Cope in their openers would leave the Scot probably needing to overcome Mark Selby in the last 16, a tall order indeed.
Indeed Hendry’s week in China summed up the rankings system in many ways, demonstrating that while first round wins are important to prevent you from slipping down the rankings, they are rarely enough to move you up them and as far as the top 16 is concerned, a last 16 exit for Hendry would leave him precariously placed and relying on other results.
In the mix
Finally, Marco Fu is also in with a slim chance of retaining his top 16 status but he would require at least a quarter-final to do so and several other results to go his way.
Prediction: Incredibly tough one to call this but I am going to back Stevens, Trump, Ebdon, Walden, Cope and Hendry to take the last six spots. That may make more sense once my Worlds previews are up.
The Top 32
Thankfully this race is far more straightforward! In fact there are only three players who can move up into the top 32, namely Rory McLeod, Jamie Burnett and Dave Harold.
For Rory he would need at least a run to the semi-finals in order to pip Gerard Greene to 32nd place, while Jamie would need the final and Dave Harold would have to win the tournament and hope that the previous two both lose early.
Prediction: While you can never say never, I cannot see there being any changes here.
The Top 48
In with a chance of a top 48 spot are Jimmy Robertson and Andrew Pagett, while 48th placed Dave Harold also has a part to play as he is still in the tournament and capable of defending his position.
Ready to spring a surprise?
For Robertson a quarter-final would be enough to see him move from 53rd to 45th at the expense of Harold unless the man from Stoke can find a way to defeat Ali Carter in his first round match. If he can then it would be Welshman Jamie Jones who would lose out to any run from Robertson.
Looking further down the rankings, surprisingly 71st placed Andrew Pagett could also move up into the top 48 mathematically, though it would take an appearance in the final to do so.
Prediction: Again, while fortune favours the brave, I am not going to be brave here! No change.
The Top 64
Now this one is simple, if Andrew Pagett reaches the quarter-finals then he would claim a top 64 place at the expense of China’s Xiao Guodong, though Xiao would remain on tour via the PTC list.
Impressive in qualifying
Prediction: I was very impressed by Andrew at the qualifiers but it is always hard for debutants here. I think Xiao will be safe.
As you can see, there are a number of interesting ranking issues to be resolved at the World Championship although as I said at the start, it is perhaps not as important to be in the top 16 now as it was in the past. This is of course due to the fact that with a good start to next season players can move straight back in as Peter Ebdon did at the expense of Liang Wenbo.
Looking further ahead, it is also worth saying that it is a potentially important tournament for Ronnie O’Sullivan who with a number of points to come off early next year due to the removal of his 7,000 points from the Shanghai Masters, will be hoping to get some points on the board in advance to avoid being dragged into a battle for his top 16 place. Now who would have seen that coming a year ago?