Old Habits

One paper at least, it has been a week of shocks in Wuxi, with a number of top seeds bowing out in the early rounds and two players reaching their first career semi-finals, but why is this? Clearly, not everyone is yet ready for the start of the new season and while we might now have some form of snooker being played virtually every week of the year, some are not prepared to sacrifice the traditional summer break just yet…

Following his last eight defeat to Mark Davis yesterday, former world champion Graeme Dott succinctly described the early-season state of play in the following terms yesterday:

“It’s a decent start, but we’re here to win the tournament so it’s always disappointing when you lose. But it’s very, very early in the season, normally I don’t play at all around June and July so it’s very early.

“I think there are a lot of shocks because it’s too early in the season, there are lots of players who probably haven’t practised as much as they should. I for one haven’t played that much. So a dark horse could win it.”

At first glance it might appear odd to hear that a top professional such as Graeme has come into the tournament having ‘not played that much,’ particularly with every ranking point crucial and the amount at stake even at this early stage of the campaign with tournaments in China and Australia, in addition to the PTC events over the coming months.

Realistically however, it is more understandable, particularly for someone as experienced as Graeme who has gone throughout his career without ever having to touch his cue at this stage of the year previously.

To put this into perspective, consider that as recently as two years ago, there was not a full-ranking event until the Shanghai Masters in the second week of September and for many years around the turn of the century, the season did not start in earnest until the Grand Prix in October. As strange as it might seem now, when the Shanghai Masters was first held in early August back in 2007, this was notably early and perhaps it is no surprise that back then there was a shock winner in the form of Dominic Dale.

Fast-forward to 2012 however and already we have had two qualifying tournaments, an APTC event and one full-ranking event, and we are not yet at the end of June! Even as a blogger it is hard to adjust to covering snooker again when usually we are in the midst of the summer break as the tennis unfolds.

It is not just Graeme Dott who is not quite ready for the start of the new season either, a few players quoted this week have referred to using the tournament to blow off the cobwebs so to speak and Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins for various reasons have not even wanted to do that.

To me it is perfectly understandable and reasonable that players, particularly those who have been on the tour for a long time, have won the game’s top honours and are used to spending the summer with their families, might not find the idea of getting their cues out for a major tournament in June quite so appealing. If they have enough ranking points in the bank to be able to miss a couple of tournaments without fear of falling out of the top 16 for example, then why shouldn’t they have an extended break in which to recharge their batteries?

Of course however, what this does present is an opportunity to those who are able to come into the season well-prepared and are in prime position to take advantage of both ‘rusty’ opposition and absences. The most obvious example right now is Stuart Bingham, who as was the case a year ago has started the season in blistering form, having already won the Pink Ribbon and APTC1 events and is now through to his second full-ranking event final.

An early start to the season is of course nothing new to Stuart, who in the past has entered and won all sorts of competitions, be they Pontins pro-ams in Prestatyn or tournaments such as the Paul Hunter English Open which he won at the Northern Snooker Centre in the summer of 2009. Stuart has always been willing to play in most tournaments and this season for example, has been rewarded for his recent form with both silverware and a move up into the top 10 provisionally.

That the likes of Mark Davis and Marcus Campbell have also started the campaign well and made it through to their first career semi-finals is also indicative of the opportunities that exist currently and with every point potentially crucial, we will soon see just who can take advantage over the upcoming weeks.

More so however, it will be interesting to see over the coming years whether a pattern will emerge as to whether there will be any players who will target this part of the season as an opportunity to gain early ranking points, or at least those who like Bingham can regularly start the season strongly.

We will also see whether there are those who are not willing to break those old habits and whether they will suffer because of it…