Five years ago following John Higgins’ victory at the 2009 World Championship at the Crucible, following a similar feature prepared by the BBC, I wrote a blog, predicting how the top eight of the world rankings would look in 2014.
Having been reminded of the article earlier during this year’s World Championship, now exactly five years on I take a look back at accurate my predictions were, all well as attempting to predict how the top eight will look in another five years in 2019…
Back in May 2009, I predicted that the world’s top eight would be as follows, with their actual rankings in brackets…
1) Mark Allen (9)
2) Shaun Murphy (7)
3) Ding Junhui (1)
4) Neil Robertson (2)
5) Mark Selby (4)
6) Stephen Maguire (14)
7) Ronnie O’Sullivan (3)
8 ) Judd Trump (6)
The actual 2014 top eight meanwhile is as follows:
1) Mark Selby
2) Ding Junhui
3) Neil Robertson
4) Ronnie O’Sullivan
5) Barry Hawkins
6) Judd Trump
7) Shaun Murphy
8 ) Marco Fu
So how did I do?
Given that Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump were not inside of the top eight at the time that I made the predictions, I am pleased to see that the three have justified my faith in placing them there. Indeed, they are the three of the players who now look best placed to remain there for a long time to come.
Of course back in 2009, we were still under the ‘old’ system of a points list updated only once a season, so given the unanticipated change that the sport’s ranking system has undergone since then, I will take six out of eight, albeit in a slightly different order.
The big discrepancy though is that my predicted rise to world number one from Mark Allen has not become a reality, yet at least, with the 2011 UK Championship finalist reaching a career-high ranking of number six last year.
Similarly, Stephen Maguire has dropped down as low as 14th in the latest provisional money list, though he has consistently occupied a top eight berth until very recently and remains capable of getting back up there again.
Perhaps the really interesting thing is that Trump aside, who although it would take him another two years to make his breakthrough on the main tour, was always destined for the top of the game, there has not been an influx of new young players to the very top of the rankings.
As is evident from my previous predictions, this is not a huge shock, given the strength of the players in the 30-40 years of age bracket, but then is perhaps surprising when you consider the young age at which the likes of John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and even Ding Junhui were able to win titles.
My 2019 Top Eight
Five years on, it would be rude not to make another fun prediction as to how the rankings will look in another five years, namely after the 2019 World Championship.
While predictions are always fraught with danger, predicting how the top of the game will look in five years time feels far more difficult this time around than it did back in 2009. Back then at least, the likes of Robertson, Ding and Selby had already won titles and were approaching their prime, but this time there are few, if any players of a similar age who have as yet proven that they have what it takes to reach the very top
As will quickly become apparent from a glance at my list below (projected age in brackets), again I am not expecting there to be a dramatic change to the current pecking order:
1) Ding Junhui (32)
2) Judd Trump (29)
3) Mark Selby (35)
4) Neil Robertson (37)
5) Mark Allen (33)
6) Xiao Guodong (30)
7) Shaun Murphy (36)
8 ) Kyren Wilson (27)
So in reverse order, I have taken a bit of a punt and gone for current world number 70 Kyren Wilson, who at 22 has enjoyed an encouraging second season on the tour. Though difficult to predict just how high he will be able to climb, his recent qualification for the Crucible, as well as his run to the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters earlier in the season have shown his promise and I would expect him to continue his rise up the ranking list in future seasons.
Next up I have gone for Shaun Murphy, who at 36 will surely still be in the mix at the top of the rankings and will no doubt continue to enter the vast majority of events available to him.
Another more daring selection at number six is that of China’s Xiao Guodong, a player whom I have been tipping to make a breakthrough for a number of years and this season finally followed through by reaching the final of the Shanghai Masters and qualifying for the Crucible. By the time that 2019 comes around, Xiao should be at or around his peak and I would be surprised if he were not to go all the way and win a ranking event in the next season or two.
From there however, I have been unable to see past the established names, with Mark Allen taking fifth on my list. Though he has not yet risen quite as high in the rankings as I had envisaged five years ago, I still rate him highly as a player and would be surprised to see him outside of the top eight in a few seasons time. Ding aside, he is the stand-out player of his age bracket and there is no reason that he should not be challenging for honours at that time.
Next I have Neil Robertson, who I still expect to be there or thereabouts at the age of 37. It will be interesting to see whether his trademark long game holds up by that point, but with his all-round game and mental strength these days, again you would have to expect that he will still be one of the men to beat in 2019. The same largely goes for third placed Mark Selby, who will still ‘only’ be 35 and perhaps a multiple world champion by that point.
There are no surprises either with the top two, as I have gone for Judd Trump and Ding Junhui, who at 29 and 32 respectively should still be at or around their respective peaks in five years time. I have gone for Ding to take top spot, on the basis that I see him as the more complete player of the two currently and is a certainty to win a lot more silverware over the next five years, but Trump will also be right up there.
But what about…
Of course there are obvious omissions, what about Ronnie O’Sullivan, who at 38 now looks better than ever? I would not put it past him by any means but will he still be playing then? Will he be playing a full schedule? It will be interesting to see.
Another who I suspect could be close is Ali Carter, who at 39 will more likely than not still be inside the top 16, but will his health difficulties, which has already given him a false ranking at present date, still be a factor?
Others who are likely to be there or thereabouts include Ricky Walden, Stephen Maguire and perhaps Liang Wenbo, while the likes of Michael White, Joel Walker and Anthony McGill will be hoping to be ranked significantly higher than they are at present.
And what of the promise of the young Chinese players currently turning professional? Could we see one of those make a surge up the ranking list?
Who are your predicted top eight for 2019? Please feel free to leave your comments below…