2008/9 Player Reviews: 33-48

My 2008/9 season player reviews continue today with a look at the next 16 players, those occupying positions 33-48 in the rankings…

Just dropping out of the top 32 for the first time since the 1994/5 season is Nottingham’s Anthony Hamilton (33rd, 20688pts), who experienced a particularly mixed season. Early on it was a real struggle as he won just two of his five opening round matches before Christmas and at the Grand Prix in particular suffered a 5-0 mauling at the hands of eventual winner John Higgins.

With his top 32 place in jeopardy though he made a much better start to 2009, qualifying for the China Open and notably going all the way to the semi-finals of the Welsh Open before again losing out to the eventual champion, Ali Carter. Now in some sort of form he went into the World Championship qualifiers looking to make it back to the Crucible yet again but unfortunately he received arguably the toughest draw possible, paired with Shanghai Masters winner Ricky Walden and he lost a topsy turvy match 10-5 to confirm his relegation from the 32.

Still, towards the end of the season he did show that he is still capable of winning matches and as he has said himself it could work out for the best and give himself a few more matches to get his confidence back as was the case with Michael Holt last season.

It was a similar story for Dominic Dale (34th, 20620pts), who despite his heroics in Shanghai back in 2007, was unable to really push on from there and like Anthony has now dropped outside of the top 32. Although he made the quarter-finals in Bahrain (thanks in part to the withdrawals of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Steve Davis), five first round exits including all of the three biggest events were effectively his undoing and will ensure that he starts back in the third qualifying round next season. Having admitted that he has struggled to really perform since his move to Vienna a few years ago, he has said that he will attempt to rectify this next season by coming over to practice with his fellow Welsh players earlier and it will be interesting to see if this leads to any improvement.

Another player losing his top 32 place is Preston’s Ian McCulloch (35th, 19263pts), who drops out for the first time since 2002/3. His season started off well enough as he defeated Mike Dunn, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby to reach the quarter-finals before losing out to John Higgins, but from there he won just one more match at the UK Championship as his season completely fell apart. His final match of the season at the World Championship qualifiers ultimately summed things up as he did not play too badly, indeed he made three excellent century breaks but still could not find a way to defeat the gritty Rory McLeod. As a result not only does he drop down to 35th place next season but more alarmingly he will start 2009/10 ranked 42nd provisionally and in need of a much improved campaign.

Continuing the theme is Irishman Michael Judge (36th, 19007pts), who drops out of the 32 after just a single season. Having lost six of his opening round matches including all of those at the big three events he was always going to be in trouble and despite last 16 runs in both the Bahrain Championship and Welsh Open tournaments, so it proved. Like McCulloch he will start next season right down the provisional rankings and will need to up his game is he is to consolidate his current position, never mind get back inside the top 32.

Next up however is someone on the up, another man from Preston in the form of Stuart Pettman (37th, 18770pts), who moving up 25 places makes the single biggest rise up the rankings on the 96 man tour this summer. Not only did Stuart lose just one opening round match but he reached the last 32 of the Northern Ireland Trophy and Shanghai Masters before going on a brilliant run to the semi-finals of the China Open – by far the best performance of his long career.

Though he could not back this up by qualifying for the World Championship, he had already done more than enough to soar up the rankings and will start next season provisionally up in 29th and with a real opportunity to move up inside the top 32 for the first time.

Just 31 points behind Stuart comes another veteran, Redcar’s Mike Dunn (38th, 18739pts), who finds himself up in a career high position in the rankings following another solid season which saw him win his opening round match in six of the eight events played. The highlight of his campaign was to come at the Bahrain Championship where not only did he defeat Joe Delaney and Gerard Greene to qualify for the TV stages but once there he caused a real shock by knocking out world number three Shaun Murphy 5-4. Though he lost out to Barry Hawkins in the next round, he did not let this affect his confidence and came close to qualifying for the Crucible only to lose out in a close contest with Nigel Bond 10-7.

Although he lost his opening round in three of the tournaments played, another riser is Rory McLeod (39th, 18163pts), who enjoyed arguably his best season yet. Not only did he qualify for the TV stages of UK Championship where he put up a good fight against defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan before going down 9-6, but he also managed to qualify to play at the Crucible Theatre for the first time in his 18-year career with a 10-7 victory over Ian McCulloch. Though he lost a gruelling clash with Mark King once there, he has done enough to move up to 36th in the provisional rankings and is in with a shot of the top 32 if he can maintain his form.

Up five places is Scotland’s Jamie Burnett (40th, 17888pts), who despite the controversy attracted during the UK Championship which I will not go into again here, has enjoyed an otherwise impressive season. As well as that run at the UK’s he managed to also make the last 32 stage of both the Grand Prix, Welsh Open and the World Championship, earning enough points to ensure that he will start next season ranked up in 30th position provisionally.

Just behind him is fellow Scot Alan McManus (41st, 17801pts), who despite a change of cue last summer, slips back four places in the rankings. His season started well as he defeated Andy Hicks, Matthew Stevens and Mark King to reach the last 16 of the Northern Ireland Trophy, but from there he seemed to often win his first match before falling in the final qualifying round in his second. Still he did manage to accrue nearly 2,000 more points than in 2007/8 so if he can maintain his form he should be able to at least comfortable remain among the top 48 for a while yet.

The same cannot be said for Adrian Gunnell (42nd, 17500pts), as after a reasonable start to the season, two agonising defeats to Steve Davis at the Grand Prix and UK Championship, both from leading positions, really seemed to affect him. Indeed after that UK defeat he did not win another match all season and next year will find himself fighting to stay in the top 48 for what would be a sixth successive season in 2010/11.

On the up however is Andrew Higginson (43rd, 17438pts), who having experienced a very disappointing 2007/8 season in which he earned just 6888pts, improved significantly this time round to retain his top 48 place. The key to his success was not so much having one great tournament as was the case in 2006/7 when he reached the Welsh Open final, but rather his consistency in the major events as he reached the last 32 of the Grand Prix, UK Championship and World Championship. Though he could not go any further than this stage in any of them, the steady accumulation of points will see him start next season provisionally 33rd and in with a chance of moving into the top 32 for the first time.

Almost unbelievably however, the next man on the list is Ken Doherty (44th, 17363pts), who continues to tumble down the rankings at an alarming rate. Just two years ago Ken was performing well enough to be ranked 4th but during his first season outside of the top 16 since 1992/3, he won just two matches and now finds himself with another qualifying match to negotiate if he is to reach the venue stages of events. Starting next season 54th on the provisional list, next season could be his last if his results do not improve significantly…

Next up is veteran Scot Marcus Campbell (45th, 16863pts), who experienced a solid if not spectacular 2008/9 campaign. Generally he managed to win his opening match but like countryman Alan McManus, was only able to go beyond the last 48 on one occasion, at the Bahrain Championship in November. This proved to be the highlight of his season in more ways than one however as not only did he play in front of the TV cameras, but he also made the first 147 break of his career during his wildcard match to earn £20,000, the single biggest pay cheque of his career.

One player who improved significantly this season was Martin Gould (46th, 16645pts), following a superb finish to the season. Early on he appeared to struggle, winning just two matches in the first four events of the season, but a run to the last 32 of the UK Championship where he came very close to defeating eventual champion Shaun Murphy appeared to galvanise him.

From there he went all the way to the last 16 of the Welsh Open, notably defeating Stephen Hendry in the last 32 before recording excellent victories against David Gilbert and Matthew Stevens to qualify for the last 32 of the World Championship for the first time. Once there he did struggle in the first session of his match against Mark Allen but the following day showed what he is capable of and gave the man from Antrim a real scare. If he can continue to improve next season then it will be very interesting to see just how far he can go in the game.

Another man on the up is Mark Davis (47th, 16588pts), who after a difficult 2007/8 campaign, did well enough to climb 11 places in the rankings back into the top 48 place that he has generally occupied for most of the decade. Like players such as Tom Ford and Barry Pinches, Mark has been working with leading coach Stephen Feeney for a while now and the arrangement seems to have really helped him. Importantly he lost just two opening round matches during 2008/9 and having made the TV stages of three tournaments, goes into next season with a chance to better his career high ranking of #35, achieved in the 2003/4 season.

Finally for today comes Jimmy Michie (48th, 16000pts), who drops two places following a decent, if not great 2008/9 season. The highlight of his campaign came early on at the Grand Prix when he reached the last 32 before losing out to defending champion Marco Fu, but although he reached the final qualifying round of a further three events, he could not quite do enough to win in any of them.