A big season for…Ken Doherty

Following on from my article on Matthew Stevens last week, tonight sees me turn to Ken Doherty, a man who despite having played in all of the biggest finals, faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet in 2009/10…

While it is inevitable that even the very best players will struggle with their game eventually, the astonishing thing about Ken’s decline is that it has been so sudden. It seems like a long time ago now but barely two years have passed since he headed into the 2007 World Championship with a real chance of moving up to number one in the world. As things transpired however, it appears as though his opening round defeat to young Mark Allen at the Crucible would in fact prove to be the beginning of the end for Ken as a force at the very top of the game.

Indeed this loss seemed to really shake him and 2007/8 would prove to be a torrid campaign in which he won just three matches in the seven ranking events staged and he saw his long-held place in the world’s top 16 come to an end with his loss to Liang Wenbo at the Crucible.

From there things went from bad to worse as not only did he win just two matches in 2008/9, but in the process he suffered some real hammerings, most notably a 5-0 reverse against John Parrot as well as 5-0 and 5-1 losses to Jimmy White. The result of this is that not only has he lost his place in the top 32, but he finds himself down in 54th position on the provisional list and facing an uphill struggle to maintain a place in the top 48 and possibly even the tour itself.

So can he turns things around? On the evidence of the last two seasons things do not look too promising. I was there to watch his defeat to Gerard Greene in the World Championship qualifiers back in March and while in the odd frame he looked to be in good shape, during the others he was really struggling and his lack of confidence was there for all (well, the handful of us not watching Davis v Spick anyway), to see.

Ken did get his season off to a decent start this week in the Sangsom 6-Red Grand Prix, reaching the last 16 stage before suffering a whitewash at the hands of Mark Williams, but in contrast to his form in the ranking events, the strange thing is that his results during exhibition events recently have actually been pretty good. In 2007 of course he managed to win the Pot Black Trophy and more recently reached the semi-finals of the Masters, the final of a World Series event and the semi-finals of the Masters qualifying event last season.

As he has shown in these performances, he can still play the game well and remains a fine snooker player, but whether it is the added pressure of his falling ranking heaped upon his shoulders or simply a lack of confidence when it really matters that is causing the problems, it just is not happening for him in the ranking matches right now.

It is easy to say it but Ken is one of the nicest guys that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and I do hope that he can steady the ship and stabilise his fall down the rankings next season. Perhaps starting off earlier on in the tournaments will see him win a few matches and get a bit of much-needed momentum once again, though given the quality of the field these days this is by no means a certainty. He can at least take inspiration from someone like Jimmy White who having fallen as low as 65th at one stage, is now back on an upward curve and winning regularly again.

Having said after that match with Greene that he would consider hanging up his cue for good if results do not improve soon however, it is crucial that Ken gets his 2009/10 season off to a good start or who knows, perhaps his time could really be running out…