Can you feel the force?

Last season saw just two changes to the year-end top 16 but one in particular was of some significance, the fall of Peter Ebdon out of that elite bracket and down to his lowest position since the 1993/4 season. Has Peter still got it or is this the beginning of the end for the 2002 world champion?

Towards the end of the 2008/9 season it appeared as though Peter’s long top 16 run would come to an end following a series of heavy defeats but his remarkable triumph at the 2009 China Open was to prove just enough to keep his run going for another year, something that Peter spoke about with some pride at the time.

Although that triumph was not to see him back at the sharp end of tournaments on a regular basis during 2009/10, his form did improve, particularly during the Championship League in which he excelled. Unfortunately for Peter however there was to be no miracle this time as his opening round defeat to Graeme Dott at the Crucible saw his relegation from the top 16 confirmed and his proud run come to an end.

So where does this leave Peter? Of course he is far from the first former champion to fall outside of the top 16, just ask Ken Doherty, Mark Williams and Graeme Dott. Decline happens to all of the players eventually, for all sorts of reasons and in Peter’s case it has been on the cards for a while now, but those players listed have all shown that falling outside of the top 16 does not mean that they cannot rediscover their best form and compete at the highest level once again…

Why Ebdon won’t make it back

The first factor against Peter making a return to the upper echelons of the game has to be his age as at almost 40, he is obviously closer to the end of his career than he is the start. There are few players aged over 40 who are able to maintain such a standard, indeed during the last decade only Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Jimmy White were able to manage it and that cannot be an accident. There are numerous possible reasons for this such as a drop in motivation, declining eyesight and/or concentration, lack of practice, increased competition. As Davis has shown by regaining a place inside the top 16 at the age of 50, nothing is impossible, but the older players do seem to lose their consistency.

Another argument to suggest that Peter’s days as a top 16 player are gone is that having seen how Ken Doherty struggled to adapt to playing in cubicles after several years on the big stage, it is plausible that Peter might experience similar difficulties. It should be pointed out however that a year on, Ken is now playing far better snooker and the transition is by no means an impossible one.

What Ken continues to suffer from however is the fact that although he regularly qualified for venues during 2009/10, having done so he was inevitably paired with top players in front of the cameras such as Mark Selby and Neil Robertson. Even if Peter can win his qualifying matches therefore, it will not be easy for him to progress further if he has to play the top players straight away, as he will have to during the upcoming Players Championship Event Two which has seen him paired with Shaun Murphy in the opening round.

Why Ebdon will be back

What Peter would no doubt say to that however is that while the likes of Murphy are top players, so is Ebdon. Indeed the form that he produced on the way to the China Open title just a year ago was excellent and although he fell out of the top 16 last season, this owed more to his struggles during the previous season rather than his current form.

One of the reasons for his improved form last season was surely the fact that off the table his personal circumstances were far better than during 2008/9 which was a turbulent period for him as he separated from his wife. Now living in Hungary with his new partner and signed up with 110sport, he must surely be in a better frame of mind on the table.

Ironically however, perhaps the biggest reason to suggest that Peter will soon be back inside the top 16 is that which he argued so vehemently against, the takeover of the sport by Barry Hearn! With the decision to move the qualifiers from Prestatyn to the Academy in Sheffield, the number of additional ranking events compared to the past and most importantly, the changes to the ranking system which mean that he could be back inside the top 16 by October.

Simply put, falling out of the top 16 is not nearly as much of a problem as it was in the past and lying in 15th place in the provisional rankings as Ebdon currently is, if he can start the new season well, he could well be back where he will feel that he belongs within months whereas under the old system he would not have that opportunity until next May.


On balance therefore I suspect that while I cannot see Ebdon returning to the top eight and performing as consistently as he did at his peak, on his day he remains capable of beating anyone, as he showed over in Beijing. If he can do that early this season or even just make it to a couple of quarter-finals, he might not have too long to wait until he is back up inside the top sixteen once again…

To view the draw for the second PTC event in full, please click here.