A Look Ahead To 2012/13

So here we go again. With the dust having barely settled following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s triumph at the Crucible Theatre less than a month ago, it is now time to do it all over again as the new season gets underway tomorrow with the qualifiers for the Wuxi Classic in Sheffield. Click below for a few thoughts and questions that I am looking forward to seeing answered over the next 12 months…

Following talk of his potential retirement both during and after his successful tilt at the world title in Sheffield, many will be wondering just how long it will be before we do see Ronnie O’Sullivan back at the snooker table in competition.

Certainly there are a number of opinions, but mine for what it’s worth is that we certainly won’t see him back before the Shanghai Masters in September, while we won’t be seeing him slog it out in the PTC events as he was ‘forced’ to in 2011. There is a question as to whether he will play in the Premier League, but in all honesty I cannot see why he wouldn’t, given the ‘one-night’ format of the event and the success that he has enjoyed in the competition down the years.

Time will tell, but I am sure that we have not seen the last of Ronnie OSullivan, both as a player and as a tournament winner.

What of Ronnie’s great rivals John Higgins and Mark Williams however, both heading into the new campaign on the back of disappointing campaigns in 2011/12?

In John’s case, he has openly admitted on a number of occasions that he did not put in the required work on the practice table last season and that this was duly reflected in his results. At 37 he is closer to the end of his career than he is the start, but at his best he remains probably the best all-round player in the game and one who can never be discounted. It was only a year ago that he was in the midst of a winning run which saw him win almost every tournament that he entered.

Much will depend on his attitude and just how much John still wants to be a force in snooker. Losing as heavily as he did to Stephen Hendry at the Crucible will have hurt his pride and perhaps might provide him with the motivation to prove the doubters wrong once again.

What of Mark Williams? The world number one a year ago, Mark began the campaign with two final appearances, only to lose both having held a commanding lead and see his season unravel somewhat from there.

For whatever reason I am not quite as confident that he will return to winning ways as I am Higgins, but it has to be said that the second half of his season was distorted by the fact that he seemed to consistently draw Ronnie O’Sullivan at the last 16 stage of ranking events, indeed he lost to him at that stage of three of the last four tournaments, as well as the Premier League finals.

Having not beaten Ronnie in over ten years, it is clearly a match-up that he does not enjoy and with Ronnie’s Crucible success ensuring that the two will not meet at such an early stage of events for the foreseeable future, this can only be a good thing for Mark.

With more points to defend from the 2010/11 season than any player other than Mark Selby however, I wonder whether we might just see the Welshman drop a few places during the second half of the season.

Another player who will be interesting to watch this season will be Judd Trump, who as the season progresses will for the first time in his career be in a position of having to defend points, following his remarkable end to the 2010/11 season.

When attempting to rank the players in order of their standing in the game, it is probably fair to say that the hardest to place is Judd. On the one hand, his potting is second to none and his results in the majors during the past 12 months are formidable. On the other however, when you compare his all-round game to the likes of Mark Selby, John Higgins and Neil Robertson, on those days when the long pots aren’t going in, he can be vulnerable.

As one fellow blogger said to me in Sheffield, people criticise Judd for taking on crazy shots, but when they all go in then who cares. But he can’t pot them all of the time and I look forward to seeing how he fares this year.

Elsewhere, another player with a lot to defend this season is Ding Junhui and after what was a fairly hit and miss season, as ridiculous as it sounds, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could find himself too close for comfort to losing his top 16 place. As one of the players who last season played in the minimum amount of PTC events required in order to qualify for the Grand Finals, it will be interesting to see how he manages his schedule this season.

Beyond the top 16, can Ali Carter maintain the form that he demonstrated at the Crucible and push for a place in the top eight once again? With the points from his 2010 Shanghai Masters success soon to fall, he is likely to drop before then being able to inch his way back, but health permitting, he is too good a player to be ranked outside of the top 16 for long.

Jamie Cope is another who needs a good start to the season having struggled during last season, while Marco Fu is another big name who could find his top 32 position under threat with points to defend as the season progresses.

What of those on the up? Michael Holt and Tom Ford both have little to defend from a couple of years ago and could find themselves climbing up the rankings with a good start to the season, while Ben Woollaston has fewer points to defend than anybody as far as 57th placed David Gilbert and will be targeting a place inside the top 32 by the end of the season.

It will also be a big season for Jack Lisowski, who after a sparking début run, was unable to kick on in 2011/12 and by his own admission struggled to adjust to having to defend points for the first time, having previously had nothing to lose. He has not lost the talent and I am sure that he will bounce back at some point, but it will be interesting to see just how long it takes for him to get back to winning ways.

As ever, there is also a lot of attention surrounding the players new to the tour for 2012/13, perhaps more so given the fact that they will now have two-year tour cards and that in theory they should be able to adjust to life on the tour more quickly than in previous years, as many of them have been regulars at PTC tournaments as amateurs anyway during the past couple of years.

Amongst those catching the eye outside of the top 64, Sam Baird having now had a couple of season on the main tour previously is one who I would expect to make a few more venues, while all eyes will be on Luca Brecel after his remarkable run to the Crucible earlier in the year.

Of those less obvious, Thai youngster Thanwat Thirapongpaiboon is a player who still aged only 18, has one professional season behind him during which he made a 147 break, as well as a run to the last 32 of the 2011 German Masters and I fancy to do well again. Another who has been talked up by those who have seen him is Chinese youngster Chen Zhe, while Joel Walker is another who I have not seen play competitively, but comes with a reputation behind him as one to watch.

Daniel Wells will be hoping to fare better after a nightmare spell on the tour last season, while Liam Highfield will be hoping to take full advantage having remained on the tour by the skin of his teeth following a tricky campaign last year.

Aside from the players themselves, it will be interesting to see how the new formats for the German Masters and Welsh Open tournaments fare in practice, while I am also curious to see how many professionals opt to play in the three APTC tournaments, indeed from what I can gather so far, the answer seems to be quite a few.

All things considered, there are a lot of things to look forward to in 2012/13 then and I hope to be able to bring you as much as possible on that via PSB.

What questions are you most looking forward to seeing answered?