Friday Top 5: Snooker showmen

Friday Top 5: Snooker showmen

Afternoon all. It was raining this morning in Mexico City. Dark, gloomy, heavy rain. The kind of rain that led me to flee London five years ago, such is my hatred of the stuff. Thankfully, by midday order was restored; the sun came out, the temperature returned to its usual 20-25 degree bracket, and the family of lizards that live (welcome but uninvited) in my garden have emerged from hiding to to take in a bit of late evening sun. And so it should always be.

As I write, Belgium’s Luca Brecel has just won snooker’s Championship League, edging out Ben Woollaston in the glamorous confines of Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena.

While it’s been great to know that real, live sport is going on once again, let’s face it: its hard to get too excited about this one. Firstly, there is no-one watching in the arena due to the coronavirus situation. I know it’s a reality that we sport fans are going to have to get used to over the coming months, but empty seats undoubtedly affect the viewer experience. Secondly, a number of the big names like Mark Williams and John Higgins are absent. And thirdly, its a non-ranking event, so who really cares? (On a separate note, can anyone tell me why snooker has so many non-ranking tournaments? What’s the point?)

But to celebrate the return of the baize, this week’s Friday top five takes a look at the greatest snooker showmen. Snooker is not always thrill-a-minute. It can be slow, cautious, and at times frankly boring. This list, then, celebrates those players who have always approached the game in an attractive, usually aggressive manner. These are the players that, for one reason or another, have always managed to keep me in front of the TV for hours on end, for better or worse. Let’s get into it.

Mark Williams

When I was first getting into snooker, around the turn of the century, Williams was arguably the dominant player of the time, claiming two World Championships and two UK Championship titles from 2000 – 2003. I liked him as he was left-handed, like me, but also because of his fantastic long-potting ability. The Welshman was by no means a poor safety player – one of the best, in fact – but he would always look to cut short the tactical battles by crafting potting opportunities where possible through inventive plants and cannons. This is a trait I have always admired. There is no need to be reckless with your attacking play, but snooker is, stripped to its bare bones, an exercise in potting balls. His hairline – a glorious, glistening U-shape atop his balding skull – also added an extra layer of intrigue for the spectator.

Stephen Hendry

While I admired Williams for his creativity, I always appreciated Hendry’s relentless will to win. Seven world titles – more than any other player – is a testament to that. Although the Scot was approaching the tail-end of his peak when I switched onto snooker, I would still enjoy his attack-minded, fearless approach to the game. Famous for perfecting the “split the pack off the blue” shot (yes, that is its official name I have just invented), he is often credited with taking the break-building side of the game to a new level and thus ushering in the modern era. This has paved the way for present-day fan favourites like Neil Robertson and Judd Trump – more on him later – and has been vital for the sport’s popularity.

Judd Trump

Despite his questionable hairstyles and apparent inability to do up his top button, there is no denying Trump’s raw ability. He can pot them from anywhere, his cue power is unparalleled and cueball control exquisite. Unlike his American namesake in the White House, the Bristolian always seems to just about fall on the right side of the fence between self-confidence and arrogance. In recent years, he has matured into the leading all-round player he always threatened to become, and his long-awaited victory at the Crucible in 2019 was utterly dominant. At just 30 years old, he already has more than 700 century breaks to his name and looks set to finish his career miles ahead of the chasing pack in that regard by the time he eventually hangs up his cue.

Ding Junhui

His style may be less-overtly entertaining than the swashbuckling Trump or the crafty Williams, but Ding’s subtle brilliance has always drawn the crowds. Ever since he burst onto the scene as a camera-shy, acne-ridden teenager, Ding’s ability to maneuver the white ball around the black spot with screws and stuns has been right up there with the best. It has been fascinating to watch his development over the years. From breaking down in tears during his thrashing at the hands of O’Sullivan in the 2007 Masters final as a 19-year old, he is now one of the elder statesmen on tour and a role model for the young Chinese contingent breaking through. All the while carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders. With his temperament and tactical nous improving markedly as he has gained experience, he probably should have won a world title by now. Perhaps its not too late.

Ronnie O’Sullivan

I left Ronnie until last for two reasons. Firstly, because he is by miles the most popular player on tour and so I wanted to keep you guys reading to find out whether or not he would be included. Secondly, because he is the perfect combination of all the aforementioned players. His cue control is the best of anyone’s, his potting ability superb, and his speed around the table truly mesmerising. On top of his ridiculous natural talent, he is a fascinating personality; last week’s appearance with a strong handlebar moustache the latest in a long line of “I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about me” statements. As I have written about more, he is genuinely one of the most complex and absorbing sportsmen of all time, and an unmatched genius with a cue in his hand.

Right, that’s about all for that. Before you all start lynching me, a quick shout out to Alex Higgins and Jimmy White. They were both before my time, but by all accounts were just as thrilling and popular. I, however, can only go with what I know.

Have a smashing weekend everyone, and see you on Monday.