Has Mark Selby Returned? English Open Final 2019 – Shorts Thoughts

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In an English Open final which closely resembled that of 2017 involving O’Sullivan and Wilson, this year’s final experienced a similar fashion with a contest between 3-time World Champion Mark Selby, and WSC semi-finalist David Gilbert. Given these two consistently practice with each other, what happened in Sunday’s final?

Selby took Frames 1-4 with breaks of 88, 68, 79 and 85. Unlike his matches leading up to the final, Selby established a dominant presence straight from the offset. That isn’t to say that Gilbert didn’t have any chances – Selby played a couple of loose safeties in Frame 2 which Gilbert couldn’t convert. Besides these, Selby’s safety was already too strong for Gilbert to compete with.

Frame 5 was the first frame to see any kind of back-and-forth action; so far it had just been frame winning contributions from Selby. One of Selby’s very few misses had come from a missed black at a break of 40. The black ending up on the other end of the table made it difficult for Gilbert to string a break. When Gilbert was 44-40 ahead, a safety battle commenced which ultimately went to Selby (with the help of a snooker that took Gilbert 7 attempts to escape).

Despite a valiant attempt to get into the match with a break of 101 in Frame 6, Gilbert was one-upped by practice partner Selby, with a subsequent 130 clearance. Selby followed this with a 97 in Frame 8. Frame 9 was effectively Gilbert’s last chance – he made a break of 51 but couldn’t continue. He had another chance at the table but misjudged the final red. Needless to say, Selby was able to clear the rest of the table and then take the final frame with a 101 break.

Let’s look at Gilbert and start with his play. He didn’t make too many mistakes in all honesty. The main concern came from his safeties which weren’t good enough in this match. He was always under/over-running the cue ball, rarely actually leaving it against the cushion. Under normal circumstances, he would get more opportunities to get into the match, but he happened to be playing against someone who was punishing literally every ball he missed. Most say that Gilbert was out of his element but I don’t think that’s completely fair. Selby was playing in a manner in which most other players would have deeply struggled with, and that includes those at the top.

And then there’s Selby. This was the kind of performance that enabled him to win 5 titles in 2016/17 and 3 World titles in 4 years. He ended with a 97% pot success but more importantly, he won almost every single frame with a one-visit contribution. Even when he wasn’t potting, he was causing trouble for Gilbert in his safeties. There wasn’t a weak facet in his game on Sunday.

The main difference between Selby and Gilbert is that Selby is a proven victor. It is a significantly more difficult final for someone who hasn’t won a ranking title. A win of this magnitude may give Selby the boost to get back into his consistent winning form. Two semi-finals prior to this will also add to this confident start to his campaign. Selby mentioned in interviews that he has been practicing well and he has been just trying to treat competitive play similar to that, and I think this is something key to his performance. If he can carry this forward, I would love to see him up against Trump, O’Sullivan or Robertson quite soon.

Stay tuned to Snooker Shorts for this Saturday’s Short post which will look at why David Gilbert shouldn’t be disappointed after the English Open!

Robertson vs. Fu English Open 2019 – Shorts Thoughts

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It may not have been as exciting as one would have expected between these two contestants, but they are two of my favourite players and I wanted to watch and report on this match regardless of how it played out. Their last contest was in 2017 – technically, it was the Hong Kong Masters but their epic at the WSC that year was the more memorable occasion.

The opening frame commenced with a good safety bout from both players. Both Robertson and Fu had chances at opening pots but did not secure them. Fu then had the first real chance but slightly overcut a red which allowed Robertson to win with a break of 75. Fu then seemed to have found his rhythm in Frame 2 where a tuck-in behind the brown opened an opportunity for Fu to make a break of 90.

It took a couple of visits for Robertson to take Frame 3. A strong opening pot powering through the pack saw a break of 49 where a tricky cutback on the black didn’t leave him in a position to continue the break. However, an impressive pot a couple shots later led to a break of 50 for Robertson. Robertson then extended his lead by making an exact break of 100 in Frame 4 – capitalising off a long pot attempt from Fu.

Frame 5 opened with a good long pot by Robertson but he misplayed a canon to make a substantial break to close out the match. A further tentative long pot attempt from Robertson left Fu in to make a break of 50. Robertson had a couple bites of the cherry but to no avail. A couple of good snookers from Fu gave him the chance to wrap up the frame despite a lengthy attempt from Robertson to claw it back for victory. Then the final frame saw some weak shots from Fu to allow Robertson to make breaks of 36 and 35 to clinch victory.

It was a shame that neither of these players went on further in the English Open but that comes with the nature of a flat 128 draw tournament like the Home Nations. As seen countless times before in snooker, a best-of-11 match could have led to a completely different result than a best-of-7.

Robertson would have preferred to make further ground in this event to try and continue his momentum from last year. Ideally, he would be wanting to have the form that Shaun Murphy has had in this season so far. At this point last season, he had won the Riga Masters and came runner up in the International Championship.

As for Fu, he needs to get the confidence back that he had a few years ago. This can only come from a big win, even if it was a non-ranking event. He was missing pots that he ordinarily wouldn’t have missed in this match and I am always hoping that another win is in the near future for Fu.

The Snooker Dress Code

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Waistcoat, tie, trousers, shoes – is there any other sport that requires players to accommodate to this dress code? Almost all sports couldn’t be played to their fullest effect if players were made to wear this. But we all know that snooker is unlike any other sport. Where has this strict dress policy come from and is it still necessary for it to be upheld to this day?

The formality was introduced since the early beginnings of cue sports in the 19th century. The game was played frequently by British nobles and those considered ‘upper-class’, where smart clothing was the standard and tradition had remained ever since.

The dress code has somewhat relaxed in recent years with players wearing various coloured shirts and flamboyant shoes but the topic always came up as to whether the these rules need to be changed or modernised. It’s a quality that is attributable to the sport which signifies its class and uniqueness that most outside viewers associate with the game.

There are many players (current and former) such as Parrott who support sticking to the tradition of smart clothing in snooker to push the gentlemanly image. Davis and Hendry were also supporters with the mentality that ‘dressing up’ gets a player in the right frame of mind as opposed to thinking of a match as another practice session if they were to go casual.

Shaun Murphy has previously raised concerns regarding the ‘restrictive’ feel of a player’s uniform, stating that it limits them from reaching certain shots and the tendency to overheat under the TV lights. While these points are valid, I think something he mentioned which is truly a missed opportunity is the ability to sell merchandise backed by the top clothing brands. Similar to golf polos, snooker could benefit from the sales of clothing as worn by the players. It may not be as lucrative or substantial as other sports but it’s definitely a waste by not exploring this option.

Here’s what I think. The reason I’m a huge fan of snooker is because of the class I believe it holds over other sports. Part of this belief may be prompted by the dress code but in large, it’s due to the level of skill involved and the ease to which it seems to be played with by the professionals.

I reckon the dress code should still apply to the Triple Crowns and some high-ticket China events. There are places outside the UK where certain fans expect players to show up in formal attire and would express disappointment if this didn’t happen. For other tournaments, I think a more golf-like approach should be taken. Polo shirts, trousers and shoes. It’s still regarded as smart clothing but at least gives a little more comfort to the players. I think this should also be enforced in the qualifying, non-televised stages of events; where viewers are few and the requirement doesn’t seem as necessary.

The difficulty from the governing body’s point of view is how viewership and subsequent ticket sales would be affected if some of these things were to change. As mentioned before, one of snookers notable qualities is the associated dress code which has been a part of the game since its conception over a century ago.

What are your thoughts on the Snooker Dress Code?

Will Snooker’s Fastest Maximum Break Ever Be Beaten?

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No – is the simple answer. And also the long answer. Whether you class it as 5:20 or 5:08, 1997 saw the infamous and arguably most flawlessly executed 147 break in the history of the game. It was Round 1 in the 1997 World Championship and Ronnie O’Sullivan was 8-5 up against Mick Price where a loose safety shot travelled a bit too far and well…the rest is history.

There isn’t really a definitive list as to the fastest maximum breaks as players don’t really go for speed when compiling these breaks. But to give some context, O’Sullivan holds at least 3-4 of the Top 5 quickest maximum breaks with times (excluding 1997) ranging in the 6 minute territory. He also most likely holds at least 7 out of the Top 10. Most of these feats were accomplished before 2003!

But will 1997 ever be beaten? Unlikely, for a few reasons. Firstly, the record wasn’t just broken. It was annihilated. The previous record before this time was James Wattana making a 147 in just over 7 minutes in 1992. O’Sullivan broke this by near enough 2 minutes; in the context of a maximum break, this is a considerable amount of time.

If we’re also looking at the general speed of a player, it’s not like the 5:08 was made by a player on a fluke. It was made by (arguably) the quickest player the game has seen and possibly the only player that could have made that break happen. I feel that if O’Sullivan wasn’t in snooker, the fastest 147 times would hover around the 8-9 minute mark. Nowadays, 147s take on average around 10-14 minutes or so. We wouldn’t even know that a time in the realm of the low 5 minutes was even fathomable.

Another point to consider are the referees of today. Referees today are a lot more careful and take their time when re-spotting colours. If anything, this makes me want to give a huge amount of credit to Len Ganley, who refereed the 1997 R1 WSC match for keeping with the pace of O’Sullivan and what was happening. If it was one of today’s referees, who knows what the time achieved would have been?

However, I do think what it ultimately came down to was a number of things falling into place at the right time. The break itself was perfectly executed in that there were no complicated shots that required much thought. The referee was going round the table as quickly as O’Sullivan. And the time was set by the one person that could have made it happen. Don’t believe me? Set up the opening shot for any pro and see how they do. And see what their average shot times are like.

O’Sullivan was 21 at the time and he was a lot more carefree in his game and considering he was 8-5 up, this only added to how relaxed he was. I mean, he was chalking practically every other shot and didn’t even do so when potting the final 3 colours. He wasn’t having to check any of the potting angles. It was literally like watching a computer make the perfect break. And it didn’t seem as if he was rushing.

So again, do I think it will be beaten? No. The only person that could come close to reaching that time is O’Sullivan himself. And even in his 40s I’d say he has a good chance of achieving it in the 6 minute mark. Just look at his 146 against Ding in the 2017 WSC quarter-finals. I think Rollie Williams said it best in one of his YouTube videos: ‘the guy is a one-man highlight reel’.

Edit: this was written well before 14 year old talent, Iulian Boiko from Ukraine made a 147 in under 6 minutes in training. Does this change my opinion – will the fastest break ever be beaten? Officially, no. Unofficially, maybe. I definitely don’t think it will be beaten in competitive play, due to the factors explained above. Even in unofficial, non-competitive play, players will get close but only if they and a referee run around the table. And I feel the only way it will truly be recognised is if it happens in competitive play.