Player Spotlight – Marco Fu

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Hong Kong’s finest, and one of my personal favourite players to watch, Marco Fu is one of those players that will probably fly under most people’s radars. He may not have the character of other players but he is one of the classiest players on the tour. Combined with his skill on the table, makes him an incredible player to watch.

Born in Hong Kong, but raised in Canada, Fu had a fair amount of success with Under-21 tournaments. He turned professional in 1998 and since has claimed 3 ranking titles, most notably the Scottish Open in 2016 where he overturned a 4-1 deficit against favourite, John Higgins to win 9-4.

Since turning professional, Fu’s performance for the next decade or so has been fluctuating, along with his rankings. His first ranking title came in 2007 when he won the Grand Prix against Ronnie O’Sullivan. It wouldn’t be for 6 years until Fu won his second ranking event – this would be against favourite Neil Robertson at the Australian Open.

Fu has gotten close on quite a few occasions. He’s won a couple of non-ranking events throughout his career such as the Premier League and Gibraltar Open. However, when it comes to Triple Crown the furthest he has made it is the Masters final in 2011 and the incredible semi-final effort in WSC 2016 against Mark Selby,

Fu’s stellar performance in the 2016/17 season included a final in the Players Championship, a nail-biting semi-final in the Masters as well as the Grand Prix and of course, the Scottish Open victory which saw him finish at his highest ranking position at No. 6.

Despite a relatively small list of ranking titles to his name, Fu isn’t a player who should go unnoticed. Top level players like O’Sullivan and Higgins will be the first to tell you how good Fu’s game is and how much of a threat he is to play in events. Most probably wouldn’t even know that Fu is up there with almost 500 career centuries and 4 maximum breaks to his name. Not to mention, he can scrap with the best in the tactical game.

Although the past couple of seasons have been difficult for Fu due to his laser eye surgery and the impact that has had on his game, I am hoping he can bounce back to his previous form and be back to contesting with the top once again. If there’s one thing I can say about Fu, it’s that he does not shy away from taking down the bigger players. And he has.

Fun fact; When Marco Fu turned pro, he was ranked No. 377 in the world.

Have we seen the best of Mark Selby?

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The years 2014-2017 were the best of Mark Selby’s career. But were they the best of his career so far? – Well that’s the question. Have we seen the best of the former World No. 1 (now ranked 6) or will his recent low spell in the past couple of seasons stay in the past?

Selby has only won one ranking event this past season and two the season before that. None of these wins were Triple Crown. These performances also saw Selby lose his No. 1 rank which he held for 7 consecutive years before that. If we compare that to his 2016/17 season (arguably his best), he won 4 ranking events, including the Worlds and UK Championship.

His ranking position wouldn’t have suffered so much if he performed better on average in each tournament he played in. The furthest Selby got in a tournament besides the China Championship was the semi-finals of the NI Open in the classic against O’Sullivan. Besides that, he suffered numerous first and second round exits. This is similar in the 2017/18 season as well. So, what happened?

One thing I noticed was that Selby’s play has shifted to more of an aggressive approach in the recent past, particularly this past season. He has been taking on a lot more long shots that he normally wouldn’t a few years prior. This was probably due to his confidence of winning 3 world titles in 4 years. You could even observe a little of this confidence when he won WSC 2017 which he was playing at his best.

Also, the level of competition has been getting far stronger over the past couple of years which can make it difficult to replicate a good season. This would have contributed to many of Selby’s first and second round exits.

Normally, if Selby has had a poor season he would make up for it in the WSC – which is exactly what happened in 2015/16 when the WSC was the only ranking event he won. And he didn’t even play that well to win that year. The past two years had seen first and second round exits at WSC. In the past two years, I still would have had Selby as a favourite to win WSC, but now, I’m not too sure.

I, for one, hope that Selby can find this confidence of 2014-17 and carry it forward to the upcoming seasons. As players such as Trump, Higgins and Robertson become crowd favourites to win the World Championship, it would be nice for Selby to come in to show that he isn’t to be forgotten about

The Cost of being a Snooker Player

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Previously, we got an idea of how much snooker players could potentially earn by looking at the prize winnings of all the ranking events in the season. Click here to read that Short. However, all these monies don’t go directly into a snooker player’s bank account as they do have to account for the expenses they incur for participating in these events.

The main costs that are undertaken by snooker players involve travel, accommodation and entry fees. Neil Robertson stated in an interview a couple years ago that tournament entry fees amount to between £4000-4500 a year alone. For players starting out or those working part-time alongside playing snooker, this is a significant cost especially if they don’t earn much in the form of tournament winnings.

Travel and accommodation costs can be upwards of £10,000. This is a fairly conservative estimate considering how many tournaments there are nowadays and the distances players have to travel to compete. Although snooker isn’t as popular as other sports, it is still recognised and played all over the world. Particularly, events held in China and India pose the largest expense to a sport which has most of its player residing in the UK and Europe.

This doesn’t take into account sponsorship’s which can definitely help with alleviating the costs of travel for a snooker player. With the backing of a professional sponsor, they can often cover the costs of travel and accommodation for a player. But the problem are for those players struggling to get in the spotlight enough to earn sponsorship backing.

If we assume rough expenses to be between £15,000-20,000 and look at the 1 year ranking list then it seems that those outside the Top 64 would be earning roughly the equivalent of a university graduate’s salary. And when a significant amount of these players will have families to support, are the expenses incurred for being a pro snooker player too high? Should some kind of subsidised element be involved?

Ronnie O'Sullivan and the World Championships

His last major run was to the finals in 2014, where he famously lost to Mark Selby. Since then, he hasn’t made it past the quarter-finals. This year he was eliminated by an amateur in the first round. Will O’Sullivan lift the coveted prize once again? Or for historical purposes: 3 times again?

For me personally, in the past few years O’Sullivan hasn’t been a favourite of mine going into World Championship tournaments. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge O’Sullivan fan and he is always a favourite of mine going into literally any other tournament; but for the World Championship…not quite.

Understandably, he is always the bookies favourites going into the World’s and other tournaments and this will continue to be the case until he retires, as he will always be ‘the guy’ to beat. But how come his track record hasn’t been as successful in recent years? I think it comes down partly to O’Sullivan and also a little bit to the tour as well.

One thing that it comes to is consistency. O’Sullivan isn’t the most consistent player out there. When it comes to World Championships, as other players are frequent to point out, it’s all about which O’Sullivan turns up on the day. Often, he does extremely well in the first couple rounds of the World’s then his play does a complete U-turn in the next round. This was evident in 2015-18. Even in the 2018 Masters, where he whitewashed Marco Fu 6-0 in the first round, then lost 6-1 to Mark Allen in the next round was a prime example of this.

A lot say that it comes down to his outside interests, but I don’t think this is the case. I mean, the guy took a whole year off between World Championships and came back to win it the following year. I also think that the outside interests help to keep O’Sullivan interested in the game and avoid the dangers of over-practicing/burning out.

Also, there are more tournaments being introduced into the circuit as the years roll on. Almost all of these represent the shorter format matches which better suit O’Sullivan, his playstyle and also his patience levels. By playing in more tournaments with this kind of format, it makes it difficult to focus on the longer matches that come with the World Championship.

So, the question as to if O’Sullivan will lift the World’s again. I think it will happen. Whether it will happen 3 more times, that’s tricky to say. But I think it will happen at least once. Even though he has spells where it seems like he plays uncharacteristically, there’s no decline in his game in any areas.

If Mark Williams and John Higgins can win World titles and make consecutive finals then it’s only a matter of time before O’Sullivan will as well. And even though he says that titles don’t mean that much to him anymore, I promise you winning at least one more World’s will be driving him forward.