2020 Highs and Lows: Part Two

It’s an opportunity to reflect on what has been a strange year in the game.

It’s time for the annual highs and lows on SnookerHQ, and there have been many talking points over the course of 2020.

On Wednesday, we took a look at a few of the low points but today let’s celebrate some of the more memorable moments from this year in the sport.

The Highs

Just Judd

It’s getting to a point where the superlatives are beginning to run out when talking about Judd Trump.

Just like in last year’s edition of the highs and lows, there can be no other way to launch the discussion in 2020 than with the runaway world number one.

Trump’s year actually got off to a disappointing opening with a first-round loss in his defence of the Masters at the Alexandra Palace.

Since then, however, the 31 year-old has been a constant presence at the business end of tournaments.

Indeed, after that outing in London Trump only failed to reach the quarter-final stage of an event he participated in one more time.

Eight ranking event finals produced six more titles, including the recent World Grand Prix in what was a fitting climax to the calendar year.

There wasn’t really one particular moment that stood out, although claiming a record sixth ranking crown in a single season at the Gibraltar Open would have to be up there.

Trump’s maiden World Championship reign ended in the quarter-final stage with defeat to Kyren Wilson, and his ongoing rivalry with his fellow Englishman in addition to that with Australia’s Neil Robertson continue to provide entertainment for fans around the world.

That pair has done well to prevent the Bristol potter from emerging victoriously even more frequently than he already has been doing.

These days, Trump exudes the kind of confident swagger that the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, and Steve Davis expressed in the height of their heyday.

Even when he’s not at his best Trump expects to win, and the recent results have proven that he usually does.

O’Sullivan may have been a contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, but Trump is the leading champion of the sport at present.

Behind the Scenes

There is no doubting the fact that 2020 has been a year full of highs and lows, particularly the latter in relation to the turbulence attributed to COVID-19.

Not all aspects of the recovery have gone swimmingly; some but not all of which were detailed in yesterday’s part one.

However, it would be remiss to completely ignore the gargantuan effort that has been delivered by a whole range of people within the game.

From the players to the officials, the World Snooker Tour to the WPBSA and Matchroom Sport, and from the broadcasters like Eurosport, the BBC, and ITV, so many important people have played a significant role in getting the sport going again after the initial lockdown in March.

For the greater good, Milton Keynes has become an unexpected home for snooker, with ten tournaments staged there since June.

The spiritual haven of the Crucible in Sheffield was still able to host the game’s blue riband championship in August, and a terrific spectacle it turned out to be even though it was staged predominantly behind closed doors.

It has been a testing time – no pun intended – for the players, especially for some of those from outside the UK who have endured being away from their homelands for even longer than usual.

But that there are tournaments to play in and prize money to contest for is down to a lot of hard work and planning from all the integral staff behind the scenes.

Ten years ago, snooker would have struggled to survive under such a crisis, and that it is able to financially support itself now is down to the driven direction that World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has taken in the last decade to strengthen the sport’s brand.

Memorable Finals

While everyone would obviously prefer if fans were back in the arena cheering on their favourite protagonists, there is a general understanding that it’s just the way it unfortunately has to be at the moment.

It’s probably fair to say that the viewer’s enjoyment has been affected too with the lack of a crowd – artificial sounds don’t count!

One aspect that hasn’t change much, though, is the actual quality of the snooker on display week in, week out.

As normal, there have been shocks, centuries, clearances, maximums, comebacks, argy-bargy, and much more to be enthralled by.

In 2020, we seem to have been treated to an unusual amount of thrilling finals as well.

The year got off in good fashion with an enthralling 10-8 triumph for Stuart Bingham over Ali Carter in the final of the Masters, and there were countless others that were subsequently close.

Four ranking finals since then have required a deciding frame, including two between Judd Trump and Neil Robertson.

Their UK Championship bout which ended 10-9 in favour of the Melbourne man was a scrap that will live long in the memory.

Trump had previously pipped Robertson to glory in the English Open title decider, in addition to Wilson in the aforementioned Gibraltar Open, while Mark Selby held off Martin Gould to claim the European Masters.

That was the second European Masters competition of the year – the first was memorable for a completely different reason with Robertson humiliating Zhou Yuelong with a 9-0 whitewash.

In the World Seniors Championship, meanwhile, Jimmy White delighted his legion of fans once more by fighting back from 4-0 behind to deny a gutted Ken Doherty 5-4 and retain his crown at the Crucible Theatre.

O’Sullivan’s Sixth

In many respects, it was a year to forget for Ronnie O’Sullivan – that is, of course, aside from two special weeks in Sheffield.

The “Rocket” has rarely played his best snooker before or since in 2020, but at the Crucible O’Sullivan knuckled down to get the job done for a sixth time in his career.

There were many who questioned whether the recently-turned 45 year-old could triumph again in a World Championship, with his latest success a lengthy seven years prior.

The fact that there was less fiasco to deal with almost certainly helped his cause, with limited attendance and a reduced media commitment both factors.

Still, O’Sullivan had to rise to the occasion when it mattered, and he most definitely did that when fighting back from 16-14 down to edge old foe Mark Selby in a last-four classic decider.

The former world number one also counted Ding Junhui and Mark Williams among his victims en route to the final, where he thrashed a Kyren Wilson who was likely overawed by the sheer enormity of the showdown.

O’Sullivan’s pursuit of a record-equalling seventh world crown in the modern era will be fascinating to watch.

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