8 January 2010
The first snooker tournament of the new year and a new era starts on Sunday at Wembley arena when The Masters gets underway. The old regime at World Snooker – the commercial arm of the WPBSA governing body – was swept away last month when Sir Rodney Walker was deposed as chairman. Barry Hearn, the big-time promoter in the 80s when Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor et al were the bees knees, is back. He’s rejuvenated darts – now can he do the same to snooker?
Innovation is certain, but for now The Masters will be contested with renewed enthusiasm by players who have got used to fewer tournaments, lower prize money and constant brickbats about the lack of personalities and excitement in their game. Ronnie O’Sullivan starts as the favourite; he always starts as favourite. John Higgins, the world’s most consistent player of the past year, is second favourite.
Three-times world champion Higgins has reached at least the semi-finals of the last five ranking tournaments. He won only one, but it was the 2009 World Championship. He lost the Bank of Beijing final in April to Peter Ebdon, then to Ding Junhui at last month’s Pukka Pies UK Championship. (Ding won his weight in pies for that success, and gave them to a homeless charity. A slightly different version of that story made news back home in China).
Back to The Masters, Higgins says: “Nine months ago, if someone had offered me the World title plus those other semis and finals, I’d have bitten their hand off.” Talk about hungry. “But it’s all about winning titles so I’m disappointed not to have won anything this season,” he adds. Read more from the Higgins interview here.
Staying on the Masters theme, O’Sullivan gave an engaging pre-tournament interview to Brian Viner of The Independent while contesting a couple of frames. Ronnie opened up on his demons, and explained why there’s no reason for his fans to worry about him really.