I'm a young follower of the sport myself, I've only been watching since the 1999 World Championship, but I think this has been the first season of concrete improvement in the game's state in my time as a fan. All I can recall each year was a seemingly terminal decline, with staid unimaginative formats. People criticised Ronnie O'Sullivan a few years ago for claiming the game was dying, well, to be quite honest, he wasn't too far off the mark at the time. I've always loved snooker, and would have kept watching even if the sport was cut down to one bloody tournament a year, but we all want what's best for this sport. Everyone here can say this sport is among their greatest passions, and in truth it was quite worrying to see what was happening.
Fast forward two and a half years, and what a difference we have. Even the most optimistic of snooker fans could not have predicted what has happened. We are now facing into a season of around nine major ranking events, with twelve PTC tournaments also offering ranking points. Viewing figures for the 2011 World Championship were very healthy, and for those who claimed the end was nigh for longer format tournaments, we were served up a superb World Championship, with the last three matches being out and out crackers, whatever your thoughts may be on the eventual outcome (not for this thread).
Let's look at the main positives: as stated above, we had the best World Championship since the 2002 and 2003 tournaments (in my opinion anyway).
The World Open was a superb event, gaining good reviews from the fairly vast majority. There are always people who aren't going to like an event of this nature, and that's fine, but I think they're missing the point. What it offered was variety, it was staged in a pressure cooker environment with a quick fire race in a one table setup. Count in a high points tarriff, and it was very clear that the cream was rising to the top, big time. It had a random draw, great set-up and a superb line-up for later on in the event. I am a purist for the most part, the World & UK Championships will always be my two favourites because I love multiple session snooker, but this event had a kick to it. If this gains coverage on Sky next year, I think they would really do a good job in presenting the so-called 'FA Cup of Snooker'.
The German Masters worked very well. It adopted a setup where we had no big dividers, and players playing more than once during the day, while sticking to a traditional enough format. I loved it, the attendances were healthy and we got a long overdue event in Mainland Europe. Very, very positive indeed.
The China Open served up some fantastic snooker, with a very exciting new winner coming through in the end. The China Open is probably the standout tournament outside of the majors, it served up one of the best finals of the year with the quality being second to none. It saw the coming-of-age of Judd Trump, a man I think could go on to assume the mantle of Alex Higgins, Jimmy White & Ronnie O'Sullivan before him, becoming the main box office hit of snooker.
Unfortunately, the Shanghai Masters was not a hugely enjoyable event in my opinion, though I'm not fan of Jamie Burnett which probably influenced that call. I felt the quality was a bit lacking in comparison to China's other ranking event. The Welsh Open also continues to portray itself as the poor relation of the mainstream ranking events, I don't think it stands out at all from the crowd in any way.
The UK Championship will return to York next year. I've never attended a tournament in the UK, but if the opinions I've read are anything to go by, Telford was not doing what should be one of the best tournaments any justice at all. I feel the UK has simply GOT to ditch the early four table set-up, this is it's main problem, even more so than the slightly lacking format for the final. Best-of-25 snooker is a cracking format, and I'd like to see it being used in more than one tournament during the year... why not the UK Final? Play the first session on Saturday evening, and play to a conclusion the following day. I'm not Barry Hearn, but it's certainly one of the first things I'd do, and I think most fans would love to see it.
The Shootout & Power Snooker both put themselves forward as something fast paced and new for snooker, attempting to buy into this new era. One worked, one didn't at all. The Shootout was superb entertainment, we had a couple of genuinely very exciting matches and the atmosphere and set-up were first class. Again, it's not going to appeal to many die-hards, but that wasn't the aim of the whole thing anyway. Power Snooker... well, it was like snooker being played down the local brothel.
The PTC's still have to prove themselves. For many, they were just a list of results, and this was certianly through of the UK events behind closed door. Personally, I think they are a very good idea, and next year we will have some events in Asia, which is another step forward. Hopefully it will be a case of more events with big audiences and live streaming, we had an event in Europe this season where they had to bring in extra seating facilities... how positive is that? Live streaming is an absolute must though. Rolling rankings are cut-throat, and will reward players who take these events seriously, so I hope we see a better approach from the likes of Robertson, Ding and in particular Ronnie O'Sullivan. The rolling-rankings are just one of an endless list of positives right now.
Next season will see snooker broaden it's horizons. we'll even have an event in Australia, and India if dubious rumour is to be believed. All I can say is that it's been, for the most part, a great year to be a follower of this fantastic game. Never before have I had so many of my friends asking me about snooker, particularly during the World Champion. Whatever people say about fair weather fans, I'm only delighted to answer questions about snooker more and more, and it's nowhere near as annoying as being asked for tips during Cheltenham and getting no credit afterwards Even at local level, our county championship has been resurected after a seven year absence. Why? Due to a massive influx in those playing the game over the last year.
Long may this continue
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