A Year In Snooker: Highlights of 2015
On the final day of 2015 it is time to look back at the calendar year and pick out a few of its most memorable snooker moments.
As always with these sorts of lists, opinions will vary and so my selections come in no particular order…
Bingham becomes world champion
While he was far from a rank outsider heading into what was his ninth Crucible campaign, few would have expected then 38-year-old Stuart Bingham to have lifted his first world title back in May.
As we all now know however, that is exactly what he did to fulfil his lifetime ambition and join the select group of players to have got their hands upon snooker’s most famous trophy.
Having started his campaign with a 10-7 win against Robbie Williams, he then comfortably defeated 2006 champion Graeme Dott 13-5 to reach only his second World Championship quarter-final.
His previous last eight appearance at the Crucible had ended in a 13-4 defeat to five-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who he would face again in 2015. O’Sullivan was the favourite in the eyes of most, even as they began their third and final session locked at 8-8, but Bingham was to prove the stronger of the two and did not falter with the winning line in sight.
Victory against O’Sullivan would prove to be a key moment for Bingham and one that gave him the belief to ultimately go on and lift the title.
In his next match he edged out Judd Trump 17-16 in one of the all-time great Crucible semi-finals, yet still many were not tipping him for the title, with 2005 champion Shaun Murphy standing in his way.
As Murphy established early leads of 3-0 and 8-4, it looked as though the match might prove to be one too far for Bingham. Once again however, he silenced his doubters to win eight of the next nine frames and ultimately run out an 18-15 winner.
He might not have been everybody’s predicted champion 17 days earlier, but given both the calibre of his opposition and the manner of his performances throughout the tournament, few could argue that he did not fully deserve his glory.
Since his most recent world title triumph back in 2011, Scotland’s John Higgins had struggled to recapture that form on a consistent basis. At times during press conferences he had wryly referred to himself as a ‘last 16 machine’ and a ‘journeyman’, leading many to question whether his days as a toournament winner were behind him.
As has so often been said of Higgins throughout his illustrious career however, he can never be written off and that was proven once again this year as he bounced back to capture three full-ranking event titles.
The first two came at the Welsh Open and Australian Goldfields Open tournaments, the latter with a deciding frame victory against Martin Gould in the final.
It was however his success at the International Championship tournament at its new home in Daqing in November that really made people sit up and take notice. Not only did that title represent his biggest success financially in over four and a half years, but it was the manner of his success that was so impressive, as he dismantled the likes of Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Joe Perry and ultimately David Gilbert to win.
If one shot alone demonstrated his return to form, it was his sensational pink during the final frame of his quarter-final victory against Perry, one of the best shots that you could ever wish to see in a competitive match.
Now up to 28 full-ranking event titles, Higgins stands level with Steve Davis and behind only Stephen Hendry (36) in the all-time list.
Another player of whom questions were asked during parts of 2015 was Australia’s Neil Robertson. In both 2013 and 2014, he had been able to win the Wuxi Classic and reach the final of the Australian Goldfields Open to make strong starts to those respective seasons.
This year however it was a different story as he not only suffered a few surprising defeats, but did so following deciding frames which is uncharacteristic of him.
As we end 2015 though, such questions have now been answered emphatically, following his double success at the Champion of Champions and UK Championship tournaments during November and December.
Victory in Coventry was of course a significant achievement in its own right for Robertson, not only as it signalled his return to form after a difficult spell, but on a personal level it represented his first title since his switch to a plant-based diet a year previously.
Ultimately however it was his second UK Championship triumph that will live longest in the memory. From the very early stages of the event he looked like the man to beat, despite having to come through strong opposition including former Barbican champions Stephen Maguire, John Higgins and Mark Selby to reach the final.
The best though was yet to come as he not only defeated Liang Wenbo to win in York for the second time in three years, but he did so with a maximum break on the way, the first ever in a ‘triple crown’ final.
Murphy completes the ‘triple crown’
Having completed the double of World and UK Championship titles relatively early in his career, for a number of years Shaun Murphy had openly spoken of his desire to add the Masters title to his CV to complete what has in recent years been dubbed snooker’s ‘triple crown’.
Drawn against three time champion Mark Selby in the first round, he would have to be at his best from the very beginning if he was to do so in 2015.
Coming through a deciding frame however, he then added the scalps of Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen to make it to his second final at the Alexandra Palace. As was the case in his first back in 2012, there he would face Neil Robertson who at the time looked to be the man in form, having comfortably defeated defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the previous round.
Not only was Murphy to come out on top however, but to the surprise of everyone he was to do so as a 10-2 winner and became only the tenth player to have won snooker’s big three during his career.
O’Sullivan Eclipses Hendry
As well as Murphy’s landmark victory, the 2015 Dafabet Masters will also be remembered for the achievement of Ronnie O’Sullivan as the five-time champion became snooker’s all-time leading century break maker during his quarter-final win against Marco Fu.
He came into the tournament on 773 career centuries, two behind Stephen Hendry and with the Scot watching on from the BBC studio, soon drew level with breaks of 100 and 116 during his last 16 victory against Ricky Walden at the Alexandra Palace.
Needing one more to break the record, he wasted little time during his next match against Fu, making a break of 101 during the first frame of the match to move clear at the top of the list.
Now up to 795 as the year draws to a close, can he go on to become the first player to reach 1000?
Kyren masters Shanghai
The likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Neil Robertson above are of course seasoned champions, but it was also significant this year to see a breakthrough victory for then 23-year-old Kyren Wilson at the Shanghai Masters.
It is easy to forget that he not only had to come through three qualifying matches at the Barnsley Metrodome, as well as a wildcard match just to reach the last 32 stage. Once there however he made the most of his opportunity at a venue where two years previously he had reached his maiden ranking event quarter-final.
He began with an impressive victory against Joe Perry, before then defeating Michael Holt, the man who had defeated him in Shanghai back in 2013 to set up a last eight clash with home favourite Ding Junhui.
Coming through that match in a dramatic deciding frame, Kyren then went on to comfortably beat 2014 runner-up Mark Allen and reach his first ever ranking event final. There he would play Judd Trump, a man who himself had made his big breakthrough in China back in Beijing four years previously.
Despite a battling performance from Trump to force a deciding frame, Wilson was not to be denied as he went on to claim victory and a career-best £85,000 winner’s prize.
Now up into the low 20s in the world rankings and with little prize money to defend over the coming 18 months, Kyren will be looking to prove that his Shanghai surprise was not a one-off and to challenge for a place in the world’s top 16 next year.
A night to remember at the Tempodrom
It was not a title decider or even a single match, but perhaps the most memorable session of 2015 came at the German Masters back in February.
With all four quarter-finals being played before a sell-out crowd in Berlin, there was to be both incredible drama and fine snooker played wherever the crowd looked in what is fast becoming one of snooker’s most popular arenas.
Remarkably, for the first time at a full-ranking event since the 1996 Asian Classic, each of the last eight matches would go to a deciding frame, with Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby and Liang Wenbo emerging victorious.
And although he could not come out on top against eventual champion Selby, the biggest cheer of the night was to be reserved for Judd Trump as he became the first player to make a 147 break at the Tempodrom during the fifth frame of their contest.
And of course the list of memorable moments from this year goes on, with Joe Perry’s maiden ranking event victory at the Players Championship in Thailand, as well as Michael White’s title double at the Shoot Out and then Indian Open also standing out.
On the Kreativ Dental European Tour meanwhile Rory McLeod was able to claim his first silverware at an event carrying ranking points at the Ruhr Open, while Ali Carter took an emotional victory at the Paul Hunter Classic in Fuerth to take him the new Waterford Crystal trophy, his biggest success since winning his battle with cancer back in 2014.
In respect of new venues, the International Championship found a new home in Daqing and proved to be a big success, while Llandudno and Gibraltar also welcomed snooker’s main tour players in 2015.
What were your most memorable snooker moments in 2015? Let me know via Twitter @prosnookerblog