Today I take a look back at last week’s Kaspersky Riga Masters won by Neil Robertson and try to pick out some of the biggest stories from snooker’s latest stop in Latvia.
You can view all of the updated ranking lists at the rankings section at WPBSA.com
Australia’s Neil Robertson has made the perfect start to the season with victory in Riga, not for the first time as it marks the third time in four years that he has won the opening event of a new season. His twelfth ranking title in total, it takes him clear of Ding Junhui on the all-time list in sixth, with Mark Williams next in his crosshairs on 18.
In isolation, the victory might not go down as the most momentous in his career, however it is an important one in respect of his ranking. Currently ranked number five, Robertson will be defending a significantly greater amount of prize money than any other player during the first section of the season, having won the Wuxi Classic and reached the final in Australia two years ago. Although the £37,500 won in Riga does not plug the gap entirely, it will nevertheless help him maintain his place in the top eight of the world rankings.
Often players say that given the level of competition on the World Snooker Tour these days, to win any tournament represents a successful season at the end of the campaign. While Robertson might have higher ambitions this season and will likely remain one of the major contenders for all of the biggest tournaments, it is a strong way to start the season and of course puts him in a good position to qualify for events such as the World Grand Prix and Players Championship later in the season.
Holt Getting Closer
Runner-up Michael Holt couldn’t quite go all the way in Riga, but a first ranking event final is further evidence of his improvement over the past 12 months. In particular, to defeat three world champions along the way, including the top two players in the current rankings is no mean feat and he can take plenty of positives despite defeat in the final.
Holt has become a familiar face on our screens for over a decade now and victory for the 37-year-old against Robertson at the Crucible just a couple of months ago was a popular one with the fans and media alike. By his own admission he has not always been able to do his ability justice at the last 32 stage of events during his career, but there are signs that he is now beginning to turn a corner. Much of his improvement has been attributed to the work that he has undertaken with former world champion Terry Griffiths over the last year and clearly this has been a factor. That said, it should not be forgotten that out in the arena it is Holt, not Griffiths who must pot the balls and he is now clearly moving in the right direction.
What might be achievable if he can build on results like this? He spoke to World Snooker today of his aspirations to win a title and to qualify for the Masters, the latter goal far from impossible as he currently sits £35,000 away from the top 16 on the latest race to the Masters. Watch this space.
Morgan Rolls Back the Years
Having qualified for the event as a wildcard, some had tipped 50-year-old Welsh veteran Darren Morgan to spring a surprise or two in Riga, but surely not too many would have foreseen a run to his first semi-final since the 1999 Thailand Masters.
At 3-1 down to fellow amateur Bradley Jones in the first round it looked like an early exit might be on the cards, but following a three-frame burst to turn that match around, he then defeated Adam Stefanow, Zhao Xintong, Ken Doherty and Xiao Guodong to reach the last four, before running into eventual winner Robertson.
Though he is not set to play in any further ranking events this season, it was a great story to see the former world number eight back at the sharp end and a reminder that age is not necessarily a barrier to success in snooker.
Who else can take positives from the week in Riga? A semi-final run from Mark Williams was a good way for the two-time world champion to start his season, particularly as he will be defending a significant amount of prize money during the second half of this season. It could though have been even better for the Welshman as he had chances to defeat Holt and make it through to his first ranking final since the 2015 Players Championship.
Elsewhere, an important quarter-final run from Xiao Guodong, who last season struggled for form and could find his place on the main tour come under pressure if such results were to continue. Returning pro John Astley enjoyed a career-best run to the quarters, while Anthony McGill likewise equalled his best ever result at a full-ranking tournament.
There was a hugely impressive 4-2 win for 16-year-old Yan Bingtao against Martin Gould, while players of a different generation such as Ken Doherty and Matthew Stevens scored early round victories, the pair both hoping to arrest a rankings slide in recent months and get moving back in the right direction.
Finally, Latvia’s Tatjana Vasiljeva impressed in a 4-1 defeat to Marco Fu, the last two frames going down to the final black in a closer match than it might first appear.
Next Stop Hyderabad
The snooker circuit now moves on to the Indian Open, a five-day event which gets underway on 5 July 2016 at a new venue in Hyderabad. You can view the match schedule at worldsnooker.com.