With the 2021/22 World Snooker Tour season getting underway this month, we asked some of snooker’s top analysts and journalists to give their predictions for the year ahead…
Jones enjoyed a strong 2020/21 campaign.
Most Likely Maiden Ranking Event Winner
Neal Foulds, Former World Number Three, TV Pundit and Commentator
Zhou Yuelong – It requires a tough all round game to be a winner on the main tour these days and I think Zhou can go on to win something this time around. He’s been an exceptional talent for a while, but lifting a trophy is by no means easy. After a few near misses, I would say Zhou is now ready to win.
Alan McManus, Former Masters champion, TV Pundit and Commentator
Zhou Yuelong/Jamie Jones – I think a lot of people will pick Zhou as the obvious one. He is reaching new consistency levels and I believe he is ready to win. I spent a lot of time in the commentary box watching his matches last season and he impresses the heck out of me. I think he is coming to terms with being around that top 16 level.
I also do think Jones is going to have a really good season. He’s got a second wind and chance in career terms and he has grasped it. I have always been a big fan of his game, as he’s not afraid to win. He’s maybe not quite as gifted as some of the top players, but 90% of the tour aren’t. He is the sort of player that I think will have two or three deep runs. If the timing is right, he could possibly win.
David Hendon, Snooker Commentator and Journalist
Xiao Guodong – He’s a very elegant player, very nice to watch, and fits into that category we’ve seen in recent years of someone who has been around for a while, knocked on the door plenty of times and eventually wins something. He possibly also has the advantage of not being constantly talked up as a potential winner.
Michael McMullan, Snooker Commentator and Journalist
Jamie Jones – I’ve always enjoyed watching Jones and was a bit surprised he hadn’t achieved more. Obviously he had some time away from the game, but it could turn out to be a massive blessing in disguise as he looked really rejuvenated last season. If he continues on his current path I can definitely see him winning a tournament some time soon.
Jamie Broughton, BBC 5 Live Snooker Reporter
David Gilbert – A class player. Too good not to win a title, and having struggled during the early part of the lockdown now seems to be back to his old self. Jack Lisowski will also be pushing hard to win a first ranking event.
Vafaei is a three-time ranking event semi-finalist.
Surprise Package of the Season
Hossein Vafaei – I think we are yet to see the best of Vafaei as a player. He’s struggled to convert his excellent form in qualifiers to the latter stages of events on the TV table, but many players have had that problem in the past. If he can overcome this hurdle, he’s capable of making a mockery of his current world ranking of 41. I believe he’s good enough to become the first Iranian player to break into the top 16.
Wu Yize – I played Wu in the World Championship a couple of years ago and he has got something a little bit special in the way he hits the ball. He’s that young and inexperienced that he doesn’t realise how well he hits it. He goes through the ball like a knife through butter. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he gets on. He’s going to have some bad defeats at this early stage of his career, but I also think he could surprise a few people.
Jackson Page – I was pleased to see him bounce back immediately through the Q School after being relegated. There have been several high profile players – Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson and Kyren Wilson spring to mind – who dropped off but then really motored when they regained their tour cards. Jackson is still young and has the advantage of having guidance from Mark Williams. He just needs to get on a run in a couple of events and he could do some damage.
Pang Junxu – We’ve seen countless Chinese players emerge over the last 15 years or so who look really promising for one tournament but then don’t really build on it. Pang had his breakthrough moment very early on, getting to a last 16 right at the start of his rookie season, but crucially he’s backed it up quickly by getting to that stage of two more events since. The fact that he did so well in his first year also limits the pressure to stay on tour, which usually comes with the second season for a new professional.
Liam Highfield – There aren’t any real surprises, but I’d go for Highfield. He played well to qualify for the Crucible. He’s been working hard on his game, and hopefully can push on this season.
Trump has won 11 ranking titles over the last two seasons.
Star Player Of The Season
Judd Trump – Clearly this category is all about winning titles. It’s tough to look beyond Trump given his current strike rate in all WST events. Due to the respect he now gives all opposition, he has become a prolific winner and I see no reason why that will change.
Neil Robertson – Just plainly on the strength of his performance at the Tour Championship, I think Robertson could have a really good season. I know he will be disappointed he didn’t get it going at the Crucible again. The World Championship is a worry for him, we are all surprised he hasn’t won it for 11 years. I think he had a brilliant season last year though and I think he is going to have another this time around. The Tour Championship reminded us all how good he can be on his day.
Judd Trump – It feels like an obvious answer, but I can’t see Trump’s hunger for trophies abating any time soon. What I like about him is that he treats every event the same: he just wants to win them all. This is what the likes of Davis and Hendry used to be like. It will be hard to keep winning five or six titles a season but I get the feeling he’ll win more than anyone else.
Judd Trump – He’s arguably been the best player for three seasons in a row now, which is so hard to do nowadays. There’s no sign at all that he’s likely to let up any time soon, so I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t add another three or four titles at least in the season ahead.
Mark Selby – I could have also picked Trump, who should win plenty of events, but Selby was granite once again at the Crucible. The World Champion plays every match like it’s a final, and never gives up.
Selby’s victory at the Crucible puts him in a strong position.
World Number One at the End of the Season
Mark Selby – This revolves around the World Championship, including the winner of last season’s one. Selby retains half a million points at the end of the forthcoming season and that helps his cause. On that basis he can get to the top of the tree with another deep run at Sheffield in 2022.
Mark Selby – The World Championship has a huge bearing on things. I have to say I don’t completely agree with the pounds for points system, but Selby is in the box seat. If there is any justice in the world then Trump will be the number one, because you can’t ignore how he has been doing. However, you have to expect Selby is going to have a strong Crucible next year on the evidence of what we have seen. It is a good little race to keep an eye on.
Judd Trump – This is genuinely fascinating because the gap has narrowed and Trump will have significant points coming off throughout the campaign. So much will come down to the really big money events, most especially the World Championship. My feeling is he will just about hold Selby off but it could be close.
Mark Selby – The way the system works these days, winning the World Championship is more important than ever in terms of the rankings, particularly with so many big-money events in China effectively in cold storage for now. Selby had already had a very productive season even before getting to Sheffield so he carries forward a significant lead from the one-year list. Trump might have to win the world title again next May to stop Selby finishing the season top of the list.
Mark Selby – I think Selby is in the best position to end the season on top of the pile.