With the 2023/24 World Snooker Tour season getting underway at the BetVictor Championship League, we asked three of snooker’s top analysts and journalists to give their predictions for the year ahead…
Most Likely Maiden Ranking Event Winner
Neal Foulds, Former World Number Three, TV Pundit and Commentator
Wu Yize – It would be easy to go for Si Jiahui after what he achieved at the Crucible, but I’m not sure whether he necessarily will just go on from there in the short term. I’m actually thinking of somebody else who got forgotten about at the Crucible, Wu Yize. Neil Robertson played out of his skin to beat him. At that point I thought this guy was a ranking tournament winner waiting to happen. I think he could be an incredibly dangerous player.
David Hendon, Snooker Commentator and Journalist
Pang Junxu – He was a fine example last season of a player who continued to improve. In successive ranking tournaments he reached his first quarter-final, semi-final and then final. He was thrown into the lion’s den playing Ronnie O’Sullivan on his Crucible debut but acquitted himself well. He appears to have the mental toughness required for snooker so could be set for silverware soon.
Michael McMullan, Snooker Commentator and Journalist
Jackson Page – Having finished the previous season with a good World Championship showing, 2022/23 fell well short of what everyone – particularly the man himself – would have been expecting. His best performance was at the WST Classic where he beat his mentor Mark Williams and was playing well, but even that ended up being a disappointment as he barely featured against Lukas Kleckers in a match where he started as favourite to clinch a first ever quarter final appearance. That said, when someone who’s been talked about a lot since a young age does win his first title, it often happens a bit out of the blue in the end, and I like the fact that he doesn’t seem at all satisfied with where he’s at in the game, knowing he’s capable of so much more.
Surprise Package of the Season
Louis Heathcote – I’m going left field here. I always felt that Heathcote was a really good player. He dropped off the tour and maybe the pressure of it all got too much. Now he is back on through Q School you might see someone that understands what is required of him better. I was pleased to see him get back on. If you go back to the lockdown World Championship, he played some great snooker and knocked out Ali Carter. I’m not saying he will take the world by storm, but I think he could do very well. I think you will see a better player now. You can see what getting back on meant to him.
Alexander Ursenbacher – I think players returning to the tour from Q School are dangerous because they come back full of resolve and don’t have to worry about dropping off at the end of this season. Ursenbacher has proven he can beat the best with his victories over Ronnie O’Sullivan. What he needs to find now is a bit of consistency and be as inspired when he’s on table 4 on a Wednesday morning as when playing Ronnie or a top player live on TV. He’s clearly a terrific player and this could be the season he proves it.
Liam Pullen – It’s been disappointingly rare to see first-time pros emerge from Q School in the last few years, so that underlines what a feat it was for Pullen to win his card there while still only 17. He’s got good support and guidance at the Northern in Leeds, and comes in on the back of a very strong finish to his amateur career. Some players have a run of early defeats when they join the tour and it starts to feel almost impossible for them to get that first one, so if Pullen can clear that barrier early on, I could see him having a couple of decent runs in his rookie season.
Star Player Of The Season
Neil Robertson – I think this is really difficult, but I’ve gone down a straight road with this one. I think he realises that last season wasn’t his best. We know he is a prolific winner. If we accept last season was one of his worst for a long time, I can’t think there is going to be two like that. I believe he will start winning again.
Mark Selby – He has been a model of consistency his whole career, good for at least a couple of titles each season, the only exception being 2021/22 when he was dealing with off-table issues. He always had a great record in China and, going back there, will be dangerous again. The sheer effort he puts in and his clever game make him snooker’s ultimate competitor.
Neil Robertson – Last season never really got started for Robertson and ended up being a bit of a write-off, particularly after Christmas as he won very few matches in the second half of the campaign. After a couple of months’ break from the tour though, it would be very surprising if he didn’t come back much more like his old self, and at 41 it’s hard to imagine someone of his quality won’t have a lot more still to come.
World Number One at the End of the Season
Mark Selby – Ronnie O’Sullivan is obviously a candidate, but unless he wins the World Championship again it won’t be him. Luca Brecel winning at the Crucible was one of the greatest moments in recent history. However, first time champions often don’t have a good season straight after. It comes down to Selby and Mark Allen and I think I’m going to go with Selby. While he has some ground to make up, I think he will have some good runs and he is always a contender at the World Championship.
Mark Allen – He is currently top of the one-year list and his new found consistency allied to an obvious determination to continue winning ways makes him favourite to be official no.1, something even his great compatriots Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor never achieved.
Mark Selby – It was great to see Selby back to something approaching his best last season, and although there are players carrying forward more points than him, an in-form Selby should have the consistency to overtake them. The season takes on a different complexion with the return of at least two ranking events in China, and Selby has won so many tournaments over there that I like his chances of capitalising on the big points on offer in those events.