Snooker season 2019/20: Behind closed doors

The final chapter in a series of articles takes a look at each campaign from the Crucible Era.

The 2019/20 snooker season looked like no other, but the most serious global crisis in generations led to unprecedented cancellation and uncertainty.

There was much debate near the start of the campaign over whether Judd Trump would be able to move forward in the latter form that saw him claim several titles, including the London Masters and the Crucible World Snooker Championships.

With additional media requirements to contend with amid the responsibility of carrying the sport’s flag, it was common in the past for world champions to struggle for the first time in the following period.

But Trump never seemed to be someone saddled with that kind of pressure, and in fact, he seemed to thrive thanks to his newly acquired status as the number one defender.

The English skipped the inaugural Riga Masters of the season, which bragged about a depleted field and was eventually won by Yan Pingtao – the 19-year-old became the first teenager since 2006 to win the standings title and the third-ever Chinese competitor to manage the feat. .

However, Trump immediately returned to winning ways when he entered the next tournament, the International Championships in Daqing where he crushed Sean Murphy 10-3 in the final.

As a result, Trump usurped Ronnie O’Sullivan to become the world number one, and his relentless pursuit of silverware rarely stops after that.

In October and November, Trump appeared in title-defining matches in three consecutive weeks, racking up wins at the World Open and Northern Ireland Open with a thrilling 10-9 defeat to Neil Robertson in the coveted Champions League.

In a showdown of the highest quality as the pair exchanged eight-century breaks between them, it was a fitting way to end the seven-year inviting tournament at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Shortly after the new year, Robertson enjoyed a similar period of dominance when he, too, reached a triple-final in the same number of weeks.

Like Trump, the Australian won his first and third matches, ousting Zhou Yuelong 9-0 to win the European Masters title before adding a World Grand Prix at the expense of Graeme Dott two weeks later.

In between, Robertson and Trump renewed their rivalry in the German Masters final, with the latter winning the occasion to claim his fourth title in the campaign.

By this time in the 2019/20 snooker season, there were two more players who conjured multiple successes in the main round.

Mark Selby, who struggled over two years to rediscover his top form, particularly on home soil, triumphed in both the English and Scottish openers for a rare home double.

Defeats by David Gilbert and Jack Lisowski gave them their fourth and third reversals in the ranking finals respectively, helping to underline their merit as the two best players who have never won something like this.

Murphy was also a double winner, losing behind to Trump in the international which represented his sixth consecutive loss at the final hurdle with laurels at both the China Championships and the Welsh Open.

Oddly enough, however, none of these great players threatened in the first two Triple Crown events, as Ding Junhui came from nowhere to claim the UK title for the third time in his career, and Stuart Bingham won the unprecedented Masters title. From before. The top eight seeds made it to the last four.

As the 2019/20 snooker season moves into its home, there has been a lot of talk about Trump trying to break the record for ranking titles won in a single campaign.

Potter Bristol equalized the five-goal set by Stephen Hendry, Ding, Selby and O’Sullivan with another brilliant success, this time at the Players Championship in Southport.

But as he set out to surpass those respected names by winning the Gibraltar Open, there was noticeably more interest in the emerging global pandemic, COVID-19.

In January when the coronavirus outbreak was in its early stage inside China, a quick decision was made to postpone the China Open in Beijing that was scheduled for April.

But by March, the virus had spread around the world, and the usual focus in the sport of winning and losing had become secondary to the urgent concerns of ensuring the health and safety of players, officials and fans.

The Gibraltar Open had begun with spectators allowed into the stadium, but with the COVID-19 crisis developing rapidly, the competition for the final was frightening behind closed doors.

The intention was initially to continue the season, but with coronavirus cases increasing at an alarming rate, the Tour Championship was postponed, before the entire 2019/20 snooker season was eventually suspended.

For the first time in the Crucible era, the World Snooker Championship will not take place in April, and with a community lockdown imposed, there has been ongoing uncertainty over whether or not the 2020 edition will ever be completed.

More than two months later in May, uncertainty about how to deal with the pandemic was still rife, but the UK government allowed the resumption of elite sport with snooker among the first games to re-emerge.

A temporary championship league, the second of the season after Scott Donaldson’s victory in the first, was brought together at the last minute to give players a chance to compete, albeit behind closed doors.

Belgian player Luca Briselle emerged as the winner, but with travel restrictions and quarantines imposed around the world, players from outside the UK were at a disadvantage.

This was evident in the rescheduled Tour Championship, which Ding Junhui had to withdraw due to not being able to safely return from China in time.

Ding’s replacement Stephen Maguire took full advantage, beating Robertson and Trump to reach the final before dropping Mark Allen to take the £150,000 jackpot.

The Tournament and Tour Championships were organized within a bubble at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, a venue that has become synonymous with the temporary 2020/21 pool campaign.

Meanwhile, with the 2020 Olympics postponed, Barry Hearn swooped in to secure the same dates for the World Snooker Championships and secure a large share of the sports viewing market.

At first, it seemed like a limited number of fans would be allowed in as well, although the risks of unlocking everything seemed too great.

However, with coronavirus cases on the rise again, there was only a crowd to welcome Trump as the defending champion on opening day, before what was left of the competition until the final that was held behind closed doors.

Had the season continued uninterrupted, Trump would have been the favorite to crush the curse of the Crucible no longer being a first-time champion to successfully defend the trophy.

Earlier in the 2019/20 snooker season, Jimmy White had put some of his own personal crucible demons by capturing the World Seniors Championship at the sport’s spiritual home in Sheffield, a feat he would repeat in August.

In a strange time, anything seemed possible, but Trump’s tyrannical form wasn’t quite the same at the start of the second half and the 30-year-old pulled out in the quarter-finals against Keren Wilson.

One of the players who seemed to favor the changes the most was Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has struggled a lot in the recent past to deal with the growing interest from the media and fans in Sheffield.

O’Sullivan suffered his worst season in years, winning only the Shanghai Masters title and failing to qualify from the one-year standings list of players or Tour Championships.

The Rocket got off to a flying start, defeating Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-1 in the first round before beating Deng and Mark Williams to reach the quarterfinals.

In the semi-finals, O’Sullivan then battled from behind from 16 to 14 to deny old enemy Mark Selby in a playoff and set up a final showdown against Wilson, who also took the distance in a thrilling showdown with Anthony McGill. Wrapped up courtesy of setting frame.

A few hundred fans returned to the Crucible stage for the final, but the distraction had no meaningful effect on O’Sullivan as he comfortably triumphed in Sheffield for the first time in seven years.

The sixth World Crown brought him to one of Hendry’s records, and the win represented the 37th title in a famous career that finally put him above the tally of Scots for a long time.

Despite the long odds, the 2019/20 snooker season is over, but there are still many challenges waiting for the sport to overcome.

Click here for more snooker seasons series.

Featured Image Credit: WST

Note: This series will continue after the conclusion of the 2021/22 snooker season. thank you for reading.

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