Recently, the English Open, held in Manchester, concluded and, considering this tournament may be one of the latter ranking tournaments of the year, it seems the majority of the players may have been looking to hold the trophy aloft at the end of the week. Favourites for the Davis Trophy, named after Steven Davis, perhaps one of snooker’s elite due to his 28 titles, seemed to have been Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has the most century breaks in history, and Mark Selby, world number one. Yet, it was China’s number two, and world number 17, Liang Wenbo, who ultimately recorded victory in the final, winning his first ranking tournament in the process. The Chinese player, en route to the final, recorded victories against multiple higher ranked opponents, including world number three Judd Trump; perhaps Wenbo may have simultaneously gained the title of snooker’s rising talent, along with the Davis Trophy.
The tournament consisted of 128 players, and was the first since the re-naming of the trophy, which occurred after Steve Davis’ retirement in 2014. As aforementioned, world number one Mark Selby seemed to be the favourite, yet fellow Englishman Liam Highfield recorded a victory versus Selby in the second round. As such, the tournament seemed to be competitive and open, with perhaps many finding it challenging to decide on their prediction for champion considering players outside of the top 16 were emerging victorious versus the majority of the top seeds in the early rounds. This may have been highlighted most notably through Chris Wakelin and Anthony Hamilton who, ranked at 69 and 79 respectively, reached the quarter-finals, perhaps suggesting snooker is a competitive and intriguing sport to watch for fans as anyone is capable of victory.
The final was thus competed by world number three, and winner of the 2016 European Masters, the tournament before the English Open, Judd Trump, and China’s Liang Wenbo. Ultimately, it seemed Trump may have been the pre-match favourite; he has 6 major ranking titles to his name, and en route to the final had gained victories over former world number ones John Higgins and Mark Williams. Yet, Wenbo, perhaps relishing the situation of being deemed the underdog, completed consecutive breaks of 95 in the opening two frames, before heading into the interval in a 5-3 lead. He then recorded scores of 84 and 115 respectively, and eventually completed his quest for the title by making a clearance of 62 in the final frame, providing Wenbo with the £70,000 grand prize. Whilst Wenbo seems to have gained the plaudits, Trump may take refuge in the fact he reached his twelfth ranking final and, prior to the final, had won 14 consecutive matches; as such, he may feel he is still at his peak form, and possesses enough quality in his repertoire to add to his array of trophies.
Wenbo, prior to winning his first ranking tournament, had reached two ranking finals, and had won the Zhengzhou Open. He also recorded a maximum break, 147, in the qualifying for the Bahrain Championships in 2008. Yet for Wenbo, it would seem this tournament is his crowning glory; it seems to have provided many productive outcomes, including enabling him to reach his highest ever ranking of 12, whilst perhaps contributing to his recognition as a more accomplished player, and one who, if he is able to utilise this experience, may win further tournaments and advance into the top 10.
The International Championship is the upcoming snooker tournament, and ultimately, since it will be hosted in China, it may mean Wenbo may be looking to win consecutive ranking titles, the latter in his home country. Whilst the first ranking tournament win of his career may suggest snooker possesses a rising talent capable of competing at the top, it seems the challenging period for Wenbo is forthcoming, as he may need to continue to emerge victorious versus higher ranked players in order to enhance his credentials as a top player himself. Ultimately, it seems this tournament has increased snooker’s fan base, as it seems any player is capable of gaining victory over anyone on a seemingly competitive tour, perhaps contributing to intriguing match-ups.
How may Wenbo utilise this experience to enhance his snookering repertoire?