SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) reviews the recent English Open, picking out four things to look out for in the sport going forward.
1) Another tournament for the old guard
The English Open was ranking event number six of the season. Amazingly, five of those six have featured a player in his 40s in the final.
This one was between two – the winner, 42-year-old Stuart Bingham, and first-time ranking finalist 46-year-old Mark Davis. It's quite incredible how some players are getting better with age. Davis is one.
Or are the younger players not good enough? Kyren Wilson is the only player under the age of 30 to have won a ranking event this season. Just seven players under 30 have made semi-finals.
Experience appears to be the great leveller to youthfulness this season – the ‘been there and done it' scenario.
Davis made his first final in 27 years as a pro in Crawley (I don't know why it's taken him so long, he's a brilliant player). Jimmy Robertson had previously never made a ranking semi-final in 16 years as a pro and won in Lommel. Peter Ebdon, at 48, hadn't made a ranking final in six years until Furth.
It's not just experience that is required, but knowing how to win these finals. Bingham's big-game experience in finals just tipped the scales on Davis. He, only just, had too much for the Sussex man. I had a feeling Bingham would win by the odd few frames and so it transpired.
A quick footnote on Davis – he's always worth a second glance in the player centuries markets with Bet365. Davis is normally priced around 11/4 to bag a ton in a match. He's had 11 already this season in 23 matches – an underrated break-builder if ever there was one.
2) Sam Craigie's time will come
This incredibly talented 24-year-old from Newcastle is one of the best young talents in the game, for me – that includes any of the Chinese. I strongly believe his time is close.
There are very few youngsters coming through from the UK, but Craigie's progress must be monitored in the next year or so. He's very close to the finished article.
Only a sloppy safety shot in the decider versus Barry Hawkins cost him a real defining victory. Small fractions, as always in this sport. It's the only part of his game (I'm sure he will agree) that needs improvement because in the breaks department he's an absolute dream. He has ammunition.
It's as close to watching Ronnie O'Sullivan as you can get when Sam is in and around the black spot area. His touch is sublime. He never bashes balls, he's a treat to watch and a scarily good player.
His best ranking event finish is a Last 16 – he will make a quarter-final or better very soon. I can't think of a player in the game I'm more excited about for the future than Craigie.
3) Mark Allen could do with shedding some timber
Is it a coincidence Mark Allen hasn't made a ranking semi-final since October 2017? He did win the Masters in January but I wouldn't call that a gruelling event. A tough one, yes, but not a relentless run of games like some tournaments nowadays.
A lot of people believe snooker has nothing to do with fitness, that you can be overweight and succeed. Wrong.
It's true that in this game, it's more about mental fitness. But you do also need to be in a good physical state as well. Who can name an overweight former or current world champion? There isn't one.
In January 2017, Allen said, “To be honest I think I need to lose weight, I really do. I practice so hard and I work so hard at the game. It’s annoying when I’m not competing with the top players on the bigger stage.
“I know I’ve got the game to do it. I’ve never questioned my ability, but I think now I’m going to have to do something about it. There’s no excuse, if you really wanted to eat well you would eat well.”
We are now near the end of October 2018 and it's the same problem for Allen, who lost in the second round to Yuan Sijun in Crawley. I feel he's running out of gas too easily. He hasn't made a ranking semi-final for nearly a year and he could do with shedding a stone or two.
He flies into Daqing this week for the International Championship and I'll be keeping my eye on the Northern Irishman. He has a generally good record over in China – two of his three ranking event wins have been over there. He made the final in Daqing last season.
But his weight at the moment is a big issue for me. He has the all-round game to be far better than a three-time ranking event winner. He needs to lay off the KFC!
4) Luo Honghao is possibly the best Chinese prospect
China just keeps breeding new breathtaking talents. If Yan Bingtao, Zhou Yuelong, Zhao Xintong, Lyu Haotian and Yuan Sijun weren't enough, along comes Luo Honghao.
It's been said before but I really think he could potentially be the next Ding Junhui.
What I find with nearly all the Chinese players is how fearless they are. This guy is all that and more. Importantly, he has the all-round game to cause damage.
The three-frame burst Luo had against Ronnie in the quarter-final from 2-0 down was nothing short of spectacular. Ronnie had opened up with a 118 then a 90, but Luo responded by absolutely pounding ‘The Rocket’ back with breaks of 90, 67 and 136. It's worth 30 minutes of your time on YouTube, it was that good!
The left-handed 18-year-old, who won the World Snooker Federation Championship in March, lost the match 5-3 (a controversial seventh frame where Ronnie's foul on a red with the rest – which went unnoticed – tipped it in O'Sullivan's favour) but he came out with so much credit against his idol.
Before this event, Luo had only won three matches this season but his performances in Crawley just showed what a player this lad is going to become. He has the world at his feet.
He was a 500/1 shot before a ball was struck. You will be knocking a zero off that price for every event he enters in one or two years.