In the build up the Ladbrokes Players Championship in Manchester, we take a look back at the big moments from this season’s Kreativ Dental Clinic European Tour and Asian Tour.
Kaspersky Lab Riga Open (ET1)
Hawkins beat Ford 4-1 to win the first ET event of the season in Riga
After the inaugural event back in 2014, the tour returned to the stunning Latvian capital for a second time, kicking off the first of six events in the 15/16 Kreativ DentalClinic ET series after the summer break.
It was Mark Selby who returned to the Baltic region as defending champion, only to see his title defence cut short by former world champion Ken Doherty, stunning the Jester 4-1 in the last 32. Instead, it was Barry Hawkins who soared to victory in 2015 after his meeting with Tom Ford in the final. After dropping the first frame, Hawkins thundered on to win four frames on the bounce and claim his first title since winning the Players Championship sixteen months prior.
Having not entered the first tournament of the season in Australia, Hawkins revealed that he did so in order to give himself a stronger start to the campaign. “It feels great to win my first tournament of the season,” said Hawkins. “I made the most of the break and it seems to have paid off. If I can keep this form up I’ll have chances to win more titles.”
And who could forget the MC?
Paul Hunter Classic (ET2)
A firm favourite among players and fans, the tour turned to the German town of Fürth in August for the Paul Hunter Classic, its sixth year as a European Tour event.
Held in memory of the late Paul Hunter who died of cancer in 2006, the tournament was championed rather fittingly by two-time Crucible finalist Ali Carter, who himself has battled the disease twice in recent years.
After seeing off the likes of Mark Williams and Michael Holt in the previous rounds, Carter faced Shaun Murphy in the final, competing for €25,000 and an all-new Waterford Crystal Trophy. Leading 3-1, Carter was taken to a decider, only to sink a final 95 break to seal a victory on the European Tour for the first time – his first title since winning the 2013 German Masters.
Carter – who also suffers from Crohn’s disease – missed a series of tournaments in the previous season due to illness, with the win instilling the belief that he could still compete at the top level after his recovery. “I’ve had a tough couple of years, to put it mildly, so it’s an unbelievable feeling to win,” said Carter. “It means so much to win this event, especially after what Paul went through and what I went through.”
Tatiana Woollaston also refereed her first pro final at the event.
Ruhr Open (ET3)
Snooker returned to the Ruhr region for a third year on the Kreativ Dental Clinic European Tour series, with Rory McLeod emerging as a surprise winner in the city of Mülheim after a tense final against another under-dog, China’s Tian Pengfei.
With the likes of Mark Selby joining previous Ruhr champions Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy to exit the tournament in the last 16, Leicester’s McLeod marched on to win seven consecutive matches and win his first title carrying ranking points.
Snooker’s only black professional, McLeod beat the likes of Ben Woollaston, Mark Davis, Mike Dunn and Jamie Jones on the way to the final, where the world number 61 eventually emerged a 4-2 winner over Tian He scooped up the €25,000 top prize, along with a place in the Champion of Champions and the Ladbrokes Players Championship.
“It feels great, it’s everything that I really wanted,” said McLeod. “In the final I just tried to stick in there, stay positive and not get ahead of myself. I just wanted to enjoy it because this is where I want to be.”
Haining Open (AT1)
The only event on this year’s Asian Tour series, the Haining Open in China, played host to many of the world’s top players in October.
With a welcome return to form, Ding Junhui ended his 16-month trophy drought by beating Ricky Walden 4-3 in a thrilling final. Back from 3-1 down, Ding closed the gap with breaks of 82 and 53 to force the decider, where a final 74 secured him the title and the £13,500 top prize.
Ding said: “Ricky is a great player with a good all-round game. His scoring was excellent during the first few frames. I wasn’t playing well at the beginning but I picked up later on. Ricky left me chances and I took them.”
After struggling in the 14/15 season, Ding’s first win since the 2014 Yixing Open secured him a place in November’s Champion of Champions, and a shot at the Ladbrokes Players Championship title.
Bulgaria Open (ET4)
The city of Sofia welcomed the World Snooker tour once again in November, with the Bulgarian capital seeing one of the most exciting line-ups on the fourth stop on the European Tour.
Five of the tour’s top ten made it through to the final day with the likes of Selby, Trump, Murphy and recent International Champion Higgins all in contention for the title. However after a disappointing 14/15 season, it was Antrim’s Mark Allen who rose to victory following strong runs in Shanghai and Daqing. With whitewash wins over both Holt and Williams on the final day, it was a similar fate for Ryan Day in the final – Allen thrashing the Welshman 4-0 to win his first title in 15 months.
“I’m very happy to get another tournament win under my belt,” said Allen. “To win 4-0 in the final is a good way to do it and shows my game is in good shape. I haven’t been too happy with my performances this season even though I’ve been winning matches, but now I’m getting closer to where I want to be.”
Gibraltar Open (ET5)
The European Tour took to the Mediterranean in December for the inaugural Gibraltar Open, with many of snooker’s top stars competing to rule the rock for the first time.
Fresh from the UK Championship final just days ago, an in-from Liang Wenbo looked the man to beat, storming through to the semis having already claimed the scalps of Selby, Stevens and Grace in previous rounds. However his campaign was cut short by eventual champion Marco Fu who, having made his fourth career 147 on Friday, beat Welshman Michael White 4-1 in the final clash.
It was Fu’s first title victory since winning the 2013 Australian Goldfields Open, having lost in the final of his last two European Tour events. His 147 was the second in just five days, following Neil Robertson’s in the final of the UK Championship.
“It’s always nice to be able to take part in a big tournament like this in a new place,” said Hong Kong’s Fu. “Winning it is like a dream come true. This is my first European Tour title and it is in Gibraltar so I will be back.”
Gdynia Open (ET6)
The race to the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix, Ladbrokes Players Championship and the fight for tour survival all came to a head on the final stop on this season’s Kreativ Dental Clinic European Tour, as the tour took to the Baltic coast last month.
Mark Selby won his first title of the season with a 4-1 final win over Martin Gould, who was himself chasing his second title in a month after winning the German Masters in Berlin three weeks prior. Selby, having already claimed the scalps of Higgins, Brecel and Fu, dropped the first frame in the final but hit back hard with breaks of 92, 69, 51 and 62 to win four consecutive frames and seal the victory.
“It’s nice to get a win under my belt,” said 2014 World Champion Selby. “I rode my luck a bit in this event, I should have lost to Luca Brecel in the last 32 when I was 3-0 down and came back to win 4-3. But it’s rare to have a tournament where you steam-roller everyone, when you win a title you often get through a match you should lose. I will go into the next event with a lot more confidence.”
The Ladbrokes Players Championship runs from March 22 to 27 at Event City in Manchester. For ticket details click here