Excitement is building ahead of the rapidly approaching 2018/19 World Snooker Tour Season. With the curtain raiser coming in just five days in Preston, we’ve consulted some of snooker’s top journalists and analysts to see their predictions for the year ahead…
Yan Bingtao came agonisingly close to a maiden ranking title at last year’s Northern Ireland Open, losing 9-8 to Mark Williams in the final.
Most Likely Maiden Ranking Event Winner
Neal Foulds, Former World Number Three and TV Pundit
Xiao Guodong – He has been knocking on the door for a while now with two ranking final appearances. This season could be the time to move his game to the next level.
Michael McMullan, Snooker Journalist and Commentator
Jack Lisowski – I’m a little surprised Lisowski hasn’t won one yet. He came on such a long way last season and although it finished on a low point, he wasn’t the first player to take a heavy beating off John Higgins at the Crucible and he probably won’t be the last either. He seems level-headed enough to put that behind him quickly, so I think his time could be coming soon.
David Hendon, Snooker Journalist and Commentator
Yan Bingtao – I have a feeling it’ll be one of the Chinese players. Yan Bingtao is 23rd in the rankings after two years on the tour. That’s a hugely impressive achievement. He obviously got to within a frame of winning the Northern Ireland Open last season and he has the confidence I think to win something very soon.
Shane MacDermott, Snooker Journalist
Jack Lisowski – Tipped for stardom as a youngster, Lisowski came of age last season with impressive runs at the English Open (QF), China Open (QF) and Shanghai Masters (SF). A title may not be far off.
Jamie Broughton, BBC Radio Snooker Correspondent
Yan Bingtao – He reached the final of the Northern Ireland Open last year, and it can’t be long before he wins a tournament. He has the ability and work ethic that could see him be world champion one day.
Neil Goulding, Snooker Journalist
Yan Bingtao – The young Chinese prodigy came close in the Northern Ireland Open last year, missing out in the final to Mark Williams. With the pressure of breaking Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record of being the youngest ranking winner now gone, he could well win his first title this season.
Despite enjoying a strong second half to the 2017/18 campaign, Sam Craigie suffered a surpise relegation from the tour. However, he has bounced straight back via Q School.
Surprise Package of the Season
Sunny Akani – Not necessarily a surprise to anyone who has seen Sunny’s improvement over the last 12 months, but his work ethic is quite something. If practice makes perfect, then he will go a very long way in the game.
Zhou Yuelong – He has come a long way in a relatively short career so far, and he looks to have the qualities needed to go a lot further. I can see this being a season of big progress for him, and wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s in the top 16 by the end of it.
Sam Craigie – With so many tournaments, in theory anyone is capable of suddenly turning it on. It would be nice to see someone go on a charge up the rankings. I was pleased Sam Craigie got back on the tour through Q School. I commentated on his victory over Kyren Wilson in Belfast last season and he played superbly. If he could get on a run early on in the season he could cause some problems.
Sam Craigie – Fell off the tour at the end of the season but jumped straight back on through Q School. He has been swapping and changing between wearing and not wearing glasses, but if he finds the right solution he can be dangerous.
Xu Si – A player with a lot of talent. If he continues to progress he could go deep in tournaments this campaign.
Scott Donaldson – The Scottish youngster has a decent all-round game and has reached a ranking semi-final (Welsh Open) in the past. He shocked Mark Selby in the UK Championship and could string some tidy runs together now he’s stopped fiddling with his cue.
Kyren Wilson enjoyed a fine 2017/18 season. He appeared in his maiden Triple Crown final at the Masters and reached the semi-finals at the Crucible for the first time.
Star Player of the Season
Kyren Wilson – Another player with a burning desire to succeed. Sometimes getting to the top can be a slow process, but in my opinion Kyren is improving every season and his time will come.
Kyren Wilson – He is someone I’ve been hugely impressed with over the last three years. He’s obviously got bundles of talent, and also an air of calm, quiet confidence. He’s a bit overdue another title to go with the win in Shanghai in 2015, and if it comes early in the campaign I could definitely see him going on from there to win a couple more before the season’s over.
Judd Trump – I have a feeling Trump could really come to the fore. As he said at the Crucible, he needs to be challenging for the really big titles. But you look at his defeat to John Higgins at the World Championship and what did he do wrong? Higgins was sensational. I think if Trump could pick up a couple of early titles then he would go to events such as the UK Championship and the Masters full of confidence. I’ve heard people already writing him off but this would be a mistake: Trump is 28; Mark Selby was 30 when he won his first world title. There’s still plenty of time.
Mark Allen – With the big monkey of a Triple Crown win off his back, I think Mark could easily be a consistent performer at the business end of events next season.
Mark Williams – If he can continue to play like he did last season, he could easily win multiple events again.
Mark Selby – We were saying last season was a poor one by his own, exceptionally, high standards, but don’t forget Mark won two big ranking events (International Championship and China Open). Defending so much prize money will no doubt spur him on.
Ronnie O’Sullivan heads into this campaign in a strong position, having picked up a remarkable five ranking titles last term.
World Number One at the End of the Season
Ronnie O’Sullivan – It seemed unlikely anyone could overtake the ultra consistent Mark Selby as world number one a few months ago but if anyone can it has to be Ronnie. The rankings are loaded heavily in favour of winners and if Ronnie gets anywhere near his 5 tournament victories of last season he could get there.
Mark Williams – He carries forward more points than anyone, and even apart from the three ranking titles he won last season, he was also very consistent with his results throughout. There’s no reason at all why he can’t keep it going and be number one this time next year, which would be some achievement 19 years after he first topped the rankings.
Ronnie O’Sullivan – It’s hard to look past Mark Selby but I’m going to because he has a large number of points coming off during the season, not least for his title wins at the International, UK and World Championships 2016-17. So I have a feeling Ronnie O’Sullivan might overtake him. I’d be very surprised if Ronnie didn’t add at least a couple more titles to his collection this season.
Ronnie O’Sullivan – Mark Selby currently holds a lead of just over £400,000 in the race for number one, but he’s defending a staggering amount of ranking points next season. If O’Sullivan shows the same form as last term it’s hard to argue against him.
Mark Selby – Given Selby’s recent dominance of the sport, it is hard to see past the Leicester man.
Mark Selby – Despite defending over £850,000 in ranking points, I still think Mark will finish top of the pile for an eighth successive season. He’s the hardest man to beat in multi-session matches and the winner of the worlds earns a huge £500,000 next year.