With the 2015/16 snooker season now officially underway with the start of the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers at the K2 in Crawley, today I take a look at some of the ranking battles and possibilities that I will be following during the course of the next 12 months.
How Far Might Ding Drop?
A year ago Ding looked to be on course to claim the world number one ranking for the first time in his career and he duly delivered after December’s UK Championship.
In 2015 however he finds himself in a different position, as he potentially faces a drop down the rankings unless he is able to quickly return to winning ways in 2015/16.
Currently ranked at number four, at first glance he is well placed inside the world’s top eight and certainly the top 16, but as ever in snooker, the real position is somewhat different. This is because of the £592,100 of prize money currently to his name, £492,600 was earned during the course of the 2013/14 season and is therefore due to be removed from his ranking total during the next 12 months.
In particular, between August-November 2013, he won the Shanghai Masters, Indian Open and International Championship, three full-ranking events, so it appears almost inevitable that his ranking will now suffer this season.
Can Bingham Become Snooker’s 12th Number One?
As Ding looks to stave off a drop down the rankings, one man on the up is newly crowned world champion Stuart Bingham, currently sitting in a career-high second place in the world.
Standing between him and becoming only the 12th player to have claimed the sport’s top ranking is of course Mark Selby, who currently holds a lead of some £152,354 to second placed Bingham.
Although we do not yet know exactly when points earned during the 2013/14 season will be removed, we do know that Selby has more than £400,000 to come off his total this year in comparison to Bingham.
That said of course, £300,000 of this amount was earned at the very end of the season as he won his own world title at the Crucible in 2014, so until then it may be that Selby is able to keep him and the rest of the field at arms length for a few months yet.
The New Generation
With the likes of Gary Wilson and Ben Woollaston reaching their first career ranking event finals, as well as Luca Brecel and Anthony McGill breaking new ground during 2014/15, the question now is whether these players can build on those performances this season and potentially push for a place inside the top 16.
Of the players mentioned, best placed is Scotland’s McGill, having finished last season in 24th position and as high as 19th on the unofficial one-year list, less than £10,000 behind 16th placed Fu.
Both Wilson and Woollaston are also well-placed at this early stage to climb up the rankings, while thanks to his semi-final run at the BetVictor Welsh Open, Luca Brecel could also realistically break into the top 32 for the first time, having finished last season 31st on the one-year list.
A little further back, China’s Li Hang is another player set to make strides up the ranking list having finished inside the world’s top 64 at the end of last term, as are the likes of Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and a couple of older players in Robin Hull and Joe Swail, who also snuck inside that bracket after the Betfred World Championship
The Second Years
Even at this early stage, those players currently entering the second year of their two-year tour cards initiated in 2014 will be looking at what they have to do in order to break into the top 64 at the end of this season.
A look to the very early provisional end of season list makes for interesting reading too, with the likes of Sam Baird, Craig Steadman, Liam Highfield, Zhou Yuelong, Oliver Lines and Tian Pengfei amongst those very much in the mix to do so.
Usually around the time of the Betway UK Championship we will start to get a real idea as to who is likely to make that breakthrough and importantly retain not only their tour place, but their prize money earned towards their ranking at the end of the season.
Can Carter Climb?
Down to 29th and without the protection of a higher seeding, Ali Carter this season faces a real battle if he is to once again get his ranking moving in the right direction this season.
This is of course because of the £114,050 currently to his ranking, £86,050 was earned during the 2014/15 season and is now therefore set to drop from his ranking.
Whilst Ali is without doubt a far better player than his current position would suggest, certainly top ten but for the health issues that he has encountered in recent years, with a low 2014/15 tally next to his name for the next 12 months, he will most likely need to win a major ranking event this season if he is to return to the top 16.
Tour Spots At Risk
Having already seen above that there are at least six players threatening to push on into the world’s top 64 by the end of this season, who are those in risk of being nudged out?
After a difficult 2014/15 season, Leicester’s Tom Ford will certainly need a stronger season is he is to retain his long-held top 64 position, as will Gerard Greene who towards the end of the campaign will lose the points earned from his run to the final of the 2014 Players Championship Grand Finals.
2014 Crucible qualifier and Shanghai Masters quarter-finalist Kyren Wilson will also need to improve upon his performances last season, while Peter Lines could yet drop off the tour at the expense of his son Oliver, who actually earned over £8,500 more than Lines senior during the 2014/15 season.
Perhaps most surprisingly, another player who could find his tour status in jeopardy is 2013 Indian Open finalist Aditya Mehta, who having lost in the opening round of last season’s Betfred World Championship qualifiers is soon due to see the points earned from his ranking event breakthrough deducted from his tally of £68,041.