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Does the Tour Championship give us any hints at all about the...
Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy are tipped to impress at the Tour and World Championships (Pictures: Getty)
Long-format matches, very shortly before the Crucible, only the top eight players in the one-year rankings; the Tour Championship appears to be the perfect setting for a world champion-in-waiting to shine, but is it?
In short, no. Or at least it hasn’t been in its relatively brief history so far over the last four years.
Whether the event is the penultimate one of the season or two before the trip to Sheffield, the winner of the Tour Championship has never gone on to claim the world title by the end of the campaign, nor have they even come that close to doing so.
Neil Robertson’s win in 2021 followed by a run to the quarter-finals in Sheffield represented the best performance of a reigning Tour champion at the Crucible.
In fact, no one has even reached the final of the Tour and carried that momentum into a World Championship win or a run to the final within the next few weeks.
Stephen Maguire beating Mark Allen to win the 2020 Tour Championship was something of an unexpected final, but otherwise we are only dealing with former world champions who have been Tour finalists in Robertson, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins.
What we can say for sure is that success in Hull this week is absolutely no signal that glory in South Yorkshire is incoming.
The number one seed at the Tour Championship is likely to be the standout player of the season at the start of the tournament, topping the one-year rankings, but that does not seem to be much of a Crucible guide either.
Mark Allen (2019), Judd Trump (2020 & ’21) and Zhao Xintong (2022) came in as the top seeds for the Tour, none of them reached the final of that event, and none of them went behind the quarter-finals of the World Championship in the same season.
It is a strange situation, then, that good form immediately before the Crucible doesn’t bring success, but neither does more consistent form over the season. The long and gruelling scrap in Sheffield really is an occasion all of and on its own.Mark Allen has won three ranking titles this season so far and tops the one-year list (Picture: Getty Images)
The line-up at the Tour Championship this year is certainly unique as it will be the first with no member of the Class of ’92 – O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Williams – while Robertson and Judd Trump also miss out for the first time in its four-year history.
There are debuts for Robert Milkins, Ryan Day, Ali Carter and (sort of) Ding Junhui. The Chinese icon has qualified before, but withdrew due to the pandemic in 2020, allowing Maguire to take his spot and ultimately lift the trophy.
What has tended to be the case is that the Tour Championship field provides the world champion shortly after, but even this cannot be entirely relied on.
As ever it is O’Sullivan who bucked the trend, failing to qualify in 2020 before winning a sixth world title in the unusual summer World Championship that year.
Otherwise it has been a Tour Championship competitor that has gone on to become world champion that season, and this is where something of a pattern emerges.
Trump (2019), Mark Selby (’21) and O’Sullivan (’22) were all beaten in the Tour Championship semi-finals before lifting the trophy in Sheffield shortly afterwards. Anyone beaten in the semis in Hull might just take some solace that it apparently does your Crucible chances no harm at all.
Although, if you wouldn’t mind a World Championship runner-up spot it is better to have a bit of a shocker at the Tour, or better still, not be there at all.
Of the last four beaten Crucible finalists, three of them didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship (Higgins ’19, Wilson ’20, Murphy ’21) while Trump crashed out in the opening round last year and immediately spoke about needing a break from the game, before putting together a great run in Sheffield.
So is this what is most likely in this quite strange Tour Championship-World Championship relationship – a beaten Tour semi-finalist goes on to beat someone who didn’t get to Hull for the World Championship title?
Maybe. Selby downing O’Sullivan in a Crucible final? Sure. Murphy beating Trump? Why not. Rob Milkins breaking the heart of Anton Kazakov in the Sheffield showpiece? Seems less likely, but let’s not rule anything out.
What is also clear is that whatever happens at the Tour Championship, we should not be ready to decide anything when it comes to the big one.
Allen with three titles this season has been the standout player, Murphy has produced the best performance by winning the Players Championship, while World Championship specialist Mark Selby won the most recent event, the WST Classic, impressively.
If any of those three triumph in Hull then there will be a tidal wave of tips for them to be the next world champion, the bookies will take a lot of money on them, but history suggests they will keep it.
The Tour Championship is a fantastic tournament in its own right and will be again this year, but does not seem to count for much when all is said and done at snooker’s most iconic venue.
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