23.1.08

STRENGTH IN DEPTH

Matt Selt yesterday compiled three successive centuries during his 5-1 victory over Fraser Patrick in the first qualifying round of the China Open.

Not so long ago, this would have been regarded as a very special achievement, not to mention a rare one. However, standards across the board have risen so highly that it passed off virtually without mention.

Nobody today is playing any better than Stephen Hendry did at his peak in the 1990s - as far as I'm concerned the best anyone has ever played - but there is far greater strength in depth now.

Any player on the 96-man main tour is capable of making big breaks. It is so competitive at the qualifiers that few players manage to get on the kind of winning runs the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins managed in the early 1990s.

This is because the game then was open to anyone who wanted to pay to turn pro, so there was no minimum standard required to compete on the circuit. Ronnie in particular was so much better than everyone else that he tended to steamroller opponents.

There were over 700 pros then; now there are less than 100. However, it's probably harder than it's ever been for young players to qualify for final stages of tournaments because everyone at Prestatyn is a very, very good player.