Judd Trump and Mark Allen served up arguably the best match of last season with their enthralling, high quality UK Championship final at York.
These two fine attacking players provided a great advert for snooker and are in opposite halves of the draw again this year.
Their media stock has also risen considerably. Judd Trump has become the go-to-guy for interviews and speaks very well.
I don’t always agree with what he says but defend his right to whatever opinion he wants to hold, as one should in a free society.
The same applies with Mark Allen, another good talker. Whenever I read an Allen interview I’m reminded of the (one and only) time Dave Letterman hosted the Oscars and had to introduce Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, whose attachment to fashionable causes was legendary.
As the celebrated couple walked on to the stage to present an award, Letterman witheringly commented: “They’re here and they’re sure to be pissed off about something.”
Allen, whose various comments last season racked up a series of fines, was the canny choice of World Snooker to undertake the official media day in York last week. Sure enough, he was pissed off about plenty.
However, sportspeople are like rock stars: their words are given a weight and heft completely out of proportion. Just as no one goes to a gig to hear a speech, so people attend sporting events to watch the skill and action unfold before them.
There’s little point getting too excited about what snooker players say. It’ll never be as interesting as what they do in the arena.
However, snooker needs media attention and newspapers, much derided by all and sundry of late, matter a great deal to sponsors. Trump and Allen don't hide from expressing what's on their mind and this means column inches.
Allen today faces Marco Fu, a player he elected to lump in with his general view that cheating was a Chinese trait at the Crucible. Amid his various pronouncements before the event was the warning that Fu should not treat this as a grudge match because there will only be one winner (Allen).
He speaks from experience. Allen's derogatory comments about Stuart Bingham before their meeting at last year’s Australian Open resulted in victory for Bingham.
Fu came within a frame of winning this title four years ago and he has been one of this season’s heaviest scorers, but he remains maddeningly inconsistent.
In the first round today Trump faces Mark Joyce, a player with genuine reason for complaint but who has made none.
Joyce will enter to Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing,’ a reference surely to the ordeal he went through just after reaching the UK Championship quarter-finals two years ago.
Out celebrating with pals in Birmingham city centre, Joyce was violently attacked and his injuries severely affected his ability to even get down and strike the ball.
So it’s good to see him in York. The road back has been tough, particularly down the end of the game where’s there’s little prize money. But he really is still standing.
So too is Steve Davis, who holds a record six UK titles and commands the respect of everyone in the game.
It’s not only Sir Steve’s ability to turn up results some 34 years into his professional career that’s impressive but that he retains a boyish love for snooker. Perhaps this is the key to it all.
He beat Ali Carter, his opponent today, at last season’s Welsh Open, although Carter was in a bad way health wise then.
Bingham has been on a roll of late, winning the Premier League, and faces an adopted Essex boy in Jack Lisowski, a former flat mate of Trump and a dangerous young player.
I spoke to Jack after he’d been thrashed by Neil Robertson at the PTC Grand Finals last season. He was furious with his performance and that he’d allowed himself to be overawed by the occasion, and vowed not to let it happen next time he was on TV in a big event. Well, this is next time.
This morning’s matches see Shaun Murphy, the 2008 UK champion, face Robert Milkins and Mark Davis, at long last a top 16 seed, up against fast improving Chinese Cao Yupeng.
The main surprise at a very well attended Barbican yesterday was Ding Junhui’s defeat to Ryan Day, though this can’t be classed as a huge shock.
Stephen Maguire made three centuries in as many frames in beating Fergal O’Brien. Once upon a time this would have been considered remarkable. The second time it ever happened was when Doug Mountjoy did it in the UK final 24 years ago.
Now it feels like just another day at the snooker.