IT IS NOW ALMOST eight years since Paul Hunter died at the tragically young age of 27. He had already achieved plenty, with the promise of much more to come before he was struck by a rare form of cancer.
Paul had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of the German Open pro-am – winning its first staging in 2004 – which has grown into the tournament now bearing his name, the Paul Hunter Classic, the amateur rounds of which start tonight, with the professionals coming in on Friday.
This is a European Tour event – formally known as a PTC – but in truth feels much bigger, and more popular, than some ‘full’ ranking events. This is chiefly down to the crowds in Furth, who have embraced the tournament with a popularity fitting for an event with Paul Hunter’s name in the title.
It was won last year by another crowd pleaser, Ronnie O’Sullivan, who returns to action this week for the first time since his world final defeat by Mark Selby last May.
This was an obvious setback for O’Sullivan, who had been attempting to win a sixth Crucible title. But the grace he displayed in the aftermath of defeat was an indication that the influence of Dr Steve Peters, who cannot guarantee results on the table but who has helped with stability off it, has enabled him to put even disappointing results into context.
“That’s the nature of sport. If you buy a raffle ticket and sign up to be a sportsman you accept the losses as well as the wins. You can’t have it all your own way all the time,” O’Sullivan said, a reasoned analysis and yet easier to say as a neutral observer than someone who has just lost on the biggest stage of all.
O’Sullivan seems to be enjoying his new role as a member of the media. He has impressed in presenting the Ronnie O’Sullivan Show for Eurosport, relaxed in interviewing the likes of Neil Robertson, Reanne Evans and, in particular, Jimmy White, out of whom he got far more interesting answers than most media ‘pros’ have managed in 30 years.
There is another edition coming ahead of the Shanghai Masters and O’Sullivan, with his natural charisma and obvious insight into snooker, could find a whole new career opening up when he does finally put the cue away.
The new prize money ranking list, certainly not loved by all players, has worked out well for O’Sullivan, but only because he wins tournaments. If you’re that good then you have the freedom to skip events and play a schedule more of your own choosing.
In fact, this season he will probably play more snooker than he would have done in the dark days before Barry Hearn [incidentally interviewed by Ronnie in the next edition of his programme] came to power.
Selby won the campaign’s first European Tour title and heads to Germany having celebrated another proud moment last weekend, parading the World Championship trophy at the home of his beloved Leicester City.
Selby’s Riga triumph took him back past Neil Robertson as world no.1, with these two possibly set for a duel for top spot for the remainder of the season.
World Snooker may be forgiven for hoping there is a surprise winner of the Furth title. The Champion of Champions event, a fine addition to the calendar last season, currently has only nine qualified players, with seven more champions to be found before November. There are seven further events but it seems unlikely all seven will be won by different players, much less likely they won’t include already qualified players.
But these Euro Tour titles are difficult to win: seven matches in two days with the added pressure of large crowds and TV. That’s why one of the usual suspects – a top 16 player – will be favourite to triumph again.
Leaving aside the fact that not everyone can win, it’s a week that most in snooker really enjoy, a testament not just to Germany’s love affair with snooker but also the influence of Paul Hunter, a player much loved and much missed.
Eurosport’s live coverage starts at 8.30am BST on Friday.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.