BARRY HAWKINS chose to sit out the Australian Goldfields Open and have an extended break from snooker after the World Championship last May, a decision which paid off when, fresh and raring to go for the new campaign, he won the Riga Open in Latvia on Sunday night.
Hawkins lost only seven frames in seven matches. He defeated Tom Ford 4-1 to win the final and clinch a place in the Champion of Champions event in November.
Snooker careers at the top level include moments of both joy and despair. Hawkins has won two ranking titles but last season lost 6-5 from 5-0 up to Nigel Bond in the UK Championship.
Furthermore, he felt he was on something of a treadmill, playing in everything and going through the motions rather than enjoying himself. Although he plans to play in all the big tournaments this season he may not play in all the smaller ones.
He could not have asked for a better start than to win the first tournament he entered and it puts a spring in his step for the months ahead.
Hawkins is one of those players, much like Stuart Bingham, who is well liked on the circuit. He is seen, rightly, as a dedicated professional and nice bloke. Of course, you don’t have to be a nice bloke to be a champion but it means that his successes are cheered by other players as well.
Several star names fell by the wayside early on in Riga, most notably John Higgins, winner of the recent Australian Open, who lost 4-2 to an amateur, Joe Roberts, in the first round.
There’s no doubt that Bingham is still adjusting to having his every match scrutinised as world champion. He got through two rounds before losing in the last 32 to Liang Wenbo.
Mark Selby and Judd Trump, two other pre-tournament favourites, lost to vastly experienced opponents – Selby to Ken Doherty in the last 32 and Trump to Alan Mcmanus in the last 16.
Ford came to Latvia looking for a kick-start to a career stuck in a bit of a rut. He reached a career highest ranking of 23rd two years ago but began the event 61st on the official list.
Ford won only two matches before Christmas last season and just one on the European Tour, so this was a much better week for the Leicester man with the positives to take forward into future events.
Crowds in the last day in Riga were excellent whereas when there were ten tables in operation for the first two days they were understandably spread more thinly.
It is also nice to see genuine enthusiasm for a sport still relatively new in this part of the world.
Next on the calendar are the qualifying rounds for the Shanghai Masters followed by the second European Tour event of the season, the Paul Hunter Classic in Furth, at the end of the month.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.