It has been a memorable year on the baize starting with the Masters back in January when Yan Bingtao sprung a surprise to win the trophy and culminating this month when Ronnie O’Sullivan made more history with his 38th ranking title at the World Grand Prix.
2021 started behind closed doors and saw fans return in spectacular fashion at the World Championship as a full Crucible watched Mark Selby win his fourth world title.
We’ve seen new ranking event winners in Dave Gilbert, Jordan Brown and Zhao Xintong and a host of established stars continuing to pick up titles in a year that has seen 12 different men pick up ranking crowns.
Some of these awards had very obvious winners others were completely up for grabs, none more so than this first one…
Player of the Year – John Higgins
This wasn’t an easy choice. Mark Selby is the world champion and world number one, but he’s only won that one title in 2021 and his only other final was at the Shoot Out. It’s still been a great year for the Jester, but he can’t claim consistency.
Judd Trump has picked up three titles in 2021 – more than anybody else – but while the Champion of Champions is a big one, the German Masters is less so and the Gibraltar Open is even smaller. No other finals and nothing beyond a quarter-final this season for the Ace.
Neil Robertson and Mark Williams have both won two titles in 2021, Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong have each won a first Triple Crown title but it is John Higgins who wins Player of the Year.
The Wizard of Wishaw has only won the Players Championship this year, which he did in the most incredible fashion, but he has been to five more finals. From the Masters in January until the Scottish Open in December, which is superb consistency across the year.
With more finals than anyone over the year and one of the bigger tournament wins on the calendar, Higgins just edges this one.
Match of the Year – Mark Allen 9-8 John Higgins
Early in the season we were realy shown just how good it was to have crowds back as the Belfast fans roared on local hero Mark Allen to the Northern Ireland Open title.
The Pistol looked like he was going to miss the target when he foudn himself 6-8 behind to John Higgins in a race to nine.
The Wizard had just made breaks of 59, 64 and 136 to take that lead and looked very unlikely to toss away that lead in that kind of form.
However, Allen scrapped his way back into contention and amid an incredible atmosphere he picked up an emotional and career-defining win.
Shot of the Year – Shaun Murphy
Not much of a clue about how to remember the possible contenders for Shot of the Year, never mind how to pick out a winner, so here is the first one that sprung to mind.
Shaun Murphy had been 10-4 down to Kyren Wilson in the World Championship semi-final and looked set to be on his way home with the Warrior in firm control.
The Magician then conjured up a quite incredible comeback which ended with him winning 17-12 and there was one shot that really characterised that immense effort.
The 20th frame came down to the black with both men level on points and Murphy crunched in a really difficult long pot before giving it a fist pump to the crowd followed by an even bigger one as Wilson wandered off dejected.
Zhao Xintong winning the UK Championship was an even bigger surprise, having been to just one semi-final of any event in his career beforehand.
The great talent of the Cyclone had been known since he was a schoolboy, but he had largely failed to deliver on it until he surged to victory in York.
Superb wins over John Higgins, Thepchaiya Un-nooh, Jack Lisowski and Barry Hawkins took him to the final where he comfortably dealt with Luca Brecel to lift the trophy.
The pressure will now be on for him to cement his position as a top player in 2022 after the remarkable, out-of-the-blue success in 2021.
Upset of the Year – Jordan Brown
Incredibly, Zhao’s win at the UK was not the biggest shock or upset that happened at a big tournament in 2021.
Jordan Brown went to the Welsh Open in February without a single individual on the planet tipping him for the title. The Northern Irishman had been to one quarter-final ever and came into the event as a 750/1 shot.
He played brilliantly, with the Rocket playing perfectly well himself, and it was Brown who held his nerve in a deciding frame to claim a 9-8 win and the 2021 Welsh Open title.
Disappointment of the Year – No fans for months
A huge shame for Brown, not that he would have cared much at the time, was that there were no fans at Celtic Manor to see him stun the Rocket and win the Welsh Open.
There were also no fans to see Yan shock Higgins in the final of the Masters and the same can be said for Higgins’ immense win at the Players Championship and Robertson’s superb victory at the Tour Championship.
These were brilliant tournaments and finals and really special moments that could have been even better with the atmosphere of packed crowds in the arenas.
Highs feel much higher after lows and the full crowd at the Crucible for the World Championship final was one of the best moments of the year. An emotional, spine-tingling moment as the players walked out in Sheffied.
It was great to have competitions on in the first half of the year but there’s no denying it was disappointing to have no crowds in to enjoy them.
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