Many players would look at three semi-final appearances in six ranking events as a good return, but for Barry Hawkins, those semi-finals have been defined by heartbreak. In the German Masters back in February, he led world number one Judd Trump 5-1 and looked for all the world like he was heading to the final, but an inspired comeback from Trump saw Hawkins eventually bow out having lost 6-5. A month later, Hawkins led Ronnie O’Sullivan 3-0 in the semi-final of the Players Championship before losing 6-4, in another missed opportunity.
But it was Hawkins’ most recent semi-final loss that hurt the most. In the semi-final of the Tour Championship, a tournament that has become one of the showpiece fixtures on the snooker calendar, he once again led O’Sullivan by three frames in the semi-final. This time, it was a 9-6 advantage, with Hawkins needing just one more frame to reach the final. But O’Sullivan clawed it back, and the ‘Hawk’ was left to rue several missed opportunities to kill the game off.
After that disappointment, it would be easy to write Hawkins off ahead of the upcoming World Snooker Championship. Indeed, there are about 10 players more fancied than the 41-year-old in the odds on who wins the World Snooker Championship 2021, but when you look at Hawkins’ form throughout the season, it could well prove that all his close calls are building up to a memorable run at the Crucible.
Part of the reason for thinking that is Hawkins’ pedigree in the World Championship. Having reached the final in 2013, where O’Sullivan edged him to the title, he has since made it to the semi-finals on four occasions, and while he hasn’t quite made it to another world final, he is a player who knows what it takes to win over the long-format matches of the World Championship.
Hawkins is a player that goes under a lot of people’s radar, but when you study his game you appreciate what a competent, in-tune player he is, possessing a reliable steady cue action and scoring power which belies his reputation. He is seventh on the centuries list this season, ahead of players who most would consider stronger scorers, like Mark Allen, Stuart Bingham and Jack Lisowski.
The fact that Hawkins has recovered his form this campaign after an indifferent two years means he will go to Sheffield feeling good about his game, even if those agonising defeats still rankle within him. He’ll take confidence from the fact that he defeated Trump 10-7 in the quarter-finals of the Tour Championship, and he’ll fear no-one as he kicks off his Crucible campaign. One of Hawkins’ best attributes is his ability to put disappointment behind him and move on to the next tournament as if nothing happened. He is blessed with an outstanding temperament, and that’s why the long-form matches at the Crucible suit his style. Although he might not be the name on everyone’s lips ahead of the World Championship, his form this season suggests that a deep run at Sheffield could well be on the cards.