Opinion: Jack Lisowski will be hugely popular winner when elusive ranking title breakthrough arrives


As Ali Carter and Tom Ford prepared for their German Masters final at a packed Tempodrom in Berlin on Sunday, Jack Lisowski was heading for home. There was no posing for photos with the trophy while a large crowd applauded, only an anonymous trudge through baggage reclaim, collecting his suitcase and his thoughts.

Lisowski, a wonderfully gifted cueist, is still searching for his first title. He has appeared in six ranking finals, and over the last year, has seemed likely to make the breakthrough so many have predicted and hoped for, but the wait for silverware continues.

He beat Neil Robertson at the World Championship last April before losing in a decider to John Higgins in the quarter-finals. He missed a yellow in another decider against Mark Allen with a good chance to reach the UK Championship final. Another semi-final appearance, at the Masters, also ended in defeat as Mark Williams schooled him 6-0.

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His latest loss is perhaps the hardest of all to take. The Berlin semi-final with Ford was a free-flowing, high-quality match full of big breaks. Ford led 5-3 but Lisowski played superbly to level and force a decider.

He led 52-0 in the last, losing position but trapping Ford in a nasty snooker behind the brown with reds spread everywhere. Ford chanced his arm, whacking the cueball at speed and hoping to get safe. He didn’t, but Lisowski, poised to take advantage, missed a red and Ford brilliantly cleared for victory.

It meant another rueful feeling of what might have been for a player who has knocked constantly at a door that has refused to open, that he can’t kick down.

Lisowski’s pain is widely shared throughout the snooker world. There is copious goodwill towards this charming, talented left-hander. His dashing style of play and natural humility has made him a popular character with fellow players, fans and the media alike.

The snooker authorities rightly see him as a plus for the green baize game. When World Snooker Tour posted a happy new year message on their social channels to see in 2023, among the mosaic of faces from the sport there was only one current player: not Ronnie, Judd, Robbo or Selby, but a smiling Lisowski.

Pundits have at times swooned at his ability, while being frustrated at the slip-ups and failings which have undermined his progress. The criticism has been hard to take at times, but comes from a genuine place: everyone wants Jack to do well.

We are the sum of our experiences. Lisowski endured a traumatic period in adolescence when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer, at 16, requiring eight months of chemotherapy treatment.

With snooker taking a backseat, he demonstrated maturity in the face of adversity, reading The Economist to educate himself about the world and taking inspiration from Lance Armstrong’s recovery.

Maybe his illness instilled in him the notion that life was more important than snooker, that potting balls wasn’t everything. Such an assessment would be correct, but it isn’t how champions are made.

He enjoyed the freedom gained by his recovery from illness but over time became frustrated by standing still and his work ethic improved as he looked to make good on his potential.

‘A special century’ – Watch full frame as Lisowski hits 102 break against Ford

By his own admission, Lisowski has been a slow learner. He turned professional in 2010 and trod water for a few years, reaching his first ranking quarter-final in 2013 but waiting another four years for his second.

For a while, he had shared a flat with Judd Trump, whose own star had soared after reaching the World Championship final at 21. Trump’s initial success was down to his brilliant shot-making but over time he realised he needed a solid all-round game to stay at the top.

Lisowski remained in all-out attack mode, and when it worked it was a formidable sight. At first uneasy on the main table, he began to feel more at home with the focus on him. He climbed the rankings, joined the elite top 16, and appeared in a run of finals.

In each of them, he played a multi-champion: Trump three times, Robertson twice and Mark Selby. Their experience of handling the big occasions was an obvious advantage and Lisowski came away trophyless each time.

However, he made it to as high as tenth in the world without winning a title. Given that the rankings are devised based on a money list, and tournament winners get the big first prizes, this in itself was a considerable achievement and proof of his consistency.

All that is missing is a trophy. This is the final piece of the puzzle, and the hardest to attain.

To help with mental focus, he has teamed up with Peter Ebdon, the 2002 world champion renowned for his bottle and competitive steel. The evidence of the last year suggests his game has become more rounded and his focus has improved, but pressure – when it really comes on – is hard to suppress.

‘It’s like a dream’ – Lisowski reacts to reaching Masters semis after beating Vafaei

Lisowski is surely fed up with being asked at every tournament whether this will be the week he breaks his duck. He isn’t short of advice, from those who can help and those who think they can.

Some say he needs to be tougher, that he’s too nice. But his popularity is in large part due to his naturally warm disposition, a pleasing way of being which is reflected in his style of play.

We judge success in sport purely as winning, a clear but narrow definition determined by titles. Snooker for Lisowski was a boyhood hobby from which he is now earning roughly £200,000 a year. He has been successful in providing for himself a nice life doing the thing he loves.

But is it precisely because he is so good that the wider snooker world wants him to press on and become a tournament winner? It can take time. Carter won his fifth ranking title last night but had waited 13 years as a professional for his first. It took the likes of Mark King and Anthony Hamilton decades. Others have never got there.

What is the answer? There’s no magic solution other than to keep going. The Welsh Open is coming up next week, followed by the Players Championship. Lisowski is set to be part of the elite, eight-man Tour Championship in March and before we know it the World Championship will be upon us once more.

At each of these tournaments, Lisowski knows he can expect the familiar question, and that there is only one way to answer it.

If the door opens, if he wins a title, it is hard to imagine a more popular outcome. But ‘if’ is the longest word in sport. For all the support, and all the advice, only he can make it happen.

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