In Cheltenham this afternoon and evening, 39-year-old Ali Carter, currently the 19th-best snooker player in the world, will play his first ranking tournament final since the 2017 German Masters, which he lost 9-6 to Anthony Hamilton, who is now world No55 and was ranked not much higher then.
But Carter is a lot better than the above paragraph would lead you to believe. He has won four ranking tournaments – the Welsh Open (2009), the Shanghai Masters (2010), the German Masters (2013) and the World Open (2016) – and he has been the beaten finalist in the jewel in the snooker crown, the World Championship, not once but twice (2008 and 2012), vanquished both times by the most gifted player in the history of the game, Ronnie O’Sullivan. He has scored two 147 maximum breaks in ranking tournament play. In the autumn of 2010 he was briefly ranked world No2. His nickname is The Captain. In short, he is a class act.
So what has gone wrong over the past few years? Quite a lot, actually. He has suffered from Crohn’s disease since 2003. It bothers him – it is an often painful and debilitating gastrointestinal affliction that has no known cure – but he mitigates its effects by adhering to a strict gluten-, wheat- and dairy-free diet.
But that is not all. On July 1st 2013 it was announced that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had an operation the very next day. Two weeks later he tweeted cheerily that his doctors had given him the all-clear, and that he would be returning to professional snooker in the Shanghai Masters in September. That he did, although he was beaten 5-2 in the first round by the unfancied Mark Davis.
Carter withdrew from the next few tournaments in order to rest and recuperate, returned for the UK Championship in York in November, but was beaten 6-3 by Graeme Dott in their last-32 match. He missed that season’s Masters – he had dropped out of the top 16 and was therefore ineligible for it – and was beaten 13-9 by Mark Selby in the second round of the 2014 World Championship, in April of that year, afterwards criticising his conqueror for negative play.
Worse was to come. In May 2014, World Snooker announced that Carter’s cancer had spread to his lungs, and that he would have to undergo a course of intensive chemotherapy. At the same time he would have further surgery to treat a metastatic recurrence of testicular cancer.
He finally made his comeback in the 2014 General Cup, a professional albeit non-ranking tournament that took place in Hong Kong in October of that year. Astonishingly and impressively, he won it, beating Shaun Murphy 7-6 in the final. “Today’s the day the Captain became the General,” he tweeted afterwards.
His opponent today will be Judd Trump, who is the bookies’ favourite. But Carter has fought and won bigger battles before. It would be wonderful to see him win the World Grand Prix today.