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Thursday, 16 April 2015

World Championship 2015 Preview

After a season of, mixed results for some of our biggest stars,the return to the winners circle for an all tine great,and two new members of the ranking titles club the eyes of the snooker world once again focus on the Crucible for 17 days of drama on the baize.

So who will claim the title.Well I suppose there is only place to start and that is with our defending champion Mark Selby. Its been a strange old season for Selby.He really seemed to struggle in the early part of it,but victories in both the German Masters & the China Open will have him coming here with every confidence he can be the first first time returning champion to retain the title.The thing for me though is,even in those two tournaments he won,Selby did not play brilliantly the whole way through.Now there is an argument that  this is just the Selby way and what makes him unique is his ability to still dig out the victories,but I'm not sure you can win a world title depending so heavily on your " B"game,so for that reason I don't see him being the man to break the "Crucible Curse"

What then of the man he beat in last years final,.the five time champion Ronnie O'Sullivan? On the face of its it hasn't been a bad season for Ronnie as he claimed a second Champion of Champions title and  fifth UK Championship with thrilling victories over Judd Trump in both,but there have been signs since the turn of the year that all is not well with "The Rocket".On several occasions he has seemed quite angry.most noticeably at the Welsh Open and he also withdrew from the recent China Open apparently due to the return of the glandular fever that laid him low a few years back.It has also been recently reported that he has cut down n his sessions with Dr Steve Peters,but I understand they have resumed in the last few weeks.

So we're back to the eternal question,Which Ronnie will show up in Sheffield next week? Well I have no doubt that had he won a sixth title last season that Ronnie would be collecting his seventh come May 4th,but with that defeat and everything that has come since he may well be a a little vulnerable here.That said though,the draw has been kind enough to him and if he is anywhere near his best he really shouldn't have much trouble until at least the semi finals.What happens from there is anyones guess.

That brings us Ronnies potential semi final final opponent Judd Trump.These two have met this season in three epic finals,with Judd finally getting the better of things in the recent World Grand Prix. When Judd burst into everyones living rooms with his swashbuckling run to the final in 2011 comparisons were been immediately been made with the games other great crowd pleasers,but up to this year I had always seen him as more of a "White" than an "O'Sullivan".What we have seen recently though has forced me to revise my opinion a little as he has shown when in the mood that he also possesses a strong safety game.Bearing all this in mind he may well give this championship a good run this year.

Hoping to put an indifferent season behind him here will be 2010 champ, Neil Robertson.It seems a long time ago since Robertson won the first ranking title of the season taking the Wuxi Classic and although he did a PTC in Poland and reached a couple more finals he has largely struggled for the consistency we've come to expect from the Aussie..The one plus for him here is a kind enough quarter of the draw and it may allow him time to play himself into the tournament.

Also hoping to find something in Sheffield will be Ding Junhui,who after a record breaking season last time around has had an awful time of it over the last twelve months.He show signs of a return to form in China the other week,but he has been handed a very tough first round opponent in Mark Davis and even were he to win that he is in a very tough quarter of the draw.All in all I don't see this as the year of the first Chinese World Champion.

Of the others worth mentioning there are a few players who would need a strong tail wind to lift the title,like former champion Shaun Murphy who played superbly to lift the Masters in January,but would need to,at the very least,rediscover the form he showed for that fortnight in 2005 to be troubling the engraver this time. You can also throw into that category former winners John Higgins & Mark Williams,both have shown glimpses of their very best form in the last few months,but I just don't think at this stage either man still has the game  to add to their totals.

There are others there of course who will be thinking that this is the year that they will be adding their name the the Crucible roll of honour,but I would be majorly shocked if the winner came from outside any of the names mentioned above.

As for who I think will win it? I believe this may be Trumps year.

Recommended bets 
Judd Trump to win the title : 6/1
Value First Round Lucky 15: Graeme Dott (8/5) Anthony McGill (11/4) Ryan Day (2/1) Mark Davis (9/4)

First Round Draw
Mark Selby v Kurt Maflin
Stephen Maguire v Anthony McGill
Joe Perry v Zhang Anda
Shaun Murphy v Robin Hull
Barry Hawkins v Matt Selt
Mark Allen v Ryan Day
Ali Carter v Alan McManus
Neil Robertson v Jamie Jones
Ding Junhui v Mark Davis
John Higgins v Robert Milkins
Marco Fu v Jimmy Robertson
Judd Trump v Stuart Carrington
Ricky Walden v Graeme Dott
Stuart Bingham v Robbie Williams
Mark Williams v Matthew Stevens
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Craig Steadman


Sunday, 5 April 2015

China Open Final Selby Canters to Final Success.

Mark Selby will head to Sheffield to defend his World title  in a fortnight brimming with confidence after claiming the season penultimate prize with a comfortable 10-2 over Gary Wilson in todays China Open final.

This win,his second ranking title of 2015 following on from his triumph in the German Masters in February and his sixth ranking in total, couldn't be coming at a better time for the Leicesterman who had been struggling for form for much of the season.

What we saw here this week was typical Selby,not the prettiest to watch at times,but,as always it was backed up with the dogged determination we have come to expect and to be fair his form did improve in the semi final & final.

Of the final itself,well it may well have been a lot closer had Wilson,playing in his first ranking final,made the most of some early chances,but it was Selby who gradually pulled away,taking an 8-1 lead out the the first session the highlight of which was a tournament high break of 145.

From here it was always going to be an early finish and Selby quickly put it to bed when play resumed,running out an easy 10-2.

For Wilson,he will be disappointed he couldn't make more of a fight of it ,but he is a player certainly going the right way with his career and he can look back on a superb week that saw him beat home favourite Ding Junhui 6-5 in the semi final.

His attention,like  that of the rest of the snooker world will now turn this week to the World Championship qualifiers which begin on Wednesday.

Monday, 23 March 2015

World Grand Prix,Trumps Triumph.

Judd Trump last night lifted the inaugural World Grand Prix title after completing a stirring fight back to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-7 in front of a packed house in Llandudno.

This was the third time these two  have met in a major final this season and although in terms of standard it never reached the heights of the other two,it may well prove to be the most significant as the the young pretender finally got the better of the old master.

The match itself was a fascinating affair as twice Ronnie seemed to be pulling away at 4-1 & 7-4,but with Trumps game seemingly in disarray,O'Sullivan couldn't push home his advantage & Judd fought back.

This has perhaps been the most satisfying aspect of the week for Trump as a steeliness and ability to grind it out have now firmly established themselves as part of his already impressive arsenal of skills.

This was very much in evidence in his two previous matches as he sneaked past Mark Williams 4-3 on the final black in the quarter final & fought back from the brink in his semi final to beat Martin Gould 6-5 having trailed 5-1.

In last nights match once he had leveled at 7-7 there was only going to be one winner as the close cueball control we normally expect from Ronnie deserted him and Trumps confidence grew winning six frames in a row to record a famous 10-7 win/

For Ronnie it is difficult to judge how he will be feeling after this,on one hand he freely admitted to little or no practice coming in,so he might see reaching the final as an achievement,but on the other hand once there he will be disappointed he couldn't finish the job when he had his opponent on the ropes.

His attention will now turn to Sheffield and the quest for a sixth world title.The fact that he seems to be thinking of another short sabbatical after that event may help focus his mind for a big title push.

As for Trump his confidence will be sky high.He has of course already appeared in a world final,losing out narrowly to Higgins in 2011,but he now appears a much more rounded player and the fact he will be going there with a recent final victory over Ronnie can only be a positive.

Finally a word on the tournament itself.This event came about from ITV4 wanting to host another event and once again their presentation was superb.That along with the huge crowds all week have probably assured its place on the calendar for many years to come.The only negative for me was once again the best of 7's in the early rounds.As I've often stated before we have to find somewhere in the game for more longer format matches,because as we saw on Saturday with Trump & Gould.,snooker is at its best when a story unfolds over time..

Anyway onward we go to Thailand and more best of 7's as the The Players Championship starts tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

2015 Welsh Open Final.

John Higgins is back in the winners circle once more after running out a 9-3 victor over Ben Woollaston in the final of the Welsh Open In Cardiff tonight.

This title,a record breaking fourth win in the event & his 26th ranking titles in total., will feel very sweet indeed for Higgins,who must have wondered in recent times if indeed his tournament winning days were over.

That was a question many snooker fans were asking as well as he struggled in tournament after tournament to get any sort of run going to boost his confidence.Such was his fall that the prospect of having to qualify for the Crucible looked a real possibility.Those worries are gone now though and he can very much look forward to lining up in Sheffield in April as he goes in search of a fifth world title.

Of the final itself,Higgins,by virtue of experience alone started as a warm favourite against his young opponent who was appearing in his first ranking final.and it was the Scot who got the better of the opening exchanges to lead 3-1.

The next two were shared,before Woollaston got within one again at 3-4 with one frame left in the session.That final frame was to prove the pivotal moment in the match as Woollaston lead it 59-0 before Higgins countered to leave it hinging on a battle on the green,that was finally resolved by a fluke from Higgins.

This gave him a 5-3 lead going into the night and he never looked back,taking the four frames he needed to seal a 9-3 win

Woollaston no doubt will feel disappointment that he couldn't reproduce the form that had seen him reach the final,but he can look back with pride on a fine week and use the experience the next time he finds himself at the business end of a big tournament.

As for Higgins,well seeing him holding aloft a trophy is something we are well used to over the last 20 yrs,but,as I already said it,was something we feared we would not see again.Now that he has done it who is to say its not the first shoots of a rich autumnal harvest in the career of the Wizard of Wishaw.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Welsh Open 2015 Semi Final round up

John Higgins will battle it out with Ben Woollaston for the £60,000  top prize and the title of 2015 Welsh Open champion,after both came through thrilling semi finals today in Cardiff.

These days semi finals for Higgins are not the regular occurance they once were,but the way he started today ,you never would have guessed it as two flawless runs of 101 & 137 saw him fly into a 2-0 lead.

Brecel though has shown this week that he is not daunted by falling behind and he made most of his chances to level things up at 2-2 going to the interval..

That good form continued into the next as he took the lead for the first time at 3-2,before Higgins leveled it up again at 3-3. That became 4-4 as the next two were shared to set up a potential grandstand finish.

From here though  Higgins took control again ,taking the lead at 5-4 thanks to a 135 break and doing what he had to do in the next to seal the 6-4 win and end to young Belgians title dreams

What a week it has been for Brecel though.It was 20 years ago that a young John Higgins lost out to Steve Davis in this event,but boy did he learn from the experience. I'm sure the same applies to Luca here and no doubt we will be seeing plenty more of him at the business end in the coming seasons

For Higgins,I'm sure there were times in recent months that he must have wondered if he was ever going to be playing in a final again,but he was always too good a player to simply fade away and he will be relishing the chance to  claim a fourth Welsh crown.

Standing in his way will be Ben Woollaston,who broke Welsh hearts tonight,edging out home favourite Mark Williams 6-5,to reach his first ranking event final.

It was Woollaston who made the better start here and he deservedly held a 3-1 lead going to the mid session interval.Willaims was clearly struggling to find the sparkling form he produced in his quarter final win over Marco Fu,but he has always been adept ar winning ugly when it was required and he clawed his way back into this,leveling it up at 3-3.

Into the next and an unlucky in off from Williams gave Woollaston a chance which he took to lead again 4-3 and he moved within one of victory taking the next to go 5-3.

Back came Williams though,closing to 5-4 and forcing the decider by winning a tight tenth which hinged on a battle on the colours to make it 5-5.

Into the decider then and it was Woollaston who prevailed,clinching victory with two scoring visits to seal a famous 6-5 win.

So tomorrow we will have one man who started this week wondering if he would ever reach another final against someone who must have wondered if he would ever reach his first.With this in mind Higgins will start a warm favourite,but Woollaston has come through some real battles this week and certainly wont roll over. It should be fascinating.

Welsh Open 2015 Quarter Final round up

Todays semi finals of the 2015 Welsh Open will see the ghosts of snooker past take on the ghosts of snooker future after  a fascinating day of quarter final action in

Coming here this week the indignity of the Crucible qualifiers loomed large on the horizons of two of the games  greats as both  John Higgins and Mark Williams struggled to find the consistency that came so easily in their prime,but they can both breathe a little easier now having reached the semi finals here.

At this stage though that is something to think about on Monday,as there is still a tournament here to be won this weekend and both will be fancying their chances after enjoying relatively comfortable victories today.

First up was Higgins against his great friend and fellow Scot Stephen Maguire. Higgins has had a miserable head to head record with Maguire in recent seasons,but took control early in this one to lead 3-1 at the interval. 

This was not a free flowing affair by any means,but Higgins wont mind that as he took the two frames he needed to to seal a 5-2 win to reach the semi final of a ranking event for the first time this season.

His opponent in the semi final will be young man who wasn't even born when Higgins first played in a Welsh Open final.

Luca Brecel again showed a growing maturity here to go with his undoubted talent as he recovered from a nervous start to fight back and beat Ricky Walden.

That looked unlikely early on as Walden went into a 3-0 lead,that really should have been 4-0,but Brecel took that fourth frame to go to the interval at 1-3.This proved to be the turning point as the Belgian amazingly took the next four frames as well to record a 5-3 and reach his first ranking event semi final.

The performance of the day though came from Mark Williams as he reached his first Welsh Open semi final in twelve years with an impressive  5-1 win over Marco Fu.

Runs of 103.76,103 & 80 from Williams showed a player really fancying the job here and just as we saw with him in the International Championship,once he gets to the business end the old competitive instincts kick in again.

Next up for him is Ben Woollaston,who continued his fine form this week to beat Gary Wilson 5-2.

So a mixture of the old guard and new young guns in both semi finals with all four feeling they can lift the trophy come Sunday evening.It should be a cracking weekend.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Welsh Open last 16 round up.

Last 16 day at the 2015 Welsh Open and just maybe its a day we'll look back on in years to come,as the point where one young man started to live up to the potential he had shown from a young age.

Standing as he does just a few days short of his 20th birthday,talk that Luca Brecel was gong to one of those promising kids who just couldn't hack it in the big time was perhaps premature,but the fact was despite  a Crucible appearance and a UK quarter final in 2012 he really has struggled in recent times.That however seems to have changed this week with some fine performances setting up todays clash with the world champion Mark Selby.

Selby himself has struggled for a large part of the season,but with his recent German Masters victory  he seemed to be getting things back on track and he started the stronger here leading 2-0 lead.and then 3-2 with the aid of a couple of centuries. Brecel was not for lying down though and a fine 101 of his own leveled it up at 3-3.Into the decider then and it was the young Belgian who made the most of his chances to claim a 4-3 win, the biggest scalp of his career to date. 

To watch this young man in full flight is really something to behold and if he puts in the hard work and gains a bit more tablecraft,the sky is really the limit.

For though he will very much be concentrating on this event and next up for him is a Ricky Walden who beat Stuart Bingham 4-2.

The defeat of Selby  was not the biggest shock though as Neil Robertson crashed out 4-2 at the hands of Gary Wilson.That result looked unlikely when Robertson lead 2-1,but Wilson leveled it up at 2-2,before a bizarre fifth went to Wilson when  Robertson missed three times trying to negotiate a trick safety when he had a red in clear view.The end came in the next as Wilson held his nerve to gain by far the biggest win of his professional career with a 4-2 win. 

He will now play Ben Woollaston who beat Ali Carter,also by a scoreline of 4-2

 Elsewhere at the other end of the career scale it was also a good day for a couple of the games veterans with wins for Mark Williams & John Higgins.

Home favourite Williams kept alive his hopes of a third Welsh Open title with a fine 4-1 victory over Judd Trump.This match never really reached the heights we might have expected,but Williams wont mind that,as he did his hopes of automatic Crucible qualification no harm at all here.

He will now face Marco Fu who denied the home fans an all Welsh quarter final beating Matthew Stevens 4-2.

John Higgins has also been looking over his shoulder this season as the possibility of him having to qualify for the Crucible loomed large ,but he too will now be breathing a little easier following his run here and he reached the quarter finals with a 4-2 win over Michael Georgiou

Next up for him is an all Scottish tussle with Stephen Maguire who eased past Alan McManus 4-0.

Quarter Final line up in full
Marco Fu v Mark Williams
Ben Woollaston v Gary Wilson
John Higgins v Stephen Maguire
Ricky Walden v Luca Brecel