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Monday, 24 November 2014

UK Championship Preview.

The snooker world once again this week descends on the wonderful city of York and more specifically The Barbican Centre for the first of this seasons "Majors",The UK Championship.

This of course is a tournament,that with its long history will always hold a special place in the heart of snooker fans,despite what has seemed in recent years to be a concerted effort by the powers that be to change all that once made this event so great

Firstly a few years ago the early matches were changed from  "best of  17" to "best of 11",a move that at the time that was in order to make sure that all matches could be played in the main arena in front of the tv cameras.\this move was made redundant last year when the tournament reverted to a flat 128 draw with all rounds played in York.This also caused problems with the BBC insisting some round one matches be held over until they stated broadcasting,leading to a week of confusion which frankly even those most tuned into snooker,struggled to keep up with.

This at least has been resolved to some extent this year with all of round one been played before the BBC arrive.Unfortunately this has come at the expense of the semi finals which will also now only be "best of 11".

All of these changes have devalued our games second biggest prize and surely this tournament would have been better served had it been protected the way the World Championship has.

To quote the phrase of the times though "We are where we are" and 128 players start out over the next few days with the dream of lifting the trophy on December 7th.

The obvious favourite is of course Ronnie O'Sullivan who looked as good as ever in lifting the Champion of Champions title a fortnight ago.To put it simply if he shows up in that form,he will be claiming a fifth UK title next week.If though for some reason he isn't who else can put themselves forward as champion?

Well I suppose the obvious place to start is with Mark Selby,but just how much his preparation for this event has been effected by the arrival of baby Sofia a couple of weeks ago cannot be judged until we see him in the heat of battle.

Selby of course was beaten in last years final by Neil Robertson who along with Ding was the other big story from last season.Both however have struggled so far this term and they will have to step it up a bit on what we've seen lately if they are to challenge here.

A couple of players who have shown some good form this season and may fancy their chances here are Shaun Murphy & Judd Trump.Murphy has dominated the most recent PTC  events,winning the last two including the Ruhr Open on Sunday where he also had a 147 in the final.Trump has also been playing with a new found maturity this season and pushed Ronnie hard in that Champion of Champions event.

Other players worth keeping an eye on include Mark Allen,Mark Williams & Ricky Walden.

Lets hope whatever happens and in spite of everything I've said above we get a tournament that will live long in the memory.

The action starts tomorrow with some matches been streamed via the World Snooker subscription site,with The BBC & Eurosport commencing broadcasting from Saturday



Monday, 10 November 2014

Ronnie is still the Champion of Champions

Ronnie O'Sullivan once again proved last night,that when it comes to champions in snooker they don't come any better than him,as he beat Judd Trump 10-7 in a dramatic final to lift the 2014 Champion of Champions title.

This was the second staging of this event and although Ronnie has won it on each occasion,this match was in sharp contrast to the slog against Stuart Bingham in last years title decider,indeed,if that  was a match that showed Ronnie's fighting qualities this was one that showed just how ridiculously talented he is when in the zone.

What was to come was evident early on as Ronnie took the opening frame with a total clearance of 137 and followed up in the next with a 78 to go 2-0.Trump at this stage had hardly had a shot but managed to get off the mark in the next,before also taking the fourth to level at 2-2.

After the mid session interval Ronnie again opened up a two frame lead with breaks of 87 & 80,but Trump produced a 58 of his own to again get within one  at 4-3.

This was high quality snooker,but it was about to go up a notch as Ronnie produced two of the most beautiful breaks you would ever wish to see, effortlessly floating around the table & rolling in breaks of  139 & 134.The score 6-3 at the end of the first session.

Into the night session & Trump knew he needed a good start and looked to be getting it only to break down on 56.Ronnie immediately countered with 70 to win the frame on the black to make it 7-3 & made that 8-3 with another 70 in the the next.

The possibility of this not even reaching a mid session interval loomed large for Trump,but in a display that can only bode well for his future,he dug deep.knocking in back to back centuries of his own (102 & 100) to close to 8-5 as they headed out for their cup of tea.

On resumption the momentum stayed with Trump as he continued to freeze Ronnie out,producing further breaks of 69 & 90  to close within one at 8-7.

This was now turning into a classic with both men playing at their absolute best.Into the 16th frame and Ronnie finally got a scoring chance again,digging deep with a 63 to leave Trump leaving a snooker,but this was what he got on the final red to leave him needing the colours to force a respot.This was not to be though as he went in off on potting the green and Ronnie ended a four frame losing streak to to move within the touching distance of the title at 9-7.

He duly went on to seal the 10-7 victory in the next courtesy of another century (109) & just how much this meant to him was evident to all as he punched the air on potting match ball.

In their post match interviews both players spoke with real joy of having been part of such a marvelous match & you got the feeling they would quite happily have carried on for another few hours.

This final was a fitting finale to a great week and ITV4 will rightly get praised for the their excellent coverage which among,other things,once again showed the stupidity of the BBC  in dropping the commentary legend that is Clive Everton.from their team.

As for the players,well after a few false dawns it would seem that Trump is finally getting back on the right track and whats more he seems to be developing an all round game that can only be a positive as he tries to reach the heights his talent can bring him to

As for Ronnie,well what can you say? I have often written over the years that one of the great tragedies in snooker was that Ronnie wasn't able to feel the joy in his performances that we as snooker fans felt watching him.Listening to him last night that no longer seems to be the case and we  now have a man who really looks in love with the game again and producing the snooker to match it.The fact that he is doing this a month out from his 39th birthday,an age when the other greats Davis & Hendry had long since seen their game go into terminal decline,is even more phenomenal indeed a case could be made that he is getting even better!!






Friday, 7 November 2014

Flat Draw Controversy ,My Two Cents

Thursday should really have been a quiet day with a break in the Champion of Champions event due to ITV 4's Europa league commitments,but this was not to be,as a heated discussion among players,bloggers & Barry Hearn,brought to a head again the problems with the new flat 128 draw.

This latest flare up was sparked by an article in this months Snooker Scene magazine  where it was pointed out, in a major change in policy, that in future the defending champion,the world champion and the next two highest ranked players from the host country will have their first round matches held over to the main venue.Added to this the loser in these held old over matches will get an extra £2000,but this wont count towards their rankings.

This of course was sparked by the failure of Ding to qualify for both the Wuxi Classic & the International Championship,a situation which no doubt had a bearing on the attendance  at both these events,but it flies in the face of the level playing field for all,that the flat system was supposed to bring to our game.

This is the latest in a number of teething problems that this new system has encountered.To begin with both the Shanghai Masters & Australian Open both initially refused to play ball although the Australian Open will revert to it next year.

We then we had the situation with the UK Championship last years where the BBC insisted on some matches been kept back until they commenced broadcasting,which resulted in a long and confusing week of action which was hard to keep on top of for those of us trying our best too,never mind the casual snooker fan.

From here we went to the German Masters where,with a first round played before christmas in the UK we still had 64 players squeezed into a five day tournament,resulting in what was previously one of the most enjoyable  tournaments on the circuit becoming.for the first few days at least,a complete mess.

This was no the way it supposed to be. This flattening of the draw along with the new ranking system based on prizemoney earned,would make the sport the meritocracy that Barry Hearn had dreamt of.Unfortunately when you start meddling with the draw for commercial reasons that immediately goes out the window.

So what can be done?

Well one of the suggestions was to go back to the old system.I certainly don't think any player that was good enough was prevented from progressing in the game because of it,but just how it would tie in with the rankings based on prize money  is debatable.

Another suggestion is that all 128 players should be at the main tournament venue.This of course in principle sounds the perfect solution,but from a logistical point of view it would be almost impossible to bring about..Firstly you would need venues big enough to house all the matches before you even start to talk about the travelling costs involved for the players.Besides this is what we have now at York and last year made a dogs dinners of the UK Championship.

Another solution would be to reduce the number of professionals on tour to say 64,but I'm not sure many of the lower ranked players would agree with that.

These suggestions are of course only pie in the sky for the moment as I don't see things changing anytime soon. When this flat system was first mooted it did seem a solid idea on paper,but for me its now like one of those non state run schools where the children learn things like basket weaving alongside their normal school work and don't sit any state exams-Wonderful in principle but you still wouldn't take the chance on sending your child to one.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Victory for Walden & Champion of Champions preview

Ricky Walden yesterday produced his best snooker just when he needed it most to see off the challenge of Mark Allen yesterday and claim the £125,000 International Championship title.

In a match that took its time to get going it was Walden who took the the early initiative to lead 3-1,but Allen fought back taking four of the next five to lead 5-4 at the end of the first session.

In truth,although close the first session had not been of the highest quality but that changed in the evening session.Here once again it was Walden who started the the better taking the first three to go 7-5 ahead.As earlier though Allen fought back to level at 7-7 and a grandstand finish to rival those of the last two years here looked on the cards.However Walden was having none of it as he suddenly stepped up a gear.reeling of a string of big breaks to take the match 10-7.

This was the third ranking title of Waldens career and you couldn't but be impressed with the way he roared to victory in that last session.With the confidence gained here he will a handful for anyone he plays from here on out.

Finally though I must comment on the tournament as a whole.Obviously it was dealt a major blow when Ding failed to qualify,but even allowing for this the crowds were very disappointing.I do understand that in China the organizers of these events aren't as worried about this as we would be in this part of the world and that once the tv audiences are strong they are happy,but if this is really to become a tournament that is thought of alongside the games "Big Three"an atmosphere is an essential part of the mix.

Anyway after a couple of empty weeks the action comes thick and fast with the Champion of Champions starting today on ITV4.This event was a revelation last yr in its first outing with Ronnie O'Sullivan coming out on top.

This year the format is the same with a four groups of four playing out semi finals and final each day with the winners reaching the main semi finals at the weekend..

The one problem facing the organizers this year was a lack different of champions through the year so the numbers have been fleshed out by including Steve Davis as World senior Champion & Dominic Dale as Shootout winner as well as the highest ranked players who had not qualified by right.These include Ali Carter,who is making a welcome return to our screens following his brave battle with cancer during the summer.I join everyone else in the snooker world by wishing all the best here.

The format for the week is as follows

Monday Group Four
Ding Junhui v Dominic Dale
Barry Hawkins v John Higgins

Tuesday Group Two
Mark Selby v Steve Davis 
Judd Trump v Stephem Maguire

Wednesday Group One
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Stuart Bingham
Shaun Murphy v Marco Fu

Friday Group Three 
Neil Robertson v Ali Carter
Mark Allen v Rick Walden




Saturday, 1 November 2014

International Championship S/F round up

Ricky Walden will battle it out with Mark Allen tomorrow for the 2014 International Championship title,after both came through contrasting semi finals in Chengdu.

First man through yesterday was Ricky Walden who brought the run of  Robert Milkins to an end in pretty emphatic style by a scoreline of 9-2.

Walden was right out of the traps here,taking a 2-0 lead before Milkins got off the mark,but Walden restored his two frame lead to make it 3-1 at interval.On resumption Milkins closed to 3-2,but that to be the last time he troubled to scorer as a series of big breaks from Walden saw him pull away a comfortable victory.

The second semi final,played today could not have been more different as Mark Allen & Mark Williams played out a classic that went all the way to a deciding frame.

In a match played a break neck speed,It was Allen who started the better,going 2-0 with runs of 92 & 71 before two wonderful centuries (120 &!35) drew Williams level at 2-2.This really was snooker of the highest quality and there was to be no let up after the interval as the big breaks continued and Allen opened up a 5-3 lead to go into the evening session.

It the evening and no sign of things letting up as the frames rattled by at,what in the end was an average of 13 minutes a frame,but it was Allen who opened up a three frame lead to go 7-4.Williams though,obviously buoyed on by his victory over Ronnie,was playing some of his best snooker in quite some time and fought back to level things up at 7-7.

That looked like becoming 8-7 to Williams when he left Allen needing two snookers on the last red,but disaster struck for the Welshman as he hit the black on a failed escape & Allen cleared to regain the lead with the aid of a wonderful double on the black.

Williams though was not done yet and he produced another great break to level at 8-8 and give this match the grandstand finish it deserved.

Into that final frame then and after all that had gone before it was perhaps fitting that both players had their chances to win it,It was Allen who got in first,but it was Williams who looked to have the match at his mercy,only to miss the final red along the top cushion & Allen cleared to the pink to win this superb match 9-8.

This was snooker of the highest order and great as the win was for Allen,it was also nice to see Williams back to near his best.Hopefully it was a sign of things to come from the Welsh legend.

So there we have it. Ricky Walden & Mark Allen will battle it out tomorrow for over the best of 19 to claim the biggest tournament China has to offer. Lets hope we have a great final in front of a packed house.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

International Championship Quarter final round up.

Quarter finals day at The International Championship and today we got an answer to the,"who can stop Ronnie"? question I started each of my blogs with this week. It turned out to someone whose game he knew very well.

Coming out to play today Mark Williams knew that recent history was not on his side.12 years had past since he last was victorious against The Rocket and he would,no doubt, have gotten that old familiar feeling  today when Ronnie took an early 3-0 lead.This however was not the imperious O'Sullivan we had seen earlier in the week and Williams took full advantage to claw his way back.

In an extraordinary run of five frames which saw Ronnie produce a high break of just 27 Williams turned things right around to go within one of victory at 5-3.It was now all or nothing for Ronnie and to his credit he dug deep to produce his best snooker of the match to win the next two frames and force the decider.

Into that frame then and Williams was first in with a proper scoring chance,but on 50 fell out of position.From the resulting safety Ronnie doubled a red to get in but landed to close the the black and when he failed to pot it Williams produced a double of his own to claim a victory which has been a long time in the coming.

He will next face Mark Allen after the Ulsterman produced a fine comeback of his own to overturn a 3-1 deficit against Michael White to go through 6-3.Allen has been in fine form all season and will be looking here to reach his fourth final in recent monthes.

A player still hoping to reach his first final is Robert Milkins and he went one step closer to achieving that dream with a hard fought win over Marco Fu.This was a match that seemed to have decider written all over it from the beginning as they shared the first four frames to the interval 2-2.That became 3-3 and then 4-4 before Milkins moved to the brink at 5-4.Marco was not done for yet though and he leveled at 5-5 to force the decider,however Milkins would not be denied and  a 70 break saw him through 6-5.

In tomorrows semi final,he will face Ricky Walden who brought the run of Jamie Burnett to an end with a straight forward 6-1 win.

Things now change to two session best of 17 matches with a full match played each day.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

international Championship Last 16.

Last 16 day in Chengdu and the question remains the same, can anyone stop Ronnie O 'Sullivan claiming another big title?

One thing is for sure,if someone is to stop Ronnie,they are going to have to play very well.as what we have here this week is a very focused O'Sullivan,who is feeling more confident with every  match.Todays performance did't have the centuries that highlighted his victory over McGill yesterday,but the scoreline was the same. with "The Rocket" running out a comfortable 6-1 winner over Li Hang.

In the quarter final Ronnie will face a familiar foe in the shape of Mark Williams,who kept up his recent  good form winning the last three frames from 4-3 down to eventually see off Sam Baird 6-4.

The standout match on paper today was the clash between Stuart Bingham & Mark Allen. This,of course was a rematch of the recent Shanghai master final that Bingham won,but it was Allen who got the better start today,taking him to a 3-1 lead. Bingham though started to find some form and won the next three to lead 4-3.however Allen was not to be denied,running off a three in a row of his own,to seal a 6-4 win.

His opponent in the Quarters will be Michael White after the young Welshman continued his progress here with a 6-2 defeat of Ian Burns

In the bottom half of the draw,Joe Swail couldn't repeat his giant killing exploits from yesterday as he went down 6-4 to Ricky Walden.

Walden will next face Jamie Burnett who provided the one shock of the day,beating former world champion Peter Ebdon 6-2.

Marco Fu also kept on track for another final appearance in Chengdu after he finally saw off the dogged resistance of Rod Lawler to prevail 6-4 and set up a last 8 encounter with Rob Milkins who also beat Xiao Guodong 6-4.

So there we have  and after all the shocks of recent days we stil have some tasty matches to look forward to tomorrow.Lets hope a few more people show up at the venue to see them!

Last 8 draw
Michael White v Mark Allen
Mark Williams v Ronnie O'Sullivan
Ricky Walden v Jamie Burnett
Marco Fu v Robert Milkins