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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

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Welsh Open. 2015 The headlines so far.

The 2015 Welsh Open in Cardiff has over the last three days whittled its way down from 128 to the  16 who will battle it out tomorrow for a place in the quarter finals.

Before we talk about those who are left in.lets have a quick round up of those big names who will be absent.The biggest of these absentees  will be the defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan,who crashed out 4-3 to home favourite Matthew Stevens.

Ronnie's comments about the changes to this years tournament were well documented earlier in the week and you certainly get the feeling that although every defeat hurts,this wasn't a tournament Ronnie was particularly enjoying,so he will probably get over it pretty quickly.

Also missing from the latter stages will be The Masers champion Shaun Murphy who went down 4-3 to Jamie Jones earlier in the week and Ding Junhui whose alarming slump in form continued with w shock 4-1 first round exit here at the hands of Lee Walker.

So enough of those who are gone,who is left?

Well, world champ Mark Selby is still very much in the hunt for back to back ranking titles,but only after surviving a real scare at the hands of Peter Ebdon coming through in the end 4-3 and he will next face Luca Brecel,who has enjoyed his best run in quite some time this week.

Neil Robertson was another big name to edge through in a decider,beating Jamie Cope 4-3 and will next face Gary Wilson,who beat Joe Perry 4-2.

A home victory is still very much a possibility after Mark Williams won the battle of the home players with a 4-2 win over Jamie Jones and he will next face Judd Trump who had to battle hard to get past Michael Wasley 4-2

AS I said above Matthew Stevens is also keeping the home flag flying and he will hope to be able to follow up on his victory over Ronnie with another big performance against Marco Fu in the last 16.

Elsewhere John Higgins has eased the pressure on his ranking a little with a fine run here & was impressive tonight in beating Liang Wenbo 4-1.He'll next play Michael Georgiou who shocked the 2006 world champ Graeme Dott,going through in the end 4-3.

Ben Woollaston & Ali Carter both came through deciders against Mark Allen & Matt Selt to set up there last 16 clash

The other two last 16 matches will see an all Scottish affair as Stephen Maguire face Alan McManus & an all English one a Sturat Bingham plays Ricky Walden

The action continues tomorrow with th first of the matches starting a 1pm.

Heres the full Last 16 draw

Matthew Stevens v Marco Fu
Mark Williams v Judd Trump
Ben Woollaston v Ali Carter
Gary Wilson v Neil Robertson
Michael Georgiou v John Higgins
Stephen Maguire v Alan McManus
Stuart Bingham v Ricky Walden
Luca Brecel v Mark Selby

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The German Masters. Selby The Champion.

Mark Selby is the 2015 German Masters champion after coming from 5-2 down to beat Shaun Murphy 9-7 in front of  capacity crowd at the Tempodrom in Berlin.

This was the first ranking title of the season for Selby and marked a timely return to the form that saw him battle his way to that first world title last May.

For Murphy its brought an end to the remarkable run he has enjoyed so far in 2015,but he wont be too disappointed by another fine week that saw him come through some real battles and finally lay his "Ronnie" ghost to rest.

The match itself was a real topsy-turvy affair with Selby taking a 2-1 lead before Murphy started to show the form that had brought him such great success of late to move into a 5-2 lead.He was also looking good in the next,but Selby managed to nick it to finish the afternoon session just the two behind at 5-3.

Into the night and the importance of that last frame began to show its signifigance as Selby quickly got into stride,taking the first two to level at 5-5 & then the next two to make go 7-5 ahead.

In each of his previous three matches here this week Murphy had gone through a four frame losing sequence only to rally to victory and it looked as though that may be happening here again as on the resumption of play following the interval.he took the next two to make it 7-7.

The 15th frame was a lengthy affair,but it eventually went to Selby and he made the most of his chances in the next to claim a 9-7 victory.

This was a win that looked unlikely early in the week when a tired Selby arrived in \Germany on the eve of the event having competed in a Pool tournament in China which only concluded on Monday. The wisdom of a world champion,struggling for form heading to China to play Pool a week before a big tournament was something I questioned openly during the week and had he lost that opening match decider against McGill such criticism may well have been justified.

This though is Mark Selby and as we have seen so often in the past,he has deep reserves of stamina and determination of the like we have rarely seen before.Added to that now the confidence a win like this brings and he will be hard to beat wherever he plays over the next few months ,building towards World title defence in April.

As for the tournament itself,well what can you say about an event that is so enthusiastically and respectfully greeted by the home fans.Anyone watching tonight could only have got goosebumps listening to the reception the players got entering this massive arena.If there is one minor flaw it is that we only have one tv table and so the viewers at home missed out on some great matches on the outer tables.I'm not sure if this is something that can be rectified in the future or what can be changed ,but maybe the only way to do is to stretch out into another day and thus get down to the one table for the quarter finals on..

Finally I must say a word about the Eurosport coverage. The channel has been a real Godsend for snooker fans now for many years with their continued loyalty to the sport and this week they decided to take that to the next level with a studio panel to discuss the matches. The panel itself consisted of the excellent Neal Foulds as well as Jimmy White & occasionally when available Ronnie O'Sullivan.These three were all excellent,but sadly for me,their good work  was overshadowed by the poor choice of presenter in Colin Murray.

Murray has been on our screens in various guises now for a number of years and is one of these modern  "Adrian Chiles" type presenters that modern tv  producers seem to love.I have to say I found his chumsy old pals act cringeworthy at times and I don't think that it is suited to our game.This a real pity because as I said the others were all excellent.

Anyway this is only my opinion and I'm sure many would disagree.As for the snooker roadshow  it rolls on this week with the conclusion of the Championship League & next weekend the start of the Welsh Open.