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Saturday, 19 April 2014

World Championship Day One

Day one at the 2014 World Championship and we started off the way last years championship finished,with a victory for Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Its one if the traditions in our sport of course ,that the defending champion completes his first match on the opening and it has often proved to be tricky in the past,but O'Sullivan put those fears to rest early here,quickly establishing a 3-0 lead,helped in part by a break of 124 before Robin Hull managed to get off the mark with a century of his own to make it 3-1

It looked like the Finn was going to pull another one back in the next,but Ronnie got the snooker he required on the yellow and cleared to go 4-1.From there the score was to go 5-1 before Hull got another frame on the board ,but Ronnie closed out the session,taking the final two frames to lead 7-2.

Into tonight then and it seemed Ronnie was mentally already in the next round as four scrappy frames before the interval were shared to leave it 9-2.On resumption of play,the end wasn't long coming as Ronnie wrapped up a comfortable 10-4 win which really taught us nothing other than that Ronnie is in Sheffield and brought his cue along.There will be far more testing days ahead in than this one.

Elsewhere Stephen Maguire has his work cut out for him if he is to advance to Round 2 as he trails Ryan Day 6-3 after their first session.The Scot, who has been struggling with a back injury of late,did get off to a good start here taking the opening frame before Day responded with a 130 break to level it up and the next two were also shared to go to the interval at 2-2

From here Days high quality break building continued as he moved to 4-2 before also taking a couple of scrappier ones to lead 6-2. These were now worrying times for Maguire,but he at least managed to keep himself in with a chance,winning the last to make it 6-3 & set up a big final session tomorrow evening.

Also finishing off tomorrow night,in what is already looking like it could be one of the sessions of the tournament,will be Shaun Murphy & Jamie Cope and this one couldn't be more delicately poised with Cope leading 5-4.

This was another high quality session and indeed Murphy will,probably with some justification,be wondering how he is behind having played some wonderful stuff,but behind he is having seen his 4-2 lead turn into a 5-4 deficit.

Another match with nothing in it is the clash between  Stuart Bingham and the 1997 champ Ken Doherty with Bingham also holding a slender 5-4 lead. The standard in this one wasn't of the highest order,but it was Bingham who took the early lead at 3-0. Doherty to his credit battled back to 3-2. Bingham made t 4-2 before Doherty pulled it back to 4-3 with a 91 before letting a couple of glorious chances to level it up slip through his hands as Bingham made it 5-3, Doherty did win the last to set things up nicely for their final session in the morning.

Finally in another match that is too close to call Ali Carter leads Crucible debutant Xiao Guodong 5-4.It was Carter who had taken the early initiative in this one leading 4-1 before the Chinese came back strong to level it up at 4-4.The final frame of the session could have gone either way,but it was Carter who took it to lead by the smallest of margins going into the second session tomorrow afternoon.

So concludes day one then and with all the above in mind,we seem set to be in for quite a day two tomorrow.

Friday, 18 April 2014

World Championship preview

Here we go then,after a wonderful week of drama at the qualifiers,we are now just one day away from the start of the tournament that most snooker fans have been  probably been looking forward to since we saw Ronnie hold aloft the trophy last May bank holiday Monday.

Firstly before I get into this preview a word on the qualifiers which this year provided as much excitement as any full tournament we've seen this season,with a raft of close finishes,including two respotted black ball deciders,Xiao Guodong,Kyren Wilson,Michael Wasley & Robbie Williams all coming through to make the Crucible for the first time and the ending of few era's with former champions Peter Ebdon & Mark Williams both failing to qualify,as well as Steve Davis falling off the main tour.

On to the main event then and what a difference a year makes.On the eve of last years championship the talk was of how would Ronnie O'Sullivan perform after a year out of the game.Well one year on and we now know that only did Ronnie show up in splendid form at The Crucible & claim his fifth World title,but also in his limited outings this season he has appeared in equally good form,claiming the titles at The Champion of Champions,The Masters & the Welsh Open.It is for this reason that he starts this years event as a very short priced favourite,Indeed it could be argued that this preview could end here as it may simply be the case that if he turns up in that sort of  form again, there is noone who can stop him. equaling the modern day efforts of Ray Reardon & Steve Davis & sealing a sixth world crown

So what if Ronnie isn't his peak here,who are the other contenders?Well the obvious place to start is with Ding Junhui,who,in Ronnies absence,has dominated the year,finally shaking off his inability to win on home soil and equaling the record held by Stephen Hendry of winning five ranking titles in a season. His record to date in the World Championship has been sketchy in the past,but he did reach a semi final here three years ago and is arguably playing better now than ever.If he and Ronnie both win through their sections,they will meet in the semi final & what a prospect that would be,

The other man who has grabbed the headlines this season has been Neil Robertson as he has smashed the centuries in a season record & still holds an outside chance of making it a century of centuries in the season. For all that though and despite winning the UK Championship,i'm sure he would swap all records for a couple more titles to his name.Also of late he has shown a few signs of burnout from a busy year & although he deserves great credit for his battling efforts to defend his China Open title recently,reaching the final despite suffering from the flu,he may regret that trip now and I just don't see this being his year.

If Robertson has been struggling a little of late,that and more applies to Mark Selby who has had,for the most part,a season to forget.The successes he has had have been more down to his battling qualities than any sort of form and unless this improves drastically  it would be a shock if he could grind his way to the title.

Other players of note are 2005 champ Shaun Murphy who has been in fine form of late,but you feel would have to step it up again for a potential QF with Ronnie.John Higgins who of course has been successful over course and distance four times,but of late despite showing some signs of revival has also just started to throw in that odd unexpected miss that seems to curse great players just as their game begins to go into decline.& Judd Trump who comes here completely under the radar after a quite season,but may very well be the player who emerges from the section of the draw including Stephen Maguire, Mark Allen & Robertson.

AS you may have gathered from the above I really can't see past Ronnie O'Sullivan here but anything can happen & I'm sure every player who walks down those famous Crucible steps into the arena will firmly believe they can be the last man standing come May 5th.

Recommended Bets.
John Higgins to win his quarter 7/2
Judd Trump to win his quarter  2/1

Full first round draw

Top half
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Robin Hull
Joe Perry v Jamie Burnett
Shaun Murphy v Jamie Cope
Marco Fu v Martin Gould
Barry Hawkins v David Gilbert
Ricky Walden v Kyren Wilson
Mark Davis v Dominic Dale
Ding Junhui v Michael Wasley

Bottom half
Mark Selby v Michael White
Ali Carter v Xiao Guodong
John Higgins v Alan McManus
Stuart Bingham v Ken Doherty
Judd Trump v Tom Ford
Stephen Maguire v Ryan Day
Mark Allen v Michael Holt
Neil Robertson v Robbie Williams

Friday, 11 April 2014

Steve Davis relegated from the tour.

At a time approaching 1am,in a venue within walking distance of The Crucible Theatre,the final curtain fell,(for now at least) on the 36 year professional career of Steve Davis,as he bowed out of the World Championship qualifiers,going down 10-8 to Craig Steadman.

Coming in to this Steve knew he was in the position that to remain in the top 64 in the rankings he needed to at least win his way through one qualify round,but sadly that proved beyond him.That is not to say he went down without a fight,indeed having trailed at one stage 9-5 he showed all the experience and ringcraft that 36 yrs on the tour gives you to grind his way back to 9-8. Both players at this stage were nearly out on their feet,but in the end a missed green to the middle from Steve was to prove the key moment as Steadman potted green,brown & blue to seal the victory.

With the battle to stay on tour becoming so tight in recent months,you have to wonder,though he is unlikely to admit it publicly,does Steve now regret foregoing his place in the UK Championship and a couple of PTCs before it in favour of doing "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here".Yes it could be argued that he still had plenty of chances to make up the ground on his return,but the pressure had by then increased and it was always going to be a big ask.So it proved here.

So what now for the 56 year old six times former World Champion? Well if as he has stated in recent he wishes to continue to play until he is 60 he still has a couple of options he can pursue.Firstly he could enter Q school in May with the prize for those who qualify of a two year tour card or alternatively he can enter all next seasons PTC events as an amateur and regain he place through the order of merit.

It is therefore unlikely,even if he is not a professional right now,that we have heard to last of Steve Davis as a snooker player,but even so as I watched him pack away his cue at 1 am last night,the hint of a tear falling from my eye,it certainly felt like the end of an era

Sunday, 6 April 2014

China Open Final .Ding wins again.

Ding Junhui's remarkable season continued today in Beijing as he beat Neil Robertson 10-5 to claim the 2014 China Open title and with it equal Stephen Hendry's record of five ranking titles in a single season.

The feeling coming into this one was that the start was probably more important to Robertson than Ding as coming after a week where the Aussie had come through illness and some tough matches,it was questionable if he would have enough in the tank to raise it again if he fell behind. With that in mind,the match couldn't have started worse for him as Ding came out of the blocks fast with breaks of 87 & 61 helping him go 3-0 up.

Robertson won the next to but Ding again asserted to win the next three to lead 6-1.Robertson did at least manage to win the eighth frame with a 102 break to move his seasons total to 93 and keep alive his hopes of the century of centuries,but Ding also took the last of the session to lead 7-2.

Robertson took the opening frame of the night to make it 7-3 ,but a 104 quickly established Dings five frame lead,before the next two were shared leaving the Chinese on the brink at the interval leading 9-4.Robertson won the first after the interval,but Ding was not to be denied taking the next to claim the title 10-5.

Where do you start when summing up this achievement by Ding. Last season when we had 10 different winners of the seasons ranking titles the word was that in this modern era we would never see a time where one player dominated again.I think that theory has been well and truly blown out of the water by this season.

What is perhaps even more impressive about this run by Ding is that for so many seasons the pressure of playing in China seemed to strangle him,to the point we wondered if he he would ever give his home fans the victories they craved. Well three ranking titles on home soil this season have put that fear to bed.

So one more tournament remains of this 2013/14 season and its the big  at the Crucible in two weeks. It seems strange that a man who has won five ranking titles wont be going there as a heavy favourite for the title,but that says more about  the way Ronnie O'Sullivan has blown everyone away the last two years than anything else.That said these two are in the same half of the draw and so could meet in the semi finals.If there is to be any slip from Ronnie,Ding could very well be the one to capitalize on it.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

China Open Semi Finals round up + Final preview

The final of 2014 China Open will see two of the players who have forged the narrative of this season square off against each other as ,defending champion Neil Robertson takes on,four time ranking winner this season Ding Junhui for the top prize of £ 85,000.

I'd say if anyone told Neil Robertson last Monday that he would be in the final tomorrow he would have laughed at them,such was the state of his health as he battled the flu,but to his credit he battled for every ball all week and in the last two days has seemed to be back to something approaching normality.The manner of his victory today over Ali Carter will certainly be a tonic to him.

As Robertson fought his demons earlier in the week the matches were characterized by scrappy frames,but that wasn't the case here,as breaks of 69,79 & 70 saw him open up a 4-0 lead.Carter briefly rallied after the interval,taking the fifth on the black having come from well behind & the closing to 4-2 with a break of 106 .This revival was to prove short lived however a 67 break moved  Robertson to 5-2 & he cleared to win the next and seal his final place with a 6-2 victory.

His final opponent will be home favourite Ding Junhui after the Chinese brought the fairytale run of Mike Dunn to an end with a comfortable 6-0 win. Ding was not at his free flowing best here,but in truth he didn't have to be,as Dunn failed to take advantage of any scoring chances that came his way.

This all of course wont matter the Ding whose remarkable season rolls on.This will be his sixth ranking final of the season and with four already in the bag he will really be up for the fight to equal Hendrys record of five in a season.Strangely,considering for how long playing at home seemed to weigh heavily on his shoulders,the fact that this final will be before such an enthusiastic crowd may well help him achieve this.

For that reason,plus the fact that I feel Robertsons exertions this week will have to eventually take there toll I'm going for a Ding win by a score of something around 10-6

Friday, 4 April 2014

China Open Quarter Finals Day

Quarter final day at the 2014 China Open and despite the fact we had the defending champion as well as the local hero in action there is really only one place we can start.

Mike Dunn has been a professional for the last 23 years,but up to this week had never before gotten beyond the last 16 of a ranking event.That however is now no longer the case as the 42 year old today overcame World no.2 Mark  Selby 5-3 to record what is surely the biggest win of his career & reach the semi finals.

There was little sign of what was to come early on as Selby,despite losing the opening frame,produced runs of 51 & 68 to take a 2-1 lead, From here things got a little scrappy and Dunn took the next two on the black before Selby won another close frame to level it up a 3-3. From here Dunn produced his highest break of the match,a 63,to lead 4-3 and he held himself together to take a lengthy eighth frame to seal a famous victory.

His reward for this is a semi final against the home favourite Ding Junhui after the Chinese once again delighted his fans with a 5-2 win over Mark King.

It was Ding who raced out of the blocks in this one to go into an early 3-0 thanks to breaks of 53,67 & 69.King to his credit battled back,taking the next two to make it 2-3,but it was Ding who again pulled away to secure the win.

In the other half of the draw a slightly healthier looking Neil Robertson held off a gritty fightback from Graeme Dott to take his place in the semi finals with a 5-3 win.The first couple of frames were shared in this one before Robertson opened up a 3-2 lead at the interval. The fifth frame appeared to be the pivotal moment of the match after Dott,having forced a respot surrendered it easily allowing Robertson to go 4-1 ahead.

Dott as we know though is a fighter and he quickly took the next two frames to close to 4-3.He also had a decent scoring chance in the next ,but failed to make most of it and defending champion Robertson moved one step closer to retaining his crown sealing the win 5-3.

Robertson's semi final opponent will be Ali Carter,who is doing his best here this week to finish a difficult season on a high.Today he faced Ricky Walden and looked in fine touch as breaks of 61,51 & 75 saw him open up a 3-1 interval lead. Walden did come out the stronger on the resumption,but having seen the score go 3-3 it was Carter who once again pulled away to win 5-3.

So now we have four men remaining in the hunt for the title and although logic dictated that we are looking at a Roberson v Ding final,we have seen many stranger things happen in this game to allow us be able to state that with any confidence.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

China Open Last 16 round up.

Eight players still remain in the  hunt for the 2014 China Open after todays action in Beijing.

Among them,somehow is the defending champion Neil Robertson who,despite still suffering from a flu like virus,showed a deep desire to defend his title by coming through in another final frame decider 5-4,this time against Yu Delu.So obvious is his discomfort that I don't think any snooker fan would have thought any less of him for pulling out of this event,but to his great credit he has battled for every frame in every match and although it hasn't been pretty at times,he is still here.

He will face another test of his resolve in the next round where he faces Graeme Dott after the Scot beat young Belgian star Luca Brecel 5-2. 

Home favourite Ding Junhui produced probably the best snooker of the tournament so far when he beat JOhn Higgins 5-2 to book his quarter final place, The score here could have been a lot closer,but for a Higgins miss on frame ball yellow as he tried to level things up at 3-3.Ding pounced to clear to make it 4-2 and never looked back as he sealed victory in the next with a classy break of 124.

He will now face mark King who brought the fine run of Jamie O'Neil to an end,beating him in the end 5-3.

Ricky Walden also produced a fine performance to get past recent World Open Champion Shaun Murphy 5-3 and he will now play Ali Carter who put his seasons struggles behind him to beat Peter Ebdon also by a scoreline

Elsewhere Mark Selby ended the hopes of Jimmy White beating the veteran 5-1,a scoreline which doesn't do justice to how close some of the frames were,and he will now meet  Mike Dunn who beat Craig Steadman 5-3.

Quarter Finals Draw
Ricky Walden v Ali Carter
Neil Robertson v Graeme Dott
Mike Dunn vMark Selby
Ding Junhui v Mark King