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Sunday, 22 April 2018

World Championship Day Two Round Up

Day two at The Crucible and after all the drama of yesterday, which saw the elimination of the top seed Mark Selby, all eyes were on this mornings session to see if no.2 seed Ronnie O'Sullivan was going to follow him.

It was way back in 1982 that we last saw both top seeds go out in the first round & Ronnie showed that he was in no mood to see it repeated here as he flew out of the traps. Trailing Maguire 6-3 overnight,a 3-1 mini session was the least he could afford and that is exactly what he got with \Maguire only taking to last before the interval to hold the slimmest of advantages at 7-6.

That was to be as good as it got for Maguire though as Ronnie reeled off the next four when they resumed to seal a 10-7 victory.

So the stat books can be put away for now and maybe the most impressive thing about Ronnies display was the way he dug in when things got tough. That can only bode well for his chances here over the next fortnight.For now he can enjoy a couple of days rest before a second round clash with Ali Carter.

Carter had also started the day trailing 6-3 to Graeme Dott,but just like Ronnie he got going quickly to level it up at 6-6.These two have a history of close matches and one of those tight,dramatic Crucible finishes looked on the cards here as they traded blows over the next four frames to make it 8-8.

Carter though had looked the more likely to score in the balls all day & that proved to be the deciding factor as runs of 56 & 63 saw him over the finish line 10-8.

In other matches to finish today Lyu Haotian made it a Crucible debut to remember as he swept to a 10-5 victory over Marco Fu.

Starting with a 6-3 overnight lead, the 20 year old Chinese was in no mood for a long night as he took the opening two frames to lead 8-3. Fu to his credit never gave up though and thoughts of his amazing comeback against Brecel here last year started to resurface as he closed to 8-5.There was to be no fairytale comeback this time though as Lyu impressively closed out the match with runs of 79 & 61.

He can now look forward to a second round match against either Hawkins or Carrington. As for Fu, hopefully the summer can see a return to full health for someone who is a class act on and off the table.

Also through to the last 16 is Kyren Wilson who carried a 7-2 lead over Matthew Stevens into tonights session & quickly dispatched an under the weather opponent 10-3.

Elsewhere in matches that started out today, Masters champ Mark Allen will be delighted to hold a 6-3 advantage over a potentially dangerous opponent in Liam Highfield,but Shaun Murphy wont be sleeping quite so easy after letting an early advantage slip to only hold a 5-4 lead overnight against Jamie Jones

They will both finish tomorrow where we also see four more matches starting out including the campaign of Chinese no.1 Ding junhui.


Saturday, 21 April 2018

World Championship Day One Round Up

Day one at the 2018 world championship & if the next 16 days are as dramatic as this one we are in for one hell of a tournament.

There really is only one place to start and that is with the news that we will be crowning a new world champion, as Mark Selby's two year iron grip on the title came to an end at the hands of Joe Perry.

Selby has had,by his standards,a poor season,but having produced something like his best form in capturing the China Open two weeks,it seemed that once again he was peaking at the right time.Still though I couldn't shake the feeling that if he were going to be vulnerable here then it would be in the early rounds and so it was to prove.

Last year on the opening morning Selby steamrolled a clearly tired Fergal O'Brien,but signs were on it here early on that this would not be as straight forward, as Perry flew out of the traps to lead 4-0 going to the first mid session interval.Such is the reputation that Selby gained for himself over the years, that when he put the next two on the board to close to 4-2 when they resumed, it seemed that it may be a case of panic averted. Perry though was cuing superbly and runs of 59,84 & 109 moved him 7-2 clear at the end of the session.

A major story was now brewing and when Perry took the opener of the night session to extend that lead to 8-2, victory seemed all but assured, Selby though had one more bit of fight in him and with the enormity of what was happening seeming to suddenly dawn on Perry, Selby battled to the next two to close to 8-4. If at this stage he could have also taken the next to get within three at the interval,then maybe we may have had a different story,but instead Perry dug in to take the next with a run of 76 to move within one of victory at 9-4 & he sealed a famous win when they resumed, the score for the record 10-4.

A miserable day for Selby then in what, bar a couple of exceptions, has been a miserable season. It will be interesting to see how he responds next season without the weight of the world crown on his shoulders. For now though we must concentrate on the present and Joe Perry can look forward to round 2 clash with Allen or Highfield.

With that story developing from the morning,all eyes were on the other hot favourite for the title, Ronnie O'Sullivan when he started out against Stephen Maguire  this afternoon and "The Rocket" has a bit of work to do when they resume in the morning.

Just like in the Selby match the underdog took an early 4-0 lead here,but helped by back to back centuries Ronnie fought back to within one at 4-3. Maguire though  took the last two of the session to go clear again at 6-3.They play to a finish in the morning and by lunchtime tomorrow we may well be looking at a championship with both the hot favourite eliminated.

Elsewhere we also have two other seeds in real danger of going out at the first hurdle as Marco Fu & Ali Carter each trail 6-3 at the end of their respective first sessions.

Fu of course has been out of the game in recent times with serious eye problems and will need all his
years of experience if is to turn it around against the Chinese debutant Lyu Haotian,who joined the exclusive list of player to make a century in their first Crucible session.

Carters opponent comes from the other end of the experience spectrum and it will take some effort from him to come back against the 2006 champ Graeme Dott.

The one seed who looks comfortable is Kyren Wilson who holds a commanding 7-2 lead over Matthew Stevens.

So that was day one and all eyes tomorrow will be on the morning session to see if Ronnie can keep his hopes of a sixth title alive. If he can't then we are looking at possibly the most open championship in history.

Friday, 20 April 2018

World Championships 2018 Preview

Well after a season of ups & downs,with a few breakthrough performances,some of the games bigger names struggling,but mostly the dominance of the "class of '92",who refuse to go away,we arrive at Sheffield with 32 players still dreaming of lifting the famous trophy come the first Monday in May.

The Favourites
If the betting is to be believed this years championship is a two horse race between Ronnie O'Sullivan & Mark Selby. Ronnie comes here on the back of what on paper has been his best ever season with 5 ranking titles already under his belt.He has at times been simply unplayable & perhaps more significantly he seems to have found a perfect balance in his life on and off the table which is key for him.If he can produce that sort of form again here surely a sixth world crown is well within range.

While Ronnie this season has cemented his place as the games greatest ever exponent,talk of Mark Selby deserving a place among the all time greats quietened down as he endured a season to forget.He did win the International Championship in November,but there followed a series of early round exits as he struggled to get a foothold in any tournament. This was until of course the newly revamped China Open a fortnight ago,where after a slow start in the early rounds,he suddenly clicked into gear to clinch the title with a run of impressive displays,to put himself right on target to launch his title defence here.

If Selby is to be vulnerable here it may well be in the early rounds again,with a potential 2nd round clash with Mark Allen on the cards.If he  gets through to the second week he will take a bit of stopping again.

The Contenders
Though if I'm honest I would be shocked if neither of these two made the final,the level below them in the betting, we have a few hoping to take advantage of any slip ups that may occur.

This season has also seen those two other greats from "'92",John Higgins & Mark Williams enjoy some title success,with Williams in particular playing his best snooker in many seasons.I just wonder though,great as they've been this year if either still has another world title in them.Higgins came here last year in probably better form than he does this,but just couldn't see it out in a final its hard to think a few years ago he would have lost.That was a big blow to him & I'm not sure he believes himself he can win another one.

Williams too for all his brilliance this year has also had those odd bad days from nowhere & its hard to imagine him getting through  here without one awful session that may wipe his chances.

Third in the betting on many lists is Judd Trump,who has had only an ok season by his lofty standards.His problem has seemed at times to be that he is in a rush to beat everybody and once someone starts to dig in against him,his confidence appears to be so fragile that he can't handle it.If he can get it together a good run is possible,but I'd fear for him again against any of the games real match players.

You can't look through the contenders without considering Ding Junhui,who was runner up here two
years ago and was arguably the best player in last years championship.He seems to be putting some eye issues early in the season behind him & I wouldn't be surprised if he made another bold attempt here again.

If we're considering Trump  & Ding then we have to also look at our Masters champion Mark Allen.For many years people had Allen down as a potential "Major" winner and he finally fulfilled that potential last January & though his form since then has nose dived slightly,he will come here with some confidence & wont be intimidated by that potential round 2 clash with Selby.

A player with great course and distance form in recent years is Barry Hawkins,who has finally started to find some form in recent months after an understandably poor season coming on the back of a family tragedy last year.Looking at the draw it wouldn't be a surprise to see reach another semi final here,but I would be surprised if he went further than that.

Elsewhere I suppose we have to mention the likes of former champions Shaun Murphy & Neil Robertson, but both come here with season disrupted by various off the the tale issues & again it would be a surprise to see them involved at the business end.

Outside of the players listed above,there may well be someone who will shock us all,but I can't find them!

Here are a few recommended bets for a bit of financial interest.
First round Lucky 15
Lyu Haotian 13/8
Graeme Dott 5/4
Ricky Walden 11/10
Jack Lisowski 6/4

Ding to win his quarter 5/2
Outright betting: Mark Allen e/w 28/1

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Masters -A few other talking points

As Mark Allen wakes up this morning as the sports latest Triple Crown winner and the dust settles on another great Masters tournament,here are a few other things that might be worth thinking about from the week.

1.The worrying form of Mark Selby.
When Selby won his third world title last May and more or less cemented his place at the top of the rankings for the foreseeable ,there was a clamour to get his face chiselled on our sports fictional Mt Rushmore alongside Davis,Hendry,O'Sullivan & Higgins, such talk has been proven to be a bit premature as,apart from his International Championship win,it has largely been a season to forget.A decision not to enter the NI Open to prepare for the UK Championship backfired when he exited in the second round, & another early bath here have left him with a little bit to prove in the coming months.That said he has done it before & I probably still see him as the most probable world champion again come this May.

2.Ding's slump continues.
Going back again to last years world championship and although Selby was the victor,there is a real argument so say that Ding was actually the best player in that tournament. A victory in the World Open in September seemed to be the perfect start to the season for him,but since then he has really struggled. Of course there is a genuine excuse,as he developed an eye infection,which was is obviously debilitating to a snooker player,but he just looked a bit resigned here last week.Hopefully this was not a sign of things to come & he can get his spark back,because in full flow there are few better players to watch building a break.

3.The class of '92 still a force in the game.
As we had already seen this season,with all three in the winner enclosure,Ronnie, Higgins & Williams are not quite done with the game yet and here again they proved that with, Williams beating Selby,Higgins reaching the semi final & Ronnie's demolition of Fu in the first round. We also saw in their defeats that they are all just reaching the poor performance from nowhere stage,but you would certainly be surprised if at least one of these three didn't lift another trophy before seasons end.

4.Trump still has a lot to learn
Back in 2011,when Trump reached the world final I will admit I was among those who thought we were witnessing the emergence of the games next dominant force.That seemed to be confirmed later that year when he lifted the UK title and into the 2012 Masters where he defeated Ronnie in the quarter finals,his star just seemed to be rising & rising.Then came the semi final against Robertson,where its widely accepted that the wily Aussie did a number on him & I think there we have the Trump career "butterfly moment"I fully believe had he won that title we would now be looking at a multiple Triple Crown instead of someone who has had a good career,but one that promised so much more.

There is of course still time for him to turn it around,but he will need to improve on the attitude he has shown in recent times.Far too often from him we have seen a glass chin when someone is coming back at him and the way he seems to have decided to combat this is by trying to force his way over the line, for a perfect example of this,look back at the red he took on when leading Wilson 5-2 on Saturday.For some time I've felt that Trump would benefit greatly from getting a few people in his corner who will tell him what he needs to hear rather than what he wants to hear.Listening to his rather petulant display in his post match press conference has only further convinced me that that is the case.

5 Where are the great young talents?
One of the reasons I saw Trump as the next dominant force was the apparent lack of top talent coming behind him and  the fact that in 2018,Wilson became the first Triple Crown finalist born in the 90's,rather proves that point. Hendry made a comment last week that he can't see where the next multiple Major/20 time ranking winner is coming from and its hard not to see his point. On evidence to date it seems inevitable that we will be looking to China to produce that next champion. I think we are now heading for a period of transition in the sport in the coming years as the greats we are used to slowly drop away with as yet no obvious replacements coming through.

Finally once again we return to the table condition at a major tournament.In recent years,I think particularly in the big BBC events we have seen pockets that were certainly on the generous side.Its even got to the stage where the commentators aren't even bothering to trot out the old "much tighter than club pockets"defence.To my mind this seemed to all start around the time that our bookmaker sponsors started putting up charity money for century breaks to be broken.That may be a coincidence,and I genuinely hope this is a table fitting problem & not a policy decision taken in the mistaken belief that all snooker fans want to see are big breaks flying in.It must be said after all the talk early week here,the changing of the cushions seemed to alleviate the issue somewhat.

So anyway these are just my few thoughts on the last week.Feel free to comment or add some of your own to these.From here for the pros,its onto the China open qualifiers,which have taken on added significance with yesterdays prize money announcement,

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Final.

Mark Allen tongight claimed the  2018 Masters title after a hard fought 10-7 final victory over Kyren Wilson.

Allen,the world no.8 has been the standout player here all week,making the stage his own with some fabulous displays in the previous rounds and again doing so today when it mattered most.

The match itself wont go down as a classic in terms of quality ,but boy did both these players battle hard,neither leaving anything on the table.

A close match was always on the cards you felt and with the first session shared at 4-4,we were set tonight for a grandstand finish.

Here it was Wilson who struck first,winning lengthy first of the session to go 5-4,but Allen seemed to settle into rhythm the quicker, taking the next three to the interval to lead 7-5.

When he also took the next in two scoring visits,it looked as though he might run away with it,but Wilson showed against Trump yesterday that he relishes a battle & bravely fought back to within one again at 8-7.

Allen though would not be denied & he took the next two to seal a famous 10-7 win.

In doing so,he became the third player from Northern Ireland,after Alex Higgins & Denis Taylor to lift the masters title & the fact its 40 years after Higgins did it makes it all the more special for him.

As for Wilson,he showed again here this week just what a talent he is and also what a dedicated professional he is.He also just seems like a real nice fella and you hope this experience will push him to the next level in the sport,competing for titles on a regular basis

The final word must go to Mark Allen though.I have stated on many occasions that I thought The Masters was the Major he had the best chance of winning,but over the years he has been unlucky to so often lose narrowly to players playing at their absolute peak.Listening to his podcast interview with Dave Hendon during the week,he talked about the ease with which he won his first ranking final & how in a way, he'd have preferred it to go close to see how he could withstand the pressure. Well tonight,on one of the games biggest stages he  did just that & who is to say this wont be the victory to catapult him to the very top of the game.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Masters Semi Final Round Up.

A thrilling day of semi final action at the "Ally Pally" has left us with one guarantee and that is that we will be adding new name to The Masters roll of honour tomorrow, as Mark Allen faces Kyren Wilson for the £200,000 top prize.

It seems strange when you consider there is only two years between them,but in terms of experience it very much seemed "an old master against the young pretender "scenario as Judd Trump faced off against Kyren Wilson in the first of the semi finals today.

This was of course Wilson's first experience of a major semi final and the pressure seemed to be getting to him early on here as he struggled to keep the cue ball under control .Trump was well worth the  3-1 lead he took to the interval.

Wilson did look to be finding his range when they resumed with an 81 closing the gap to 3-2,but Trump took full advantage  of his chances in the next two to pull clear again 5-2.

At this stage two things were needed for Wilson to get back into the match,firstly he needed to start taking his chances & also he needed Trump to make mistakes,amazingly in an extraordinary hour of snooker both these things were to happen.

Into frame eight still with the match at his mercy Trump took on a very low percentage pot on a red,missed it and in doing so spread the pack far & wide.This was the sort of gift wrapped opportunity Wilson wanted and he duly cleared to make it 5-3.That quickly became 5-4 & then 5-5 as he forced decider  without Trump potting ball for over 30 minutes.

Into the decider then & it was Trump who got in first,but he could only make 23 before breaking down The crucial moment was to come a few shots later though as,faced with an awkward safety from the side cushion,Trump had what can only be described as a rush of blood to the head.With a few safety options available he for some reason,best known to himself, took on a near impossible plant.The resulting miss presented Wilson with the chance he needed and he calmly knocked in a 71 to seal a famous 6-5 win.

A great victory for Wilson then in what is only his second appearance at the Masters,as for Trump you have to wonder at this stage if he will ever reach the heights that his talent deserves.

The second semi final had a lot to live up to as Mark Allen ,fresh from his victory over Ronnie in the previous round,faced another of the all time greats in John Higgins.

For the longest time I've felt that if there was a "Major" win in Allen,that it would be the Masters and after losing the opener here,he quickly found his stride again to lead 3-1 t the interval.

Higgins reached a career landmark when they resumed,as he hit the 700 career century mark with a fine 131 that more importantly got him within one at 3-2,but Allen responded to take the next two to move to the brink at 5-2.

There was still time for Higgins to get his 701st century (a 127),but there was to be no repeat of this afternoons heroics as Allen took the next to seal his final place 6-3.

So not the final many would have predicted at the start of the week,but what a fascinating match up it promises to be. Both have shown in different ways that they are well able for the pressures that these occasions bring and I wouldn't be surprised to see this one go late into the evening tomorrow.That sai,if forced to pick a winner I think I'll give the edge to Allen on experience alone.It will be close though and maybe,20 yrs after one of the games most famous final frame deciders we could be in for another one tomorrow.

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Masters Day 6 Round Up.

Day 6 at The Masters and after the shocks of yesterday,today we saw two of the games real big guns bring it to the table

First up this afternoon we had a real mouthwatering clash between two of the players who have been enjoying a fair deal of success this season,as Judd Trump faced Shaun Murphy.

The attacking prowess of these two players is well known,but perhaps the fact that the elimination of Ronnie from the tournament yesterday has turned peoples attention to the other contenders was weighing on both their minds as the opening exchanges were scrappier than we would have expected.

Scrappy as they were though,those sort of frames still have to be won and was Trump who took the early initiative to go the interval leading 3-1.

Murphy took the first when they resumed to close to 3-2,but it was this point that this one really started to catch fire .

Trump was the first to find his spark with a run of 91 to lead,4-2,but back came Murphy with breaks of 95 &59 to level it up at 4-4.

The momentum now seemed to be with Murphy,but Trump was not done with yet,as he saved his best till last with two classy breaks of 111 & 113 to claim a 6-4 win.

I don't think i;m being unfair when I say in similar situations in the past Trump has shown himself to have a bit of a glass chin,so he will be pleased with how he finished this off when the pressure came on. He will come out tomorrow afternoon as a warm favourite to beat Kyren Wilson and reach his first Masters final.

The one anomaly on the otherwise glittering CV of John Higgins,is the fact that he has only two Masters titles to his name,but maybe that is a record he could put straight here this weekend after producing a typical Higgins display to dispatch Ryan Day in the last of the quarter finals here tonight.

After watch his fellow "class of 92"legends exit the tournament yesterday Higgins would have been all the more determined to avoid the same fate and duly took the opener.

Day responded with an 83 to level at 1-1,but that was a good as it got for the Welshman Higgins found another gear,knocking in breaks of 61,63,65113 & 80 to run out a convincing 6-1 winner.
He will now face Mark Allen tomorrow night in what promises to be a cracker.

So a great semi final Saturday in store and here are predictions for what should be two tightly contested matches

Score Predictions : Judd Trump 6-3 Kyren Wilson
                                 John Higgins 6-4 Mark Allen