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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Shanghai Masters Final.

"It was a game that had everything" may be one of sports most overused cliches but I honestly can't think of any other way to describe the action in todays Shanghai Masters Final.The record books will show that John Higgins beat Judd Trump 10-9 to win the title and in so doing clinch his 25th ranking event title.For once though that really only tells part of the story about a match that will have anyone lucky enough to have witnessed it talking for a long time.

This close tight match didn't look on the cards early on as Trump playing some beautifully flowing snooker raced into a 4-0 mid session interval lead and extended that to 5-0 in the next.Higgins though is never one panic and he got his first frame on the board in the next in the best possible way with a maximum 147 break which netted Higgins 12,000 and a box of six gold nuggets from the sponsors.The prize would not have been on his mind though as he lost the next to trail 6-1 and they shared the final two of the session to leave Trump within touching distance of the title leading 7-2.

However as we had seen many times over the years you simply can never write off John Higgins and he again showed us why he is the great champion he is by coming out in the second session with all guns blazing.Breaks of 89,74 and 76 saw him win the first four frames of the night to close within one at the mid session interval,the score now 7-6

He wasn't finished there however and won the next with a 71 and in an hard fought 15th frame Higgins doubled the final black to take the lead 8-7.Judd at this stage must have been in a daze wondering what was happening to him so it is to his credit as well as testament to his growing maturity that he constructed a fine 105 to again level at 8-8.

Both players were now showing fine touch albeit neither were experiencing the best run of the ball. Higgins was first in again in the next with 64 but Trump fought back and looked like he ma snatch it before undercutting the black trying to get back up for the yellow. Higgins took it to lead 9-8.Trump wasn't done for yet though and he won a tense 18th frame to force a decider.which was no more then he deserved

They say all you want in a deciding frame is to get a chance and that first chance fell to Trump but he could only manage 35 before running out of position..Higgins though came to the table and knocked in a superb red before running out the victor with a fine 61.

This win will be made all the sweeter for Higgins not only because of the great comeback to win it but also because it proves to everyone and possibly even himself that he has still got a lot more to offer in the game.I certainly don't think that any player will be relishing meeting him on the table for the rest of the season.

For Trump he will no doubt be very disappointed to have let a 7-2 lead slip away but when he looks back on the match out of the heat of the battle he can reflect positively on the fact that this was Higgins winning the match not him losing it.He can also look back on a week where he has impressed everyone with his all round play and maybe once and for all put to bed the "one trick pony " label he has been unfairly branded with by some.He can take great confidence going on from this for the rest of the season.

Finally I want to comment on the tournament as a whole. I think although this was actually the third ranking event of the season many will feel this is where the season finally caught fire.The crowds seemed good all week and the atmosphere for the final seemed to be electric.

We now have a few PTC  events before we return to China for the International Championship and the small matter of the return of our World Champion Ronnie O Sullivan.Get the fires lit and pull in the sofa we're going to have super winter!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Shanghai Masters Final preview

Judd Trump will face off against John Higgins in the final of The Shanghai Masters tomorrow following their semi final victories over Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy respectively.The match will be a repeat of the 2011 World Final where Higgins was to prove victorious in what at the time looked like becoming the sports next big rivalry.That is not however how the last 16 months were to pan out..

At the time he won that World title his third in five years and his 4th in total Higgins was playing snooker at a level above anyone else in the world.He had returned from his six month ban earlier that season like a man who felt he had everything to prove again and determined to make the most of his second chance,That coupled with what sadly proved to be his fathers losing battle with cancer seemingly gave him extra determination to make every match count.

It was I suppose in retrospect inevitable that on the back of such an emotional rollercoaster of a year that when it stopped he would struggle to get it going again.What did surprise us though was with each passing tournament he just couldn't get going.This culminated in a humiliating defeat to Hendry in the 2012 World championships in what was probably his poorest display ever in the Crucible and once again those who were only twelve months earlier predicting he would dominate the game were this time writing him off.

This however is something we should by now know you can never do with Higgins. He went away during the summer sitting out the opening two ranking events and slowly rebuilt his game.It has been very noticeable this week that with each passing match his game has got sharper and that coupled with his growing confidence will make him very hard to beat in the final.

That task will fall to Judd Trump who himself has had a very interesting last 16 months.When he played Higgins in that 2011 world final Trump was riding the crest of a wave having finally lived up to his early promise by winning the China Open and beating the defending champion Neil Robertson on his way to the final.,He may have lost that match but his attacking style had endeared him to pundits and public alike and comparisons with Alex,Jimmy and Ronnie were been trotted out at every opportunity.

As last season started his star continued to rise and a couple of early season victories over Ronnie seemed to be heralding a changing of the guard,By the time December came he was flying and in a top quality UK Championship final he beat Mark Allen to win his first "Major".

Roll on to January and the Masters.Trump looked destined to further enhance his reputation up until he play Robertson in the semi.I think it is widely accepted that Robertson did a number on him in that game and it seemed to affect him for the rest of the season. Ho would go on to lose a number of matches from seemingly commanding positions as his ability to get over the line started to be called into question.

These questions continued right to this week and it is to his great credit that he put them to bed when he withstood the late comeback from Dott who fought back to force a decider from 4-1 down and today agannst Williams when he closed to 5-4.

So what can we expect tomorrow from a final that has two men who will feel they have something to prove?I think we are in for a proper high class final that could go fight to the wire with I feel possibly a Higgins win but don't quote me on that!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Shanghai Masters Quarter Finals

8 became 4 today in the Shanghai Masters as John Higgins,Mark Williams,Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump all progressed through their quarter final matches to set up what promises to be a weekend of top quality snooker.

The story of the week so far has been the return to form of John Higgins.It is a measure of how much he has struggled in the last twelve months that his 5-3 victory over Carter today  meant he progressed to the semi final of an event for the first time since he lifted the World title in 2011.Though as I'm sure he would admit himself his game has not yet returned to the extraordinary level it reached in that season,but a John Higgins playing well and competing at the business end of tournaments can only be a positive for the sport.

His semi final opponent will be Shaun Murphy who in truth didn't have to get out of second gear to beat a badly out of sorts Stuart Bingham 5-1.For this reason its hard to evaluate Murphy on his performance today as he was never under any pressure to produce his best.This wont be the case in the semi and I have a feeling that the momentum may now be with Higgins who will be relishing the chance to get back into a ranking final again.

In the other half Mark Willaims reached the last four with a deciding frame victory over Joe Perry.In a match that struggled to get going till near the end Williams sealed victory in the last with a fine 79 break after Perry had forced the decider with a superb 131.

The final player through to the semis was Judd Trump who also won by the minimum margin holding off a spirited Graeme Dott fightback.Indeed for the first time this week it was Judd who made the good start and lead 4-1 before Dott through caution to the wind and leveled at 4-4.It has been a characteristic of Judd since probably his Masters defeat to Neil Robertson to struggle to apply the finishing touches to games so he will be delighted to have held his nerve the way he did in taking his chance in the decider.

This semi final will again be a tough one to call but my feeling is Williams will continue his remarkable record in these events and get the chance to avenge his Final frame defeat in last years final.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Shanghai Masters Last 16

Well if the story of the first few days of the Shanghai Masters was one of tense close ties with many going to the deciding frame today was to prove the total opposite of that with a series of one sided matches.In the first session alone the four losing players won a total of three frames between them.The evening matches were slightly more competitive but only even at that only one match reached it's eighth frame.

So what of the games themselves.

John Higgins again showed signs that his game is coming back with an impressive 5-0 win over Ryan Day. His opponent in the quarter finals will be Ali Carter who himself has also struggled to repeat the form that saw him reach the World Final at the Crucible in May but today easily swept aside Stephen Maguire again by a scoreline of 5-0.

Mark Williams who was runner up in controversial circumstances here last year continued his smooth progress through this years event with a 5-2 win over the The Wuxi Classic winner Ricky Walden..He'll face Joe Perry who inflicted a rare 5-0 whitewash on Neil Robertson.

The stand out tie of the round on paper was the clash between two of the games young guns Judd Trump and Mark Allen who have had a few interesting tussles over the last twelve months.It is perhaps wishful thinking to expect fireworks every time these two meet and today wasn't to be one of those days but in a fascinating match where he once again fell behind this time 2-0 Trump showed his fighting qualities to win five in a row and record a 5-2 victory.In the quarter final he will play Graeme Dott who beat Stephen Lee 5-1

Elsewhere Jamie Cope failed to build on his victory over the world no.1 Mark Selby going down 5-1 to Stuart Bingham who now faces Shaun Murphy who got by a battling Mark King 5-3

Tomorrow see's all four Quarter finals taking place and on current form a case can really be made for any of them to lift the title come Sunday.This should make for a very interesting few days of what has probably been the best tournament of the season so far.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Shanghai Masters The story so far

The Wildcard round has been the subject of much debate in the snooker community over the years but on occasion they can provide a real story and that was the case here when Lu Haotain fought back from 3-0 down to beat Marco Fu. Lu first came to our attention earlier this year when he became the youngest winner of the IBSF World Under 21 Championship and he showed remarkable composure for a boy who wont turn 15 until November in sealing victory here.The first round proper was to prove a step to far as he lost 5-2 to Mark Allen but he is definately one to keep an eye on.

Allens opponent in the last 16 will be Judd Trump who showed signs he is getting his game together again as he came back from 3-0 down to beat the Australian Open winner Barry Hawkins 5-3.This was perhaps the best Judd has played in a while so this rematch of last years UK Championship final has the potential to be a classic.

Another man struggling for form despite his victory in last months Paul Hunter Classic is our World No.1 Mark Selby. he looked badly out of sorts and went out tamely to Jamie Cope losing 5-1.His opponent in the next round will be Stuart Bingham who came through his match in a deciding frame beating Tom Ford 5-4.

There was again to be disappointment for Ding Junhui  and his legions of fans as he once again failed to sparkle in his homeland going down 5-4 to Mark King who will now play Shaun Murphy who also came through in a decider beating Dominic Dale 5-4

Elsewhere there is hardly anyone in the game with a better record in Asian tournaments and he once again showed his liking for this part of the world beating  Mark Davis 5-1 and he will now play Ricky Walden who managed to hold his nerve beating Steve Davis 5-4 having seen "the Nugget" fight back from 4-1 down.

John Higgins has had a 2012 to forget so far but showed signs of a return to form with a fine 5-2 win over Jamie Jones and now faces Ryan Day who beat the recent PTC winner martin Gould again by a margin of 5-4.

In the remaining last 16 games we have a rematch of last seasons World semi final with Stephen Maguire facing Ali Carter following there victorie over Peter Ebdon and Rob Milkins respectively ,Joe Perry against Neil Robertson and Stephen Lee taking on Graeme Dott.

Tight close games have been the order of the day so far this week and there is no reason to think that will change as we get towards the business end of things.A fascinating few days lie ahead

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Shanghai Masters

The snooker roadshow returns to China this week for the second of five ranking events this season when the players descend on Shanghai for this years Shanghai Masters.

In days gone by a tournament in the last week of September would be the event to launch a new snooker season following a long summer break but not anymore as we've already enjoyed a summer of snooker from PTC's to two ranking events The Australian Open and The Wuxi Classic.

Hard as it has been a supporter to get used to this change it has also proved difficult for some of the games stars who have struggled to hit top form yet this season. This could be a because they simply haven't practiced enough all summer,because with the season now been so long they are focusing on honing there games for "the Majors" as we see on golf or simply due to the fact that  with so much tournament play the lack of match sharpness is no longer an issue so the playing field is far more level.

This will create very interesting situations in the years to come as if it does become clear the players at the top of the rankings aren't preparing for the off peak tournaments as they might it opens up large earning potential for those just below the top ranks.

Back to this tournament though and all the above questions haven't made predicting tournament winners any easier so I'm going to chicken out and wait until the dust has settled later in week to make any.

The whole thing gets underway tomorrow with the dreaded wildcsrd round and we'll have extensive coverage on Eurosport in this part of the world and on where available.

Monday, 10 September 2012

PTC 3 Weekend round up

There is an ad currently running on Comedy Central for Charlie Sheens new comedy show that features Charlie standing on a train track with a speeding train approaching,suddenly the train brakes,flips over and explodes.From the wreckage  Charlie emerges unharmed and walks the the camera declaring C'mon everybody deserves a 24th chance" .

This is a feeling that  Rod Lawler my well empathise with this morning as he reflects on his 4-2 victory over Marco Fu in last nights PTC3 final in Gloucester.As we all know Rod dropped off the tour at the end of last season after 21 years and it seem genuinely contemplated retirement before deciding to give it one more go and enter the Q School.He duly regained his tour card and the early signs this season were that he was determined to make the most of his second chance when he qualified for the Wuxi Classic.That said I dare say even in his wildest dreams he never believed he would have a weekend like this where he would beat players like Stuart Bingham and Stephen Lee in deciding frames before lifting his first professional title at the ripe old age of 41.

Perhaps its the fact we all love a good comeback story but I have rarely seen such an outpouring of joy across twitter and the internet last night following this win and it seems that Rod is a genuinely liked and likeable person.I like the quote from his father who shouted out "I've waited 30 years for this"

A word also for his final opponent Marco Fu.Fu has always been an infuriating player because on a going day he's a match for anyone but his career has been blighted by inconsistency.This however was a going weekend for him and although he ultimately fell at final hurdle he can only take great confidence  going forward this season after fine wins against Stephen Maguire,Mark Williams,Ricky Walden,Ali Carter and Shaun Murphy.

Elsewhere in the tournament we had the brief reappearance of Ronnie O Sullivan who came in Saturday afternoon ,went for everything and lost 4-3 against Simon Bedford.,we had Ken Doherty and Fergal O Brien also flying the flag for the over 40's with some good victories, also we had a number of the games so called top players continuing to struggle to find their form this season which may be a worry for some and a super venue that to the dismay of many will only be hosting one more PTC event.

Following one more night of Premier League snooker this Thursday we again turn our attention for the rest of september. to China for the Shanghai Masters and Asian PTC 2

I will preview these in due course but in finishing up I want to again mention Rod Lawler who showed this weekend what hard work and dedication can lead to and I suppose the moral of the story is it doesn't matter if its your 2nd or 24th what you do with it that counts.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

PTC3 Preview.

I'm not entirely sure of the reason,it could be the fact we had a summer with the European Championships and the marvelous London Olympics or the fact that following his few monthes in exile that we have Ronnie back or it may even be just that we are now in September and we are conditioned that with the evenings drawing our thoughts turn to all things snooker,but it really seems that despite having already had two full ranking events as well as a couple of PTC events there is an excitement about this weekend that hasn't existed so far this season.

And so it is the snooker professionals roll into South West Snooker Academy for unfortunately it seems the penultimate for PTC 3 this weekend.Suppose the logical place to start is with the man who will probably get all the headlines,our returning World Champion Ronnie O Sullivan.Following a summer saga of will he wont he Ronnie has eventually signed his contract and his participation can only be a positive for the event as everyone will be eager to see if he can hit the ground running and reproduce the form that saw him sweep to his fourth world title in May.This is not something that can be ruled out despite his lack of competitive action.

Ronnie of course is not the only star on show and many others may see this weekend as the perfect chance to hone their form with a busy period of tournaments coming over next couple of monthes.Another of the games greats who made a belated return to action was John Higgins,After never really getting going last season you get the feeling this year might be a make or break year for Higgins.It certainly would be great for the game if he could find his form from a couple of seasons ago.If he did there is little doubt he would lift a few titles this year

Current World no.1 Mark Selby will come into this weekend feeling a lot better about himself following his victory in The Paul Hunter and he seems to have put his injury and form problem behind him.We can expect another bold showing this weekend from Selby who seems to relish match snooker as much as anyone.

Perhaps the most consistent player of 2012 so far has been Stephen Maguire who already has a win in PTC1 and a runner up in PTC 2 to his name.One gets the feeling he may be slightly more in favour of these events then he used to be!

Of course I can't mention everyone but I'm sure we'll see players like Judd Trump,Neil Robertson,Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen who will all be looking to kick start their seasons here as well as the likes of Ricky Walden,Barry Hawkins and Martin Gould who have already been in winners circle and wanting to build on their success's.

This sets us up nicely for a weekend in front of the PC and a fascinating weekend of snooker.