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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Alex Higgins two years gone today.

Looking through twitter today I see a number of tributes to mark the second anniversary of the passing of  Alex Higgins.In those two years as in his lifetime plenty has been written and said about Alex the man and player,It seems no matter who you are if you had anything to do with the snooker you have a story about "The Huricance".I am no exception to this so here is mine.

It was the summer of 2005 and having just come under new management a snooker club in a neighbouring town to me announced they were celebrating this with an exhibition featuring Alex. Although I will admit to never having been his biggest fan in his heyday i couldn't miss an opportunity to see him in the flesh again.

When I arrived at the venue I couldn't help but notice the large range of ages of those in attendance.Sure there were people my age and older who came to see the man who lit up their tv screen in the 70's and 80's in the hope of seeing a glimpse these glory days but there were also a number of teenagers who would have been to young to have even witnessed his last great hurrah in the 1989 Irish Masters.These kids I concluded were there to see if this "Hurricane" was all they'd been told about.

The scheduled start time came and went as the crowd grew and eventually about half an hour late the owner announced "THE TWO TIME WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPION ALEX HURRICANE HIGGINS".The crowd clapped and cheered as Alex walked in sporting a rather stylish matching purple cravat and hat.combination.Yes he looked thin and it was obvious he had gone through the mill with his health but he was still fairly spritely and certainly looked better then he had in the recent pictures the tabloids had delighted in showing in the month's previous.

The format of the exhibition itself had Alex play a series of frames against local players and sports stars including Olympic gold medal winning boxer Michael Carruth.and turned into a snapshot of his whole career as at different stages he was funny.charming, angry,abusive,.insulting and brilliant on a table that really was awfully slow.

The evening finished with a raffle.which had  a top prize of a signed poster,signed t shirt a photograph with him and the opportunity to chat with him.When the ticket was pulled out the winner was me.I could hardly believe my luck as I shook hands with Alex and posed for the picture.We then started to chat and  maybe due to the fact the pressure to perform was now gone he seemed relaxed as we talked about everything from the state of the table(I had played a final on it the week previous and found the cloth like a carpet) to the state of the sport at the time,to the Irish Masters at Goffs and finally horse racing.I couldn't believe what was happening as all that was going through my head was for all the bad stories of this man I was going to have a to tell.

After about 15 minutes the owner anxious to wrap the evening up came over to us and we shook hands again and wished each other well.I turned away and started to chat with some of the kids who were waiting to hear what we had talked about.No sooner had I started to relay my story when I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see Alex grabbing to owner by the lapels and shoving him against the table in a row over the fee.I could hardly believe my eyes.

This was my one and only meeting with "The Hurricane" and like with everyone else who came into contact with him it was certainly memorable. The signed poster still has pride of place on my wall and I think tonight I'll pay tribute to the great man by putting on Youtube and watching again that miracle clearance against Jimmy in 1982 World Championships.Rest In Peace Hurricane.


Monday, 23 July 2012

UKPTC 1 round up.

We may have already had two full ranking events this season but many will feel it was this weekend in Gloucester that the 2012/13 season really clicked into gear.That is in no way meant to take away from the fine stuff played by both Ricky Walden in China or Barry Hawkins in Australia but I think it's fair so say that some of the snooker in both tournaments was pretty dour.That is certainly not a criticism that could be leveled at this tournament as Stephen Maguire snatched the title on the final black beating Jack Lisowski 4-3

Maguire has seen somewhat of a return to form in recent months having captured PTC 12 last December and finishing the season with two further runner up spots in ranking events as well as reaching the semi final at the Crucible.Here he was pushed all the way by Lisowski and having missed a couple of  glorious  chances to seal the win he must have felt it had slipped away from him as Jack looked set to clear up and win his first professional title.This was not to be however as Lisowski missed a straight forward yellow off the spot with victory only three balls away and Maguire mopped up to win.

For Maguire this will surely give him even more confidence for the season ahead and it would be a surprise to me if this is his last time in winners circle this season.As for Lisowski  when the initial disappointment subsides he can look back on this weekend as another step forward in his career,His victories over Judd Trump and Mark Williams showed he has the character as well the ability to mix it with the best and it surely wont be long till he's doing this on a consistent basis.His style of play really is a joy to watch.

Other fine performers this weekend included Ali Carter who lost a deciding frame to Williams in the quarters , Barry Hawkins who also enjoyed another fine week before losing to Maguire and Luca Brecel who again showed signs that he is heading in the right direction beating two former world champions Graeme Dott and Ken Doherty before falling to Trump in the last 16.

Finally I'd to mention in passing the remarkable achievement of Lu Haotian who this weekend aged just 14  became the youngest ever winner of the IBSF World Under 21 championship .He joins a list of former winners that includes Doherty,O Sullivan,Ebdon and Robertson so if he goes on to achieve even some of what these great names have he'll have done very well.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Quick Australian Open round up.

I know I'm a little late with this but due to a mixture of internet problems and a weekend away this is my first chance to blog about the events of last week as Barry Hawkins became to second player in as many years to break his ranking tournament duck by winning the Australian Goldfields Open.

Hawkins who earlier this year lifted the Shootout title in Blackpool became the 50th individual winner of a ranking by beating veteran Peter Ebdon 9-3 in the final.His victory seemed to have been met with universal approval as every quote I have read from those involved in the game has talked about Barry been one of the nicest guys on the circuit.It will be interesting to see if he can build on this as the season progresses..

What else can we take from last week? well despite falling at final hurdle Peter Ebdon had another great week reaching his second ranking final in a last four played.As always with Peter his playing style caused much debate particularly in his match with Ding which took over 5 hours for nine frames,I can see both sides of this but fact is if he's not on table and scoring he wont win so it's up to opponents to try take charge,Regardless of what we think  though his participation 0in this years Premier League should be fascinating!

Having waited over 20 years in his professional career to reach a ranking semi final Mark Davis achieved this for second tournament in a row to keep up his excellent start to the season,In reaching this stage he managed to overcome home favourite Neil Robertson who again will be disappointed not to have had a better run in his hometown.

Another player who will be trying to find some form quickly is the current World no.1 Mark Selby who again went out the first round.It may be that the neck injury he has been suffering with of late is still playing up on him or possibly he could be finding the punishing schedule he has had over the last few years is taking it's toll.

On this subject one of the main talking points before the start of the tournament was the fact that 7 of the top 16 didn't enter.It may be the case that as the tour spreads this is will become a regular occurrence  and the fear I suppose will be that if the standard is diluted by the top players been absent any fledgling tournament will fail take off.

Anyway onwards and upwards we go UKPTC1 takes place this weekend..Hopefully my internet problems are behind me and  I normal blogging service will be resumed.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Australian Goldfields Open preview

It may be hard still to get our heads around it as we look out our windows waiting for summer weather to come but tomorrow sees the start of the seasons second ranking event when the Australian Goldfields Open begins in Bendigo.

This is only the second year this tournament has taken place and although last years event  seemed to go down well and served up a nail biting finale ,the build up to this year has been overshadowed by controversy.For the first time in my memory we have a full ranking event where seven of the Top16 have for various reasons decided not to enter..These range from the distance they have to travel, to the large tax bill foreign players would face on prize money as well as it been so early in the season.Of course these may all be valid points and players are under no obligation to enter any tournament,but if this sport is to become truly global we need to get to a place where everyone is pulling the same way..

Anyway thats enough about those who are not not playing lets look at some of those who are.

Stuart Bingham for one will never forget the Australian Open as it was here last year he lifted his first ranking title coming back from an 8-5 deficit to beat Mark Williams 9-8.Unfortunately for him he didn't really kick on from that point as his form seemed to trail away as season progressed.That was last season though and he has once again started this season well having already lifted the Pink Ribbon Pro/Am and the first Asian PTC as well as finishing runner up to Ricky Walden in the Wuxi Classic.This recent form together with the extra confidence you surely get from trying to defend your title will make him a hard opponent for anyone this week.

Neil Robertson would of course be the most popular winner om home soil and will be eager to make up for the way he snatched defeat from jaws of victory in his match with Dominic Dale last year.Without wishing ill on anyone else it would give the tournament a major boost if the Melbourne man could have a good run this week.

Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy are definitely  two player who have fully embraced the new era with a "have cue will travel" attitude.Both these stars have been ultra consistent in recent seasons but despite this they will both feel they haven't won the amount of tournaments they should have.They will be looking at this week as a chance to set maybe lift a title and set a marker for the rest of season.

Ricky Walden will be attempting to make it back to back ranking titles following his success in the Wuxi Classic last weekend. When he won his first ranking event in 2008 he didn't go on to make the impact in the game many expected but maybe this second victory will give him the confidence he needed to establish himself as a contender for every tournament in the future.

Mark Davis for maybe the first time in his career comes into this tournament been talked about as a potential winner having had an extraordinary start to the season which saw him reach  his first ranking semi final in the Wuxi Classic and win the Six Red World Championship in Thailand yesterday.A solid tournament here could help him finally secure a place in the world top16,a thing he has to date failed to do in his 21 years as a professional.

Other players who deserve a mention are the likes of Stephen lee, the three strong Chinese contingent lead by Dung Junhui as well as veterans Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon.

So thats it We may be missing some of the games big names but we still have plenty of others who would be worthy winners of this tournament.Lets hope for a week of good crowds and top quality snooker.Catch all the action on eurosport or will be also blogging daily once first round is completed.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Wuxi Classic final.+ thoughts

The 2012 Wuxi Classic champion is Ricky Walden following a 10-4 victory over Stuart Bingham in todays final.

The pre final talk was of a closely fought tight match but although the first few frames were scrappy affairs it was Walden who took a 4-0 lead into the interval.That  became 5-0 in the next as Walden sensed his chance to establish an unassailable lead.Bingham to this stage had showed nothing in the match but managed somehow to pull it all together and produce a maximum 147 to win his first frame of the day..This joy would be short lived however as Walden won the next two to finish the session 7-1 ahead.

Walden was now only three frames from the title and on the resumption of play he extended his lead to 9-1.Bingham to his credit kept fighting and managed to win three in a row to close to 9-4 but the comeback was never really on,Walden knew he only needed to take his chance when it came and this he duly did in the next,sealing victory with a 74 break to add a second ranking title to the Shanghai Master title he lifted in 2008.

For Bingham it was a sad end to his remarkable week despite his 147 but he can look forward to his defense of the Australian Open in a few weeks with a lot of confidence from a great start to the season.

Walden also can look forward to the rest of the season now with a real chance of securing his place among the games elites.He will certainly hope he doesn't have to wait another 4 years to win his next ranking title.

So what can we take from this weeks action?

Well in truth it's hard to know.One thing we certainly saw is that there is no substitute for match practice as seeded player after seeded player fell to those who had come through the recent run of qualifiers.It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into the Australian Open for those of the top 16 who have decided to travel.

Another trend that continued this week was the growing instances of players in their late thirties or older making an impact.I'm not been ageist here in any way but it'd make you wonder where all these great young players we are always been told about are.I will be writing a more detailed bog on this later in week.

Finally based only on what I could see on the tv the attendances for this tournament seemed to be very poor. Again I don't know what reasons if any there would be for this but it would be a pity if the reason was the lack of Ding or indeed the other major box office players like Judd or Ronnie in the latter stages.

Anyway this is talk for another day,Today belongs to Ricky Walden and good luck to him.