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Friday, 30 November 2012

UK Championship preview

Tomorrow see's the start of the seasons first traditional major when the UK Championship begins in the Barbican Centre in York.So what can we expect.?

The man of the season so far is no doubt Judd Trump.Last month he lifted the inaugural International Championship in China and with it claimed the world no.1 ranking.He comes here in great form and will no doubt be fully confident he can defend the title he claimed here last year in that memorable final with Mark Allen.On paper at least he seems to be in the slightly easier half of the draw if there is such a thing and I would be surprised if he isn't right there in the mix at the business end next weekend.

Perhaps the other story of the season to date has been the resurgence of John Higgins.After last years struggles there were those who were willing to write off the Scot but by now we should know better then that,He beat Trump in Shanghai in one of the best finals we have seen in many years and those two have swapped victories in two PTC events since. Whoever beats Higgins this week will know they have been in a match and he will fancy his chances of adding to his career haul of three UK titles.

It may be strange for Mark Selby to be coming into a major tournament without the World no.1 ranking but following his neck injury and loss of form this is where he finds himself.I actually think this may help him as I feel it may have been a mantle he struggled under.Now seemingly injury free hopefully he can return to the level of play that saw him reach the number 1 spot in the first place.If he does he will a match for anyone.He will however have to hit the ground running here as his potential second round opponent is two time UK champion Ding Junhui.

If anyone needed proof what winning a tournament can do for a player all they need do is look at Stuart Bingham.18 month's ago he had carved out a moderately successful professional career without ever really threatening to lift a title but that changed when he produced a stunning comeback to beat Mark Williams and claim the Australian Open title.That victory earned him a place in this years Premier League where against some of the biggest names he produced some super snooker to eventually lift the title beating Trump 7-2 in the final.This win together with the two Asian PTC wins he has already secured this season will have him fearing noone this week.

Last years runner up Mark Allen will be another man fancying his chances this week and he definatly seems to be a player who really relishes the longer framed matches. He was arguably the second best player in the International Open where he once again found Judd Trump too good in their quarter final encounter going down in a decider.He will no doubt feel he should have more titles to his name for the talent he possesses and there would be no better time to start then this week 

Other established names in the mix this week will be Stephen Maguire,Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy all of which could make an impact this if accompanied by a strong tail wind.

We also have a few young guns making their first appearance at the final stages of this tournament.We have Cao Yupeng and Luca Brecel following up their qualification for the Crucible last year by making their debuts here as well as Jack Lisowski .all of whom will gain from the experience regardless of how they do.

It would also wrong for me to preview this event without mentioning Steve Davis who came through two rounds of qualifying to reach the final stages at the age of 55 and 32 years after he lifted the first of his six UK titles.Long may The Nugget continue his love of the battle.

So there we have it.A fascinating we have in store and no doubt there will be plenty of thrills and spills along the way.Who will win?I don't know but I have a feeling the theme of the season may well be continued with another Trump v Higgins final.What a way that would be to see out 2012.




Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Judd Trump in Focus

When 23 year old Judd Trump became the worlds no.1 ranked snooker player by lifting the International Championship last month he was completing a rise to the top that many presumed had been written in the stars since he was cleaning up in the junior ranks over a decade ago.The only surprise for some was that it had seemed to take so long.

The first time I heard of Judd was when at the age of just 13 he defeated Mike Hallett to lift the Pontins Open.For this if memory serves he earned a picture on the front cover of Snooker Scene magazine accompanied by an article outlining his remarkable achievements at junior level which included a national under 15 title when he was aged just 10.

What followed of course were the inevitable comparisons with that other child genius Ronnie O Sullivan,These were only further enhanced when Judd took the record previously held by Ronnie's by becoming the youngest player to complete a 147 in competition at the age of 14.It seemed only a matter of time before like "The Rocket" he would be tearing up the pro tour.

So what happened?Well at the start not a lot.Judd struggled to repeat the dominant performances he had produced at junior level and for the first few years he didn't really make much of an impact at the business end of tournaments at all.There were of course exceptions that pointed to his talent.He made made his Crucible debut aged 17 and won the Championship league in 2008 but with so few tournaments at the time hejust wasn't getting the experience that comes with playing regularly .The talent was still there he just needed to find the best way to harness it.

His breakthrough would come in the 2011China Open when as a qualifier he his first ranking title defeating former world champions Shaun Murphy and Peter Ebdon on the way to beating Mark Selby 10-8 in a memorable final."My career starts now" he would say in the poat match interview and how right he was.The following week he would defeat defending champion Neil Robertson in the first round in the Crucible and for the next 17 days light up the World Championships with some spectacular shot making only eventually going down to John Higgins in the final.The touchpaper had been lit.

He would start the next season with a new found confidence to compete at the very top that would have only  be enhanced further with a superb 4-3 victory over Ronnie at a PTC final in Antwerp.From there he went to York and duly won the games second biggest prize the UK Championship in another classic final with Mark Allen.By now he was riding the crest of a wave and went to The Masters as one of the favourites.but this time it was Robertson turn for revenge.

I think it is widely accepted and I have often written about it before that Neil Robertson did a number on Judd in that semi final.After this match a number of strange things happened. Firstly it seemed to affect Judd more then it perhaps should have as he would go on to lose a number of matches from commanding positions before the season was over. Secondly we seemed to be getting a Trump backlash from some in the game.complaining about what they perceived to be an above average run of the ball and a arrogance among him and his supporters.For me both these accusations seemed to have little basis in fact and maybe spoke of a little jealousy for the attention he was getting.Whatever the reasons though it seemed Judd once again came into this season with questions to answer.

This he has done not only winning the International Championship but also capturing the EPTC in Bulgaria as well as finishing runner up to the resurgent John Higgins in the Shanghai Masters and a PTC in Gloucester.Next week he will be the favourite to retain his UK Championship title in York.

So what does the future hold for the young man from Bristol? It is a widely held view that we will never see the days of one player dominating the game the way Davis and Hendry did especially with there been so many events nowadays but the question is what is domination in the modern games? As far as I would be concerned modern dominance would consist of winning  the majors The World Championship, The Uk The Master's and the new International Championship and competing well in a few of the other ranking events.Who can say that by next May we wont be talking about Judd in those terms. The other point is if Judd can reach the consistent level of those greats of the last 25 yrs (Davis Hendry,Higgins,O Sullivan and Williams) I really don't see where his competition is going to come from.He seems to have found a way to mix his natural attacking instincts with a solid safety game  and this makes his very hard to stop.We really could be entering another golden era.

This will no doubt be a topic for discussion among all snooker fans as time goes by but for now lets be happy we have someone like Judd Trump  in the game.Long may he continue to entertain us with his remarkable skills on the green baize.
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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Victoria Bulgarian Open PTC

Judd Trump tonight removed the monkey that was John Higgins from his back to finally beat the Scot in a final and claim the inaugural Victoria Bulgarian Open title with a clinical 4-0 win.

This was the third time these two men have met in a final in a matter of a few weeks with Higgins triumphing on both previous occasions,firstly last month in Shanghai and most recently last Wednesday night in Gloucester.That had lead some to suggest he just had the measure of his young opponent when it came to the crunch but tonight proved that to be a flawed theory.

The one thing you need in these short sharp best of seven matches is a good start and that is what Trump got winning the opening frame without Higgins scoring a point.Tump was in first again in the second but broke down.Higgins briefly threatened a fightback but this was halted when he wobbled a red along the cushion  leaving the frame there for the taking and with it his last real chance to make an impact in the match.

Trump was now in full flight and seemed set fair for a maximum attempt in the next only to miss the 12th red with the break on 88.Regardless though this was enough to make it 3-0 and he comfortably won the next to seal his 4-0 win.

This will no doubt have been a very satisfying win  for Judd in light of those recent defeats and showed us all once again that he is a worthy World no.1.He is playing the game at the moment with a air of superiority which should in no way be confused with arrogance but instead shows a young man brimming with confidence.It was also nice to see he how relaxed and comfortable he has become with the post match interviews,another thing that comes with experience.

A great weekend all round then with the enthusiastic and appreciative crowds treated to some top class snooker, the highlight of which for many no doubt will have been Tom Fords 147 break on Friday night.I think its safe to say professional snooker will be returning to Bulgaria again.

For now though we move on and next weekend see's Higgins and Trump involved in the Premier League play offs where they could yet again meet in the final though Messrs Bingham and Robertson will have something to say about that..


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Kay Suzanne Memorial PTC4

"He's beginning to annoy me" were the famous words uttered by Jimmy White following his heartbreaking 18-17 defeat to Stephen Hendry in the 1994 World final but they could also perhaps now be applied to Judd Trump as he  for the second time in a month and the third time in total came out on the losing side of a final tussle with John Higgins at the Kay Suzanne Memorial PTC last night.This time by a scoreline of 4-2.

As has proven to be the case in these cut throat best of seven PTC events both players had survived some close shaves on their way to the final but in doing so showed why they are both such forces in the game at present.

Higgins started his day with a tight 4-3 win over Steve Davis before holding his nerve in the semi final as Anthony Hamilton fought back from 3-0 down to again force a decider.Trump on the other hand had found himself 3-0 to Thanawat Tirapongpalboon in his last 16 match but showed all his fighting qualities to come through.Then looking every inch the World no.1 he is Trump produced some fabulous snooker to see off Mark Joyce and then Ding Junhui in the semi final.

On to the final then we went with the memory of their classic encounter in Shanghai last month still fresh in our minds and it looked like once again we were set for fireworks when Trump started with a classy 102.This was amazingly Trumps tenth century in the two days of action.

Higgins though hasn't won as many titles as he has by rolling over in the face of adversity and hit back with a superb 97 to level at 1 all.That became 2-2 when they shared the next two and Higgins won a scrappy fifth to take the lead at 3-2 and sealed the win with a 62 break in the next.

So what did we learn here.With regards Higgins you could say not a lot. He once again proved he has that special quality that all great champions have.The ability to find that bit extra when the finish line is in sight and in doing so he sent out a warning to those who were writing him off that if is at the business end of a tournament he is there to win it.

Trump on the other hand even in defeat showed over the course of the tournament that he is continuing to grow as a player. With the added confidence that comes with been World no.1 he showed a growing maturity mixing the spectacular shot making we expect with some solid safety play when the occasion called for it.If he keeps this up his stay at the top of the rankings could be a long one.

Finally a word on the venue.I was not fortunate enough to attend a tournament at the SWSA but going on what I've read from others who were there it was a lovely venue and it seems to be the hope of most that professional snooker returns there in the future.

For now the action switches to Sofia for EPTC5 this weekend followed by a couple of weeks of qualifiers before we return to York where Trump will be hoping to defend his UK Championship title.What price another Trump v Higgins final?



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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Ronnie.

The snooker world was rocked yesterday afternoon when World Snooker announced that World Champion Ronnie O Sullivan will not be competing in any tournament for the rest of this season due to personal issues.This followed on from his late withdrawal from last weeks International Championship and raises the very real possibility that we may have seen the last of Ronnie on the professional circuit.

Talk of retirement has been a constant theme throughout his career. I think he first talked about it following his first UK Championship win in 1993 but when he suggested in May following his World Final victory that he intended to take a six month break from the sport this seems to be a far more considered announcement.

The stated reason of "personal Issues" will of course have people speculating as to whats the issues are.Ronnie's battle with depression have been well documented over the years as well as his custody difficulties over his children and his recent battle with glandular fever.but the truth of the matter is it really isn't any of our business.If Ronnie feels what is happening in his personal life at present means he can't currently pursue his professional career in the foreseeable future then we must take him at his word.He certainly doesn't owe any of us any further explanation but is was hardly a coincidence that the documentary he filmed a few months ago aired last night.

Watching it we got an insight into the man behind the public image.In it a seemingly relaxed Ronnie spoke candidly about his life both, the highs and lows.The most interesting aspect of it  perhaps though were his thoughts on his recent World Championship triumph.He spoke of his determination to prove all those who had been writing him off wrong and prove he is the best in the world.He then added tellingly that he considered it chapter over and job done.

So what if this is the end? If it is Ronnie will certainly be almost unique among sport stars in so far as he will have gone out at the top but it goes without saying that all who enjoy seeing our sport played with such ease will greatly miss him.All we can hope is he finds the peace and happiness in his life that he deserves.If he decides for that to happen he must leave snooker behind then so be it.,but if a few month's down the line he has reached the place he wants to be and decides to return to the snooker citcuit both the sport and the fans will welcome him back with open arms.



Sunday, 4 November 2012

International Championship Final

Judd Trump today topped off the week where he became the official world no.1  by claiming the inaugural International Championship as well as the top prize of £125,000 defeating Neil Robertson 10-8 in a thrilling final..

As seems to be becoming the norm for tournaments staged in China the packed house in Chengdu were treated to a final full of drama as the pendulum  swung both ways throughout the day.

The scene for what was to come was set in the opening session as Trump took the opening two frames only for Robertson to reel off the next four in a row to take a 4-2 lead.Trump leveled at 4-4 but Robertson took the last of the session to lead 5-4 going into the evening.

Robertson would say afterward he felt he should have lead 6-3  going into the second session and perhaps that was on his mind as Trump again won the opening two frames to take the lead again at 6-5.The next produced what seemed at the time to be a pivotal moment as Trump took on a needlessly difficult red right handed and missed allowing Robertson the chance to regain a foothold in the match which he duly took full advantage of the scores now level again at 6-6.The next again looked to be going Trumps way but an unfortunate miscue when among the balls left the door open for Robertson who again showed his class by clearing to take the frame and retake the lead at 7-6 going into the mid session interval.

Things now seemed to be well and truly going the way of the Australian who has a remarkable record in tv finals.He won the next to go 8-6 and now seemed in total control.Trump though as I've said already this week became world no.1 and the one thing all men who have held that position have in common is an ability to produce their best when their back are to the wall.That would again prove to be the case here

The turning point came in a scrappy 15th frame where helped by a fluke Trump won to close within one at 8-7.This seemed to switch the momentum again in his favour and he produced his best snooker of the match to level at 8-8 with a break of 96.Trump was well and truly motoring now and moved within one of victory with a stylish 119,The first century of the final at the perfect time.

The question now was could Robertson again reply but sadly for him he could not as Trump did enough to seal the win and lift the third full ranking title of his career.10-8.This was the perfect end to a perfect week for Judd and I think few would argue that he was a deserving winner based on his form throughout the tournament.The tournament itself has also been a great success with the longer framed matches a welcome feature.You have to feel this event will only grow in stature in coming years and rightfully take its place along side \the UK,The Masters and the Worlds as the sports Majors.

It is of course following a few PTC events in the coming weeks that attention will again turn to York and the UK Championship where Judd will be defending champion.He will go there full of confidence but uneasy rests the head that wears the crown and he will have plenty of the sports big guns lining up to knock him off his perch.That is in the future though for now he can relax on the long flight home and look back on a job well done










Saturday, 3 November 2012

The final of the International Championship in Chengdu will see two of the games big guns slog it out as Judd Trump takes on Neil Robertson in search of the title and the top prize of £125.000.

Trump reached the final with a one sided 9-1 victory over Peter Ebdon.This had looked a potentially tricky match for Trump but Ebdon looked  strangely nervous early on and never got going.That said you still have to pot the balls and Trump did this with aplomb as he reeled off frame after frame to record an easy win.

 This match was also significant for the fact that in victory Judd officially became the new World no.1.When you consider only 18 months ago he had yet to win a ranking title it shows how quickly his star has grown and I will be writing about this in more detail in the coming week..

Judd would no doubt love to top off his week by claiming the trophy but Neil Robertson will have a thing or two to say about that.

Robertson reached the final with a 9-5 victory in a match that never lived up to its potential. It was Murphy who made the early running taking a 3-1 lead but producing the best snooker of the match Robertson took four in a row to lead 5-3 going into the second session.It might have been expected at that stage that both players would come out all guns blazing in the evening but it was not to be the case as both struggled to produce any degree of fluency in their play.As often seems to be the case when players are struggling the balls seemed determined to run as awkwardly as possible and frame after frame became a slog.To the credit of both men they each kept their discipline but it was Robertson who potted the balls when they were needed and it was he who was to be victorious.

On to the final we go then and it does promise to be an extremely interesting  and potentially explosive one. These men have had a few tight battles in the past like their semi final encounter in last season UK Championships where Judd won 9-7  but of course the one people will be remember most is their clash in the semi final of The Masters.This was memorable not only for the result (a 6-3 win for Robertson) but also for the comments afterwards which may provide a bit of needle in this one.

Whether or not that is the case the one thing I do believe is that Neil really did do a number on Judd that day and this had a bearing on Judd for the rest of the season.He would go on to lose a number of match's from seemingly winning positions.and It has only been in the last month that he has finally seemed to find his groove again.In Shanghai he lost nothing in defeat to Higgins in the final and this week has looked supreme among the balls,never more so then in his quarter final with Mark Allen.

Robertson on the other hand I'm sure would be the first to admit, has reached the final without playing at his best.,That in many ways though is the measure of the man who has become a match player in the Higgins mode in recent seasons.You practically have to scrape him off the table.That doggedness may will not be enough against Trump and Robertson will know he will have to be playing at his best to deny the World no.1 rounding off the week in style.

Personally I think Judd will have too much for Neil in this one and will crown a memorable week by lifting the trophy and claiming the inaugural International Championship.




Thursday, 1 November 2012

International Championship QF round up

Day 5 at the International Championship in Chengdu China and we now know the identity of the four player who will battle it over the next two days in the best of 17 frame semi finals,all in the hope of reaching Sundays final and claiming the £125,000 top prize.

The first semi final tomorrow throws together one of those fascinating clashes of style you only get in snooker when Judd Trump takes on Peter Ebdon.

Judd who will become the new World no.1 if he reaches the final here moved one step closer to that dream with a narrow 6-5 victory over Mark Allen.This was a match of the highest quality with two of the games most exciting players playing at their fluent best.The first four frames were shared to leave it 2-2 at the interval before a 107 helped Judd go 4-2 up.A 121 form Allen closed it 4-3 but when Trump then made it 5-3 it looked like it might be the decisive move.Allen to his credit though was not for giving up.Another century this time a 104 made it 5-4 and when Trump failed to make the most of his chance in the next Allen won it to force the decider.In the 10 months since The Masters in January Trump has found himself in this position on more then one occasion with a match seemingly in his grasp only to let it slip away but today he gave those who have questioned his temperament the perfect answer taking his chance to win 6-5.This really was a superb match and without doubt in these two we have a rivalry that will only grow in the years ahead.

On the other table we had a match that was the total opposite to this thrill a minute stuff but none the less produced an equally impressive winner as Peter Ebdon beat Ricky Walden 6-0.Walden may still have been feeling the effects of his marathon 321 minute match with Selby the night before but whatever the reason he couldn't get going against Ebdon who has now reached the semi final only dropping one frame along the way.

The second semi final will be a battle of two former World champions as Neil Robertson play Shaun Murphy.

Robertson never looked at his best but his experience showed as he beat the young Chinese star Lu Haotian 6-2.The crucial frames in this one came when Robertson already leading 3-2 took the next two on the black to go 5-2.He then made most of his chance in the next to seal the win.Robertson was full of praise for his young opponent in the post match press conference  and no doubt this teenager will be a featuring in the latter stages of tournaments again sooner rather then later.

Shaun Murphy booked his semi final place with a 6-4 win over Marco Fu.In this one Murphy despite winning the opening frame found himself trailing 3-1 at the interval before he visibly upped a gear to take four frames in a row and lead 5-3.Fu did manage to close the gap to 5-4 but Murphy was not to be denied and won the next to secure the win.

As someone who has always favoured the longer format match's I am really looking forward to the novelty of semi finals been played over two sessions.I know its probably to much to wish for that these might become the norm again but at the very least they provide a welcome break from the bitesize format of other tournaments.