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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Haikou World Open Q/F preview

While the snooker headlines in this part of the world have been dominated this week by the announcement from Ronnie, that he will be returning to defend his world title in April the rest of the snooker world have been busy competing for the World Open in China.

This is the fourth of five ranking events that will be held in China this season and we have perhaps just seen the signs from a few of our stars that they are beginning to find their best form again with The Crucible looming ever larger on the horizon.This is maybe the reason why we have had far fewer shocks this week then we've had in other tournaments of late and we have a real mouth watering line up for tomorrows Quarter Finals

First up we have a clash of two of the games toughest competitors with Neil Robertson once again facing Mark Selby.Both these men have had relatively easy passages to this point having only lost 3 frames between them in their first two matches but maybe the scores have flattered Selby a bit as he hasn't needed to be at his best in beating Haotian and Hawkins.That said Selby has had the best of the recent tussles between these two and may well prevail again in a match that is sure to be close.

Also in the morning session tomorrow we have Judd Trump v Matthew Stevens. Trump who showed small signs in Wales earlier in the month that he may be finally shaking off his mid season slump, has stepped up another gear this week and is now nearing his brilliant best.Here he has already revenged his UK Championship defeat to Mark Joyce dismissing him 5-0 before following up with three centuries today in beating Nigel Bond 5-1.Stevens has reached this stage with a borrowed cue, his having gone missing in transit and recording a fine 5-3 win over Shaun Murphy today ,will know he will need to step up again here if he is to trouble Trump.

The one thing all these tournaments in China have been missing is a good run from home favourite Ding Junhui but this might be the week where that changes.Often in the past he has struggled under the expectations of his adoring fans but this week after coming through 5-4 against Holt he looked far more comfortable in beating Marco Fu 5-2.Standing in the way of him reaching the semi finals will be John Higgins who followed up a 5-3 win over Alan McManus with a superb 5-0 thrashing of Stuart Bingham.Higgins has been in a bit of a slump himself of late following a great start to season but the further he gets  into a tournament the harder he is to beat.This one will be another close one but I just think Ding might scrap through.

The fourth quarter final see's the defending champion Mark Allen face Ricky Walden.Allen who was brilliant in winning this title last year has reached this stage not playing his best despite twice coming from 2-0 to record 5-2 victories over Ryan Day and Robert Milkins.Walden who has also been the victim of cue going missing this week has beaten Peter Ebdon 5-2 using Stephen Maguire's cue and he repaid his friends favour by beating Maguire 5-4 today.This is another tough match to call but I just feel Allen might come through.As I've already said he hasn't been at his best yet this week but the point is as long as you keep winning you always have chance to improve in next match

Thats the line up then for what promises to be a cracking day of snooker.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Why we will always need a "Ronnie O Sullivan"

Any of us,who grew up watching the world championship in the 80's will remember an elderly gentleman who seemed to be sat in the same front row seat for every session of every match ,every year.I remember in my youth been extremely jealous of him and wondering how he always managed to secure the same seat.

This man came into my thoughts again over the last few weeks when I was having a look on YouTube at some of the old BBC musical montages.In particular I was looking at the one from 1996.In this video set to the Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" we see various clips of a young Ronnie O'Sullivan in action but the part that struck me was the clip where we see Ronnie wheeling away from the table after another clearance and this elderly man in the background standing to his feet to applaud what he had just witnessed..

Here was a man who had been front and centre for some of the sports most iconic and historic moments and yet he could be still brought to his feet by seeing someone do something special on the table.That for me says it all about Ronnie.

Today,when the whole "will he wont he" saga came to an end and Ronnie announced that he will be defending his world title at The Crucible in April the twitter world came alive with excitement from those who have longed to see him back and was then quickly followed with the usual scorn from those who believe that the world of snooker doesn't revolve around what Ronnie O'Sullivan does.

Of course these people are correct in so far as snooker will continue long after Ronnie has finished playing but I don't think many would argue that it isn't a better and more interesting place with him in it.I mean football will continue when Messi retires but it doesn't mean we wouldn't miss the little Argentine genius if he was gone.

The point is that sport in any sphere is brilliant but it's the individuals who get us off our seats that really make watching sport something special.Lets hope this is the start of another great chapter in the career of Ronnie and whats more I have a sneaky feeling that his imminent return might just spur a few of the other top players on.If I'm correct we could be set for a real grandstand end to this season.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Welsh Open Final + Thoughts

The five year ranking title drought for Stephen Maguire is over ,after he beat Stuart Bingham 9-8 in a thriller last night at The Newport Centre to claim the 2013 Welsh Open title.

In my tournament preview I mentioned how I had felt that this season was in danger of just going off the boil of late and hoped that this tournament would give it the shot in the arm it needed.That it certainly did as not just the final but also the semi finals on Saturday showed snooker again at it's twisty turny best.

On to the final itself and a match that always looked too close to call,didn't become any clearer as the afternoon session left both players still locked together at 4-4.Into the evening session and it was here where the momentum seemed to shift to Bingham.He won three of the first four frames to take what looked like a decisive lead of 7-5 at the mid session interval.

The key word here though is "interval".Maguire as we have often seen in the past is not someone who hides his emotions well,was beginning to look like a beaten man and for him the chance to regroup for 20 minutes in the dressing room came at just the right time.The opposite of course was true for Bingham who was at this stage in full flight and would have happily stayed on the table to finish the job.

As it happened the key frame to this match turned out to be the next.Having both missed chances to win it,it boiled down to a battle on the colours which twisted and turned many times before a fluked blue actually turned out to cost Bingham the frame.Having got that pot the white finished too close to the pink for comfort and  in failing in his attempt to pot it in the centre he allowed Maguire to clear up and close to 7-6.

Suddenly Maguire now had his game face on and he soon leveled at 7-7 before again making the most of another chance in the next to move 8-7 ahead of an increasingly flustered looking Bingham.

Maguire indeed was again in first in the next and looked to be marching to victory before yet one more twist came.A missed red when only 3 or 4 pots from the frame allowed Bingham one last chance and he duly leveled the match again at 8-8.

It was here a funny thing happened,as having both had their moments during the session,calm now seemed to descend on the two men as the came to the table to battle it out in the decider.The decisive moment was to come when after a cagey start Bingham attempted to make a plant and having missed it allowed Maguire the first real chance.After all he had been through over recent seasons he wasn't going to let this chance go and he clinched the title with a fine break of 82.

Bingham will be disappointed to have lost this one and will no doubt look back on that 13th frame where he missed the chance to go 8-5 ahead as the crucial moment..That said he can take a lot of confidence from his performances this week,especially his wins over Robertson and Ding and this will hopefully stand him in good stead for the rest of the season.

The winner though was Maguire who left us in no doubt how much this victory meant to him when he gave the table three hefty thumps having potted frame ball..This win was just reward for a man who puts everything he has into the game and win or lose never leaves anything on the table.I have always liked the way that he seems to love the game so much that he almost hates it.Hopefully for him to he can build on this win and be among those challenging for titles for the rest of the season.

Finally on the event itself,I think the people of Wales have yet again shown how much they love their snooker and I hope any talk of this event coming to an end are premature as it would be a shame to lose this great tournament from the calendar.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Welsh Open Semi Final round up + Final preview

Stuart Bingham will square off against Stephen Maguire tomorrow over the best of 17 frames to decide who will be crowned Welsh Open Champion 2013 after a thrilling semi finals day in Newport.

It's funny how a players whole career path can change on one good tournament. Up to last season Bingham had toiled away on the circuit for many years with moderate success, but his whole career changed when he fought back against Mark Wiliams to win the 2011 Australian Open.That win seemed to spark something in Stuart and he has been a different animal ever since.Gone are the days where he showed promise in matches only to let it slip,now he is someone who is not afraid to get over the line.This was evident in his match against Neil Robertson during the week and again today.

Coming in this afternoon Ding was many peoples favourite to retain his title having steamrollered his way to the semi finals playing some of his best snooker of the season but it was Bingham who started off the better taking an early 2-0 lead.That then became 3-1 at the interval and with the next two also shared the score was now 4-2.It was here where Ding seemed to find an extra gear and he won the next three to now lead 5-4.The momentum was now with the Chinese but the 2013 version of Stuart Bingham doesn't buckle under pressure.he leveled with a fine 93 in the next before he took the most of his chance in the last after Ding failed to make the most of an opening,sealing victory with a superb 108.

Bingham goes into this final hoping to lift his fourth title of the season having already claimed two Asian PTC's and the Premier League but things couldn't be more different for his opponent who has been largely struggling for form of late,Indeed unbelievably should he win this will be Maguires first full ranking title for 5 years.That is way too long a wait for a man many were tipping at one stage to be perhaps the games dominant player.

One fault people always find with Maguire is the fact that he always wears his heart on his sleeve.I have always felt though that that works both ways,yes it gives his opponent a lift when he see's he is struggling, but on the other side,when he is really up for it his focus must be very intimidating.

Tonight was certainly one of his going nights as he recovered from 2-0 to take five in a row to lead 5-2.Trump had shown signs this week that he was getting back to something approaching his best but this was a display as flat as anything he produced of late.That was until Maguire ran out of position when seemingly clearing up for a 6-2 win.Trump came in to pull that one back and then in no time at all closed to 5-4.Trump was now flying and looked set to  force a decider when he lead 50-0 in the next, but a poor safety allowed Maguire the chance to counter and he did enough to seal the win 6-4

So what can we expect tomorrow then. Well certainly we have a clash of two in form players and this one could be a a real thriller. I don't normally sit in the fence when it comes to calling a winner but I really can't separate these two.One thing that is for sure is we wont have a run away winner in this one.Lets hope we are treated to a high quality encounter.I can't wait

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Welsh Open Last 16 round up

Tomorrow see's the Welsh Open move into it's quarter final stage and we have rarely seen such a  wide and varied selection of players left standing, as we have here after today's last 16 encounters.

The most impressive players so far this week have been defending champion Ding Junhui and Mark Alllen and in many ways it was a pity they has to meet so early in the tournament as the last 16 but thats the way it panned out..This seems to be an unfortunate recurring theme with Allen, who has played very well in a number of tournaments this season only to run into someone playing at the top of their form.Sadly for him that was to be the case again today.Ding got off to a flyer in this one and went 3-0 up before Allen started to fight back.He won the next two to make it 3-2 and was first in in the next before running out position allowing Ding the chance to clinch the match,This he did winning 4-2 and on this form will take some stopping this week.

His opponent in the next round will be Robert Milkins who saw off Sam Baird 4-2.

The most thrilling match of the day was between Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham who served up a high quality clash that was decided on the final black,Bingham winning it 4-3..This one had been nip and tuck the whole way with both players playing well and it was no surprise to see it go to the final frame.In the decider Robertson looked set for victory but played a risky pot on red when safety was perhaps the better option and Bingham produced a stunning clearance to win through.

His reward will be a quarter final against the veteran Ken Doherty who also came through in a nervy decider against  Tom Ford.Doherty apparently had a holiday booked with his wife for this weekend but I'm sure she wont mind him having to cancel it if it means lifting this trophy again.

The other big story this week has been the run of Pankaj Advani and he impressed yet again today this time taking the scalp of Graeme Dott by a scoreline of 4-1.He remarkably now beaten three former world champions in this tournament having knocked out Shaun Murphy here the other night and Peter Ebdon in the qualifying round last week.His next match promises to be a fascinating clash of styles as he takes on Judd Trump for a place in the semi finals.

Trump reached this stage with a comfortable 4-1 win over Andrew Higginson.I suggested following yesterdays get out of jail performance against Dale,that we may be looking back on that match in the coming month's as a turning point in his season and today he looked more comfortable around the table then he has in a good while ,as he coasted to victory.He still is not playing at his peak but he can only be encouraged by displays like this.Confidence is only ever a win away.

Welsh interest in the tournament ended this afternoon when home favourite Matthew Stevens went down 4-2 to Stephen MaguireThis one wasn't a classic but it was Maguire who scored the better and came through to set up a quarter final with fellow Scot Alan McManus.

McManus is another man enjoying his best run in  tournament in a long time this week but it looked set to end this evening when he trailed Joe Perry 3-0.McManus has never been a player who gives in easily though and he produced a dogged fightback to claim a 4-3 win.The way this week is going you never know, we could have a repeat of the 1993 final with McManus facing Doherty!

Away from the table The WPBSA announced today that following an investigation into alleged match fixing that Stephen Lee does indeed have a case to answer and the case will now be handed over for an independent hearing to Sports Resolution UK.Obviously I'm not going to comment anymore on this other then to say that I hope,for all concerned,that this matter is dealt with as quickly as possible.

Anyway back to what we all want to be concentrating on and that id the action,that gets underway at 1 tomorrow with the first two quarter finals with the other two following on in the evening..Don't forget we also now revert back to the more normal best of 9 frames format.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Welsh Open. The story so far

Three days of play completed at the 2013 Welsh Open in Newport and the tournament has already supplied us with some shock results,some veterans rolling back the years and of course some high quality snooker.

Lets get the shocks out of the way first and none came bigger then todays whtiewash 4-0 win for Joe Perry over the tours current in form man and world no.1 Mark Selby.Perry has always been a player capable of pulling out a big result against anyone on his day but the way Selby has been playing of late and especially in his first match here against Steve Davis this was one noone would have expected.All credit to Perry though  who finished the game in style with a classy century.

The other major shock came last night when Shaun Murphy went down 4-3 to Padkaj Advai.Murphy has been Mr consistent this season without ever really looking like threatening the engraver and he looked like he was going to produce another of his trademark comebacks here when he fought back from 3-1 to level at 3-3. Advani  though didn't buckle under the pressure and indeed if anything the man who is the current world Billiards champion grew stronger as he controlled the decider to record the biggest win of his career to date.

From a man making his first waves in the snooker world to someone in a man in the autumn of his career.Ken Doherty lifted this trophy way back in 1993 and he will be more then happy with his display in beating John Higgins 4-1.Doherty has had a pretty decent season,qualifying for most events but this was probably his biggest scalp in a while. Higgins for his part really didn't show up and it may be the case that at this stage in his career,losses like his to Murphy in The Masters just take that bit longer to  get over.

The man Ken beat in that final 20 years ago was Alan McManus and he too is enjoying his best tournament for a while beating Barry Hawkins 4-2 to reach the last 16 of a tournament for the first time in a long time.

One thing the shock exit of Mark Selby does is hand back the World no.1 spot to Judd Trump.Trump has been in a bit of a slump of late and hasn't looked back to his superb best here ,but showed he does possess good fighting qualities in coming back from 3-1 down to beat Dale 4-3.That will give his supporters a lot of heart and who knows,in months to come we might be looking back at this match as the turning point of his season.

 The defending champion this week is of course Ding Junhui and he appears to be a man on a mission here as he tries to defend his title.He was in imperious form today as he swept by Mark King 4-0 and now faces perhaps the other man who has impressed most this week Mark Allen in the last 16.This promises to be a cracking match and it mightn't be stretching it to far to say whoever wins it will take a lot of stopping for the rest of the week.That said I'm sure the likes of Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham to name but two will have plenty to say about that.

The last 16 matches will all take place tomorrow and after that things may become clearer as to who will be lifting the trophy come Sunday.We have some interesting days ahead.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Welsh Open Preview.

Ranking event snooker makes a return to one of the sports traditional hotbeds this week as the Newport Centre once again plays host the the Welsh Open.Time was when this was one of the best supported and eagerly anticipated on the calendar but due to a wide range of changes,some forced some not, it has slipped down the peckng order and some are even questioning if it will continue at all.

That would be a great pity for anyone who remembers so many great tournaments here over the past twenty years,but who knows maybe a week of great snooker here will give this old tournament a new lease of life

A new lease of life is arguably also what this season  needs as in truth the last few big events we have seen have been overall somewhat disappointing .It's seems a long time now since we had those two high quality finals in the Shanghai Masters & International Championship which seemed to light up the season.Since then although Selby and Carter deserve credit for their successes,I think few would argue that these tournaments have captured their imagination.That means that players travelling to Newport not only have a chance to give their own seasons a kick start but also to give the game as a whole a much needed shot in the arm.

Of course the great flat draw debate rumbles on and the fact that some of the top players had to play their qualifiers in the cubicles in Sheffield while some along with the top ranked Welsh players got their matches held over to the main venue has sparked great debate.I like many feel if this system is to work next season it has to be the same for everyone.You can't have a case that some are more equal then others!

Onto the tournament itself and Ding as defending champion will be hoping for another bold showing as will many of the other usual suspects like Selby,Robertson,Murphy and Higgins.The man perhaps coming in with most questions to answer this week is Judd Trump.For the first time in a a couple of seasons a number of those in the game are asking serious question of him and of course the best way for the young man to answer them is on the table doing what he does best.

Lets hope for a memorable week of snooker that reignites both this tournament and this season.

Monday, 4 February 2013

German Masters Final

Ali carter was the toast of The Tempodrome in Berlin last night as he defeated 9-6 Marco Fu to claim the 2013 German Masters title.

This was a battle between two players who had been lauded in their early careers as been potential giants of the game but although both have won ranking titles neither has lived up to that early potential.Of course for Carter,who is fighting an ongoing battle with Chrones disease the fact that he has been able to compete at such a high level at all is tribute to his dedication as a professional.

This was his third ranking title success and he saved his best form of the week for last nights second session.He had begun the evening trailing 5-3 from the afternoon session which was probably a fair reflection on how they had both played but back to back centuries soon leveled matters at 5-5.That became 6-5 in the next as Cater took the lead in the match for the first time.Fu was now all at sea as his rhythm deserted him.He did manage to take the last before the interval to make it 6-6 but any hopes that this would spark a revival were short lived as Cater reeled of the three he needed to record the 9-6 win.

In truth this tournament didn't live up to the standard of two previous events we have seen at The Tempodrome but nonetheless the grateful German public enthusiastically flocked to the venue once again and gave all the players an ovation they will be unlikely experience anywhere else this year.It certainly seems to be the case that the audiences in Europe are less concerned about who they see play,rather they are just happy to be getting the chance to see live snooker.

It will be interesting to see how the crowds compare at the Welsh Open next week in a place that, after all  was one of the games traditional hot beds.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

German Masters Final Preview

The final of the 2013 German Masters will be a battle between Ali Carter and Marcu Fu after both came through their respective semi finals yesterday.Neither match was a classic but that wont matter to these two as they go in search of the 60,000 Euro first prize as well as the chance to add another ranking title to their cv's.

Carter was the first man through beating a below par Neil Robertson 6-2.This was a match that may live on in the memory but for all the wrong reasons.The standard on show was perhaps the lowest we have seen in a semi final for many years.indeed the standout statistic is that Carter managed to win so convincingly with a high break of just 46.There was a lot of talk on twitter yesterday about how Robertson can get bogged down in matches to the detriment of his own game and I think there is an argument for this.I think we sometimes see him fall into the trap of trying too hard not to lose rather then playing to win.

All that said I don't think Carter will have lost too much sleep last night over how he reached the final and in fairness to him he did pot a number of pressure balls to advance.He will be well up for it today as aims to his current tally of two ranking titles.

Standing in his way will be Marco Fu,who beat Barry Hawkins 6-4 in another keenly fought semi final last night.Hawkins had probably been the best player all week and got the best of some long drawn out opening frames to lead 2-0.Fu wasn't going to crumble though and made it 2-2 at interval.That was to become 4-4 as they exchanged the next four,but it was Fu who finished the stronger to claim the set up todays encounter with Carter

This final is almost impossible to try and call.Carter by virtue of the fact he is a little more experienced in these situations will probably start as favourite but not by much.This is a clash between two players who will both feel they should have been in this situation  many more times in their careers then they have been,but have both been blighted by inconsistency. This one may boil down to who settles the better early on in the match.

I'm going to go for a Fu win.I just feel if he can get his scoring going early he will have too much for Carter here.Let just hope though, whoever the winner is, that the 2,500 people who will pack the Tempodrome today get the final they deserve.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

German Masters Semi Final preview + round up of week so far.

It may be a truly unique venue with its open plan meaning the audience can see the action from all five tables,but for me it is when it comes down to the one table that the Tempodrome and indeed the German crowds come into their own.

That will be the case today when firstly Neil Robertson takes on Ali Carter and then Marco Fu plays Barry Hawkins all hoping to reach tomorrows final.

Before I get into those matches I'll quickly look back at the week.This was our first chance to see how the flat draw might work next season and I don't think anyone who was apprehensive about it would have had their  fears allayed here.I'm not sure if it was the fact that so many of the top players had their qualifying matches held over to the venue or that the tournament was been played out over 5 days ,but to my eyes it all seemed very rushed,with some players having to play twice in the one day.

As I've said before none of us know how the flat 128 draw will work yet but if it is like this with some players getting matches held over to main venue, then any idea's they may have that this is a fair system will go out the window.We'll just have to wait and see.

As for the action it was a funny week.There was a time last October where it looked as if we were going to have a season dominated by Judd Trump and John Higgins but how that has changed.Higgins was the first to exit here losing to Peter Lines and Trumps worrying slump in form continued as he lost 5-4 to Anthony Hamilton.Of course no player can win every match and for these two it is surely only matter of time until they are firing again.The same applies to Stephen Maguire who lost 5-0 to Mark King here.

Onto the players who are still here and obviously playing well though and first up today are Neil Robertson and Ali Carter.Robertson was perhaps involved in the game of the week last night when he scrapped by Shaun Murphy 5-4.He had seemed in control leading 4-2 but having watched Murphy steamroller his way to 4-4 with back to back centuries he held himself together well to advance.Carter on  the other hand has had a much more serene passage to the semi finals and beat Micheal Holt 5-2 last night set up todays clash.This could be a close encounter especially f Carter can get his scoring going early, but I feel Robertson will be too strong and I expect him to reach yet another final.

The other semi final between Marco Fu and Barry Hawkins is a clash between two of the games great underachievers.These two men have all the talent to have won many titles but have never really delivered as they might.Hawkins of course has already been in the winners circle this season but rather unfairly his victory in the Australian Open has been devalued by many because so many of the top 16 didn't play.This week he has arguably been the best performer so far with a stunning 5-1 win over Mark Allen in the last 16 and he followed that up by finally bringing to an end the winning run of Mark Seby in the quarters again winning 5-1.
Fu has also had a steady week and beat Matthew Stevens 5-3 to reach this semi.This match could go anyway but purely on what he has done this week so far i'm going to plug for Hawkins.

So there we have it.This may not be the semi final line up that people would have expected but lets hope the German public are rewarded for there enthusiasm with a weekend equal to what we've had in the last two years.