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Sunday, 31 March 2013

China Open Final

Neil Robertson is the 2013 China Open champion after a hard fought 10-6 victory over Mark Selby in todays final in Beijing.

This was amazingly Robertson's first full ranking title since the 2010 World Open,although he has won a number of PTC events as well as last seasons Masters,and he was made scrap all the way here by the Leicsterman,who battled,the way a world no.1 should,right to the final ball.

It had appeared that we might be set for an early finish as Robertson dominated the first session that in truth lacked in real quality to take a 6-1 lead into the evening.This really was a tough matchplay snooker with a succession of 30min plus frames meaning that play was stopped two frames short of the scheduled nine to allow the players a break between sessions.

These were tough times for Selby who normally thrives on nicking fragmented frames.but any of us who were counting him out were forgetting who exactly we were dealing with and in the evening session he responded like all great champions do by coming out and giving it everything he had.

Looking a different player he rolled in breaks of 81 ,125 and 66 to close the gap to 6-4.Robertson at this stage must have fighting to keep a lid on the memory of losing that 4-0 lead to Selby in the UK championship earlier in the season and he managed to stop the rot by taking a vital eleventh frame with a 110 to lead 7-4 at the interval.

The next frame was now going to be key and with the scores at 37-34 in Robertson's favour,he knocked in a crucial last red and cleared the awkwardly placed colours to lead 8-4.That became 9-4 courtesy of a 90 break and Robertson now stood just one frame away from the title,but as we have come to expect from Selby he wasn't finished just yet.breaks of 116 & 63 closed it again to 9-6.Robertson wasn't to be denied though and won the next to secure the hard fought 10-6 win.

For Robertson this was a richly deserved and long overdue success.Over the last couple of seasons he has been ultra consistent but I have felt at times he has gotten bogged down in matches and fallen into the trap of tying not to lose rather then playing to win which is not his natural game.I think here ,especially in his semi final against Maguire that he has gone back to his old "bull by the horns" style and that will stand him in good stead for the battles ahead.

As for Selby,he once again proved here,even in defeat,exactly why he has had the success he has had this season and he  fully deserves his place back at the top of the world rankings.He will now head to the Crucible in three weeks full of confidence as he seeks to the World title to the UK and Masters titles he has already won this season

So thats 10 ranking events this season with 10 different winners,That leaves with only one tournament left and thats the big one at The Crucible where among everything else we will be welcoming back a certain Mr; O'Sullivan.The countdown begins now,Roll on April 20th!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

China Open Semi final round up & Final preview

As if the fact that we are three weeks away from the Crucible wasn't exciting enough,we have a final line up  that will only serve to whet our appetite further as our thoughts drift towards that 17 day marathon,as Mark Selby faces Neil Robertson for the China Open title.

Selby was the first man through to the final producing a dominant display to win his semi final with Shaun Murphy.The writing was on the wall for Murphy from early on here as Selby raced to a 3-0 lead.Murphy did manage to get one back before the interval but Selby,who seems to just have a way of controlling the table won the next two to make it 5-1. Murphy who to his credit never gives in,did manage to get one back,but there was to be no miracle fightback here and Selby sealed the comfortable 6-2 win.

This in many ways was a typical Selby win.Never at any stage did he seem to be playing at his peak but his all round table management made life very awkward for Murphy,who just never seemed to get going.This is something that surely happens too often in Selby matches to be a coincidence.He seems to have found a way,deliberate or not of just controlling a match and choking the life out of his opponent.If this is a tactic,all credit to him as it has brought him much success and the world no.1 spot.There is after all no right or wrong way to play the game.

For Murphy this tournament pretty much summed up his season,Hr has been very consistent at reaching the business end of tournaments,but has never really threatened to win one.

In many ways,in the consistency stakes at least,the same can be said of Neil Robertson,though he has only lost his previous two ranking final this season in the deciding frame.

He reached his third ranking final of the season here courtesy of a fine 6-5 victory over Stephen Maguire.

This was a proper best of 11 tussle that swung both ways before the Aussie prevailed.The scene for what was to come was set early in this one as Maguire took the opening frame before Robertson stormed back to lead 2-1.He looked set to make that 3-1 but a fine counter attack from Maguire leveled it at 2-2 at the interval.

Maguire seemed to be stamping his control on the game to lead 4-2 but in two almost identical frames where Maguire made the early running it was Robertson who fought back to level things up again at 4-4. Maguire edged to within one of victory taking the next but his old Achilles heal of playing the odd rash shot out of frustration came back to haunt him in the tenth and Robertson knocked in a break of 110 to force the decider.

The decider itself was a cagey affair but it was Robertson who took full advantage of the first clear chance to win it with a 81.

This was ironically Maguires best performance of the week and he can head to the Crucible next month with a fair degree of confidence from his recent successes.

For Robertson who at one stage had never lost a tv final,it is a chance to right the wrong ,as he will see it,of not having a ranking title on the cv for this season.That title wont be easily won though against an opponent who is,at the very least his equal,in the "tough as granite"stakes.Selby also has the advantage of a couple of high profile recent wins over the Aussie and for that reason will probably start a slight favourite.That said though I do just have a feeling that the Robertson's hunger for a title this season will see him through.Don't be surprised if it's another tight finish though.

Friday, 29 March 2013

China Open Quarter finals round up.

Quarter Finals day in Beijing  and on the face of it looked to have been rather straight forward,as all four higher ranked players got through to the semi finals but it could really be argued here that the final scores only tell half the story.

First man through to the semi finals wa ark Selby who beat Mark Williams 5-1.After sharing the opening two frames,Selby won a longish third to lead 2-1 before a fourth frame that would prove to be crucial to the outcome.Williams got in first with a break of 53,but it was Selby who,as has become his trademark,dug in to clear with a break of 64 for a 3-1 lead.That became 4-1 in a scrappy fifth before he sealed the win with a 72 in the last.

This is a win that confirms Selby will go into the Crucible as world no.1 and that is just reward for what he has achieved this season.The man who will hope to stop him also going there as China Open champion will be  Shaun Murphy after he fought back to beat Jack Lisowki 5-4.

The wuestion coming in here was how would Lisowski handle the pressure of his first ranking quarter final,but he seemed to be up to the challenge as he took the opening frame with a run of 62 before Murphy leveled with a 137.Murphy edged ahead in the next courtesy of an outrageous fluke on the black that really has to be seen to believed,but Lisowski,again showing the fluency he has displayed all week,made it 2-2 at the interval with a 71 break.

Lisowski seemed to heading for his first ranking semi final as he stretched his lead to 4-2 but as we know by now,Murphy never gives up and helped by a young man now feeling the pressure of what he was on the verge of achieving,he fought back to level at 4-4. It was anyones game now but Lisowski was clearly feeling the pressure and failed to take some decent chances before the more experienced Murphy saw out the frame to win.

Lisowski will no doubt be feeling very disappointed at not getting the job done,but away from the heat of the battle he can look back on a big week in his snooker apprenticeship.I have no doubt he will be competing at this stage of events many times in the future.

The other semi final tomorrow will see Neil Robertson play Stephen Maguire after both came through the second set of quarter finals.

It is hard to believe,given his consistency this season that Robertson is yet to lift a ranking title this season,but that is the position the Aussie finds himself in here in the seasons penultimate tournament. This was a match that was never going to be a free flowing affair and when a long four frames left it 2-2 at the interval it looked as though we could be in for a long session.The frame immediately after the interval seemed to be confirming that as it stretched to over 45 minutes before Robertson won it.That seemed to free him up a bit as he moved 4-2 ahead with a 115 in the next.Campbell had his chances in the next to close the gap,but failed to take them and Robertson made the best of his chance to seal the 5-2 win.

His opponent tomorrow will be recent Welsh Open winner Stephen Maguire after he again defeated the man he had beaten in that finsa,Stuart Bingham in a match that never reached the standard they produced in Cardiff.

Maguire started well enough and went 3-0 ahead before Bingham got off the mark to make it 3-1.From here the match got a bit scrappy but it was Maguire who held it together the best to win 5-1.He talked afterwards about how rubbish he had played but the fact is,once you are still in the tournament you have the chance to improve.

A quality semi final line up then and reall no result would be a surprise with these four high quality and evenly match players.

I am going to put my neck on the line however and predict a Selby v Maguire final

Thursday, 28 March 2013

China Open Quarter Final Preview

Quarter final day at the China Open in Beijing and despite some early shocks this week we are left with possibly the strongest last eight we have seen in a tournament in quite a while.

First up we have Mark Selby v Mark Williams.This is fascinating match up and rematch of the Shanghai Masters final from last season.This is significant as since that match which ended in a small bit of controversy Williams has really struggled for form and has recently half mocked about retirement.That said his comeback today ,from 4-2 to Ali Carter saw him produce snooker close to his best and he will be hoping it signals a return to form.

Selby  reached this stage with a 5-2 victory over Ricky Walden.He may have failed to reach the level of performance he did in his first match here,but he again showed the matchplay skills that have seen him win so often in the come through. This quarter final may be close as Williams for all his break building abilities can scrap it out with the best of them but i feel the momentum is with Selby and may be enough to give him the edge.

Athe same time on the other table we see Jack Lisowski v Shaun Murphy in what is Lisowski's first ranking quarter final.He reached this stage by following up his victory over Trump with a stirring fightback to beat Mark Davis 5-4.Lisowski has been talked about in glowing terms for a while now and maybe his run here will be the spark that moves him to the next level regardless of how much further he progresses. 

The man hoping that run does end here is Murphy.These have been strange times for Murphy,who was Mr.Consistent for much of the season without winning a title and just like a golfer who has a series of pars,the run either comes to end with a birdie or a bogey.Unfortunately for him is was a bogey and he has seen his form drop off of late with some early exits.He has looked better this week but I just feel that Lisowski will keep his run going here and follow up a first quarter final appearance with a first semi final.

In the evening session we have two men who have a recent history as both contested the recent Welsh Open Final.Stephen Maguire beat Stuart Bingham 9-8 on that occasion and we could well have another close battle here.both men have produced solid displays this week but I think that once again Maguire,who got a much needed boost to his confidence winning that Welsh Open title will confirm that form to win this one.

The last Quarter final between Marcus Campbell & Neil Robertson looks on the face of it to be the easiest to call but although it would be surprising to see Robertson exit here it is not beyond the realms of possibility for Campbell to prevail.That said Robertson looked very good today in beating Allen and he should win this one on all known form.

Fascinating days snooker in store then and no matter what the results are we are in for a great weekend of action

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

China Open The week so far

The eyes of the snooker community are once again trained on Beijing this week as the the city plays host to the fifth and final ranking event to take place in China this season,the China Open.

The proximity of this tournament to the world championship has always sparked debate as to it's importance,but maybe now,with so much snooker been played over a long season it provides much needed clues as to who still has something left in the tank ahead of the 17 day Crucible marathon.

If this is indeed the case it will be hard to see Judd Trump or John Higgins lifting the famous trophy on the first Monday in May after both exited here in the first round for the second successive tournament.The two month period earlier in the season,where it looked as though both these men were set to dominate now seem a long way time ago,as apart from a few flashes of form both have largely struggled since.

Here Higgins again lost a close match this time to Robert Milkins by a scoreline of 5-4.Higgins has lost a few matches like this of late and a this stage of his career every close match he loses must hurt that little bit more.

Trump for his part,still has a long career ahead of him but also will need to up his game a bit if this season is't to end in a whimper for the young man.Here he went out in a high quality and highly entertaining match against his former housemate and fellow young gun jack Lisowski.As happy as I'm sure Lisowski had been in the last couple of years to see his great friend having such success,there must surly be a part of him wishing it was him.he showed here that he certainly has the talent to compete at the very top level and maybe he is just one good run in a tournament away from convincing himself of that fact as well.

It has seemed,after his impressive display in Galway last week,that Ding Junhui might finally be playing well enough to put his poor home record behind him but once again he failed to negotiate the early rounds.losing here 5-3 to Barry Hawkins despite launching a spirited fightback from 4-0 down.

Also exiting in this round was defending champion Peter Ebdon who despite reverting to his old cue failed to rekindle the form that saw him lift the trophy here last year. he went down here 5-3 to Marcus Campbell.

Someone who has begun to show some form here after seemingly going off the boil following his mid season successes in the UK and The Masters is Mark Selby.His match today will be remembered for the missed final black when attempting a 147 but he really did play well and will be a force for anyone to contend with this week.He also has the added incentive of a possible return to the no.1 ranking following Trumps exit.

Also impressive was Neil Robertson who whitewashed namesake Jimmy 5-0.He will now play Mark Allen in the last 16 in the standout tie of the round.

Other still involved are Bingham,Maguire,Carter,and Mark Williams so this one is shaping up to be an interesting week.I will blog in more detail tomorrow when the last 16 has sorted itself out.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

PTC Grand Final

After a season of events all over the world and a week of battling it out in Galway.The final brought together two of the sports real heavyweights to slug it out over the best of seven frames as Neil Robertson faced Ding Junhui for the title of PTC Grand Final champion 2013
It is a sign of just how strange a season this has been to think that this was the tenth full ranking event and neither of these great champions had managed to claim one up to now
Into the first frame then and in what was to become the pattern in the early frames Ding got in first but only managed 41 before running out of position.Robertson capitalised with an 88 to take a 1-0 lead and quickly made it 2-0 with the aid of a 58 break in the next.

Any memories Robertson had of his 4-0 final defeat here last year to Stephen Lee were quickly vanishing as he stretched that lead to 3-0 in a frame that was a carbon copy of frame one with Ding again breaking down when in first,this time on 51 and Robertson countering to win it with 60.These were worrying time for Ding who in truth hadn't really done much wrong.

Frame four looked like it may be a case of history repeating itself as once again Ding made the running with a 52 only to break down,but on this occasion Robertson failed to capitalise and Ding finished off with a 70 to put his first frame on the board.

This seemed to relax Ding a little and he rattled in a wonderfully crafted 130,his 8th century of the week. to close within one,the score now 3-2.

Things were now getting serious as we entered the sixth frame.Ding again made the running with 38 before running out of position and Robertson countered with 44.This one though boiled down to a battle on the colours and after an extraordinary run of shots Ding produced a fabulous escape,snookering Robertson on the yellow in the process.Robertson managed to hit the yellow,but left it  on and Ding held his nerve to pot a difficult brown along the baulk cushion finishing perfectly on the blue to force us into a decider.

They say when it comes to this,that all you are looking for is a chance and that chance fell to Ding.and as has done so often this week,he made a match winning clearance of 98 to become PTC Grand final champion 2013.Just how much this meant to Ding was obvious as he showed far more emotion then we are used to seeing from him,thumping his chest in delight.

Speaking afterwards Robertson,who at one stage had never lost a tv final but has now lost his last four,was in reflective mood remarking that in none of those finals had he played badly it was just that his opponent on each occasion had played very well.Indeed this is true and never more so then here as Ding finished with a pot success rate of 99%.

It was also noticeable this week that Neil was not getting as bogged down in his matches as he has been of late and whether this was a conscious move by him or not,I feel his game will only benefit as a result.

For Ding this win will be satisfactory on many levels.Not only has he lifted his first major trophy in over a year,but he also showed great reserves of fortitude to fight his way back into it from 3-0 down.I'm not sure the Ding of a few seasons back would have shown such resilience.If this is something he has now added permanently to his arsenal he will become an even more formidable competitor in the coming seasons.

So a great tournament finishes with a great final and a worthy final. There may have been problems with the scheduling in the first four days and this will definitely need to be looked at for the future,but that shouldn't take away from what was another great week in the city of Galway.Crowds may have varied during the week but with so much else going on in Ireland around St Patricks weekend we still had healthy crowds for the concluding stages.Lets hope snooker returns here again next year.

PTC Grand Finals semi-final round up

The final of the 2013 PTC Grand final will between last years runner up Neil Robertson and yesterdays maximum man Ding Junhui,after both came through very contrasting semi-finals.

First up we had Robertson taking on Tom Ford.This was Ford's first ranking event semi-final and it showed early on as he struggled to get any rhythm going early on as missed a few easy balls in the opening frame,eventually losing it.!-0 Robertson.

Into the second and Robertson made the early running with 50 before another unexpected miss from Ford presented him with the chance to kill it off,which he did with a break of 65.From here the score quickly became 3-0 courtesy of an 80 break and it look as if Robertson was coasting to the final.

It was here though that something unexpected happened.Whether it was a case,that Robertson sub-consciously lifted off the gas or that Ford relaxed or possibly a mixture of both,but whatever it was,things started to change.

Ford got his first frame on the board with a break of 60 and followed it up in the next with contributions of 51 & 66 after Robertson had missed a blue off the spot .The score 3-2.Robertson was now showing signs of feeling it and a missed red to the middle allowed Ford the chance to clinch the frame and force the match into a decider,a situation that looked very unlikely only an hour previous.

Robertson must really have been wondering what was happening as he faced to very real possibility of losing a match that he had been in complete control of and it was ford who had the first real chance in the decider but missed a red to the corner.This set the tone for the frame and both missed decent opportunities to win it before Robertson made a decisive 48 to clinch his place in the final,a fact he celebrated with his customary fist pump.

That didn't seem to go down well with Ford as he barely looked at Robertson as they shook hands at the end but maybe this reaction from Ford had as much to do with the fact he had let some clear chances slip in the last frame as much as anything to do with Robertson's celebration.

The incident launched the usual debates on Twitter about whether it is sporting or not but as far as i'm concerned I have no problem with someone releasing their emotions once the match is won.the only time I don't like to see this is during a match itself.

Robertson's opponent in the final will be Ding Junhui after the Chinese eased by Kurt Maflin in a one sided affair.Maflin ,like Ford earlier was also playing in his first ranking semi final and never seemed to settle as Ding won the first three frames without having a break over 50.This wasn't the high scoring Ding that we saw im his previous two matches but in truth it didn't have to be as Maflin really struggled.The end came in the fourth,when having split the pack wide open from his initial red,Maflin missed a brown to the middle.This pretty much summed up the match for him and Ding saw out the 4-0 win with a 73,his highest break of the afternoon.

So after a week that was dominated by shocks in the early matches we have a final between two of the games big hitters.The action gets under way at 8pm (gmt).I can hardly wait.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

PTC Grand Finals Quarter Finals round up

Quarter Final day at The PTC Grand finals in Galway and finally a bit of respite from the nightmare that has been the scheduling this week,with two matches taking place in the afternoon followed by the other two taking place in the evening.

First into the arena this afternoon were Tom Ford and Marco Fu.Fu,by virtue of his previous experience at this stage of tournaments started as favourite but it was the Englishman who took the opener with a break of 63.That lead became 2-0 after both players had missed relatively easy pots while looking well placed among the balls.

These were worrying times for Fu and that anxiety was only increased when he lost the third to trail 3-0.To his credit he managed to claw one back in the next but it was Ford who saw out the match with a break of 84 to clinch a 4-1 victory and book his place in a ranking event semi final for the first time in his career.

Speaking afterwards Ford spoke of his relief that he managed to get through without the game getting too close as he feared he might not have got over the line but i think he is doing himself a disservice in saying that.The fact is Ford has the potential to trouble anyone and if he can start believing that a little more himself he could really flourish next season particularly when we switch to the flat draw.

Ford's semi-final opponent will be Neil Robertson after the Aussie got the better of Xiao Guodong 4-1 in a scrappy quarter final encounter.In a tense first frame it was Xiao who eventually won it lead 1-0 before Robertson hit back winning the next two to go 2-1.Robertson was starting to find a little fluency now and he extended his lead to 3-1 with a break of 92..

It was now make or break time Xiao and he seemed to be up for the fight until he missed a black off the spot when on a break of 52 in the fifth and although he need two bites of the cherry,Robertson did enough to seal a satisfactory if not spectacular win.

So the first semi final will be a clash between two men who have only met three times previously,all strangely at the UKChampionship.In their most recent meeting in this seasons event Robertson,who has won each of the three matches beat Ford 6-1 in a performance that included four centuries.I dare say he'd settle for something similar tomorrow.

The one thing that had been missing from this tournament,as well as maybe the tour as a whole of late,has been a really top quality encounter.but that is exactly what we got this afternoon,as recent World Open winner Mark Allen played Ding Junhui in a quarter final that will live long in the memory.

This one got off to about as perfect a start as any match can as Ding knocked in a superb long red and followed it another 14 of them accompanied by 15 blacks and the colours to record the fifth maximum 147 of his career.To a man the delighted crowd rose to acclaim a bit of snooker history.In recent years they may have become a little more common,but they still have that special "I was there quality" to them that those lucky enough to witness it will remember this for a long long time.

As the old adage goes though a 147 still only wins you one frame and it was unsurprising after what had just happened that frame two was a little scrappy with Allen winning it to level at 1-1.Allen also took the next with a 58 before Ding found his focus again to make it 2-2 with a 138.

Into the next and Allen looked set to re-establish his lead only to miss a red with the break on 44.That was a cardinal sin in this one and Ding capitalised with an 81 to lead 3-2.The standard now was just getting higher and higher and Allen quickly responded with a timely 125 of his own to make it 3-3.

Into a decider we went then and it was Ding who was to win it with another century,this time a 108 to move into the semi final after what was a superb match to watch.It was just a pity it was only best of seven.

For Allen,he may look at that missed red when among the reds in the fifth frame as the crucial moment but really he shouldn't dwell on it too long as this was simply a case,as has happened him a lot this season,of coming up against someone playing at the top of their game.For Ding this was the second match in a row that he has made three centuries this week and when he is hitting the ball as well as this he will take some stopping wherever or whoever he plays.

As a postscript it was lovely to see him stay in the arena for so long after the match signing autographs and posing for pictures.This was a special day for all those here and it will have only been enhanced by this gesture from the man from China.

In the semi final he will face Kurt Maflin after he overcame Ben Woollaston 4-3 in the last of the quarter finals.Maflin was quick off the blocks in this one as he raced to a 1-0 courtesy of a 99 in the first.From here things started to get a little scrappy and although Maflin won the next to make it 2-0 ,Woollaston pulled the next two back to level at 2-2.He made the running in the next also but broke down allowing Maflin to fight back and take it with a run of 89.

Into the sixth and Maflin seemed to be powering towards victory and a place in the semi final only  for his break to stop on 62.Woollaston,not for the first time this week showed all his battling qualities and table management t claw his way back and force the decider.Maflin was again in first in the decider but this time he wasn't to be denied and wrapped up the win with a break of 66.

This was the first time Maflin has reached a ranking semi final and the £20,000 that he is now guaranteed will go a long way to paying for his upcoming wedding during the off season.

One Day left in this years PTC Grand Finals then and two interesting semi finls to be played tomorrow afternoon. Conventional wisdom tells us that we should be looking at a Robertson v Ding final tomorrow evening but who is to say what will happen in a week and indeed season that has seen shock after shock.The one thing we do know is that whoever does lift the trophy tomorrow evening they will become the ninth different winner from the nine ranking events this season.Things really have never been more open.

Friday, 15 March 2013

PTC Grand Finals day 4

Day 4 at the PTC Grand Finals in Galway saw the completion of the second round and thankfully for all concerned, the end of the long six matches in a day format that has proved so troublesome this week.

First up this morning we had Ding Junhui facing the man he beat in the recent Scottish Open final Anthony Mcgill.If the schedule was to be delayed today,Ding was determined it wasn't going to be because of him as he raced into a 2-0 lead with breaks of 101 and 133. Mcgill managed to stop the rot by winning a scrappy third but Ding restored his two frame advantage winning the next to go 3-1 and one frame away from a place in the quarter finals.One thing that his run in the Scottish Open did prove though was that Mcgill is not someone who gives in until the final ball is potted and he dug in deep again here to win the next two to level at 3-3 and force the decider.The momentum may have been with the Scotsman at this stage but Ding was not to be denied as he rediscovered the form he had started the match with to seal the win with a fine break of 130.

The reward for him is a mouthwatering Quarter final against a man who is yet to drop a frame here this week, Mark Allen

We are told that the one thing you cant have in a best of seven match is a slow start,but it seems Neil Robertson is determined to prove that theory wrong this week.In his first match against Jamie Burnett he fell 2-0 behind before coming through 4-2 and again here today he lost the first against Barry Hawikins and was 51 -0 down in the next before waking up.but wake up he did as he came back to level at 1-1 before easily winning the next to go 2-1.The key frame of the match was the next.Robertson was in first but missed a red allowing Hawkins the chance to counter.He clawed his way back and even got the snooker he required before a careless safety on the blue undid all his hard work and allowed Robertson make it 3-1.There was only going to be one winner from here and Robertson clinched victory in the next to reach the quarter finals and move one step closer to wiping the memory of his final defeat here last year.

His opponent in the Quarter Finals will be Xiao Guodong after the Chinese got past Alfie Burden 4-2 to reach the last 8 for the second year in a row.This one started off scrappy ,but it was Xiao who got the better of the early exchanges to lead 2-0.Burden finally got a frame on the board in the next with a quickfire 88.Next came another tense frame where Xiao made the early running only to be pegged back by Burden.With the black over the corner pocket it was ultimately to be a pink ball frame and it was Xiao who got it to extend his lead to 3-1.Burden pulled one back to make it 3-2 but in another tight scrappy frame Xiao did enough to fall over the winning line

The hot topic among snooker players and fans alike in recent months has been the decision to revert to a flat draw for tournaments from the start of next season.There are of course many arguments for and against but as we have seen with the PTC's,the flat draw can really help some players, who struggle to qualify for ranking events under normal circumstances,to really mix it with the big boys.One such players is Ben Woollaston

Woollaston today faced Joe Perry in the second round and the key moment in this one was to come in the fourth frame.After a scrappy start Perry was beginning to look in control and on the verge of making it 3-1 until a poor positional shot on the blue meant he had a trickier then needed frame ball pink ,which he missed allowing Woollaston to sneak it on the black and level at 2-2.Woollaston also went on to take the next and although Perry compiled a fine 91 to put the match into a decider,it was Woollaston who seemed to be the calmer under pressure and he duly wrapped up the match 4-3.

After his victory over Mark Williams yesterday Woollaston talked about the £100,000 first prize here this week as been a life changing sum of money for him should he win it.He also said that if he doesn't he would prefer if another of the players it would also mean that much to wins he quarter final he will play one of those other lower ranked players left in the tournament in the shape of Kurt Maflin

In a match that always looked on paper like been one for the purist Maflin edged by Rod Lawler by the odd frame in 7,winning 4-3.This one was nip and tuck the whole way with the players exchanging frames the whole way through.That said the flashes of quality that were on show all came from Maflin as he compiled breaks of 72 & 85 so the former World Amateur Champion was a worthy winner..

Saturday see's the four quarter finals taking place with two in the afternoon and another two in the evening taking a little pressure off the schedule.Undoubtedly the stand out tie is between Mark Allen & Ding Junhui but no doubt all eight men remaining will be fancying their chances of lifting the trophy come Sunday.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

PTC Grand Finals Day Three

Day three at the PTC Grand Finals in Galway and yet another long day of snooker.A lot of great things have happened in the sport in the last few years,but even still a decision is made that is just baffling.We have certainly had one of those this week as the powers that be somehow decided that the best way to structure this tournament was to have six best of seven frame matches on each of the first four days.This has resulted in a series of late night finishes that don't suit players,audiences or the tv stations
Last night we had the farcical situation that home favourite Ken Doherty didn't get to start his match until after 11pm and this was repeated again today as Mark Allen and Joe Swail didn't see the arena until just after midnight.The only ways around this situation that I can see is to either have two televised tables for the first couple of rounds up to the quarter final or else simply give the tournament an extra day.Of course it's to late to do anything about it for this tournament but surely lessons must be learnt for the future.

Onto the table then and first up this morning we had Marco Fu and Mark Joyce.Fu has been enjoying a bit of revival of late and eased through this one 4-2 to set up a rematch of the recent German Masters final against the man who beat him in Berlin Ali Carter.

Next up we had Robert Milkins and Anthony Mcgill.In a match that like so many here this week never really got going it was the sole remaining Scotsman left in the tournament who prevailed 4-2. Next up for him is Ding Junhui who brought Mcgills extraordinary run in the Scottish Open earlier in the season to and end when he beat him in the final. Mcgill will be looking to gain some revenge for that here.

This one was followed by what was perhaps the highest quality match of the week so far between Mark Williams and Ben Woollaston.Williams has been really struggling of late,but it was he who got off to the better start here and established a 3-1 lead with an impressive pot success rate of 94%.Woollaston is a good competitor though and foght back to take the next two to level at 3-3.Into the decider we went and it was once again Woollaston who produced his best under pressure sealing a famous win with a break of 70.

Next up for Woollaston will be a last 16 encounter with Joe Perry after he staved off a late fightback from Bingham to win by the weeks most popular scoreline 4-2. Here it was Perry who flew out of the blocks and looking comfortable among the balls quickly established a 3-0 lead. As i have noted before though ,this is a different Bingham these days and he slowly got himself back into the match winning the next two to close to just 3-2 behind.Perry was now visibly feeling the pressure but he still just managed to do enough to seal the win and move into the second round.

Into what was officially the evening session then and the first of the second round ties between Tom Ford and the man who eliminated Selby in the first round Jack Lisowski.This one always threatened to be a close encounter between two evenly matched players and so it proved to be.It was Lisowski who made the early running to lead 3-1 but there was never much in it and Ford fought back to level at 3-3.In a decider where both players had their chances it was Ford who got in first to establish a lead,but back came Lisowski who seemed set for the win only to jaw a tricky green down the cushion.Ford was never going to let this second chance go and he cleared up to become the first man through to the semi finals.

And so it was at 12.08 on day 3 (or maybe 4) that Mark Allen and Joe Swail finally got on the baize.It was obvious from the outset here that Allen was in no mood to hang around as he duly wrapped up the first frame in around 10 minutes.The second frame was a much closer affair and it seemed to be going the way of Swail as he lead 57-0 but Allen came storming back to clinch it by a single point with an excellent 58 clearance.He also stylishly won the third to go 3-0 and closed out the match in the next recording his second 4-0 win of the week.

So ends another marathon day at The Bailey Allen Hall.Day four starts in just over 8 hours. Hardly worth my while going back to hotel!

PTC Grand Finals Day Two.

Day two at the PTC  Grand Finals and after a day of shocks yesterday the question was would today be the same? The answer was yes!

World no.1 Judd Trump fell at the first hurdle in Galway for the second consecutive year after going down 4-3 to Alfie Burden.This was a strange match with Burden looking confident early on in opening up a 2-0 lead.Trump managed to steady the ship to take the next and then leveled at 2-2 before Burden again edged ahead 3-2.Trump,who at this stage had still only managed a top break of 30,somehow leveled again after Burden had missed numerous chances to clinch the win.A decider it was to be then and Burden took full advantage of his first opportunity to seal the win with a fine break of 113.

Back to the drawing board for Trump then with the World Championship drawing ever closer.For Burden,his reward is a quarter final clash wit h Xiao Guodong who beat Graeme Dott 4-1.Guodong was a quarter finalist here last year while playing with a broken hand, took full advantage of a below par Dott to seal clinch the relatively straight forward win.

When the draw was made for this event ,the stand out fixture appeared to be the clash between John Higgins and Ali Carter and it was to live up to the hype.Higgins appeared to be flying out the blocks in the first frame only to break down allowing Carter to .clear up and take a 1-0 lead. Higgins leveled in the next but it was Carter who opened a lead again at 2-1.The next could have gone either way but it was again Carter who won it to go 3-1.Higgins fought back with an 83 to close to 2-3 but it was Carter who won the next to gain a 4-2 win.Carter who missed the recent World Open through illness ow awaits the winner between Marco Fu and Mark Joyce who play on Thursday.

It looked for a while as though Ding junhui would be joining the list of casualties in the last 32 here when he trailed Andrew Higginson 3-1 but the Chinese fought back bravely and to clinch seal a 4-3 win.As he surveys the damage from the last two days you feel Ding will be quietly fancying his chances here this week and now awaits the winner of the Robert Milkins v Anthony Mcgill match in the last 16.

It was a long days snooker at The Bailey Allen Hall but unfortunately for the large crowd who stayed past midnight to cheer on Ken Doherty were to be disappointed as he went down 4-2 to Kurt Maflin.This was a pretty high quality match though.and Maflin had to play very well to see off the gritty Dubliner.Maflin will now play Rod Lawler in the next round.

Day Three see's the end of the round of 32 and the start of the last 16.You feel the crowd will be once again treated to a long days action.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

PTC Grand Finals Day One

Day one at the PTC Grand Finals in Galway and although there were six matches played there is really only one place to start.

The phrase "one of the nicest guys in the game" is one we here bandied around a lot but in the case of Joe Swail it really has always been correctly applied.In a career that seemed to yo-yo from season the season the former two time Crucible semi finalist,affectionately known as "The Outlaw" ,has often come back from the dead to win matches, but even so, few would have predicted it here as he trailed recent Welsh Open winner Stephen Maguire 3-0.Swail who dropped off the professional circuit at the end of last season and only entered the PTC series as a amateur wasn't for lying down on his return to the big time and slowly fought his way clinch an astonishing 4-3 win.It has to be said he was given plenty of help by Maguire who missed chance after chance to seal the win but credit still must go to Swail for his never say die attitude.

He will now face fellow Ulsterman Mark Allen who comfortably saw off Mark Davis 4-0.Allen who comes here on the back of defending his World Open title was never really put under any pressure as Davis continued to struggle in his attempts to recapture his early season form.He will have harder battles ahead as he bids for back to back ranking titles.

Swail's victory was not to be the only shock of the day however as Jack Lisowski stunned the current UK and Masters champion Mark Selby in a late night tussle coming through 4-3.In a match where there was never more then a frame between them it was perhaps fitting it went down to a decider and what a tight and nervy decider it was. In a frame where both players had numerous chances it was Selby who made the early running but a series of well played snookers towards the end from Lisowski proved decisive and he finally made the best of his chance on the colours to seal a famous win.

He will now play Tom Ford in the last 1 after he came through 4-2 against Martin Gould in the days opening match.

Earlier in the day Neil Robertson fought back from 2-0 to Jamie Burnett to win 4-2.Robertson was runner up in this event last season and talked afterwards about how he feels he has been putting himself under too much pressure of late.He plans to take a more relaxed & casual approach this week and time will tell if it helps him go one better here this season.he will next play Barry Hawkins who easily beat Li Hang 4-0.

That was all the action from day one then and it was pleasing to see the crowds steadily grow as the day went on.I'm sure this will be the case again tomorrow when we have the likes of Ding,Higgins and Trump all playing their opening matches as well as of course our own Ken Doherty who play Kurt Maflin in the evening session..

Monday, 11 March 2013

PTC Grand Finals.

Professional snooker returns to Ireland again this week ,when Galway plays host to the PTC Grand  Finals for a second time after the success of last years event there.

The Grand finals are of course the culmination of the season long PTC tour which this year included Asian PTC's for the first time.Barry Hearn said recently in an interview that this was possibly his favourite event and its little wonder when you see the enthusiasm these events met with during the year in emerging markets like Bulgaria and Belguim.This can only be positive for the game as it looks to become a truly global sport.

On to the Grand Finals themselves and this third staging of the event looks to be the strongest renewal yet .albeit we are missing the two previous champions Shaun Murphy and Stephen Lee for vastly different reasons.

That said when you look at the draw and see the likes of  Trump,Selby.Robertson,Higgins,Maguire and Allen in the line up to name but a few, you know that those lucky enough to be in attendance are in for a potentially super week.

As has been the case for many years,hopes of a home victory once again fall to veteran Ken Doherty who has enjoyed a bit of a revival this season and even recorded his first tournament 147 in one of the early season events,The fact the Ken is still capable of mixing it with the top players on his day after all these years is testaments to the way he has dedicated himself to the his profession and who is to say that he with a strong tailwind he might not go far here.If he doesn't it certainly wont be for lack of support.

This has been such a long and up and down season for everyone that trying to tip any tournament at the outset has become an almost impossible task ,but I just got the feeling in the recent World Open that the top players were just beginning to find some form again in preparation for a final push towards Sheffield.The fact that Mark Allen won that tournament makes him strong fancy here this week but I just have a feeling watching the last couple of events that Judd Trump was starting to find his early season form again and that together with a strong record in PTC events might just see him in the winner circle come Sunday.

That is only a very tentative selection though as really anything is possible with such a strong field.Whoever the winner is though I hope, despite the fact that this tournament is taking place in the middle of two of Irelands most loved festivals  (St Patricks Day & Racing at Cheltenham) that as was the case last year that the crowds flock to The Bailey Allen Hall for a great weeks action on the baize.I'll be heading over there myself later in the week.

Monday, 4 March 2013

World Open Final. Allen's Triumph

There must be something about the local cuisine on Hainan Island that really appeals to Mark Allen.Last year he captured his maidan ranking title when he beat Stephen Lee 10-1 in the final and yesterday he once again lifted the Haikou World Open title this time beating Matthew Stevens 10-4.

This has been a strange season for Allen,on more then one occasion he has come into a tournament in great form only to run into someone else playing at their peak.The most obvious examples of this were his deciding frame defeats to Trump in the International Championship and to Robertson in the Masters and I think few would argue that he wouldn't have had live chance of lifting those titles had he managed to come through these matches.History looked as though it may be repeating itself here when he one again came up against the man in form,this time in the shape of John Higgins at the semi finals stage.Allen ironically this time round had struggled through his opening rounds to get this far but with the score at 2-2 at the interval,he produced four stunning frames to reach the final wining 6-2.

Stevens,like Allen in many respects, has been one of the games great underachievers.When he burst on the scene over a decade ago many had him down as a potential future world champion and although he did reach two world finals and has won a the Uk and Masters titles,he has never really lived up to that early promise.

That said he has been enjoying a slight renaissance in recent time re-establishing himself in the world top 16 and had survived one of the most extraordinary weeks in his career.which involved using three different cues after his own had gone missing to reach his eighth ranking final following a 6-5 win over Neil Robertson in the semi final.

On to the final itself then and in truth the result was never in doubt from early on when Allen opened up an early 4-0 lead.and finished the session leading 6-3.In the evening session Allen managed to get the four frames he required with the minimum of fuss to seal the 10-4 victory.

The hope now for Allen will be that he can build on this victory and really establish himself as a serious contender for every tournament he plays in.The fact that this week he seemed to back up his undoubted natural ability with a determination to ground out the result when needed can only be a good thing for him going into last few tournaments of the season.

Finally a few word on the week as a whole.

I think despite the tough conditions the players were playing under. that it was clear that a few of our big manes have awoken from their mid season slumber and  were just beginning to find some form as our games biggest prize looms on the horizon.This can only be good thing as we build up to the Crucible in April.

With this in mind it was again disappointing to see such small numbers in attendance all week and whether it was,as has been suggested,that the prices charged in China are too high for ordinary people to afford or if it's a fact that the events are just poorly promoted, but it really takes away from the tournament to see players surrounded by empty seats.

Anyway these things wont matter to Mark Allen as he flies home today with the trophy and the £85,000 winners cheque.Next up we have The PTC Grand Finals in Galway Ireland and I'm looking forward to a great week in one of our best and most exciting cities to visit.

Friday, 1 March 2013

World Open Quarter Final round up

I may be reading too much into one tournament,but I just get the feeling this week that a number of the games top stars are just beginning to find some form again after what was definitely a mid season dip in standard.For evidence you only have to look at the eight players who contested to quarter finals today.

First up today we had Neil Robertson V mark Selby.Both these men have earned reputations for been extremely hard to beat and this one was always going to be closely fought.With these two you actually get the feeling if they play hundred times they would finish fifty-fifty but it has been Selby who has had the better of their latest high profile battles in the UK and The Masters.For a long time today it looked like he might keep this run going as he took a 3-2 led in this high quality encounter.Robertson fought back to lead 4-3 before Selby seemed to be on his way to forcing a decider but missed allowing Robertson to seal a 5-3 victory with an excellent 59.

His semi final opponent will be Matthew Stevens after the Welshman,finally reunited with his cue overcame Judd Trump 5-3.This doesn't tell the whole story though as early in the match Trump had to do some running repairs to a damaged tip in the first frame.He did manage to win that first frame but clearly struggling went in at the interval trailing 3-1.To his credit he fought back to 3-3 .but Stevens has shown some good form here this week and after winning a lengthy seventh frame he sealed victory in the next with a fine 79.

Th other semi final will see The defending champion Mark Allen facing John Higgins.Allen hasn't been at his brilliant best this week but has shown a real determination to hold on to what was his first ranking title.That said he did produce his best display of the week so far in beating Ricky Walden 5-1.He will know he will have to find another gear though if he is to trouble John Higgins who seems to have found his very best form

Yesterday Higgins swept by one of this seasons best performers Stuart Bingham 5-0 and followed it up today with another 5-0 whitewash this time over the home favourite Ding Junhui.Higgins has always been a player who becomes harder to beat the further he gets into a tournament was at his imperious best today realing off 141,113 and 73 in a fine victory.On this form he will be extremely hard to beat.

A fine semi final line up then and I hope the weekend see's a packed auditorium as large crowds are the one thing this tournament has been missing.