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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

German Masters Preview

Snooker returns to The Tempadrome in Berlin this week.when it plays host to the third staging of the German Master and it is a glowing testament to way that the German public have embraced the game that this tournament has already become one of the highlights of the snooker calendar.

This is a truly remarkable event,with the five tables in one massive open plan arena giving the 2000 plus fans in attendance an unobstructed view of all the action & what action the last two years has delivered.The final between Mark Williams and Mark Selby in 2011 was a classic with even the normally unflappable Williams overwhelmed by the standing ovation his victory received.This match if anything was eclipsed by last years superb encounter between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Maguire where Ronnie produced a stunning comeback to record a win that was surely the springboard to his World Championship success.

So what can we expect this year? Well I suppose the first thing to mention is the flatter draw been used here which will give us a taste of what we can expect next year when the flat 128 draw is introduced.In this tournament we have had the the qualifying rounds reduced from four to two with the top 16 coming in at the last 64 stage.This has also shown the difficulties that will have to be ironed out before the flat draw comes in next season. because if a number of the top players start having their matches held over to the main venue, as is happening here, we could have an outright revolt on our hands.This is a discussion for another day though.

On the playing side of things,going on all recent form the man to beat is Mark Selby,not only has he won the two most recent major tournaments,The UK & The Masters but in between he won the final EPTC in Munich.These victories do indeed have him at the top of the betting market but the manner in which he won these events perhaps owed more to his grit and determination then the standard of play he produced.For that reason I feel he may be a vulnerable favourite here.

I think a lot of the games top players will be eyeing up this week as the chance to kick start the second half of the season for themselves and it will be difficult to pinpoint a winner but if I were to have bet I would have tentative flutter on Mark Allen.In my last blog I pointed out that I expected to see him in the winners enclosure before end of season and he certainly lived up to my expectations with a commanding performance in group 4 of the championship league last week.If he can reproduce that form here he will take a bit of beating.

Regardless of who is holding the trophy on Sunday night though we are certain to be treated to another fascinating week of snooker in front of  audiences who are perhaps the most enthusiastic and respectful on the tour.

The action kicks off in the morning on Eurosport and I will be blogging here as the week progresses as well as updating on Twitter @TheGreenBaize









































Monday, 21 January 2013

The Masters Final & What we've learned from week

The Betfair Masters champion 2013 is Mark Selby after the world no.1 beat defending champion Neil Robertson 10-6 in last nights final.

There is a lot of talk these days about whether it's possible with all the tournaments we now have,for the sport to ever have a player dominate in the way Davis and Hendry have in the past.This is probably unlikely but maybe the goalposts of what dominance means has moved.If a player can win the games "Majors" surely he can be thought of as the sports  dominant force?

That is where Selby finds himself now after adding this Masters title to the UK title he lifted in December and will now be looking forward to the World Championship and the chance to join a very exclusive club who have held all three titles at the same time.His style of play may not be to everyones taste but one thing that can't be questioned is his will to win as well as his ability to produce when it matters most. Aren't they after all the qualities we are supposed to admire most in our champions?

The match itself wasn't a classic but not every final can be.Coming in the consensus among people seemed to be that Robertson had played the best snooker of anyone during the week and this together with the late night finish of the Selby-Dott match on Saturday put him as a strong favourite.That is not the way it was to pan out though as maybe the added pressure that came with Robertson attempting to become the fist player since the late Paul Hunter to defend the title began to weigh heavily on the Aussie.Whatever the reason he looked edgy in the early part and never fully recovered.

Selby on the other hand looked a different player to the man who had struggled in the early round and just as he had done in the UK championship he reserved his best form for the final.he stormed out the blocks into a 3-0 lead and would have been a little disappointed that he  only lead 5-3 after Robertson battled to win last two frames of afternoon session.

Robertson needed to have a good start to the night session but it once again Selby who started he better opening up an 8-3 lead to be move within two of the title.Robertson to his credit rallied to close to 8-6 but when Selby made it 9-6 the writing was on the wall and he won the next to seal the win and collect his third Masters title.

So what else have we learned this week?
1. We once again saw last night the folly of starting the evening session of the final at 8pm.Even taking into account the fact we still had a potential for three more frames and none of those we had were overly long,it was still approaching midnight when the action finished.This is unacceptable on a Sunday night both for those in attendance and the people watching at home who have to work on a Monday morning.Hopefully part of the new BBC deal will be a return to a more sensible start time though I have my doubts.

2. These are worrying times for fans of Judd Trump.Only a few month's ago he seemed set to be the star of the season.playing superbly well to win the international Championship and becoming world no.1.This new status in the game was only to last to until the UK Championship where he lost tamely to Joyce in the first round and although he rallied to beat Hawkins in rd 1 here he was awful against \Dott in the Quarter finals.To my eyes he seemed to have no sharpness in his play and looked to have maybe not have spent the hours on the practice table he should have.He will need to reapply himself for next few month's or this season is in danger of fizzling out.

3.If he continues to play as he did last week then Mark Allen is a certainty to be in the winners circle before the end of the season.Last week he was excellent against Mark Davis and but for a shot in a hundred from Neil Robertson in the decider he could well have won this tournament.You have to believe that if he keeps up this form he will win a trophy sooner rather then later.

4.In Hendry we have a pundit who isn't afraid to speak his mind and he has been a refreshing presence in the studio as well as the commentary box.The thing that does annoy me with the BBC tournaments are the commentary earpieces in the audience.Having attended many snooker match's over the years I never have felt the need to have one and as far as I can see all they do is distract the players while on a shot.I know they make money for the association selling them but surely not that much.

5/Finally there is still a lot of talking to be done before this flat 128 draw comes in next season.We are yet to hear how it will work out logistically and until then it is impossible form a proper opinion.Listening to the various points raised during this week though there could be trouble on the horizon.

These are just my opinions on what overall a thoroughly enjoyable week.Feel free to comment or add your own.

 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The masters S/F round up & Final preview

The final of the Betfair Masters 2013 will be a clash between two of the games hardest match players when Neil Robertson plays Mark Selby for the much coveted title.

Robertson reached the final for a second consecutive year with what looks on the face of it a comfortable 6-2 win over Shaun Murphy but that doesn't tell the whole story.

When Murphy first appeared on our radar as a teenager it was clear that this was a kid with tonnes of natural talent and a rolls royce cue action who could go on to have a long career winning many trophies.Look at him now and yes he has won both the World and UK titles but he probably still hasn't lived up fully to that early potential.One of the main reasons for this was evident in todays match as time and time again he got in first in frames but failed to see the job through,often breaking down in the 40's.This has been something that has dogged him throughout his career and whether it is down to concentration or what it has without doubt cost him dear.

Robertson on the other hand has grown from someone who looked in his early days to be purely an out and out potter into someone who is among the best allround players in the game. This coupled with a keen killer instinct when the line is in sight has made him a formidable opponent for anyone.

It was fairly clear from early on in todays match that Robertson was the most likely winner and when he recovered from a 68 point deficit getting the snooker he required to lead 3-1 at the interval the writing was on the wall.The pattern of the match continued as it was after they resumed with Murphy again spurning some good chances and Robertson clinically taking his chance when it came.The end came in the eighth frame when Robertson mopped up the colours to reach the final and he now stands one win away from becoming the first player to defend the Masters title since the late great Paul Hunter did it in 2002.

His opponent in the final will be Mark Selby after what can only be called a war of attrition in the second semi final which  and all this after what had been a free flowing opening four frames to the interval. At that stage Dott was zipping around the table.scoring heavy and taking a 3-1 lead to the break.It was here where things took a turn for the worse though as the fames became disjointed and slow.Dott managed to win a lengthy fifth frame to go 4-1 and looked set to win the 37 minute sixth and make it 5-1 only for him to miss the final black.Selby potted it to make it 4-2 and won a 50 minute next to close to 4-3.

Dott was clearly beginning to feel it now and played what can only be described as a reckless shot that sent reds everywhere in the next allowing Selby to draw level at 4-4.The momentum was now with Selby as Dott cut a thoroughly dejected figure in his seat.and it looked a certainty that Selby would win the frame when he left Dott needing a snooker on the brown.Dott though is a fighter and not only did he get his snooker but won the frame on a respot to take the lead again 5-4.Suddenly he had his sparkle back and potted a superb plant to get in in the next only to wobble a brown in the middle. Selby duly capitalised to force the the decider that it seemed this match was always destined for at and as the time approached half past midnight he won it to clinch the 6-5 victory.

So ontl the final itself and I say it is a battle between two of our hardest match players I don't mean it as an insult to either player. I just mean they are two men who give everything on every shot and no quarter is ever asked for or given by them.Looking at the week as a whole Robertson has to go in as a strong favourite on his general play not to mention the fact that he has had an evenings rest when the other two battled past midnight.Selby though is not world no.1 by accident and will give his all. I think Robertson will be too strong though and I feel he will defend his title possibly 10-7.

Regardless of the result though lets hope this tournament gets the final it deserves.



Masters Q/F round up & S/F preview

After two contrasting days of quarter final action we are now down to the final four men who will battle it out to be crowned 2013 Betfair Masters champion.

Following on from what had been a superb four days of first round action the question was would this continue into the quarter finals.We need not have worried s Neil Robertson and Mark Allen served up a a classic that although we are only in January will surely be on everyones shortlist for match of the year come December.

In a match where there was never more then a frame between the two players it all boiled down to the decider where Robertson played a shot in a million to get in.Coming to the table with the white behind the yellow Robertson played the white off the baulk cushion and potted a red that was over the top corner and finished perfect on the black.He would make the most of this chance and clinched the 6-5 win with a 105.

You have to feel sympathy for Allen who played well enough to win most matches but just came up against a defending champion in determined mood.Robertson will now now continue his defence of his title against the man he beat to lift the trophy last year Shaun Murphy.

Murphy reached the semi by coming through another thriller against John Higgins winning 6-5.This match perhaps didn't reach the heights of the previous match but was no less enthralling for this.Higgins will feel this was one that got away having lead 4-1 and missing good chances to clinch the match at 5-4 and in the decider,but it was Murphy who potted the pressure balls in the end to come through.

The other semi final will see Graeme Dott face Mark Selby after both players record straight forward victories in their respective quarter finals.Perhaps the more impressive of the two was Graeme Dott who beat pre tournament favourite Judd Trump 6-1.

Anyone who watched the championship league action last week or indeed his first round match here against Hawkins will know that Trump has been apperaing to lack his usual sharpness but it was still a shock to see him play as poorly as he did yesterday.Graeme for his part would probably admit he didn't play his best either but in truth he didn't have to against an opponent struggling so badly.

Selby also made the semi final with a 6-1 victory this one over Mark Williams.This was another low quality encounter with at one stage Selby leading 3-0 with a high break of 28.Williams who hasn't looked the same player since losing good leads in last seasons Australian open and Wuxi classic finals just couldn't string anything worthwhile together and Selby took full advantage to go through.

So what about the semi finals?

The first one serves up a repeat of last years final with Robertson facing Murphy and I feel this could be another close one in a week of close matches.The key to deciding this one may be down to who can impose their style on the match.Robertson like all good champions seems to have a way of imposing his tempo on a game and Murphy must avoid getting dragged into that because as he has shown this week.especially against Higgins,when he has the bit between his teeth and is going for his shots he can pot anything.That said I think Robertson still might just edge this one in possibly another decider .scoreline 6-5,

The match between Dott and Selby will be equally difficult to call.Selby much like in the UK Championship finds himself in the semi final without actually playing anywhere near his best,but maybe thats the mark of a true champion.The one thing that is for sure is that Dott will be snapping at the heals of any mistakes that Selby makes.that said i feel with Selby these days the further he gets through a tournament the harder he becomes to beat and I expect him to win this one maybe 6-3.

Another fascinating day we have in store then in what has been a fascinating week.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Masters Quarter Final Preview

Following my fairly reasonable attempt at predicting the first round winners (I got 5 out of 8) I've decided to have a go at forecasting the winners of the four quarter finals.So here are my thoughts for what they are worth/.

Neil Robertson v Mark Allen
This one has the potential to be a classic .Robertson produced a stirring comeback on Sunday to beat Ding 6-5 while Allen recorded a comfortable 6-2 win over Mark  Davis. These two left handers have similar strengths in the long potting department and this one might well boil down to this today.My feeling is for all the credit Robertson deserves for comeback against Ding he was still a half inch from defeat when Ding lost position when in the balls.Allen on the other hand looked strong throughout against Davis and I have always felt that this was a tournament that suited him.For that reason I'm going to go for an Allen victory 6-4

John Higgins v Shaun Murphy
This one is a rematch of their encounter last year here which Murphy won on his way to the final but this could be  very different encounter.Higgins this season has been a different animal to the man who was struggling so badly last year and seems to have his confidence back.Murphy of course reached the final of the recent UK Championship so wont be a pushover but I feel Higgins is back playing near his peak again and will win this one maybe 6-3

Judd Trump v Graeme Dott
Both these men came through the first round in deciding frames but in very different circumstances.Trump fought back from 5-3 behind to edge past Hawkins while Dott had to withstand a Maguire fightback having looked comfortable at 5-3 up.The formbook this season says this should be Trump victory but the one thing about playing Judd is you always know you will get chances its a matter of whether or not Dott can take them.If he is on good day he is more then capable of doing so but even taking this into account I still think we are looking at a Trump victory.I'll go for  6-2 win for Judd but I wouldn't be surprised if it's much closer

Mark Selby v Mark Williams
In a first round that seemed to be all about comebacks none were more impressive then Selby's late night ressurection from 5-1 down to beat Stuart Bingham.Williams also completed a comeback of his own winning five frames in a row from 4-1 down to Matthew Stevens. Going on pure form it is impossible to see anything other then a Selby win here by scoreline of 6-3.

Anyway these are my thoughts so feel free to to visit your local bookmakers and have a bet though I must admit I don't have sufficient courage in my convictions to be doing likewise!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Masters Day 4

Day 4 at the The Betfair Masters and today we saw the first round  draw to a conclusion in pretty much the same dramatic manner we have become used to over the last few days.

First up today was a battle between two Welshmen who it's probably fair to say are in the veteran stages of their careers as Mark Williams faced Matthew Stevens.Sport can be a funny thing, get someone playing at the top of their game and it can often inspire their their opponent to do the same,get someone who is struggling and it can bring down their opponents performance and that was definately the case this afternoon in the error strewn match.

Both players played so poorly at times today it is hard to sum up what happened but for Matthew Stevens it boiled down to a tale of two browns.The first of these came in the fourth frame when after a series of misses,a characteristic of the match as a whole,Stevens missed an easy brown that would have given him a 4-0.Williams took advantage to win his first frame and have it 3-1 at the interval.

Stevens managed to win the next to make it 4-1 but the brown ball came back to haunt him again in the next as he missed a golden chance to make it 5-1 and Williams again capitalised to close to 4-2.He then won the next to close to 4-3 before a miscue by Stevens in the next allowed William to make it level at 4-4.Williams was now in the ascendancy and he  kept up the momentum to record a 6-4 victory and round off a thoroughly miserable afternoon for Stevens.

Williams will be happy to be still in the tournament but knows he will have to up his game against his quarter final opponent Mark Selby, who put himself and his supporters through the wringer once again as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Stuart Bingham in another dramatic night at the Ally Pally.

Things had started well for Selby as he took the opening frame and was well placed in the second before Bingham countered to level at 1-1.Bingham is a man who plays with a lot of confidence these days and it showed as he opened glided around the table to open a 4-1 lead.The sixth  appeared to be the key moment of the match as an absorbing 25 minute safety battle on the green resulted in Bingham doing enough to win the frame and move within one of a famous victory 5-1.

A blow like that would have been enough to finish off most players, but Selby is not most players and from here a most extraordinary thing happened.Bingham who had looked ultra confident started to miss a few and Selby began to fight back.5-1 became 5-2 then 5-3 as Bingham appeared to be trying to force his way over the line instead if letting it come naturally.Selby was now in the zone and as he won the next two to make it 5-5 and force a decider there was only going to be one winner.He duly completed his amazing comeback to seal a 6-5 victory and finish off what has been an an extraordinary first round of matches.

Tomorrow see the start of the quarter final action with Neil Robertson taking on Mark Allen in the afternoon followed by John Higgins and Shaun Murphy facing off in the evening.After the week we've had so far we can only imagine what lies ahead of us over the next few days but one thing for sure is that it wont be any less exciting.





Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Master Day Three

Day three of the 2013 Betfair Masters and the drama shows signs of letting up after another extraordinary day at the Ally Pally.

First up this afternoon we had Judd Trump up against Barry Hawkins and the question on our lips was could Trump put his shock first round UK Championship defeat behind him and cement his position as pre tournament favourite.

As has been the the case a lot this week the early exchanges in this one were pretty level as both players shared the opening four frames to go in 2-2 at the interval with both players seeming to be warming to the task with each passing frame.That standard increased as the score became 3-3.

The turning point seemed to come in the next as Trump broke down on 41 allowing Hawkins in to clear up with 85 and retake the lead 4-3,He then moved within one frame of victory with a run of 61 to make it 5-3 and a major shock looked on the cards.

As I said yesterday though it's in situations like this that good players become great players and if Trump is to be thought of in those terms in years to come he will have to keep responding as he did today.Knowing he was potentially one mistake away from losing the match Trump produced a wondefully fluent century to close to 5-4. The pressure was now back on Hawkins and it showed as he missed some glorious chances to get over the line in the next.Trump eventually clinched it though on the pink and took full advantage of a poor break off in the last to seal the win with another class century.

For Hawkins perhaps we saw the reason why despite having all the talent necessary to make it to the very top he has never quite managed to get there.Trump though is another story and for all the great displays he has produced over the last two seasons it is digging out results like this that will stand to him as he goes about making his mark in the sport.

In tonights match it looked as though we might be in for a rare straight forward evening as Shaun Murphy coasted to a 4-1 lead against a clearly struggling Ricky Walden.There is one thing we have learned this week though and that is a game of snooker can turnaround very quickly.Walden suddenly found something and fought back from behind to make it 4-2.That became 4-3 when he won the next on the colours and the comeback was complete when he leveled 4-4 with a 65 break.

By this stage both players were feeling it but it was Murphy who held himself together the better to make it 5-4. The tenth frame was one of those things that makes us rightly proud of the sport we love.Having gotten the snooker he required Walden was well placed to clear up and force a respot but when stretching for the blue he felt his shirt touch the black and immediately called the foul on himself.This left him needing snookers again and Murphy potted the balls he need to secure the win 6-4.

Murphy now play John Higgins in the quarter final and will be hoping for a repeat of the victory he enjoyed over the Scotsman here last year.

Tomorrow see's the conclusion of the first round ties and we have the small matter of our current world no.1 and UK Champion Mark Selby entering the fray.We should be in for another cracking days snooker.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Masters Day Two.

I think it's fair to say that those of us who were anticipating a week of top class action got exactly what we were expecting on day one as both matches showed us why,despite what some might say,snooker is not a sport that needs messing around with.We already have a sport that delivers everything any sportsfan could want.

Om to day two and the first match up pitted the tours two most recent winners from last weeks rounds of the championship league,John Higgins and Ali Carter against each other.A question that is often asked is what is it that separates a great player from a good player and the answer is not how well they can play, because all these boys can pot,its how they handle themselves and react to the situations they find themselves in.Todays match was a perfect example of this as after about 40 minutes of play john Higgins was sitting in his seat 2-0 down and must have been wondering how.

Higgins had been first in in the opening frame and seemingly coasting on 59 when he missed a straight forward black.Carter came to the table and cleared up 1-0..In frame two Higgins again appeared to have the frame in the bag only to for Carter to get the two snookers he required on the brown to double his lead 2-0.

These were worrying times for Higgins but like the great champion he is he didn't dwell on things as many others would have done but instead waited patiently for his chance to come.That it did in the next when Carter missed a cut red when in prime position to make it 3-0.Higgins pounced to make it 2-1 and also won the next to go to the interval the happier man 2-2.

Higgins was now in control of the match and began to move through the gears as he stretched his lead to 4-2.Carter to his credit didn't lie down he won the next to close to 4-3 but Higgins moved within one of the quarter finals winning  a long and scrappy eighth before a trademark clearance in the next sealed his 6-3 win.

Higgins showed once again he will be a tough nut to crack this week and now awaits the winner between Shaun Murphy and Ricky Walden in the quarter finals

If John Higgins is an example of someone who never lets things get to him on a snooker table the same could not be said of his two fellow Scotsmen who met in todays other first round encounter.Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott are both players who are capable of playing the game to the highest standard when at their best but can look as if the whole world is against them when things are not going well.These displays of emotion should not be mistaken for them giving up though,to the contrary they are signs that they are perhaps trying to hard.

Taking all this into account this perhaps was a game that was always destined to be close and so it proved as the momentum swung one way then another throughout.

Dott started the better and took an early 2-0 lead.It was then Maguires turn to start playing and he reeled off the next three to lead 3-2. As we always know though Dott is not someone you can shake off easily and leveled to make it 3-3 before retaking the lead 4-3.

The eighth frame seemed as though it my be the defining moment of the match when after both players missed relatively straight forward chances to win it Maguires temper boiled over and he conceded the frame with three reds remaining having missed a red to the middle. the score now 5-3 to Dott.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that this was a sign Maguire had given up the ghost but it strangely seemed to have the opposite effect.His mind now clear he won the next with two determined visits  to close to 5-4 and that became 5-5 when he produced a stunning 131 break in the tenth.

So into a decider it went and it was perhaps inevitable with all that had gone before that it would be one of those tense nervy ones and so it proved.This one came down to a battle on the colours and was decided in the saddest possible way when Maguire trailing by 20 points on the green looked to have played a telling safety only for the white to clip the pink in and leave him 26 behind with 25 on table..Both players had battled so hard over the previous four hours neither deserved to have the match decided in this manner but when Dott doubled the green Maguire came forward and offered his hand in concession.Dott now awaits the winner of tomorrow afternoons clash between Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins.

We're half way through the first round now and those of you paying close attention to my predictions will see I've currently got a record of 2 from 4.Lets see if Day three will improve my average.





Sunday, 13 January 2013

Masters Day One

A thing you often find with a tournament like this is that the whole tone for how the week will go can be set on how the matches the first day play out.If the opening games are tight and nervy it can lead to a few days of tense encounters but on the flip side if the opening match's are high in quality it sets the bar for the others to aim for.If this theory holds true we are in for a very memorable week as both sessions today produced snooker of the highest quality.

First up this afternoon was defending champion Neil Robertson against the 2010 champion Ding Junhui.This one always promised to be a classic on paper and so it proved as both men produced some fabulous stuff.

First out of the blocks was Robertson with a clinical kill to take frame one and showing just how up for this he was he clinched frame two and gave his characteristic fist pump.I'm not a fan of this type of thing to be honest but I suppose many will argue it's a good thing to see players show emotion.I just think its not respectful to your opponent and if anything could be counterproductive as it surely must make them more determined to put you down.

Ding did begin to find his feet in the next with a century and also clinched the fourth to make it 2-2 at the interval.That became 3-3 before a tight 7th frame seemed to have  swung the match Dings way as he took it to lead 4-3.That became 5-3 and the possibility of the defending champion going out in the first match looked a distinct possibility.

Robertson though has not got the reputation of been one of the hardest players on the circuit without good reason and he won the next to close to 5-4.Game on

We often hear in commentary that this is a game of fractions and so it proved in the next.Ding was in and only within a few shots of victory when he played a cannon off the blue to split the last remaining reds.He seemed to have played the shot perfectly only for the white to stop half a roll short of position.That was the end of break and as it happened the end of Dings Masters as Robertson showed all his steal to clear up and make it 5-5 before taking advantage of a poor break off in the decider to seal the win in one visit

Robertson can be very pleased with the bottle he showed to comeback against an opponent playing as well as Ding was and indeed Ding can take a lot from the match as he would have beaten many a player playing as he did this afternoon.

Robertsons opponent in the Quarter final will be Mark Allen after the Ulsterman overcame a determined Mark Davis 6-2  to advance through to the next round.This was another high quality match where both players were on it from the get go.Allen clinched the opener with a superb 136 before Davis leveled to make it 1-1.That became 2-2 at the interval with pot success rates of 97% for Allen and 96% for Davis.

After the interval though things began to change slightly as Allen started to take a grip on the match and Davis began to miss a few.Allen took the next two frames to make it 4-2.Davis needed to make something happen quickly or this match was going to get away from him but although he had his chances in the 7th it was Allen who won it to make 5-2.

He needed now only one more frame for victory and took full advantage of a foul from Davis in the next to seal an impressive victory.He will take a bit of stopping this week on this form.

So that was the story of Day One but we barely have time to catch our breathe as Day two begins tomorrow afternoon with the tours two most recent winners from last weeks championship league tournaments John Higgins and Ali Carter doing battle and the evening bringing together Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott.It promises to be another great day.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Masters Preview

It's early January,Christmas is a fading memory,The new year resolutions are probably just about holding,there is the slightest hint of a stretch in the evenings and the eyes of the Snooker world turn to London for the biggest invitational in the game.The Masters at The Alexandra Palace.

There may be no ranking points up for grabs this week but make no mistake,this is a title every player wants on their cv alongside the UK and World Championships.

This event will always have a unique place in the sports history and perhaps due to the fact that only the top 16 are invited many of the classic matches we all remember from the last 30 years occurred in this tournament, be it Davis rolling back the years to beat O'Sullivan,William beating Hendry on a respotted black or the three triumphs of the late great Paul Hunter. These matches and many others will live forever in snooker folklore and although it may no longer be held in the bearpit that was the Wembley Conference Centre there is still something special about the atmosphere this event generates.

So what can we expect this week? On the face of it,because the way the ranking now work we have a field consisting of the games top 16 on form no result can be a shock which makes predicting anything a dangerous game to play.However my new years resolution was to not sit on the fence so I will now try and predict the winner of each first round match.

Neil Robertson v Ding Junhui
The tournament gets off to a bang in this one with the defending champion Robertson taking on former winner Ding.This term both players have had similar seasons with some good results mixed in with some surprising defeats.Both will feel they haven't hit top gear yet and will be seeing this as the ideal way to launch them into the second half of the season.Taking all this into account I just have a feeling Ding might sneak this one.

Mark Allen v Mark Davis.
This could be another fascinating encounter.Allen has all the talent in the world but doesn't get to the business end of things as often as he should and Davis is having the time of his life in the autumn of his career and reached the semi finals of the UK championship in December.This is a tournament though that I have always felt is tailormade for Allen and I expect him to get through here.

John Higgins v Ali Carter
This one is a battle of the games in form players judging on the action in last week championship league. In group one Higgins looked in superb touch over the two days and beat Carter 3-1 in the final,Then in group two Carter kept up his form to take that one.That said Higgins really did look close to his best and although his record in this tournament is poor by his standards compared to other events he should be good enough to  win this one and could go far this week.

Stephen Maguire v Graeme Dott
Here we have a battle of two Scotsman who probably wont ever make it on the poker circuit due to the fact that neither can ever conceal their emotions around the table. Both have struggled at times recently and although Dott did reach the final of the EPTC in Munich recently I think Maguire will come through this one.

Judd Trump v Barry Hawkins
The last time we saw Judd on our tv screens he was exiting the UK championship in the first round to Mark Joyce and and having decided to sit out the PTCs in Scotland and Munich he only returned to competitive action in this weeks championship league.Looking at the action there at times he gave the impression he hadn't lifted a cue since that defeat and he will have to up his game against a potentially tricky opponent.I still think Trump will have too much here though for the Australian Open winner Hawkins and expect him to win comfortably.

Shaun Murphy v Ricky Walden.
Murphy starts this week with the hopes that he can go one better then last year and join the select band who have won the games "Big 3" titles.His opponent Walden has already been in the winners circle this season winnng the Wuxi Classic but has seen his form drop in recent month's.With that in mind I expect a comfortable win for Murphy.

Mark Williams v Matthew Stevens
The battle of the Welsh veterans here and this may be the most difficult match to call.Both players are a bit in and out these days but when they are on it they can still produce top quality stuff. I have a feeling Stevens may just edge it but I couldn't be overly confident

Mark Selby v Stuart Bingham
Mark Selby had a rollercoaster 2012 with a serious neck injury threatening his career in the early part of the year before making a recovery to win the UK Championship and regain the World no.1 spot.He has already started 2013 with a win taking the PTC in Munich and despite the fact that Bingham is not an easy opponent fo anyone these days i expect Selby to win.

So there you have it,My head well and truly on the chopping block.We'll see jjust how wrong I have been as the action unfolds over the next few days