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Sunday, 30 March 2014

PTC Grand Finals Hawkins Lifts The Title.

Barry Hawkins yesterday lifted the PTC Grand Finals title  & with it a cheque for £100,000 as he brushed aside Gerard Greene 4-0 in a one sided final.

This victory,a second in a ranking final for Hawkins to go with his 2012 Australian Open success,was never really in doubt from the word go, as he surged into an early lead with a fine 117 in the first frame.This was quickly followed with a 75 in the next to make it 2-0 & that became 3-0 with the help of a 50. The end was not long coming in the next as the Kent man sealed the straight forward win.

For Hawkins,who only scrapped in to this event because of the extra place made available by Stuart Binghams  double qualification,this capped a marvelous week where,a 4-3 win over Ryan Day aside,he never looked liked losing a match.This can only fill last years Crucible runner up with confidence as the big one looms on the horizon again

For Greene there will be a little disappointment that he couldn't cap off his run here with the title but what a extraordinary week it was for the man who represents \Northen Ireland.Firstly he fought back from 3-0 down to beat Hamilton 4-3 and followed that up with wins over Mark Allen & Marco Fu to reach his first ranking final.The runners up cheque of £38,000,the biggest pay day of his career,will no doubt help ease the pain.

So a week which featured so many of the games big names ended with two surprise finalist and with the tournaments close proximity to the China Open & indeed the World Championship itself maybe this shouldn't really have shocked us.Earlier in the week I mentioned on Twitter that this tournament seemed to have the feeling of a prep run for the games big stars with them all leaving plenty to work on over the next few weeks leading up to the Crucible. That is a real pity  because this tournament,with its £100,000 top prize deserves more respect than that. Perhaps a juggling of the calendar could help give it that boost. For now though we seem to be in the strange situation where the qualifying events through the year are given more respect from the players,than the finals themselves..

Anyway hats a discussion for the close season.For now onwards we go with the China Open starting tomorrow

Friday, 28 March 2014

PTC Grand Finals Last 16.

Well we've had a number of shock results so far at PTC Grand Finals in Preston this week,but none come bigger in the game at the moment then when Ronnie O'Sullivan is beaten and that is exactly what happened this evening in a extraordinary match with Yu DeLu.

Coming in to this one most expected this to be another straight forward win for Ronnie,but the signs for what were to come were there early on as Delu potted a wondeful final red and colours to pinch the first frame on the black.He may well have also taken the second frame but Ronnie managed to nick it to level at 1-1. That score became 2-2 after another two highly entertaining frames.This was as proper a test a test as Ronnie has faced in a long time,but he seemed to have weathered the storm,taking a 3-2 with the aid of a majestic 140.

To his credit though DeLu wasn't for lying down and he managed to freeze Ronnie out in the next to level at 3-3 & force the decider.Into that decider and it was Delu,continuing to go for his shots as he had done throughout who took an early 57-0 lead.A missed black allowed Ronnie the chance to counter,but when he missed a red to the centre the end was nigh & Yu Deu potted the balls needed to record a famous victory.

He can now look forward to a quarter final against Barry Hawkins who saw off Ryan Day 4-3 in a late night thriller. As for Ronnie,he can now go back to the practice table and think about getting ready to defend his world title in three weeks.

They were followed on the main table by a much anticipated clash between Shaun Murphy & Judd Trump,but the close battle we expected never materialized ,as Murphy experienced,a rare bad night at the office & Trump ran out an easy 4-0 winner.He next faces Joe Perry,who continued his below the radar progress here this week with a 4-1 victory over David Gilbert

Elsewhere Marco Fu produced a strong performance to beat Mark Williams 4-2 & set up a last 8 clash with John Higgins, who himself continued his recent good form with a 4-2 win over Ben Woollaston.

Mark Allen has also been in fine form this week and he easily won the all Irish battle,beating Fergal O'Brien 4-1.Next up for him is Gerard Greene,who produced the comeback of the week to beat Anthony Hamilton 4-3 having trailed at one stage 3-0.

Friday is Quarter Final day as the arena reverts to the one table set up.After all that has gone before this week I'm certainly not going to try predict whats going to happen.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

PTC Grand Finals Day Two

Day Two at PTC Grand Finals and the shocks kept coming as two more of the big names went out nut the world champion eased through.

Only one place to start then and that is with the defeat of Mark Selby,who crashed out 4-0 to David Gilbert These are worrying times for Selby who has struggled for a large part of this season and although he did reach the UK & Masters finals,maybe these runs were more down to his legendary fighting qualities rather then a serious return to form.

For Gilbert this was a real confidence building win for a player I've always felt is just one good tournament away from really establishing himself at as a top pro.Gilbert will now face Joe Perry,after he  came through a tough battle with Mark Davis 4-3

The other minor shock result of the day was the exit of Stuart Bingham who went down 4-3 to Ryan Day in what in truth was a poor quality match,Day will have to up his game against Barry Hawkins in the next round  after he easily swept aside Stephen Maguire 4-0.

Perhaps the performance of the tournament so far was that of Mark Allen who knocked in breaks of 136, 107 & 94 in beating Jamie Jones 4-2. Allen of course won two PTC events on the tour this year and really seems to be suited by the format.Next up for him is  Fergal O'Brien after the Dubliner beat Michael Holt 4-3.

Elsewhere Ronnie O'Sullivan eased through with a 4-0 victory over Scott Donaldson and will now play Yu De Lu who beat his fellow Chinese Liang Wenbo 4-2.

Day three will see all last 16 matches take place before we revert to a one table set up on Friday for the Quarter finals.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

PTC Grand Finals Day One

Snooker made its long overdue return to the Preston Guild Hall today,with the start of the PTC Grand Finals and what a shock result we were to greeted with in the very first match.

In this tournament last year Ding Junhui produced some stunning  snooker to lift the title and many believe that performance was the catalyst for what we've seen this year with a ultra confident Ding helping himself to four ranking titles so far.It was therefore a shock to the system to see a return to the bad old days for him today,as he allowed an early 3-0 lead slip against Ben Woollaston to crash out of the tournament 4-3.

He will next  play John Higgins,who came through what looked a potentially tricky tie with Jimmy Robertson 4-2.Higgins has looked to be finding some of his form of late and will fancy a run here this week.

On seeing the draw one first round tie stood out above all others as recent World Open winner Shaun Murphy was paired against Neil Robertson,but as so often happen this one failed to live up to the billing as the frames went a bit scrappy.That wont bother Murphy though as he produced the better all round display to go through 4-2.and set up another mouth watering clash in the next round with Judd Trump,who wasted no time in beating Ju Reti 4-1

The other major shock of the day came in the top half,with Gerard Greene beating Ricky Walden 4-1,in a result that incidentally knocks Steve Davis out of the top 64 in the rankings and makes the folly of his Jungle adventure seem all the more ludicrous.He will need to a win a match in the World Championship qualifiers to stay on tour. 

Greene for his part here will now play Anthony Hamilton after he came through a four hour marathon with Sam Baird winning eventually 4-3.

In other matches Mark Williams beat Chinese teenager Lu Haotian 4-1 and he will next face Marco Fu who eased past Gary Wilson  4-0.

Day two tomorrow then and the turn of the World Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan

Monday, 24 March 2014

Players Championship Grand Finals Preview

After a short weeks rest following the World Open,the games top players are in action again tomorrow with The Players Championship Grand Finals starting a busy period leading up to the big one in the Crucible the middle of next month.

This event,now in its fourth year,has on all previous occasions been held in Ireland with great success,but this year the decision was made,much to the disappointment of the Irish snooker public,to switch the event to Thailand.The idea I suppose was that,coming as it does between the World Open & China Open, having it out there would cut down on travelling for the players involved,but whatever the thinking it completely backfired as civil unrest in Thailand meant a quick rethink was required and event was switched back to the UK.

The one positive thing to come out of this debacle is that the venue finally chosen is one with a rich history within the game and all snooker fans of a certain vintage will have nothing but fond memories of battles past at  The Preston Guild Hall.

This tournament of course is the culmination of a season of PTC events in The UK,Europe & China and the 32 men playing here this week have been decided by an order of merit. I'm not going to go into a match by match preview,but the one match that stands out is the first round clash between recent World Open winner Shaun Murphy & century man Neil Robertson,

Of course the other big names are also here and none come bigger than Ronnie O'Sullivan,who ironically is unlikely to have played if this event had stayed in Thailand.

The action gets under way tomorrow afternoon and can be followed for the week on Eurosport.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

World Open The Final

Shaun Murphy today ended a three year ranking title drought by lifting the 2014 World Open title after he held of a trademark Selby fightback to win a fascinating final 10-6

It has been a strange 18 months for Murphy,whose last ranking success came in the 2011 PTC Grand Finals,as he has been in many ways Mr consistent on tour,reaching many quarter & semi finals without ever really looking like winning a title.That changed last month when he finally won the Gdynia Open and success was surely the catalyst for what we saw here this week.

Into the match itself and it was Murphy who flew out of the blocks,taking the first four frames to open a 4-0 lead,Selby eventually got off the mark in the next and followed it up with a second frame to make it 4-2,before runs of 98,105 & 112 moved Murphy into a commanding 7-2 lead at the ed of the session.

Murphy was now a strong favourite,but if we have learned anything from Selby by now,it is that he never gives up until the last ball is potted. and so it proved here again as the Leicsterman began the evening session with a 78 an followed with the next two to make it 7-5.The pressure was now on Murphy but he managed to take a vital 14th frame to extend his lead to 8-5.

Selby again narrowed the gap to two in the next making it 8-6,He looked set fair to narrow it to one in the next before running out of position.and Murphy pounced wit a nerveless 78 to go to the brink at 9-6. The end came in the next to give Murphy the title 10-6.

As I said in my semi final round up,this was a match between two men who will feel they haven't won the tournaments that they should have by this stage in their careers,This will though provide Murphy with a lot of confidence for the rest of the season and he is the type of player,when playing with confidence that is a very dangerous opponent for anyone.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

World Open Semi Finals round up.

Mark Selby will face Shaun Murphy tomorrow in the final of The Haikou World Open in China,after both came through tough semi final battles earlier today.

This is a tournament that,certainly it seems in this part of the world, has gone under the radar this week,but that wont matter a bit to these two as they go in search of their first major ranking titles of the season.

Selby was the first man to secure his place in tomorrows decider,but only after surviving a spirited comeback from Marco Fu. A close match here looked unlikely as Selby stormed into a 4-0 and 5-1 lead,but Fu showed his great fighting qualities as he fought back to 5-4,before Selby cleared in a close tenth frame to seal his win on the black,winning in the end 6-4

The other semi final between the recently resurgent Shaun Murphy and the the champion here the last two seasons Mark Allen,was both a closer and higher quality affair,that also finished in high drama.The opening two frames here were shared before some fine break building from Murphy saw him open a 3-1 lead.The next four frames were shared to make it 5-3 before a century from Allen closed the gap to just one at 5-4. The tenth frame was a dramatic affair with the tension increasing before Allen potted the black to force a respot. These may have been tense times,but neither player was showing it as a series of superb safeties were traded before Allen failed in his attempt to cut the black in and could do nothing but watch as the white agonisingly went in off,gifting the 6-4 victory to Murphy.This was a cruel way for his remarkable run in this event to end,but he can reflect on one of his best weeks in a while.

So there we have it, a final between two men who probably feel they should have more silverware in their cabinets by now,such is their talent and consistency in recent seasons.By this time tomorrow one of them will.You can catch the action from early morning on Eurosport

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Welsh Open final.

Ronnie O'Sullivan claimed his third Welsh Open title tonight in the best style imaginable,clinching the final frame with a superb 147 to seal a 9-3 victory over Ding Junhui and showed us once again that he currently stands head and shoulders above the rest of the field.

This was the clash every snooker fan had waited all season to see,Ding having claimed four ranking titles including a run of three in a row against Ronnie who at the Masters last month showed he was in the form that saw him claim the last two world titles.

What we were hoping for was a classic,but it has to be said early on this one really failed to sparkle,as Ding missed some good early chances and O'Sullivan opened up a 3-0 lead.Ding did manage to clinch a scrappy fourth to close to 3-1,but a miscue on the green in a lengthy fifth gifted that frame to Ronnie and he also took the next to open a commanding 5-1 lead.

Into the seventh frame and another close one went the way of O'Sullivan courtesy of a superb blue,pink and black,before taking the last of the session to secure a commanding 7-1 lead.

The crowd attending tonight knew that they were in all likelihood they were going to have an earl night but Ding to his credit came out all guns blazing knocking in back to back centuries to close to 7-2. Indeed he had a half chance in the next,but when he failed to take and O'Sullivan cleared up to move to 8-3 ahead the ed was in sight. Then came that fabulous 147,which included a positional shot from last red to black that had to be seen to be believed,to sign off the Welsh Open's stay at the Newport Centre in perfect style.

A dominant display in the final then from O'Sullivan who has seemed throughout this tournament to be playing with an inner calm that has made him practically unplayable,as nothing seemed to phase him. Much has been made of his link up with Dr Steve Peters in recent years and there is little doubt,he has played a major part in Ronnie's recent successes.Some have wondered if they had met earlier in his career how many more titles he would have to his name now and the mind boggles at the thought,but it is also possible that maybe if they had,Ronnie may well have retired by now,as perhaps its the newness of the approach that has yielded these results.

For Ding he will be disappointed that he didn't get going in this one until it was way too late,but he can still be proud of another fine week in what has been a superb season for him.He will no doubt be eyeing up that fifth  ranking title of the season in the World Open next week.

Also before I wrap up this blog,I must mention this event as a whole which I think has been a real success.There was a fear with a tournament lasting 12 days that it might all be just a little drawn out and yes I would prefer best of 9's from the start but I feel as a format it is preferable to the rushed chaos we've seen in some tournaments this season.

Finally lets salute our champion.That maximum in the final frame was Ronnie's 12th in professional snooker moving him one ahead of Hendry on the all time list.Who is to say over the next few seasons he wont eclipse a few more of Hendry's records,but I think regardless of whether he does or doesn't at this stage most would agree Ronnie is in terms of superlatives "the greatest".

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Welsh Open Semi finals round up

The 2014 Welsh Open final will be the most eagerly anticipated match of the season as the worlds two current best players,Ding Junhui & Ronnie O'Sullivan battle it out for the title over the best of 17 frames

Ding reached his fifth ranking final of the season courtesy of a hard fought 6-4 victory over Joe Perry.It was Perry who was first out of the traps in this one,taking the opening frame.Ding leveled things up in the next before a break of 114 saw him take a 2-1.The fourth frame could have gone either way,but it went to Ding to leave the Chinese 3-1 up at the interval.

On the resumption of play it was Perry who came out the better,winning the next two frames to level things up at 3-3,before Ding once again edged ahead at 4-3. Perry looked set to level it up again,but a 55 from Ding was enough to make it 5-3 and although Perry won the next Ding produced a wonderful break of 118 to seal the 6-4 victory.

So Ding has Stephen Hendry's record of five ranking titles in a season very much in his sights but standing in his way will be Ronnie O'Sullivan after the world champion again showed superb form to beat Barry Hawkins 6-4.

Hawkins knew coming out to play this one that a good start was essential and thats exactly what he got,winning the first frame of the evening with a 102.Indeed he looked set to take the second when he lead 58-0,but a superb clearance from Ronnie leveled things up at 1-1.The third also went the way of O'Sullivan courtesy of a stunning break of 114,before an unfortunate foul from Hawkins left Ronnie a free ball & he duly cleared up to make it 3-1.

That became 4-1 in the next with another century,this time a 124,and things were starting to look ominous for Hawkins.In the sixth Hawkins again was first in and lead 64-0,before O'Sullivan again countered to pinch it with a 65 clearance to move within one of victory at 5-1. Hawkins did manage to pull one back,before  Ronnie sealed the 6-2 win with his third century of the evening

What a final we have in prospect then as these two men who have towered over the season get ready to slug it out.A win here would be Dings fifth ranking title of the season,but a victory over Ronnie in this form would surely for him be the highlight of them all.For O'Sullivan as well he would dearly love to prove his superiority over the rest of the world again with the Crucible very much starting to loom on the horizon again.

Regardless of the result,lets hope the Newport Centre gets the send off it deserves as the venue for the Welsh Open and that these two men serve up the classic we all so dearly would love to see