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Monday, 22 January 2018

The Masters -A few other talking points

As Mark Allen wakes up this morning as the sports latest Triple Crown winner and the dust settles on another great Masters tournament,here are a few other things that might be worth thinking about from the week.

1.The worrying form of Mark Selby.
When Selby won his third world title last May and more or less cemented his place at the top of the rankings for the foreseeable ,there was a clamour to get his face chiselled on our sports fictional Mt Rushmore alongside Davis,Hendry,O'Sullivan & Higgins, such talk has been proven to be a bit premature as,apart from his International Championship win,it has largely been a season to forget.A decision not to enter the NI Open to prepare for the UK Championship backfired when he exited in the second round, & another early bath here have left him with a little bit to prove in the coming months.That said he has done it before & I probably still see him as the most probable world champion again come this May.

2.Ding's slump continues.
Going back again to last years world championship and although Selby was the victor,there is a real argument so say that Ding was actually the best player in that tournament. A victory in the World Open in September seemed to be the perfect start to the season for him,but since then he has really struggled. Of course there is a genuine excuse,as he developed an eye infection,which was is obviously debilitating to a snooker player,but he just looked a bit resigned here last week.Hopefully this was not a sign of things to come & he can get his spark back,because in full flow there are few better players to watch building a break.

3.The class of '92 still a force in the game.
As we had already seen this season,with all three in the winner enclosure,Ronnie, Higgins & Williams are not quite done with the game yet and here again they proved that with, Williams beating Selby,Higgins reaching the semi final & Ronnie's demolition of Fu in the first round. We also saw in their defeats that they are all just reaching the poor performance from nowhere stage,but you would certainly be surprised if at least one of these three didn't lift another trophy before seasons end.

4.Trump still has a lot to learn
Back in 2011,when Trump reached the world final I will admit I was among those who thought we were witnessing the emergence of the games next dominant force.That seemed to be confirmed later that year when he lifted the UK title and into the 2012 Masters where he defeated Ronnie in the quarter finals,his star just seemed to be rising & rising.Then came the semi final against Robertson,where its widely accepted that the wily Aussie did a number on him & I think there we have the Trump career "butterfly moment"I fully believe had he won that title we would now be looking at a multiple Triple Crown instead of someone who has had a good career,but one that promised so much more.

There is of course still time for him to turn it around,but he will need to improve on the attitude he has shown in recent times.Far too often from him we have seen a glass chin when someone is coming back at him and the way he seems to have decided to combat this is by trying to force his way over the line, for a perfect example of this,look back at the red he took on when leading Wilson 5-2 on Saturday.For some time I've felt that Trump would benefit greatly from getting a few people in his corner who will tell him what he needs to hear rather than what he wants to hear.Listening to his rather petulant display in his post match press conference has only further convinced me that that is the case.

5 Where are the great young talents?
One of the reasons I saw Trump as the next dominant force was the apparent lack of top talent coming behind him and  the fact that in 2018,Wilson became the first Triple Crown finalist born in the 90's,rather proves that point. Hendry made a comment last week that he can't see where the next multiple Major/20 time ranking winner is coming from and its hard not to see his point. On evidence to date it seems inevitable that we will be looking to China to produce that next champion. I think we are now heading for a period of transition in the sport in the coming years as the greats we are used to slowly drop away with as yet no obvious replacements coming through.

Finally once again we return to the table condition at a major tournament.In recent years,I think particularly in the big BBC events we have seen pockets that were certainly on the generous side.Its even got to the stage where the commentators aren't even bothering to trot out the old "much tighter than club pockets"defence.To my mind this seemed to all start around the time that our bookmaker sponsors started putting up charity money for century breaks to be broken.That may be a coincidence,and I genuinely hope this is a table fitting problem & not a policy decision taken in the mistaken belief that all snooker fans want to see are big breaks flying in.It must be said after all the talk early week here,the changing of the cushions seemed to alleviate the issue somewhat.

So anyway these are just my few thoughts on the last week.Feel free to comment or add some of your own to these.From here for the pros,its onto the China open qualifiers,which have taken on added significance with yesterdays prize money announcement,

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Final.

Mark Allen tongight claimed the  2018 Masters title after a hard fought 10-7 final victory over Kyren Wilson.

Allen,the world no.8 has been the standout player here all week,making the stage his own with some fabulous displays in the previous rounds and again doing so today when it mattered most.

The match itself wont go down as a classic in terms of quality ,but boy did both these players battle hard,neither leaving anything on the table.

A close match was always on the cards you felt and with the first session shared at 4-4,we were set tonight for a grandstand finish.

Here it was Wilson who struck first,winning lengthy first of the session to go 5-4,but Allen seemed to settle into rhythm the quicker, taking the next three to the interval to lead 7-5.

When he also took the next in two scoring visits,it looked as though he might run away with it,but Wilson showed against Trump yesterday that he relishes a battle & bravely fought back to within one again at 8-7.

Allen though would not be denied & he took the next two to seal a famous 10-7 win.

In doing so,he became the third player from Northern Ireland,after Alex Higgins & Denis Taylor to lift the masters title & the fact its 40 years after Higgins did it makes it all the more special for him.

As for Wilson,he showed again here this week just what a talent he is and also what a dedicated professional he is.He also just seems like a real nice fella and you hope this experience will push him to the next level in the sport,competing for titles on a regular basis

The final word must go to Mark Allen though.I have stated on many occasions that I thought The Masters was the Major he had the best chance of winning,but over the years he has been unlucky to so often lose narrowly to players playing at their absolute peak.Listening to his podcast interview with Dave Hendon during the week,he talked about the ease with which he won his first ranking final & how in a way, he'd have preferred it to go close to see how he could withstand the pressure. Well tonight,on one of the games biggest stages he  did just that & who is to say this wont be the victory to catapult him to the very top of the game.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Masters Semi Final Round Up.

A thrilling day of semi final action at the "Ally Pally" has left us with one guarantee and that is that we will be adding new name to The Masters roll of honour tomorrow, as Mark Allen faces Kyren Wilson for the £200,000 top prize.

It seems strange when you consider there is only two years between them,but in terms of experience it very much seemed "an old master against the young pretender "scenario as Judd Trump faced off against Kyren Wilson in the first of the semi finals today.

This was of course Wilson's first experience of a major semi final and the pressure seemed to be getting to him early on here as he struggled to keep the cue ball under control .Trump was well worth the  3-1 lead he took to the interval.

Wilson did look to be finding his range when they resumed with an 81 closing the gap to 3-2,but Trump took full advantage  of his chances in the next two to pull clear again 5-2.

At this stage two things were needed for Wilson to get back into the match,firstly he needed to start taking his chances & also he needed Trump to make mistakes,amazingly in an extraordinary hour of snooker both these things were to happen.

Into frame eight still with the match at his mercy Trump took on a very low percentage pot on a red,missed it and in doing so spread the pack far & wide.This was the sort of gift wrapped opportunity Wilson wanted and he duly cleared to make it 5-3.That quickly became 5-4 & then 5-5 as he forced decider  without Trump potting ball for over 30 minutes.

Into the decider then & it was Trump who got in first,but he could only make 23 before breaking down The crucial moment was to come a few shots later though as,faced with an awkward safety from the side cushion,Trump had what can only be described as a rush of blood to the head.With a few safety options available he for some reason,best known to himself, took on a near impossible plant.The resulting miss presented Wilson with the chance he needed and he calmly knocked in a 71 to seal a famous 6-5 win.

A great victory for Wilson then in what is only his second appearance at the Masters,as for Trump you have to wonder at this stage if he will ever reach the heights that his talent deserves.

The second semi final had a lot to live up to as Mark Allen ,fresh from his victory over Ronnie in the previous round,faced another of the all time greats in John Higgins.

For the longest time I've felt that if there was a "Major" win in Allen,that it would be the Masters and after losing the opener here,he quickly found his stride again to lead 3-1 t the interval.

Higgins reached a career landmark when they resumed,as he hit the 700 career century mark with a fine 131 that more importantly got him within one at 3-2,but Allen responded to take the next two to move to the brink at 5-2.

There was still time for Higgins to get his 701st century (a 127),but there was to be no repeat of this afternoons heroics as Allen took the next to seal his final place 6-3.

So not the final many would have predicted at the start of the week,but what a fascinating match up it promises to be. Both have shown in different ways that they are well able for the pressures that these occasions bring and I wouldn't be surprised to see this one go late into the evening tomorrow.That sai,if forced to pick a winner I think I'll give the edge to Allen on experience alone.It will be close though and maybe,20 yrs after one of the games most famous final frame deciders we could be in for another one tomorrow.

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Masters Day 6 Round Up.

Day 6 at The Masters and after the shocks of yesterday,today we saw two of the games real big guns bring it to the table

First up this afternoon we had a real mouthwatering clash between two of the players who have been enjoying a fair deal of success this season,as Judd Trump faced Shaun Murphy.

The attacking prowess of these two players is well known,but perhaps the fact that the elimination of Ronnie from the tournament yesterday has turned peoples attention to the other contenders was weighing on both their minds as the opening exchanges were scrappier than we would have expected.

Scrappy as they were though,those sort of frames still have to be won and was Trump who took the early initiative to go the interval leading 3-1.

Murphy took the first when they resumed to close to 3-2,but it was this point that this one really started to catch fire .

Trump was the first to find his spark with a run of 91 to lead,4-2,but back came Murphy with breaks of 95 &59 to level it up at 4-4.

The momentum now seemed to be with Murphy,but Trump was not done with yet,as he saved his best till last with two classy breaks of 111 & 113 to claim a 6-4 win.

I don't think i;m being unfair when I say in similar situations in the past Trump has shown himself to have a bit of a glass chin,so he will be pleased with how he finished this off when the pressure came on. He will come out tomorrow afternoon as a warm favourite to beat Kyren Wilson and reach his first Masters final.

The one anomaly on the otherwise glittering CV of John Higgins,is the fact that he has only two Masters titles to his name,but maybe that is a record he could put straight here this weekend after producing a typical Higgins display to dispatch Ryan Day in the last of the quarter finals here tonight.

After watch his fellow "class of 92"legends exit the tournament yesterday Higgins would have been all the more determined to avoid the same fate and duly took the opener.

Day responded with an 83 to level at 1-1,but that was a good as it got for the Welshman Higgins found another gear,knocking in breaks of 61,63,65113 & 80 to run out a convincing 6-1 winner.
He will now face Mark Allen tomorrow night in what promises to be a cracker.

So a great semi final Saturday in store and here are predictions for what should be two tightly contested matches

Score Predictions : Judd Trump 6-3 Kyren Wilson
                                 John Higgins 6-4 Mark Allen

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Day 5 Round Up

Day 5 at The Masters and yet again proof if proof were needed as to just how unpredicatable this game can be.

After everything we had seen from Ronnie in his first round match here,it was no surprise that he started a warm favourite against Mark Allen this afternoon and although it was expected that the Ulsterman would put up more resistance that Fu had on Tuesday,most expected Ronnie's quest for an eighth title here to continue without much hassle.Allen though had not read the script.

The first frame saw both players have their chances,but a run of 75 saw it go to Ronnie.Allen though showed in his own first round victory over Brecel that,given his chance,he was also in fine stroke & a 65 quickly drew him level at 1-1.

Allen was now fully settled and he hit Ronnie again in the next with a 115 & followed it an 85 to lead 3-1 a the interval.

Ronnie,it must be said was certainly looking a little under the weather here and he certainly was getting plenty of time in his chair to think about it as an 81 moved Allen 4-1 ahead.

This was now a full blown crisis for "the Rocket" and for once his game just wasn't there to respond as the score moved to 5-1.From here he didn't have to wait too long to be put out of his misery as Allen claimed the next to seal a famous 6-1 victory

Into the night then and another of the games legends,Mark Williams was also hoping to build on an impressive first round  victory over Mark Selby,against his young opponent Kyren Wilson

It is of course 20 years now since perhaps the most famous Masters final of all when a fresh faced Williams beat Stephen Hendry on a respotted black and I suppose the main difference between the Williams of then and now is that now he can have an odd day when he goes to the well and finds nothing.Today was one of those days.

This was a scrappy match from the start,but it Wilson who was potting the balls that mattered as he moved clear at 4-0 to the interval.When they resumed Williams did scrape a frame,but by then a 63 had already seen Wilson get to within one of victory & he secured his semi final spot in the next with a 76.

So not the winners today that we were expecting,but it certainly leaves the tournament wide open and no doubt Shaun Murphy & Judd \Trump who meet in the afternoon & John Higgins & Ryan Day who play tomorrow night will all now be fancying their chances of claiming the title here on Sunday.Things just got a whole lot more interesting!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Masters Day 4 Round up.

Day four at The Masters and the end of the the first round matches leave eight men still in the hunt to be crowned champion here next Sunday.

The one thing you expect at The Masters,when you consider that it represents a gathering of the games top 16 players, are tight well contested matches and that and that is what we've been treated to here this week,with of course the exception of Ronnie's demolition job  on Fu yesterday.For a while this afternoon it looked as if Shaun Murphy was following suit,but such assumptions were to underestimate the fighting qualities of Ali Carter.

Into the match then & after a closely fought first frame,it was Murphy who found his groove the quicker.stomping around the table with his trademark confidence,quickly establishing a 4-0 lead going to the interval..

There has been talk in recent times as to the need for a mid session interval in the modern game,but I for one would hate to see it disappear from the game,as,giving a player a chance to regroup can so often change the direction of the match completely.

That was certainly the case here,as a refreshed Carter started to find his range with runs of 99 & 110 reducing he arrears to 4-2. Murphy did steady the ship in the next 93 to go 5-2,but back came Carter again taking the next two to close within one at 5-4.

So very much game on again at this point and had the cueball just slipped past the black instead of glancing it from Carters initial long red,who know what would have happened,but it did glance it & when the next real chance went to Murphy,he made no mistake,knocking in a match winning break of 76 to seal the 6-4 victory.

Relief in the end for Murphy then who has been having a very consistent season and he can now look forward to a quarter final against Judd Trump on Friday afternoon

Onto the evening match then and the all Scottish clash between John Higgins & Anthony McGill. In a match like this between two of the games hardest match players,there was never going to be any quarter given or asked for and a proper old fashioned snooker match was what we got.

A couple of closely fought opening frames went to Higgins to lead 2-0,but when he missed a pink from off the side cushion in frame three it eventually went to McGill and he also took the next to go to the interval at 2-2.

When they resumed it was again McGill in the ascendancy as he also took the next two to lead 4-2.Worrying times for Higgins ,but you don't win as much in the game as he has  without turning around an odd crisis and that is what he did.a made it 4-3 ,before a 147 attempt in the next failed on 81.The important thing was the frame though and now on a roll he took the next to lead again 5-4.

McGill was in first in the next,but when he broke down on 41,Higgins made the most of the chance that came his way,sealing the frame with his second bite of the cherry to go through 6-4.

Tomorrow we have the start of the quarters with all eyes on the afternoon match between Ronnie O'Sullivan & Mark Allen with a not to shabby evening session between Mark Williams & Kyren Wilson to follow.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Masters Day 3 Round Up.

Day three at the Masters & all eyes were on the hometown favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan to see if the defending champion could pick up where he left off before Christmas in his quest here for an eighth  Masters title. The answer we got was pretty emphatic.

This was quite simply a flawless display of snooker and there was nothing his opponent Marco Fu could do about it. The tone for the afternoon was set in the opener with a smooth as silk 120 & it was quickly followed by an even smoother 121.

So 2-0 in no time at all and that quickly became 3-0 with runs of 74 & 50 before another century (112 )in the next set us the the interval with a scoreline at 4-0 a pot percentage at 99% & an opponent yet to pot a ball.

Fu did at least manage to register some points when they resumed, but punch drunk from the opening exchanges,he never looked like making an impact in the match and further breaks of 75 & 53 from Ronnie ,put him out of his misery 6-0.

Ronnie spoke after of not feeling well in recent days and to be honest,on this display it may well be the only thing that stops him here this week.

This evenings match was always likely to be a closer affair with both Barry Hawkins & Kyren Wilson looking to put some disappointing recent results behind them here on one of the games biggest stages.

Hawkins,a finalist here in 2015 certainly got the faster start and may will have been disappointed that breaks of 131 & 120 were only good enough to get him to the interval at 2-2.

When they resumed it was Wilsons turn to start rolling in the big breaks,but the result was the same as frames were traded again to leave 4-4.

To this point this had been a high quality match,but perhaps understandably,considering the importance of this match to both,the standard started to drop and things got a bit edgy.It was Wilson though who held it together the best and he potted the balls he needed to seal a 6-4 win & set up a last 8 encounter with Mark Williams.

So all this leaves two places left to be filled in the Quarter finals and they will be filled tomorrow when Shaun Murphy faces Ali Carter in the afternoon & John Higgins takes on Anthony McGill in the evening

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Day Two

Day Two at the Masters and contrasting fortunes for two of the games big starts who were hoping to kickstart the second half of the season here this week.

Ding Junhui has really been having a torrid time of late and with that in mind i'm sure he would have ,if given the choice,picked someone else to play in his first match here rather than Ryan Day who has been a bogeyman to him on some of the games biggest stages in the past.

Day has always been one of those players who on his day you don't think he will miss,but when things are going badly looks like someone down the club.Today looked like it was going to be one of the latter as Ding flew out the blocks to a 3-0 lead.Day needed to do something quick and he did,taking the last before the interval with a 79 to trail 3-1.

That seemed to light a fire under Day and two beautifully crafted centuries (125 & 105)drew him level at 3-3.

Three in a row for Day then and that would become five in a row thanks to two extraordinary incidents with Ding.Firstly a lengthy 7th frame was decided when Ding miscued on the final red,leaving a free ball and he then saw then the next frame go a begging  when he brushed off the blue while trying to cue over it with the rest. All of which meant Day now only needed one more for victory at 5-3.

A 100 from Ding in the next closed the gap to 5-4 ,but there was to be no comeback as Day took the next with a 115 of his own to seal his victory 6-4.

Into the night match match then and what on paper looked like the potential tie of the round as Trump faced  off against Liang Wenbo.

For someone of Trumps talent,his record in this tournament over the years has been disappointing & that coupled with a few incidents in recent months where he has been creating headlines for the wrong reasons may have him feeling he has something to prove here this week.

He certainly started off the better in this one with a series of big breaks giving him a 3-1 interval lead in what seemed like the blink of an eye and an early night looked in store as that quickly became  5-1 when they resumed.

Liang though wasn't finished with yet and as so often happen when you get to the nothing to lose stage, his arm freed up.Breaks of 58 & 51 got him off and running,before two of the most beautifully constructed centuries ( 139 & 116) you could wish to see saw him back within one at 4-5.

It was very much game on again now and \when Liang knocked in a long red in the next he was unfortunate not to finish on a colour.Three minutes of thinking time followed ,before he decided to put all his eggs in one basket,taking on an ultra difficult green. Unfortunately for him it proved one pot too far and he missed it gifting Trump an easy opener from which he ran out the match with 85.The score in the end 6-4.

Finally again today we saw the subject of the overly generous pockets causing a stir.This has been a bug bear of mine in recent seasons and its nice to see it getting some proper discussion on tv for a change as up to now we've only heard the whole tournament v club table argument.That of course misses the point as at the top level even the slightest fraction can make such a difference.I may be wrong on this ,but it seems to happen more in the BBC tournaments than any of the others.This may be with the mistaken belief that all the casual viewers want to see is big breaks..I think this would be an incorrect assumption.

Anyway things roll on tomorrow with a certain defending champion entering the arena in the afternoon session.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Masters 2018 Day 0ne

Well.its been a while.but where better to kick-start this blog again than at the start of a new year and at the beginning of one of the best weeks on the snooker calendar.

As if to confirm just what a special tournament this is,the draw threw up a potential classic for the first match and for once we were not to be disappointed.

Mark Selby started this season as the world champion and with an unassailable lead at the top of the rankings,but the International Championship apart,things have not been going according to plan with a decision  not play the Irish Open to concentrate on the UK backfiring when he exited early on to Donaldson.

Mark Williams on the other hand has been having his most consistent season in years and ended a seven year wait for another ranking title in that Irish Open.

Just what an afternoon we were in for was apparent straight from the off when Williams floated in a beautiful 135 to take the opener and followed it with a run of 89 to lead 2-0.

Selby had done nothing wrong so far though and when his chance came two 70 breaks in three frames either side of the interval saw him move 3-2 ahead,before Williams hit back with 81 to level things up again.

This was high class stuff from both,but it was Selby who seemed to have made the decisive move when he took the next two to move within one of the next round at 5-3.

That looked be all she wrote for Williams as Selby got in again in the next and seemed to be clearing for victory when a kick on a red put a stop to his gallop and Williams made the most of his reprieve to clear,before also taking the next to force the decider at 5-5.

When these two met at the Masters last year it was Selby who came out the right side of a decider and after Williams had failed to make the most of an early chance here,Selby seemed to have done all the hard work again,only to miss the last red along the top cushion and the Welshman cleared to record a 6-5 win.

He can now enjoy a few days back at home in Wales before returning on Friday to face the winner between Hawkins & Wilson.

The other match today brought together two of the games real fluent breakbuilders,as Mark Allen faced Luca Brecel in What was the Belgians Masters debut..

It was strange then that after some fine early play from both,leaving the scores tied at 3-3,it was a lengthy seventh frame that was to prove the pivotal one.Here both players missed several chances,before it was eventually decided when Brecel unluckily saw the white drop into the middle pocket after a superb pot on the brown.This left him needing snookers,but he never got the chance to play for them as Allen cleared to go 4-3.

That seemed to knock the fight out of the young man and Allen quickly made it 5-3 before a run of 120,his second century of the match,saw him over the line 6-3.

For a number of years I've felt that the Masters represented Allen best chance of a "Major" and I still think that though if it is to be this year he may well have to defeat the defending champion & player of the season so far,Ronnie O'Sullivan in the next round.That is providing of course that Ronnie gets the better of Marco Fu first

So we're off and running at the 2018 Masters and tomorrow we can look forward to seeing two of the games biggest names who may feel they have something to prove here this week,as first up Ding Junhui faces Ryan Day & in the evening Judd Trump takes on Liang Wenbo.