Berlin Tagebuch – before it starts

The German Masters 2016 proper start today in Berlin and here is Hector Nunns reflecting on the tournament itself, its venue, the Tempodrom, and the Eurosport coverage.

Ronnie didn’t qualify, nor did Neil Robertson but both will be there, in Berlin, as pundits in the Eurosport studio.

Berlin is a great city, and the Tempodrom a fantastic venue from the viewers perspective but this tournament has a relatively low prize money, the qualifiers were held just after the UK, shortly before Xmas, and the three first rounds are squeezed within a three days time span, forcing most players to play two matches on the third day. Nothing of this is ideal. Seven players in the top 16 failed to qualify, which is not great for the sponsors or in general on a commercial point of view. I can’t help to wonder to what extend the factors cited above contributed a relative lack of motivation for some of the top boys.

BERLIN AND THE TEMPODROM TAKE CENTRE STAGE

BERLIN AND THE TEMPODROM TAKE CENTRE STAGE

Opportunity knocks for the 32 players heading to Berlin this week for the 918.com German Masters at the Tempodrom, one of the more iconic venues currently used on the circuit.

The World Seniors at the weekend provided a trip down memory lane for those who loved playing at the Guild Hall in Preston.

The Crucible will always have more than its fair share of fans as an arena, not least because of the status of the tournament it stages.

And many still lament the passing of the old Wembley Conference Centre, a real bear pit when rammed to its 2,500 capacity.

That is also the full house figure regularly drawn by the Tempodrom for the weekend semi-finals and final, a stage relished by the players that make it that far (not to mention the officials).

It will not have escaped the attention of those taking part that the winners of five of the last six major titles have not made it through qualifying this year.

Having no Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, John Higgins or Ding Junhui is not ideal commercially and from a box office standpoint.

But having attended every one of the German Masters events since it gained ranking status, if there is a country not so reliant on particular names to shift tickets, this is probably it.

They have certainly got used to O’Sullivan not taking part, as despite the tournament effectively re-launching his career in 2012 with a brilliant success that served as a prelude to a fourth world title, he has only played at the venue in this event twice in six years for a variety of reasons.

The cast list is led by world No1 Mark Selby, the defending champion, world champion Stuart Bingham, Judd Trump and last year’s runner-up Shaun Murphy, who has done much to help promote the sport over the years in this part of Europe.

In addition there are two other former winners in the line-up in Mark Williams and Ali Carter, plus this year’s Shanghai Masters winner Kyren Wilson.

Trump v Carter looks the tie of the first round on paper, while the match-up between Chinese amateur Zhao Xintong, a scourge of the professionals as a wild-card in Chinese events, and Belgium’s Luca Brecel also catches the eye.

Ryan Day has recent form in Berlin, and his contest with recent UK Championship runner-up Liang Wenbo should be worth watching.

And the tie between Marco Fu and Kurt Maflin could be anything including sensational, depending on which of the respective players turns up on the day.

Those taking part are playing for a first prize of 80,000 euros (or £60,831.11 at today’s rates, if we’re being sterling pedantic).

And of course this is the big stage for Rolf Kalb, one of snooker’s great enthusiasts and a relentless workaholic, racing as he does between MC and commentary duties.

As ever, one of the world’s great cities is waiting to be explored between matches, practically dripping with history around every corner. For any snooker fan, there are far worse places to treat yourself to a weekend break.

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, used for the 1936 Games, now hosts Hertha Berlin football club

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, used for the 1936 Games, now hosts Hertha Berlin football club

The 24-hour techno dance scene is not really for me these days…but it, too, is there for those that want it. I’ll be at the currywurst stand enjoying a Berliner Kindl.

The action gets under way on Wednesday afternoon, with the final on Sunday.

Photographs courtesy of Monique Limbos

EUROSPORT’S PRESENTER DILEMMA

EUROSPORT'S PRESENTER DILEMMA

Matt Smith will be the face of the German Masters for Eurosport’s UK viewers, as the issue of who leads the snooker coverage for the broadcaster continues to throw up some difficulties.

Three presenters (at least), and for any given tournament where there is a studio presence, one job. See the problem?

Smith is a good professional, recognisable to many for his work on ITV primarily on football where he has hosted Champions League highlights, Uefa Cup live coverage, and Championship highlights.

He also has World Cups, European Championships and England football internationals on his CV, along with darts and IPL cricket.

And he possesses experience of snooker with ITV (including the ill-fated Power Snooker, a concept with which Clive Everton’s renowned commentary and gravitas sat somewhat uneasily).

But back home in Blighty will be the No1 pick of the recent past Colin Murray, one of two contracted talkSPORT radio presenters Eurosport have used for their snooker output, with the other being Andy Goldstein.

Eurosport’s decision to ramp things up and have a studio in Berlin’s Tempodrom last year was widely praised and considered a success, with Murray presenting and punditry from Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.

The excitable Murray may not be everyone’s cup of tea, arguably falling in to the ‘Marmite’ category, but without question he introduced a passion, freshness and dynamism to the coverage that attracted and kept new viewers.

The ‘dream team’ of Murray, O’Sullivan and White then went to do it all again over the much longer and more demanding period of nine days on the sofa for the UK Championship, based in Feltham for the York tournament. Did this lengthy stint diminish Murray’s appetite for the gig? Eurosport were quick to scotch any such suggestion.

Goldstein is understood to have been the original first choice for Berlin last year but for good reasons was unavailable, opening the door for Murray who then went on to leapfrog his rival in the pecking order. It is dog eat dog out there in TV world…

But both hold radio deals with talkSPORT placing big demands on their time, that is their bread and butter and main livelihood, around which they book other things. Eurosport, now of course with Discovery money behind them, are as accommodating as they can be but Smith will be seen as third choice this week.

Murray, who has even taken holiday to fulfil the gigs in the past, was either unwilling or unable to do that this time with in addition another commitment, while Goldstein, who has done the same with holiday in the past for snooker, also had duties from which he was unable to escape.

Both genuinely like the game, and Goldstein has probably given the sport more radio air time than virtually any presenter in recent memory. He has also done a lot of work on The Ronnie O’Sullivan Show, Eurosport’s vehicle for the five-time world champion.

Yes, some of these studio exchanges can be a little short on rigorous questioning, and the regularly employed faux-matiness is occasionally cloying, but both of these men promote snooker in invaluable fashion at a time when other strands of the media are not doing that.

As Eurosport go from strength to strength, become ever more slick and professional and their commitment to snooker appears to grow stronger and not weaker, these availability issues will no doubt soon be further discussed.

Either the presenting role is rotated around as now, or something may have to give to have a permanent No1 in place. But for this week, Smith it is, ably assisted by White and Foulds, with Neil Robertson and O’Sullivan also jetting in to sprinkle some stardust in the studio.