Usually before a major tournament, the usual suspects … ehrr bloggers … seize their keyboard, dig into statistics and come up with a tournament preview. This time was no different and here are some of them:
I won’t copy the whole thing here … just one excerpt and a picture of the arena (one I took last year). I also have put one paragraph I found particularly interesting in bold.
Heading the draw is of course defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who a year ago equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of six Masters titles with a dominant 10-1 victory against Barry Hawkins in the final.
The season so far has seen the Rocket reach three major finals, most recently at the UK Championship in York where he ran into an inspired performance from world number one Mark Selby at the Barbican Centre. Since he began his season at the Shanghai Masters in September, his game has appeared to become progressively sharper from tournament to tournament and both his relatively low ranking and lack of silverware stretching back to last season’s Welsh Open, mask a consistently high level of performance in recent events.
He begins his latest Masters campaign with a clash against China’s Liang Wenbo, who of course has lifted a trophy already this season at the English Open in Manchester and is up to a career-high 11th in the world rankings. Following his Masters début a year ago against John Higgins, his task is not any easier in 2017 as he faces another of snooker’s ‘class of 92’.
The head to head record between the two does not make pretty reading for Liang fans, who has won just one of their six meetings in major competitions and also surrendered a three frame lead against O’Sullivan to lose 5-4 in their last match in Shanghai last year, but their matches have generally been close and he will be hoping to tear up the form book in London.
again an excerpt …
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Liang Wenbo – Sunday January 15, 1pm
In common with most players on the circuit Liang Wenbo’s head to head statistic against Ronnie doesn’t bode well for his chances here. Their matches of late have tended to be close though which tells me it’s usually getting over the line rather than ‘rabbit in the headlights’ syndrome that’s mostly to blame for Liang. His newly found winning formula can in part be attributed to his opponent here who seems somewhat intrigued by the bendy faced Chinese player, so much so that Ronnie decided to take him under his wing and give him a few tips. Watch this match closely in terms of body language, I’ve never seen Ronnie smile at anyone the way he smiles at Wenbo during play, it’s very unusual for him to show any emotion during a match these days in particular a smile. My guess is that Ronnie enjoys his match ups with this quirky ‘marmite’ type character, which is probably why he usually beats him and probably will again here.
Match Prediction: O’Sullivan 6-4
another excerpt …
Many will be hoping that the Leicester man and O’Sullivan, who have fought in three previous Masters finals since 2009, are on course for a repeat showdown following their thrilling encounter in York.
They are undeniably the two favourites for success next week but it would be foolish to write off any of the other pretenders in what is a stellar cast.
O’Sullivan’s first test comes against English Open champion Liang Wenbo, someone the 41 year-old is close to off the table.
On the baize all friendship will be put to one side and it comes as no surprise that O’Sullivan boasts a superior head-to-head record against the Chinese no.2.
Indeed, Liang has triumphed only once in seven previous meetings and let slip a 4-1 lead when the duo last clashed during the Shanghai Masters in September.
O’Sullivan has only lost in the last 16 three times since his debut in 1994 and has featured in an amazing eight out of the last 13 finals – plus he didn’t even compete in the 2013 Masters.
This will just be Liang’s second appearance in the Masters and it remains to be seen whether this enigmatic character will be able to live up to the pressure of a first round tie with the favourite on the opening afternoon, in front of what will surely be a boisterous crowd.
And finally my own thoughts …
First, it is worth to note that Stuart Bingham is possibly to withdraw from the tournament as his wife, Michelle, is about to give birth to a little Miss Bingham in the coming days and Stuart will want to be at her side. I’m wishing them all the best. Should Stuart indeed withdraw, he would be replaced by the next player in the rankings, Ricky Walden.
At the risk of attracting Adam’s wrath, there is no doubt in my mind that Mark Selby is the favourite coming into this tournament. He has dominated snooker during the last year in a way nobody did since the Stephen Hendry days – BTW Happy Birthday Stephen! – and he will have the extra motivation to have the opportunity to join a very exclusive group of players who held all three majors titles at the same time. The last who did it was Mark Williams in the early 2000th, and before him Stephen Hendry in the 90th and Steve Davis in the 80th. Ronnie never did, neither did John Higgins.
That said, Ronnie has his fair chance. This is his “home tournament”, and he has an incredible record in it: 11 finals, and 6 wins, in 20 participations. In fact, more impressively, 8 finals in his last 12 participations, with 5 wins. He loves the fact that he can go home after his matches, he loves the fact that it’s only 16 players and one table from the start and he usually has a close group of friends around him for support as well as the London crowd on his side. As Matt pointed out, and as himself told ES and Worldsnooker, his game is in much better shape than a few months ago.
What about the (some of) others?
Snookerbacker tips John Higgins to come out of his (and Ronnie’s) side of the draw. I don’t, for two main reasons: John has a relatively poor record at the Masters, and although I expect him to beat Mark Allen, he could be stopped in the QF where he is due to face the winner of Judd Trump v Marco Fu. The way Marco has been playing lately, I expect him to come out the winner of this match and he is typically the sort of player who could stop John. He’s calm, collected, methodical and deadly in the balls when on form. In fact I see Marco as a real contender for the title. He could face Ronnie in the SF … remember their match in the UK? That was far too close for comfort eh …
Another player who seems to play really well again and is very hard to beat when on form because he has an ultra-solid all-round game is Barry Hawkins, my dark horse. He’s very capable to tempt the all-attacking Shaun Murphy into taking a few pots too many and I expect Barry to win his first round match. Of course he’s due to run into Mark Selby in the QF … but this could be an interesting one. In my opinion, Mark will need to go on to the attack if he faces Barry, if both go the defensive paths, it’s a 50/50 game IMO.
Ding is a big unknown to me. I never know in what shape and mindset he will turn up. He will face the only debutant, Kyren Wilson. Kyren is a brilliant prospect, but it’s his first time in this very special arena and its heated atmosphere. It could be very intimidating.