The new snooker year starts on Sunday, with what is actually my favorite event: The Masters.
Rigging is underway at Ally Pally …
The 16 pros involved are practising… including the defending Champion, Ronnie.
Those are two little videos he posted on his new instagram account (well it’s no exactly new, but it has a new id) where you will find more food and cooking stuff than snooker!
Now, as many stuff Ronnie shares on social media, those videos are a bit tongue-in-cheek. I’m certain however that Ronnie is peparing for the Masters very seriously. It’s probably his favourite tournament too: it’s played in London, he can come, play, go back home and sleep in his own bed. No hanging aroung in hotels or venues. It’s a numpty-free zone, only the top 16, no mismatches, one table setup from the start, huge supportive crowds. In its last 13 installments, Ronnie has played in the tournament 12 times, made the final 8 times and won it 6 times. It’s also a tournament he won for the fist time just aged 19. That in itself tells a story.
The bookie make him favourite. I don’t read too much in it: they nearly always do. Ronnie has been in great form in the second half of 2017, but it was obvious during the Scottish Open that he was jaded. He had nothing left in the tank, be it physically or mentally. Will the festive break be enough for him to come back fully rested and re-motivated? Only time will tell.
Everyone is doing previews… so here is mine, covering only the first round, in order of play, for what it’s worth:
Mark Selby v Mark Williams (Sunday afternoon)
Selby won the International Championship 2017 but otherwise hasn’t had a great season until now. Williams, on the contrary, working under a new coach, has won the six-reds World Championship 2017 and the Northern Ireland Open 2017, his 19th ranking title and the first since February 2011. He looks well and truly rejuvenated. People might not perceive it this way, but they have a lot in common as players. Both have an excellent safety game, patience in spades and don’t mind the table going scrappy. Both are excellent at picking the pieces in broken play. Selby will have the load of expectations on him. For those reasons, I expect a close match and Williams to win.
Mark Allen v Luca Brecel (Sunday evening)
Luca Brecel is in this because he won the China Championship 2017, but has since not really confirmed the form he showed in Guangzhou. He has suffered from a shoulder injury too. It has been a bit of a pattern with Luca since he turned pro: good runs in a big tournament have almost always been followed by a dip in form for whatever reason. Allen has been very consistent, especially over the longer formats, without winning anything. This one is difficult to call for me. Luca loves the big occasions, so does Mark. Again, on maturity and experience, I expect a close match and Allen to win.
Ding Junhui v Ryan Day (Monday afternoon)
Ding won the World Open ealy in the season but has since been poor by his standards. His first round defeat by 6-5 from 5-1 up at the hands of Leo Fernandez in York is almost inexplicable and very worrying for his fans. Ryan Day on the other hand has won his first ever ranking title early in the season and made the semi-finals in the UK Championship. He looks much more confident than he once was. Therefore I expect Day to win.
Judd Trump v Liang Wenbo (Monday evening)
Liang hasn’t really backed his 2016 English Open title with other performances of note, particularly this season. Judd has had a very decent season, two finals/ one title, but over the last year he also had a number of surprising defeats in matches he had started strongly, only to somehow collapse when things weren’t going his way. The most prominent example being his defeat to Rory McLeod in the first round at the Crucible. The reasons for this are anyone’s guess. Mine is that Judd tends to put too much pressure on himself and isn’t that great at managing it. Anyway, they are both very attacking, they know each other well, have practiced together in the past. So it’s hard to call. I still believe that Trump will win a close match.
Ronnie v Marco Fu (Tuesday afternnon)
Marco Fu on form is a very dangerous player and he used to have a great record against Ronnie. His rather slow pace and very methodical approach had a frustrating effect on the Ronnie of the past. But this is the past and Ronnie now copes much better with this type of game: Marco has come close at times but hasn’t beaten Ronnie since 2009. Ronnie loves the place and has a tremendous record in the Masters. I expect Ronnie to win by 6-3 or 6-4.
Barry Hawkins v Kyren Wilson (Tuesday evening)
Neither player has been in great form this season, Barry has a superior head to head, but they mainly met in best of 7’s. This is a triple crown event and an entirely different proposition altogether. Barry also has more experience of the big stages, he’s been a finalist in Ally Pally two years ago, he’s been a finalist at the Crucible as well. Therefore I expect Hawkins to win but the match to be close.
Shaun Murphy v Ali Carter (Wednesday afternoon)
Those two are very different players. Shaun is all attack, Ali has a much more cautious approach. Both has the required skills and experience. However in recent times Shaun has been very succesful whilst Ali hasn’t had the greatest of season. On form, I have to favour Shaun. If shaun plays anywhere near the form he showed in the Champion of Champions, he’ll win very comfortably. But, it’s form “on the day” that matters and if Ali’s cautious approach lures Shaun into taking a few shots too many that don’t go in… I can see Ali winning this; he’s just won the Championship League Snooker Group 4 yesterday. So this is a really hard one to predict. Let’s toss the coin … Shaun to win a one-sided match.
John Higgins v Anthony McGill (Wednesday evening)
Anthony is certainly a very capable player but it seems to me that every time he plays John Higgins, his idol and former mentor, he’s overwhelmed and in awe of his opponent. Yes, Anthony did beat John in the 2014 UK Championship, by 6-5, at a time when John seemingly couldn’t pot a ball for his life or about. This season however they have met twice and John has won both encounters without breaking much sweat. I can’t see it going any differently this time. Higgins to win by 6-1 or 6-2.