The Semi Finals stage in Daqing produced two excellent matches.
Mark Allen was really excellent in beating Matthew Stevens by 9-6, particularly in the second session: he made three centuries in that session alone and his cue ball control was there with the best. There are however a lot of positives to be taken for Matthew Stevens. He played very well himself, he made two centuries and three other breaks over 70 , and looked comfortable around the table, something I hadn’t seen from him in a very long time. He wasn’t taking overly long time over shots looking for non-existent problems and his natural fluency was back. For the snooker fans watching it was a superb match, played in great spirit. For Matthew’s fans, despite the defeat, it’s great news: after years being only the shadow of the player he was, he seems to be coming back to some decent form.
Allen will face Neil Robertson or Jack Lisowski in the final in Daqing on Sunday with the winner to bank the £175,000 top prize. Northern Ireland’s Allen will be aiming for the fourth ranking title of his career and first since the 2016 Players Championship.
World number 12 Allen was runner-up to Ricky Walden in this event in 2014 and lost to Mark Selby in the final last year. He’ll hope to go one better this time when he plays in his eighth ranking final.
Stevens was playing in his first ranking semi-final since 2013 and had hoped to continue his bid to win a second ranking title. Instead the Welshman goes home with £32,000 which will shoot him up the rankings from his current position of 56th.
Allen won the opening frame today with a break of 75 before Stevens took three in a row with runs of 59, 70 and 86. The next three went to Allen, assisted by breaks of 70 and 120, and he took a crucial eighth frame by potting the last pink and black to lead 5-3 after the first session.
Masters champion Allen took the first frame of the evening session then Stevens hit back with 110 and 144 to close to 6-5. The big breaks kept flowing as Allen made 102 then Stevens replied with 115 to leave the score at 7-6. In frame 14, Stevens had a chance to level the match but over-cut the black off its spot on 44. Allen stepped in with a superb 85 clearance for 8-6. And he soon got the better of the 15th to seal the result.
“It was a good match to be involved in,” said 32-year-old Allen. “I felt as if Matthew was the better player, he was sharper than me, potted more long balls and scored just as heavily. The grit and determination got me through because I wasn’t at my best. Matthew missing the black at 7-6 was the crucial point because he was the dominant player at that stage. I made a good clearance and that turned the match. The scoreline was very flattering for me but I’ll take it.
“Being in a semi-final with lots of money at stake didn’t faze Matthew because he’s a big time player. He is too good to be where he is in the rankings. He’d be the first to admit he has himself to blame because he enjoys the off table activities as well as on the table and that has affected his results. It’s only a matter of time before he’s back winning tournaments because there is no question how good he is.”
Six of Allen’s eight previous ranking finals have been in China. “It’s easy to focus out here, there are no distractions,” he said. “You just go out and play and then go back to your room and watch movies. That helps me focus the mind. I’m not the biggest fan of travelling, but that means every match feels like a win-win, because if I win I’m in the next round and if I lose I get to go home to my family. That takes a bit of pressure off.
“No one wants to lose finals. Selby was awesome in the final last year, I did well to make it 10-7. I expect it to be the same this time because Neil Robertson and Jack Lisowski and both very aggressive, high scoring players. May the best man win.”
In the second semi final Neil Robertson beat Jack Lisowski by 9-7, despite the fact that it was Jack who “scored” the most, with two centuries and five other breaks over 50. But Neil was more patient, and tactically superior. It was a very entertaining contest, and Jack in full flow is a joy to watch. He’s been very consistent this season and achieved two things this week: he scored the 100th century of the tournament – a new “ournament” record – and he broke into the provisional top 16 ahead of the Masters. I do hope he can secure his spot at Ally Pally with good results in the coming tournaments. As for Neil, he seems to be back to form after a difficult couple of years on and off the table.
Australia’s Robertson came from 5-4 down to win five of the last seven frames and set up a final clash with Mark Allen in Daqing on Sunday. First to ten frames will take the trophy and a top prize of £175,000.
World number ten Robertson will be playing in his 22nd ranking final, and victory would bring him level with Mark Selby on the all-time list with 15. The 36-year-old is aiming for his second ranking title of the season having won the Riga Masters in July.
Lisowski’s wait for his first ranking title goes on, though he is showing the most consistent form of his career this season, having been runner-up to Robertson in Riga and reached the semi-finals this week as well as three other quarter-finals. The 27-year-old banks £32,000 this week, bringing him into the top 16 in the race to the Masters.
The first session was shared 4-4, Robertson making breaks of 60 and 66 while Lisowski knocked in 64, 71, 102 and 53. Gloucestershire’s Lisowski took the opening frame of the evening session with a run of 76 and he had chances to go 6-4 ahead, but his opponent made a vital 37 clearance to snatch frame ten.
That proved a turning point as Robertson made a 54 in winning the 11th then crafted a 43 clearance to go 7-5 up at the interval. A break of 119 in the next gave him his fourth frame in a row.
Back came Lisowski with a 133, his seventh century of the tournament, and a run of 60 in frame 15 made it 8-7. But the fight-back ended there as Robertson’s 67 in frame 16 gave him the match.
“I was a bit slow out of the blocks today,” said 2010 World Champion Robertson. “I missed a chance to go 4-2 up, but then made a good clearance to go 4-4. I played solid snooker tonight and finished the match off really well because the way Jack came back from 8-5 to 8-7, it was awesome to watch. Luckily I’ve been on the end of playing Shaun Murphy a few times when he is in full flight and knocking in everything, so I know how to deal with that kind of pressure. Not many players would have been able to react the way I did.
“You can’t always play at your highest level. I was going into the pack today and not really landing on reds, and sometimes matches go that way and you have to find another way to win. I played good safety and made some important clearances. I was really pleased by the way I played against Mark Selby (in the quarter-finals) but in a way today was more impressive because I had to dig deep.
“Jack is a beautiful player to watch, he hits the ball so well. You can see the benefits of him practising with Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump. It won’t be long before he wins a tournament. He won’t be down-hearted by the result today, I’m sure he believes deep down that he will win one soon.
“It has been a fantastic start to the season for me, it’s good to follow up the win in Riga with another final. I’ve had a really tough draw this week and come through it well. There is one more big hurdle tomorrow against Mark Allen. He’s a world class player and we always enjoy our matches.”
My only confident prediction for the Final is that it will be close. If I really must chose, then I’ll favour Mark Allen slightly.
There was a very decent crowd for both matches. Contrary to what some on twitter suggest, I’ve been at enough UK events to know that the crowd isn’t always great there either, far from it. However the use of mobile phones during matches has been a problem all week.
There also were again suggestions that Django Fung, the Grove “Boss”, is a bad manager who is responsible for Judd Trump disappointing performance(s). Well, the Grove had 4 players (out of seven in the grove team) in the QF, two of them reaching the SF and, inevitably as those two played each other, one in the Final. Also, Jack’s improvement since he returned to Grove last season is massive. So then? Frankly, it’s sheer nonsense. Judd’s poor performances over the last couple of seasons – by his standards – are entirely his own doing. Only too often he doesn’t give his opponents enough respect, and, of course, after so many disappointments, his confidence must be shattered. It is Django who persuaded Ronnie to see Steve Peters, probably one of the best things ever anyone did for Ronnie. It’s Django own interest that his players are succesful, why wouldn’t he try his best for Judd?