Yesterday night saw Stuart Bingham win Group 4 of the 2019 Championship League Snooker, beating Mark Selby by 3-1 in the final. So now, the Masters 2019 IS the next tournament and here is (an attempt at) a preview.
Mark Allen v Luca Brecel
Mark Allen, the defending champion, will open proceedings against Luca Brecel, the youngest player in the field. On paper there is only one winner of this match: Mark Allen. Indeed Allen is currently at the top of the one year list, and by some margin as well: he’s more than £130000 ahead of Ronnie who is n°2. He’s also the winner of the last ranking event in 2018, the Scottish Open. Luca Brecel on the other hand has been struggling badly and for quite some time as well: Luca is currently 37th in the one year list and has not qualified for the German Masters 2019. BUT, Mark Allen has been talking a lot to the media – and to Worldsnooker – about how he’s going to handle the pressure and how he sees himself as the best ever player coming out of Northern Ireland. I’m not sure this is wise. Mark has history of collapsing badly at his home event, the Northern Ireland Open, when playing in front of friend and family with huge expectations on his shoulders. Being the defending champion is pressure enough, adding to it by boasting to the media might be unwise under the circumstances. Luca has played very well in patches in the CLS, his form is there, his confidence not so much. However, if Luca gets off to a good start and wins the first couple of frames, this match could take a turn to the unexpected. If not, Mark Allen will win by some margin, probably by 6-1 or 6-2.
John Higgins v Ryan Day
John Higgins has got a rather nightmarish season so far although he did make the final at the China Open 2018. But, otherwise it’s largely been a season to forget and John has often appeared dispirited and unmotivated. John’s record in the Masters isn’t that great either. He’s won it twice, and was runner-up twice, both times losing to Ronnie, but he’s also been beaten in the first round 12 times in 24 appearances. Ryan Day hasn’t had as good a season as the two previous ones either, he’s yet to go past the QF in this campaign but he did beat John Higgins in the Shanghai Masters 2018, and beat him in a decider as well. So this match is hard to call. Basically anything could happen. I’ll go for Ryan winning by 6-4.
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stuart Bingham
Stuart has just won Group 4 of the CLS 2019, beating Mark Selby in the final. This is the only match from this group that I watched and it’s hard to take any conclusions based on it. Stuart didn’t play particularly well there, except in the last frame. It was scrappy and he needed several chances to finish frames, often losing position when in. Mark Selby was maybe tired – apparently he had dominated the group convincingly – but, in the final at least, having won the first frame he appeared to play rather casually, taking some careless/risky shots. So it’s hard to know exactly what form Stuart is in. He’s always hard to beat though. It’s even more difficult to know in what kind of form Ronnie is: he hasn’t played since winning the UK Championship mis December 2018. But Ronnie loves the Masters, he’s won it seven times. He’s been in the final 9 times, and won it 6 times since 2004, in 14 participations. It’s his home tournament, he can go home between matches, it suits him to bits. I’ll go for Ronnie winning 6-4.
Ding Junhui v Jack Lisowski
Another one that’s hard to call. Ding hasn’t been convincing at all this season. He’s a young father, and his heart hasn’t really been in snooker, or at least that’s the impression he’s given most of the time when at the table. He’s even looked absolutely miserable at times. He’s lost matches he looked set to win. But, despite all this, there have been sparks of brilliance and his ability can’t be questioned. Jack on the other hand has been mega consistent over the last two seasons. He’s in great form having won Group 2 of the Championship League snooker only last week. He has however suffered some heavy defeats against the top players, especially in latter stages of tournaments, his 13-1 defeat to John Higgins at the Crucible probably the most spectacular of them. Jack isn’t quite at ease on the biggest scenes just yet, or so it seems. He’s the only debutant here and the crowds are always “lively”. However Ding is likely to play an open game, which will suit Jack. Also – it might be only a detail – this match is scheduled on the Monday evening, at a time when most fans in China will be deep asleep and this maybe might affect Ding’s motivation negatively. Anyway, all considered, I’ll side with Jack Lisowski winning by 6-4.
Mark Willams v Neil Robertson
If Mark Williams is to be believed, he has been on a non-stop celebration mode since last May. This involved countless drinks, kebabs, holidays and getting in trouble in Dubai. It hasn’t stopped him from winning the World Open though and he’s fourth on the one year list. Plus, apparently, he’s been practicing for this event. Neil Robertson is fifth on the one year list, having also won an event this season already, the Riga Masters, and he too has been practicing. Last week he won Group 1 of the Championship League Snooker. One thing though is that Neil has lost three times this season to Mark Allen and once to Ronnie, so, maybe, he’s vulnerable against the very top players. Anyway, this is too close to call. I expect 6-5 either way.
Barry Hawkins v Shaun Murphy
Another difficult one to call, this time because both players have been struggling for results lately. Shaun has gone through difficult times privately early in the season, moving to Ireland, having a new baby daughter who suffered ill-health in her first weeks. He’s down to n° 31 in the one-year list. There were signs of improvement before Christmas, but he was still far from his best. Barry Hawkins is still ranked 13 in that list, mainly because he made it to the semi-finals in the World Open 2018, but that was back in August. He also made it to the final of the Shanghai Masters in September, but since it’s been a rather poor season for him. Again it’s too close to call. I expect 6-4 either way, after a rather scrappy long battle.
Judd Trump v Kyren Wilson
Two young players but very different styles. Judd Trump does have a good safety game, but is far more happy when playing an open game. Kyren Wilson is less of an extrovert, and a more cautious, methodical approach suits him best. Judd is in form, he’s the only player this season who beat Ronnie whilst he was playing well. However he has also lost matches that everyone expected him to win, and from being in front as well. More importantly maybe, their head-to-head – outside CLS – is heavily in favour of Kyren. Kyren has won 6 of their 9 encounters, including all four they played in 2018. Therefore I’ll go with Kyren Wilson winning by 6-4.
Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire
Mark Selby did win an event already this season, the China Championship, but otherwise it’s been a poor season by his standards. He has however shown some for in the Championship League Snooker Group 4 dominating the group, until the final where, having knocked in a nice 90 to win the first frame, he seemed to lose his way, taking some unexpectedly risky shots and losing all next three frames, having got countless opportunities in two of them. Maybe he was tired. Stephen Maguire on the other hand has got a reasonably good season by his standards, but he’s not won anything. Stephen on form is devastating, but he’s been guilty of impatience quite often through his career, and his temperament is … volatile. So, I really don’t know what to do with this one. I expect Mark Selby to care – it’s the Masters – and to try his hardest, which might involve the type of snooker likely to push Stephen Maguire over the edge: more balls on cushions than in open play, methodical pace, and generally awkward table. If that happens there is only one winner: Mark Selby by 6-3.