Day 1 in Ally Pally didn’t exactly bring the results most people expected.
Those were the previews…
Luca Brecel beat Mark Allen, the defending champion, by 6-5 in an overall excellent match. From what I had seen from Luca in the CLS, I knew he was playing well, although, of course the Masters environment is a different it possibly could be from the CLS. I thought that Mark Allen could suffer under pressure, but, TBH, there was no evidence of that this time. Maybe what did make the difference was that Luca took the offer to have a bit of practice on the match table, and Mark declined. As the pundits explained, this isn’t really about practice, it’s about getting a feeling of the table, its pace, the cushions reaction etc… Luca made the better start, he led 3-1 at MSI and, maybe, this is because he came there knowing what to expect from the conditions.
A full house of 2,000 fans at Alexandra Palace witnessed a tremendous contest, with two centuries and eight more breaks over 50 in the 11 frames. Belgium’s Brecel was never behind and eventually secured victory in a tense deciding frame. He goes through to the quarter-finals to face Ding Junhui or Jack Lisowski on Thursday evening.
Allen won his first Triple Crown title here 12 months ago, and went on to enjoy the best year of his career in 2018. He has won two ranking events this season but couldn’t get the better of a determined opponent today.
Brecel took the opening frame with a break of 75 then Allen levelled with a 67. A run of 50 saw Brecel regain the lead and he got the better of frame four to make it 3-1 at the interval.
World number six Allen fought back with 96 and 136 for 3-3. Brecel then made a 140, an early contender for the £10,000 high break prize. The superb scoring continued as Allen made 83 and 99, sandwiching an 88 from Brecel, to leave the score at 5-5.
Early in the decider, world number 14 Brecel was faced with a tough safety, and decided attack was the best form of defence, lashing in a fabulous long red. That set up a break of 58 to give him control. Allen had an opportunity to counter and after potting one red, he clipped a thin cut on the brown into a centre pocket but was unlucky to see the cue ball glance off the green and into the opposite centre. That proved his only chance.
Last year, the same two players met in the first round and Brecel bizarrely took two cues into the arena, having lost his preferred cue a few months earlier and struggled to find a replacement. “This has to be my best win because of the year I’ve had. Last year was so tough,” admitted the 23-year-old.
“There were even times where I was almost looking for another job, everything was going against me on and off the table. It was really tough mentally and to win today was incredible. I had cue issues, a shoulder issue and then players would play unbelievable against me. I’m not a negative person but it was unbelievable at times. Today was a game to shake all of that off.
“I was telling my family that I was confident to beat the top players again. It’s good for your belief because that’s what you need to beat these guys.”
For the first time, players were allowed to practise for ten minutes on the match table before the start. Brecel took up the option but Allen didn’t. “It helped me settle,” Brecel added. “When I got my chance in the first frame I made a good break. It helped. Anytime I get a chance to do that I will do it. I’m surprised Mark didn’t.”
Allen said: “I’m very disappointed to lose. I definitely didn’t want to give my crown up as easily as I did in round one. But I’ve got no complaints. Luca played very well to beat me. I didn’t miss many pots but my long game wasn’t there today.
“I just hung in with some breaks and I just didn’t get a chance in the last. His long potting was better than mine. Luca has shown he’s a top 16 player all day long. He’s been on a bad run but I think that’s behind him now because he played some very good stuff.”
Despite the disappointment, Mark Allen took time to sign goods and have photos taken with the fans. Every credit for that.
The second match of the day, was very different: it was rather scrappy and lacked fluency for most of it. John Higgins made only one break over 50, just. Ryan Day was by far the better scorer, but the last, and deciding, frame was the only one where he got in early and finished in one visit.
Both matches on the opening day at Alexandra Palace went to a deciding frame, with Luca Brecel beating Mark Allen 6-5 earlier. And two of the top five seeds have crashed out early.
Scotland’s Higgins was making his 25th consecutive appearance in a tournament which has tended to bring him feast or famine over that quarter-century. He has won the title twice but has also suffered 13 first round exits.
Welshman Day has never been to the semi-finals of this event but he will make that breakthrough if he beats Ronnie O’Sullivan or Stuart Bingham on Thursday afternoon. Tickets for certain sessions still available – click here for details.
World number four Higgins made a 25 clearance to take the opening frame then compiled a break of 65 to win the second. Day pulled one back then Higgins took the fourth on the colours to lead 3-1 at the interval.
Runs of 52, 111 and 83 saw Day win three in a row as he went 4-3 ahead. Higgins got the better of a scrappy eighth, but missed a crucial pink to a centre pocket at the end of a 35-minute ninth. Day slotted in the pink and black to lead 5-4. Back came Higgins with runs 49 and 28 of to set up the decider.
A cracking long red gave Day his chance and he showed his quality in a flawless 128 total clearance.
World number 13 Day, who won a trio of titles last season at the Riga Masters, Gibraltar Open and Romanian Masters, said: “It was great to finish the match with one hit like that in the deciding frame, and from 3-1 behind, I’m delighted to get the win. After the interval I had a burst of frames to get myself in front which was pretty good. It went a bit messy from there to 5-5 but it was a good way to finish.
“I have been playing with a sore arm and 20 minutes before the game today it was painful. But once the match started the adrenaline took over. I think it’s just ‘snooker shoulder’ – a bit of wear and tear.
“It would be massive to play Ronnie in a big tournament, a big arena. To pit myself against the greatest player would be something I’d look forward to. But he will have a tough game first against Stuart.”
Higgins said: “That’s twice he’s done that against me this year. At the Shanghai Masters it was 5-5, I broke off and Ryan knocked a long one in and cleared up. Every credit to him for doing that tonight under extreme pressure. It was the right result, he played a lot better than me tonight. I was pretty bad.”
Stephen Hendry – who was celebrating his 50th birthday yesterday – was in the BBC commentary box, and on twitter, showing incredible bias in favour of John Higgins, apparently saying something along the line “If they had to play ten frames in a row, any time, I would back John Higgins to win all ten”. Ok, John has had a much more illustrious career than Ryan, and he’s Scottish, but still. I wish that commentator sometimes look at actual stats about the players. Since 2012, those two had played each other eight times (excluding CLS) and the head-to-head was 4-4 before yesterday’s match, they had four deciders and it was 2-2 also, Ryan winning the last one in Shanghai last September. I was expecting Ryan to win on current form and he did.
Anyway, happy belated birthday Stephen!
Other than that, BBC made this nice feature
And Ronnie was in the studio at the start of the evening, previewing John Higgins v Ryan Day. As always, he appeared to be a bit too much in awe of Higgins for my liking. But now, should Ronnie win this afternoon – which isn’t a gimme – he will not have to face him.