The Shanghai Masters 2019 starts in a few hours …
This evening in China, the draw was finalized as the for wilcards were drawn against their professional opponents.
The pros …
Ronnie is the defending champion. He has not played competitively since the disastrous first round in Sheffield last April. He looked in decent form during the exhibition in Huizhou, and I’m certain he’s been practicing, but he won’t be match sharp. That said, last year he came to Shanghai in a similar situation – it was his first event of the season – and he managed to win it. As usual … he’s unpredictable.
Ali Carter could be Ronnie’s opponent. Until now this season, Ali has been largely unconvincing. In main tour 15-reds competition he has won four matches, lost three, including the last one against Alex Ursenbacher. He has not beaten a top player. Playing Ronnie however always seems to trigger a surge of extra motivation. I still expect Ronnie to win if they meet.
Kyren Wilson is another player whose form is uncertain. He has won 7 of his 9 matches on the 15 reds main tour this season but Luca Brecel is the only top player he has beaten, and Luca has done nothing in recent times. In the International Championship he was beaten in the last 32 by Tom Ford. I’m not expecting him to go very far here, especially if he plays Stephen Maguire in the last 16.
Stephen Maguire has just won the Six-Reds World Championship in Bangkok. Earlier in the season he didn’t really impress, but in Thailand he looked very sharp. I expect him to reach at least the quarter finals.
Xiao Guodong has won 4 of the 6 main tour 15-reds matches. However, the only top player he faced is Ding who beat him comprehensively: 6-1. Generally, Xiao has not been great under pressure in front of the Chinese audience and there will be pressure here. The format shows that this is meant to be a showcase event for Chinese snooker. There will be expectations. I would be surprised if he beats Maguire.
John Higgins looked sharp in Bangkok where he reached the final. In 15-reds main tour events he won 4 of the 5 matches he played but he didn’t play any top player and was beaten convincingly by Graeme Dott (6-2) in the International Championship. He will face either Yan Bingtao or Barry Hawkins. I think it’s 50/50 whether he will progress or not.
Barry Hawkins had a slow start of the season losing early in Riga and in the International Championship. But then it transpired than he was playing with damaged ribs and under a lot of pain. His next outing was the Paul Hunter Classic, where he beat Gary Wilson, Mark King, Joe Perry and, finally, Kyren Wilson to win the title. I expect Barry to beat his first opponent Yan Bingtao, and to give John Higgins a though challenge … he could well beat him too.
Yan Bingtao has won the Riga Masters, the first (full) event of the season. He has won 9 of the 10 15-reds main tour matches he’s played. His only defeat came against Shaun Murphy, and Shaun is actually the only top 16 opponent he faced this season in 15-reds snooker. In the six-reds World Championship, he was beaten by 5-0 by John Higgins. Take into account the pressure of expectations here in Shanghai and it doesn’t look very promising for Yan. But… you never know. He’s a fighter.
Neil Robertson has only played in the International Championship – where he was narrowly beaten by Shaun Murphy in the last 16 – and in the China Championship qualifiers. He has won 4 matches, lost 1. Neil has been scoring heavily in those matches but was nevertheless taken to a decider by Ricky Walden, and Gerard Greene, hardly a world beater, took him three frames in their best of 9 China Championship match. He’s likely to play Ding in the last 16. The good news for Neil is that Ding plays an open game but I expect Ding to come here very well prepared. I still make Neil favourite.
Ding Junhui has won 4 of his 5 15-reds main tour matches. His only defeat came against Mark Allen (6-3) in the International Championship. Amazingly, Ding has played against Chinese opponents three times out of five matches. Other than Mark Allen, his only non Chinese opponent was Simon Lichtenberg … who took him to a decider. I’m sure that Ding has prepared well, but the expectations on him will be huge and Neil Robertson might be too much to take.
Mark Williams has won 4 of the 6 15-reds main tour matches he has played, but he hasn’t played any top player and got beaten by Luo Honghao (4-1) and Jak Jones (6-2). That’s not great. In Bangkok last week he looked much better though. All the same, Mark has not been the player he was in the 2017/18 season since he won the 2018 World Championship… too much celebrations! He will probably face Shaun Murphy in the last 16 and, should this happen, I definitely fancy Shaun to beat him.
Shaun Murphy had a horrendous season in 2018/19. His only “telling” tournament so far this season was the International Championship and he reached the final. He was outplayed by Judd Trump (10-3), but en route he had beaten Mark Allen and Neil Robertson. I expect Shaun to do well in Shanghai.
Lyu Haotian has won 3 out of 5 matches this season. He played only one top player, Luca Brecel, which frankly doesn’t mean anything currently. I don’t think Lyu will have what it takes to beat his first opponent, Shaun Murphy.
Mark Selby has not been the same players since he won the 2017 World Championship. This season however, in 15-reds main tour competition he has won 6 of the 8 matches he played, notably beating Gary Wilson and David Gilbert in the International Championship. He was outplayed by Judd Trump in the semi final though (9-4). Mark is playing well but a little something is missing and his confidence can’t be high. He will face either Jack Lisowski or Wu Yize. That will probably suit him. Both are very attacking and prone to the unexpected error. Neither are particularly good in tactical play. Mark should progress.
Jack Lisowski has all the talent in the world, is a much improved player but still finds it hard to beat the top opponents. He has not played any top player yet this season and has won 5 out of 7 matches. I expect him to beat his first opponent, Wu Yize, who will be under a lot of pressure, but he can’t afford to take him lightly. Wu this season has taken John Higgins to a decider. I really like Jack, and I wish to be wrong, but I can’t see him beating Mark Selby.
Mark Allen has won 6 of the 7 matches he’s played this season. He has beaten Ding Junhui and Ali Carter but came short against Shaun Murphy in the International Championship semi finals (9-6). He’s in good form and has a great record in China. He’s one of the favourites in my eyes. He will first meet Stuart Bingham or Liang Wenbo. Whoever he faces, I expect Mark to win this match.
Stuart Bingham has only won 2 of the 5 15-reds main tour matches he played. The last defeat came at the hands of Jordan Brown. I’m not expecting much from Stuart in Shanghai. I’m not sure he’ll pass the first round actually.
Liang Wenbo is Stuart’s first opponent. Liang is very popular in China. He will have the crowd on his side, which can help him, if he plays well, or put him under pressure if he struggles. Liang has won 3 of the 5 matches he’s played, but lost the last one, against Mitchell Mann a rather methodical player. Stuart Bingham style should suit him better though. I slightly favour Liang in their match but only so slightly…
Judd Trump has to be the favourite to win the tournament. He’s the reigning World Champion and has won the only tournament he’s entered this season: the International Championship. He was unplayable in the longer matches. He has not played competititively since nearly a month. He will probably face David Gilbert first. I think that this match will be important for the rest of the tournament, and the season. If David Gilbert can run him close – or even win it – it will plant a few seeds of doubts in Judd’s mind. The game Judd is playing currently is a confidence based game, just like Hendry’s was. Break/crack that confidence and he’s “human” again…
David Gilbert is a much improved player, he deserves to be in the top 16. He had an “average start” of the season but played well in Bangkok. Does he have what it takes to beat Judd Trump? I doubt it. But you never know… I hope that David can at least give Judd a good game.
I can’t really comment on them but I trust Lewis (comments section) who knows the Chinese players very well. Lewis doesn’t give any of them much chances. They will be under huge pressure in unchartered teritory.
And finally a few images shared on social by Worldsnooker, Jason Ferguson and on weibo of tonight welcome ceremony: