The 2020 European Masters started yesterday in Austria, with just 32 players at the venue. There are four tables in use, all in the main Arena.
Prior to the event, Hector Nunns – who made the trip to Dornbirn – had interviewed John Higgins.
By Hector Nunns
The World Snooker Tour sets down in the picturesque town of Dornbirn in the mountainous Vorarlberg region this week for the BetVictor European Masters.
And it looks like snooker in the snow for the 32 players having qualified to take part at the Messe complex, with the nearby ski slopes at Boedele having been covered by a fresh fall in recent days.
It might be more remote than capital city Vienna, but the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby have played an exhibition here to huge crowds, and similar are expected for this event.
For Scotland’s Higgins, 44, who like the others present has won two qualifiers to be in the draw, the attractions of the tournament are numerous.
While others arrive via Zurich and a train, he was flying in to Munich, hiring a car, and then meandering down over the Germany-Austria border taking in some wintry scenery.
There is the obvious target of the world number six adding to his 30 ranking titles, and trying to get closer to O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry, currently locked on 36.
But perhaps most of all, four-time world champion Higgins is licking his lips at the prospect of having a real tilt at the BetVictor series bonus of £150,000 for being the leading money-winner.
Any player claiming the £80,000 first prize in either Austria or at the BetVictor German Masters in Berlin next week will have a real shot at the bumper extra pay-out.
Doing well in both could make them a red-hot favourite, with the quickfire Shoot Out and Gibraltar Open to follow.
Higgins said: “The bonus on offer for winning the most money on this BetVictor series is massive, on top of what you would win anyway.
“And it isn’t some incentive that looks impossible, but very real and achievable.
“You would have to think that if a player wins one of the first two, the big European tournaments in Austria and Germany, they would be in a very strong position.
“I have qualified for both of those, and will be giving it everything. So I would love to do well this week in Dornbirn and then in Berlin. And then if I was in the mix and it was in the balance, I would probably go to Gibraltar which I might not normally.
“The idea of different bonuses for different series is a good one, the players like it – and there is a lot of great stuff going on.
“I think I have been to play in Austria – in Vienna – once in the past for an exhibition. Obviously we are not in the capital this week, but somewhere a bit more remote.
“But I am really looking forward to a new experience. I am flying over to Munich in Germany, hiring a car and then driving down from there.
“I think it is maybe a couple of hours, just over, so I’ll see some sights from the car as it should be a scenic route.
“And with the coverage on Eurosport so good now all over the continent and fans keen to see the top players, I think there will be great crowds turning up in Dornbirn.
“I only heard late that it was so close to some ski slopes. It is probably just as well the missus didn’t know about that earlier!
“She keeps going on about us going on a family skiing holiday, and I say ‘no way’. If she’d known before it might have been a more difficult conversation!”
One thing is certain, the big crowds weren’t there yesterday. The arena look pretty empty, even in the afternoon. This is probably the result of a combination of factors: the absence of some of the biggest stars, notably Ronnie and Judd Trump, as well as the fact that the local wilcards had to play two rounds and didn’t make it to the venue, are two of them. Add to it the rather remote venue, not necssarily easy to get at in the winter with the snow and the time of the year (post Christmas holidays paucity of money) are others.
The big bonus may have inspired John Higgins but the fact remains that a lot of top players didn’t qualify. Having the qualifiers just before the Christmas holidays is simply dooming: I’m sure that it’s not just John who likes the idea of £150000, but when you are exhausted … you are exhausted and it’s hard to find the mental resources needed to win matches. It’s that simple.
Most top players involved yesterday won their matches. The exception being Kyren Wilson who lost by 5-2 to Scott Donaldson. Kyren is clearly going through a bad spell.
Here are the reports by WST:
Top stars John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson all enjoyed comfortable wins on day one of the BetVictor European Masters to reach the last 16.
Higgins battled to a 5-2 win over Fergal O’Brien though he made a top break of just 44 and admitted that consistency in his game is missing.
“Maybe when you get to this age you’re going to have good days, bad days and different days,” said Scotland’s 44-year-old Higgins. “I’m resigned to that fact. The good games are still a good standard but the bad games can be really brutal.
“The World Championship has maybe masked over a lot of things because when you get to three consecutive finals you think you’re close again. But then when you come to some tournaments and play poorly you realise you’re a million miles away again. I’m trying to correct it and when I come to a tournament I still have aspirations of winning it.”
Higgins now faces Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who scored a 5-2 win over Robbie Williams. Thailand’s Un-Nooh established a marker for the £5,000 high break prize with a 146 in the sixth frame, taking a pink from the first red and then blacks from the other 14. He sealed the result in the next with a 124.
Thunder Back To Winning Ways
Robertson is yet to reach the quarter-finals of a ranking event this season but will do so if he beats Graeme Dott on Thursday. Today he saw off Lyu Haotian 5-2 with top breaks of 71, 100 and 110.
“I felt I played really well and I’m pleased not to come all this way and lose,” said Robertson. “I’ve got a day now to go out and explore a bit because I’ve never been to Austria before.”
At the Masters last week, Robertson squandered a 5-1 lead as he lost 6-5 to Stephen Maguire, but has put that result behind him. “Those kind of matches happen, “said the Australian. “If it happened in my first season I might have been traumatised but I have now won and lost matches like that, it’s part and parcel of the game. It’s not as if I threw the match away, Stephen played very well.
“It was disappointing because it’s such a big event, but the good thing about the tour now is that you are straight back into another tournament so I took a couple of days off then I was back on the practice table.”
UK Champion Ding looked sharp in a 5-0 defeat of Robert Milkins. After taking a scrappy first frame on the colours, Ding stepped up a gear with runs of 54, 81, 78 and 73 in taking the last four frames. He now meets Scott Donaldson or Kyren Wilson.
Masters runner-up Ali Carter came from 2-0 down to beat Tian Pengfei 5-3 with a top break of 58. Dott made a 104 as he beat Liang Wenbo 5-3, while Michael Holt top scored with 130 in a 5-0 whitewash of Daniel Wells.
Scott Donaldson, one of the most improved players on the circuit in recent years, scored an impressive 5-2 win over Kyren Wilson at the BetVictor European Masters.
Perthshire’s 25-year-old Donaldson has jumped from 93rd to 26th in the world rankings since 2015, reaching four semi-finals. And he is targeting another deep run in Austria this week; he faces Ding Junhui in the last 16 on Thursday.
“I played well, I know I’m capable of beating these guys on my day. I am just looking to enjoy it when I’m out there,” said Donaldson. “It’s not rocket science, I’ve just been working on my game and finding little clues here and there which might help my performance. The one thing I want to do is get used to the TV tables because that’s something I have not mastered. I can play some really good stuff on outside tables.
“Everyone on the tour wants to win tournaments, that’s why we play snooker and that’s why we play for hours a day.”
Donaldson now needs to win just one more match either this week or at next week’s BetVictor German Masters to go above Ben Woollaston in the race to qualify for the Coral World Grand Prix in Cheltenham.
“I’m good mates with Ben so it’s funny he’s the one I’m chasing. If I get above him I’ll give him some abuse on WhatsApp,” added Donaldson. “It’ll be tough to get into the World Grand Prix but that’s not what I’m thinking about, I’m just trying to keep my head down and play well.”
Three-time World Champion Mark Selby eased to a 5-2 win over Jak Jokes to set up a match with Barry Hawkins. Runs of 80, 78 and 73 helped Selby into round four.
Hawkins came from 2-1 down to beat David Lilley 5-2 with a top break of 80 while China’s Xiao Guodong saw off Alfie Burden 5-3 with a top run of 121.
I only watched two matches: John Higgins v Fergal O’Brien and Mark Selby v Jak Jones.
The first one was much closer than the score suggests. Most frames were hard fought and went to the last balls. Amazingly it’s Fergal who scored the three 50+ breaks of the match.
The second one was rather poor despite featuring five breaks over 70, three from Mark, two from Jak. Mark Selby didn’t look confident and, as a result, played a lot of negative shots attracting criticism from the ES commentators. Jak was more positive but missed too many balls, especially from distance.
Finally, Alfie Burden who lost 5-3 to Xiao Guodong, from 2-0 up, was unhappy with his opponent behaviour and told so on twitter .
25 years as a pro teaches you how to behave as a player unfortunately some players have no class my opponent was warned twice for chalking his cue on my backswing whilst in his chair , I then declared i feathered the white on 60 at 3/2 down and showed him how a sportsman behaves
Maybe Lewis will be able to tell us more?