2020 European Masters in Austrie – Day 4 – SFs

The Final in Dornbirn will be contested between Neil Robertson and Zhou Yuelong. Neil will start heavy favourite for a number of reasons. He’s been there before, Zhou is competing in his first ranking final, Neil had an easy match, in the afternoon, Zhou won a hard fought encounter, that went to a decider and finished well past 1 am this morning. He was probably high on adrenaline too and unlikely to fall asleep easily. But, the young Chinese – he only turned 22 a couple of days ago – has shown outstanding battling qualities and is very sound tactically. I hope that he will settle quickly and that we are in for a great final.

Good luck to both players!

Here is how we got there:

Neil Robertson 6-1 Ali Carter (WST report):

Neil Robertson remained on course for his first ranking title of the season as he thrashed a despondent Ali Carter 6-1 in the semi-finals of the BetVictor European Masters in Austria.

Robertson is through to the 27th ranking event final of his career and will be looking for his 17th title on Sunday, which would bring him level with Mark Selby in sixth place on the all-time list. The 37-year-old Australian will face Gary Wilson or Zhou Yuelong over 17 frames at the Messe Dornbirn arena, with the winner to take the £80,000 top prize.

Prior to this week, world number five Robertson had not been beyond the last 16 of a ranking event this season, though he did win the invitational Champion of Champions in November. The former World Champion has looked sharp all week and was far too strong for Carter today.

Both players struggled to settle in a cagey opening to the match as the first three frames took 70 minutes. With the score at 1-1, Robertson crucially took the third on the colours,  converting excellent pots on the brown and black in a 22 clearance. He made a break of 55 in the next to lead 3-1 at the interval.

Frame five came down to the last red and Carter was unlucky to narrowly miss an attempted pot to a baulk corner, leaving it in the jaws. Robertson missed the blue leading by 19 points but Carter, seeming to lose heart, elected not to play for snookers.

A run of 79 put Robertson 5-1 ahead. Carter led 62-0 in the seventh but couldn’t seal the frame, and a cracking long red set his opponent up for a match-winning 64 clearance.

“Ali’s mindset didn’t seem to be there from the outset, maybe it was a hangover from the Masters,” said Robertson. “I hope that’s what it was, rather than a health problem. It was difficult to play because a lot was going through my mind about what was going on. My concentration was all over the place. I just had to knuckle down, try to be as professional as I could and get the job done.

“It’s always a great occasion being in a final, I always enjoy it. I’ll be playing someone who has never won a ranking event before so he will be hungry.  I’ll prepare as well as I can and if I play great I should get a good result, if I don’t play well I’m willing to grind it out as I did today. It was a great crowd today and I’m sure tomorrow they will get a brilliant match.

“I’m trying to win more ranking events, I’d love to get to 20 and if I achieve that I will refocus my goals.”

I stopped watching at the MSI. It was clear already that there would be only one winner as Ali’s attitude was anything but right. I didn’t really want to see more of it. One can only admire Neil’s natural kindness, a quality once again showing through his reaction to his opponent’s antics. I know that Ali suffers health issues and that sometimes surely it affects his mood and his ability to focus on the match at hand. It’s still hard to watch.

Zhou Yuelong 6-5 Gary Wilson (WST report):

Zhou Yuelong reached the final of a ranking event for the first time by beating Gary Wilson 6-5 in a five-hour marathon at the BetVictor European Masters.

In a semi-final which finished at 1.20am, China’s 22-year-old Zhou made an excellent break of 60 in the deciding frame to set up a match with Neil Robertson on Sunday in Dornbirn. First to nine frames will take the trophy and £80,000 top prize.

World number 32 Zhou will be aiming to win his first ranking title and become the third Chinese winner this season after Yan Bingtao and Ding Junhui.

His only previous ranking event semi-final came in the same tournament in 2017 when he lost to Stuart Bingham, but this time he out-fought the more experienced Wilson in a tough battle.

World number 18 Wilson took the opening frame with a break of 62, then Zhou got the better of a safety exchange on the last red in the second as he levelled at 1-1. A run of 64 saw Wilson regain the lead, and in the fourth he took advantage of a missed black from his opponent at 31-31 to go 3-1 up at the interval.

A 45-minute fifth frame went Zhou’s way then he changed pace with a break of 113 to level at 3-3. Wilson’s 77 gave him the seventh but Zhou hit back again, making a 54 as he took the eighth. The key moment of frame nine came when Wilson missed the penultimate red to a centre pocket when trailing by 39 points, and Zhou later potted the red as he went ahead for the first time at 5-4.

Zhou had first chance in frame ten but had scored just 8 when he was unlucky to knock in a red as he split the pack off the blue. Wallsend’s Wilson punished him with an excellent 74 for 5-5. A safety exchange early in the decider ended when Zhou slotted a long red into a baulk corner, and he went on to make 60 which proved enough.

“Ever since I started playing snooker I have dreamed of reaching a ranking final,” said Zhou. “I feel fantastic. I have played well all week and I played some good safety tonight. I have never experienced this before. I am excited but I will try to have a good rest tonight.”

Sunday’s final starts at 2pm local time.

Zhou had never reached a ranking final before. He showed tremendous qualities of resilience out there. There were mistakes on both sides, there was pressure. He was the less experienced of the two, not just because he is the youngest: Gary had reached a final before, he reached the semi finals at the Crucible last April. It annoyed me that – to my ears at least – the ES pundits, Joe Johnson and Philip Studd, were so biased in favour of Gary. Yes, he made the best start of the two. But that was it. At 3-3, to me, Zhou had shown his mettle and looked favourite. The commentators seemed to dwell more on Zhou mistakes than they did on his opponent. They seemed convinced that Gary would prevail eventually. If Zhou wasn’t playing well (sic) then neither was Gary. Both were tense, with a lot at stake obviously. Actually Zhou was very solid tactically I thought.

6 thoughts on “2020 European Masters in Austrie – Day 4 – SFs

  1. And ES kept apologizing for missing the beginning of teh Australian Open, which must have angered tennis fans…

  2. So the first ‘ranking’ event in Austria has produces two non-British finalists. This is not an accident. Yan Bingtao’s win was in Latvia, Lyu Haotian should have won in India; even when Ding won 5 tournaments in 2013-14, none were in Britain. Home advantage counts for quite a lot.

    Perhaps last night’s late finish favoured Zhou Yuelong, a more technical player. Around midnight Gary Wilson started playing a whole series of terrible shots. The decision to recruit boyhood coach Wu Wen Zhong is looking like a good one, provided he doesn’t try to get too involved during the matches, as they do in junior snooker. Last season Zhou was working with Terry Griffiths who is no longer available.

    Unfortunately the other consequence of the late finish is that Zhou, who has trouble sleeping, will probably be completely unprepared to play today. I cannot understand the logic of starting a best-of-11 semi-final at 8pm. The spectators were practically forced to stay there, having waited for years to see top-level snooker. Zhou’s matches have all been tough, whereas Neil Robertson has had a straightfoward path. It all points towards an extremely disappointing final. Hopefully, some lessons about scheduling (qualifier dates, lack of intervals, late evening starts) can be taken before next year’s event.

    • I’m afraid that the 8 pm start is dictated by ES UK, the main broadcaster. That’s 7 pm in UK, the usual schedule there. And I have very low hopes about a change of schedule for the qualifiers.

      • Yes, if ES are happier missing 80 minutes of Aus Open tennis. We could see semi-finals shortened to best-of-9. But in Europe I often find 8pm starts – the concert I went to on Friday started 8pm.

      • Yes, giving people time to eat before the event. It isn’t the same thing though as a concert, film or play have a predictable length. A snooker match though can be very quick as it can be very slow…

    • You were only too right Lewis. Zhou looked in the match for two frames, the first two. They were close. He lost both. After that it was one way traffic and Zhou, in his chair, looked increasingly stressed, anxious and embarrassed. I hope he has good people around him. This is an awful experience for the young player. Neil of course does what he has to do.

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