The 2020 World Grand Prix starts tonight, with Ronnie opening proceedings. He will play David Gilbert a 7pm UK time.
This match is important for Ronnie if he wishes to play in the Players Championship, and the Tour Championship later in the season. He is the defending champion in both, but as it stands now, he hasn’t qualified for either. He is 22th on the one year list, with £15000 needed to catch up – just – on the n°16 spot. Reaching the semi finals would give him £20000.
The winner tonight will get £7500, the loser will get £5000 but that won’t count towards their ranking. This is a change as compared to the previous seasons and it’s logical of course.
It’s hard to know in which form, or indeed state of mind, Ronnie will come to this match. He has not played competitively since the 2019 Scottish Open. Ronnie hasn’t got a great season so far, but, contrary to some fans views, he hasn’t played badly especially towards the end of the 2019 year. He reached the final in Belfast. In York and in Glasgow, he lost narrowly to the eventual tournament winner. Ding played extremely well in York. In Glasgow, things might have been different had a “phantom foul” not been called on Ronnie. As Clive Everton reflects in the last Snooker Scene issue, it proved to be a pivotal moment in the match. Neither player challenged the referee call. Ronnie, keen to make sure to hit a red on the second attempt, elected to play a different shot and left Mark Selby an opening, that wasn’t there the firts time. I’m not writing this to find “excuses” but rather to stress that the notion that Ronnie hasn’t really tried and has just been “bashing balls around” is wrong and preposterous. Yes, he has been attacking, very much so, but it’s always been his game and his tally shows that it hasn’t been a bad choice over the course of his career. At this stage, he wants to enjoy it when he plays. That’s the key to longevity.
Tonight match is a best of 7. It’s a banana skin. David Gilbert has never beaten Ronnie before, but he is a much improved player. Their last match dates back to the 2018 Northern Ireland Open. David has been playing recently in the Masters – reaching the semi finals – and he can be relaxed. Being 11th on the one year list, he’s reasonably safe for the Players Championship. So David Gilbert is not an easy draw, but it could have been worse.
Should Ronnie win tonight, he could face Mark Allen, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy, in that order, en route to the final. It’s not an easy path, but, at least, the two “in form” players, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson are in the other half of the draw, as is John Higgins.