2021 German Master – John Higgins tests positive for covid-19

Here is WST statement:

John Higgins has tested positive for Covid-19 at the BildBet German Masters in Milton Keynes and has been withdrawn from the event.

Higgins was due to play Stuart Carrington on Wednesday afternoon. Carrington receives a bye to the last 16 of the world ranking event.

All other players involved in the remainder of the event have had negative results.

Higgins will now undergo a period of self-isolation and will receive the support of WST and the WPBSA.

Since WST events restarted last June, strict Covid-19 regulations have been and continue to be followed, under UK Government guidance.

 

Celtic Manor in Newport to host the 2021 Welsh Open

It’a a strange covid twist…  The Welsh Open left Newport for Cardiff in 2015, and many players felf like it had left its home. The tournament was first played in 1992, in Newport. In 1999 it moved to Cardiff, only to return to Newport from 2005 to 2014. That year Ronnie gave it a great send-off as he made a fantastic 147 in the last frame of the final. The tourmanent then returned to Cardiff, at the Motorpoint Arena… you know car boot sales and all that … 😉. Now it’s going back to Newport in the iconic Celtic Manor.

It will be some change from Milton Keynes… and one that most players will welcome.

CelticManor

Here is WST announcement:

Celtic Manor Resort To Host Snooker’s BetVictor Welsh Open

The Celtic Manor Resort will stage snooker’s BetVictor Welsh Open for the first time next month, behind closed doors.

The world ranking event will run from February 15 to 21, with 128 of the world’s best players battling for the Ray Reardon Trophy.

Televised by BBC Wales, Eurosport, CCTV5 and various other broadcasters, the tournament has a global television audience of hundreds of millions.

Shaun Murphy beat Kyren Wilson in last year’s final

Shaun Murphy will be defending the title against a field packed with snooker’s top stars. The draw and format will be announced in due course.

Since June 2020, WST has staged the majority of tournaments at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, where strict Covid-19 regulations can be followed. The only exception was the World Championship which was staged in Sheffield.

WST has full confidence that the same rigorous Covid-19 regulations can be followed at Celtic Manor, which successfully staged the Celtic Classic and ISPS HANDA Wales Open tournaments on golf’s European Tour behind closed doors with Covid-secure protocols in August 2020.

Also the host venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup, the resort near Newport in South Wales will now stage a professional snooker event for the first time.

WST Chairman Barry Hearn OBE said: “We are delighted to be staging this huge tournament at Celtic Manor for the first time. This event has such a rich history in Wales, and along with our partners at BBC Wales and Eurosport, we were determined to keep it there.

“In order to stage events of this magnitude we need to ensure that the venue has the right facilities and is big enough to welcome 128 players plus everyone who works on the event while observing social distancing, hygiene, isolation and all of the other Covid-19 regulations which are essential on our events.

“We have no doubt that Celtic Manor ticks all of these boxes, it is a fantastic venue and the players will love it. Unfortunately fans can’t come to watch but it will be seven days of tremendous entertainment for television viewers across the globe.”

Celtic Manor Resort Chief Executive Ian Edwards said: “We are very excited to host a professional snooker tournament for the first time. It is a shame that fans will not be able to attend, especially as South Wales is such a hotbed for snooker, but we all recognise the public health priorities at this time and we will draw on our experience over the past 12 months to provide the safest possible environment for the players and officials.”

The BetVictor Welsh Open is the fifth event in the BetVictor European Series, with the leader of the Order of Merit after six events to bank a £150,000 bonus. Mark Selby is currently the front runner, but just two of the six events have been played so far.

It is also the fourth and final Home Nations event of the season, following the English Open, Northern Ireland Open and Scottish Open.

 

The German Masters Trophy is now the Brandon Parker Trophy

This morning, Shaun Murphy shared this on twitter:

Shaun Murphy tribute to Brandon Parker

Now WST and WPBSA have decided to honour him by renaming the German Msters Trophy after him: next Sunday someone will lift the Brandon Parker Trophy.

Here is WST announcement:

German Masters Trophy Named After Brandon Parker

The trophy for the BildBet German Masters, which starts tomorrow, has been named after Brandon Parker, the World Snooker Tour director who sadly passed away in 2020.

Brandon Parker

The world ranking event runs until Sunday, when the champion will lift the Brandon Parker Trophy.

Brandon made a tremendous contribution to snooker for over 20 years, as a manager of players, promoter of events and as a WST director. His battle against cancer ended on July 18th last year.

In 2011, Brandon brought the German Masters to the famous Tempodrom venue in Berlin for the first time. It has become one of the biggest and most popular events on the calendar, with crowds of up to 2,500 packing the Tempodrom to create a unique atmosphere. This year the event is staged in Milton Keynes due to Covid-19 restrictions, but WST plans to return to Berlin in 2022.

In a joint statement, WST Chairman Barry Hearn OBE and WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “To name the German Masters trophy after Brandon is a very fitting tribute because this event was such an important part of his life.

The Brandon Parker trophy

“He dedicated so much energy and enthusiasm towards building this into one of the greatest events on the circuit. As our European Operations Director, Brandon did so much to develop snooker across the continent. Driven by Eurosport’s coverage, the expansion of snooker into this region has been an incredible success story over the past decade and Brandon played an integral role.

“This year the players will remember him and miss his presence backstage, particularly when the Brandon Parker Trophy is lifted on Sunday night.”

The BildBet German Masters will be televised by Eurosport, Matchroom.Live and other global broadcasters. It is the third of six events in the BetVictor European Series.

It’s been ten years since the first German Masters in the Tempodrom.

WST remembers… 

Since the first staging of the event in 2011, the BildBet German Masters has grown in stature and prestige, with passionate Berlin crowds making it a highlight on the World Snooker Tour calendar.

Former WST director Brandon Parker, who sadly passed away last July, played a key role in taking the tournament to the Tempodrom 10 years ago.

The 2,500 capacity Berlin venue has hosted the event ever since and has welcomed packed stands full of fanatical snooker supporters year in and year out.

Here is a look back on each of the finals thus far…

2011 – Mark Williams 9-7 Mark Selby

The inaugural Tempodrom final pitted two of the sport’s finest players against each other and saw Mark Williams claim the first of two German Masters titles so far in his career.

Williams, who was ranked 2nd in the world at the time, had led 7-4 in front of a sold out crowd, before Selby rallied to draw level at 7-7.

However, Welshman Williams stopped the Selby revival in its tracks and after claiming the 15th frame, he won the match with a break of 82.

The win was all the more significant for Williams, who had let a 9-5 UK Championship final lead over John Higgins turn into a 10-9 defeat just a couple of months previously.

“I’m really happy with that win, it was a nerve-wracking experience, both in front of that unbelievable crowd and also after the UK Championships,” said Williams. “I was in my seat when Mark was about to level the match thinking ‘Am I going to let another one slip?’ but then I realised that there was little I could do about it and that relaxed me.”

 

RonnieGermanMastersHistory2012 – Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 Stephen Maguire

A classic final saw Ronnie O’Sullivan end a 29-month drought without ranking silverware.

The match started with four consecutive centuries, as Stephen Maguire established a 3-1 advantage. The Scot then moved 6-3 ahead, before the Rocket claimed six of the next seven frames to win a thriller.

The victory came at a time when O’Sullivan’s place in the world’s top 16 was under threat. However, he managed to keep his place at snooker’s top table and a few months later he claimed the fourth of his six World Championship victories to date.

“It was a fantastic match and a brilliant atmosphere – all credit to Stephen because he’s a top player,” said O’Sullivan. “I had been thinking about whether I would ever win another ranking title.

“I was 4-0 down in the first round but won that and ended up getting a victory. I’m still not sure of my top 16 place but for now I can enjoy this one. I’m pleased to be competing again, giving it my best and able to have moments like this. It’s a great moment, regardless of whether I will be in Sheffield.”

 

2013 –Ali Carter 9-6 Marco Fu

Ali Carter battled back from behind to beat Hong Kong’s Marco Fu in the first of his two German Masters finals to date.

The Captain had trailed 5-3 after the opening session, but a brilliant burst at the start of the evening saw him assume control of the tie. Carter prevented Fu from potting a ball for 86-minutes, as he secured a 6-5 advantage.

From that point Fu drew level at 6-6, but it was to no avail as Essex cueman Carter claimed a further three on the bounce to secure victory.

“It was tough out there tonight,” said Carter. “Marco struggled a bit. We were both keen to put on a good show for the crowd, and I’m delighted to come out the winner at the end of the week.

 

2014 – Ding Junhui 9-5 Judd Trump

Ding Junhui continued one of the finest periods of his career with a comprehensive defeat of Judd Trump in Berlin.

It was a fourth ranking title of the campaign for the Chinese number one, who proceeded to claim the China Open and make it five victories for the season.

Trump had led 4-2 in the early stages, but after losing a pivotal seventh frame, Ding produced a break building blitz, scoring 460 points without reply.

That moved him 7-4 ahead and he maintained his lead to get over the line and secure the 9-5 victory.

Ding said: “I just hope I can keep this form going for the rest of the season. I am working well in practice. I can’t do well in every tournament, I would like to win all of them but it’s not possible, so I have to decide which ones to play in.”

 

2015 – Mark Selby 9-7 Shaun Murphy

Mark Selby won his first ranking title since claiming a maiden Crucible crown at the 2014 World Championship. The Jester from Leicester edged a hard fought final with Shaun Murphy.

Selby’s preparation for the event wasn’t ideal. He flew straight from Shanghai to Berlin for his first round match, having spent the week prior reaching the final of a Chinese 8-ball pool competition.

Selby had trailed 5-2 at one stage, but took seven of the next nine frames to seal a first tournament win at the Tempodrom

“Coming here from China, I wasn’t expecting much,” said Selby. “I always believe I can win, but with the fatigue I knew it would be difficult and I had to show a lot of character. Maybe that took pressure off me, but I was cursing myself because I knew if I lost I would only have myself to blame. It’s hard to believe I’m standing here having won the title.”

 

Martin Gould2016 – Martin Gould 9-5 Luca Brecel

Martin Gould secured a momentous first ranking title of his career with victory at the Tempodrom.

It was a case of third time lucky for the Pinner Potter, who had lost his previous two ranking final appearances at the 2011 Players Championship and the 2015 Australian Open.

Brecel would have to wait for his maiden ranking crown, but did go on to land a huge first win a year later at the 2017 China Championship.

“It’s great to get the monkey off my back and win my first ranking title,” said Gould. “I struggled early in the match today and felt some pressure because I knew I was the higher ranked player so perhaps I was expected to win. I managed to go 3-1 up and that settled me down. I made a few mistakes but bounced back well. It was just a wonderful feeling to get over the line.

“My arm was shaking when I potted the last couple of balls. When I was back in my chair I kissed my finger and pointed up to the sky for my mum (who died 12 years ago). I’m sure she’s up there now and she’ll be so happy and having a whisky tonight.”

 

2017 – Anthony Hamilton 9-6 Ali Carter

Anthony Hamilton ended a 26-year wait for ranking silverware with an emotional win over Ali Carter in the final.

Carter had led 5-2, before a tremendous fightback from Hamilton saw him win seven of the next eight frames.

It was Hamilton’s third ranking final and first for 15 years, having lost at the 1999 British Open to Fergal O’Brien and at the 2002 China Open against Mark Williams, when he crumbled under pressure and squandered an 8-5 lead. This time, he showed admirable composure when the winning line came into view.

“It’s crazy to win a tournament when I’ve stopped thinking about how to do it,” said Hamilton, a four-time Crucible quarter-finalist. “I stopped wanting it so badly and that took the pressure off. It just feels strange to win another match and now I’m sitting here with a trophy. I’ve struggled for most of this week, but then found some form at the end from absolutely nowhere. I couldn’t pot a ball up until tonight, then played the best snooker of my life.

“I’ve had some nice words from the players this week, especially Mark Selby, he was texting me saying he wanted me to win. I felt some support from the crowd today because I hadn’t won a title before and maybe that put some pressure on Ali.”

 

2018 – Mark Williams 9-1 Graeme Dott

Mark Williams crushed Graeme Dott to win the 20th ranking title of his career.

Williams’ second German Masters victory came just months before he would go on to win a third Crucible title, with a thrilling 18-16 World Championship final defeat of John Higgins.

It was a second ranking title of the season for the Welshman, who had already lifted silverware at the Northern Ireland Open. Williams had also become Six Red World Champion earlier on in what was a tremendous 2017/18 campaign.

“I’m over the moon,” said Williams. “I hadn’t won a tournament for donkeys’ years, now I’ve won three this season. My long potting was very good today and I played well all the way through. I felt zoned in from the start. I kept on going for my shots and felt at ease.

“I was genuinely thinking about giving it up after last season. I told my wife that I’d had enough and I couldn’t keep playing the same way. She was the one who talked me out of it, and what a turnaround it has been.

“It will be the best I have felt going into the World Championship for many years, I will have loads of confidence. Whether I can win it again remains to be seen – it is so long and so hard to win. But I’m really looking forward to it now.”

 

2019 – Kyren Wilson 9-7 David Gilbert

Kyren Wilson had to come from behind in a final which swung one way then another, before the Warrior embarked on a critical four-frame burst.

David Gilbert, who was seeking the first ranking title of his career, had trailed 5-3 after the first session, but turned the match on its head to establish a 7-5 lead.

However, he failed to register another frame as Wilson stormed over the line with four on the bounce to claim the third of his four ranking titles to date.

“It was a fantastic final with lots of big breaks and good safety,” said Wilson, whose first ranking title came at the 2015 Shanghai Masters. “We put on a good show for the German fans. I have always been a fighter and I dug in deep from 7-5 down. I felt it might be difficult for David to close it out because he has not won a title before.

“This is one of the biggest events outside the Triple Crown because we play in front of 2,500 people. I feel at home and relaxed here and that’s when my best snooker comes out. The atmosphere makes is so special.”

 

2020 – Judd Trump 9-6 Neil Robertson

World number one Judd Trump claimed the German Masters title for the first time, beating Neil Robertson in a hard fought Berlin final.

It was a fourth ranking title in a record breaking season for Trump, who went on to amass six across the campaign. That is the most anyone has ever won in a single season.

Trump followed that victory up by winning the BetVictor Gibraltar Open, which saw him top the BetVictor European Series standings and pip Robertson to a £150,000 bonus.

Trump said: “They are all special. All the tournaments I enter I want to win, but especially in one of the biggest arenas we play in. When it gets down to the one-table setup here it is very special. The fans are amazing. It is just nice to be able to tick off all of the events I’ve won and hopefully one day be able to complete them all.

“Tonight I was able to establish a lead and I was always in control from then on. I just managed to battle. My safety was good and I scored well when I needed to.

“It was like playing chess trying to figure out my opponent’s next move and put them in the worst place possible. It was very nice to earn the title playing that kind of snooker as well.”

I was there for the first to the fifth instalments … and before that as well. Here are some of my own memories.

Between 2007/2008 and 2009/2010, Brandon Parker organised a series of exhibitions in mainland Europe, mainly in Germany, in collaboration with Thomas Cesal from SnookerStars. It was called” Ronnie and friends”. The events featured top players: Ronnie of course, Shaun Murphy who was then managed by Brandon, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Steve Davis, John Higgins … to name only a few. They also involved local players and referees. It was a pleasant mix of good snooker and fun. Michaela Tabb was frequently involved as well.

Two venues in particular hosted several of those exhibitions: the Circus Krone in Munich and the Tempodrom. One night, after a successful exhibition at the Tempodrom, Brandon and Michaela reflected that this would be a great venue for a ranking tournament. They invited people from World Snooker to attend the last exhibition of the series, at the Tempodrom, they went “Wow!” … and so it all started. That was in 2010, and Barry Hearn was just starting at the helm of the sport.

The Tempodrom is a fantastic venue for the fans. They can watch all tables from everywhere. It has however its pitfalls. From the start it was obvious that the tourmanent had to be limited to 64 players as it was already a squeeze to put five tables in the arena. Eventually, it had to be reduced to 32 players, therefore needing two rounds of qualifiers.

Space however wasn’t the only problem. The shape of the ceiling, and its structures. prevented to suspend the lights right above the tables other than the main central table. Because of it, the lighting on the “side” tables was, maybe still is, not homogeneous, with one side more brightly lit than the other. This is someting players complained about.

Players also found it difficult to concentrate, with so many things happening all around, and with fans sat near their table, clapping when they were on the shot, because they were in fact watching another table.

The German Masters was really Brandon’s child. He was everywhere, and doing anything needed to make sure that everything was perfect.

Brandon Parker 2011

Here he is in 2011, on the eve of the event, preparing banners. He would also hoover the carpet, help the fitters, bring coffee to the sponsors…

I’m very surprised that WST doesn’t mention this man:

Rolf Kalb 2011

Rolf Kalb, MC, pundit and commentator. He was there at the exhibition, he was there at the tournament. One minute he’s on the floor introducing the player, the next he dashes to the German Eurosport commentary box!

From the start, the crowds have been fantastic and enthusiast. Here in 2012 inside and outside the venue…

2012 was the year Ronnie went from being on the verge of having to qualify for the Crucible to becoming World Champion for the 4th time.

Ronnie had been suffering from glandular fever since November the previous year. He had arrived in Berlin with Damian Hirst in his private jet. But no amount of luxury will pot the balls for you, nor will it tame a virus that exhausts you, nor will it help your confidence when you haven’t won any ranking title in nearly 2 1/2 year.  It was a colossal effort from Ronnie and, how exhausted and relieved he felt after winning the final, shows in the above images.

Here are some images of the 2013 setup … and the Tempodrom under snow. Berlin can be extremely cold in February. On the night Ronnie won the title, the temperature was as low as -18º C. This too has an influence on the conditions. When it’s very cold outside, kicks seem to multiply on the table inside. Likely due to static electricity. At the end of the first final, both finalists, Mark Williams and Mark Selby complained about it. Their disappointment was not so much about the missed balls, it was about not being able to showcase the full extend of their skills for the great German crowd. There is little Mike Ganley could have done about that though.

In 2014, in an attempt to give players more space in the main arena, one table was placed in what we called the “Zen Room” … a rounded place, surrounded by black curtains, with low benches for largely absent fans. It was an eerie place!

Ding won the title in 2014… two images taken at the start of the evening session

The next year, for the first time the Eurosport UK pundits were on site. The “Zen Room” minus the curtains had become their studio and they were doing their intros in the main arena…

Ronnie had lost in a decider in the QF to Shaun Murphy. The next day he was at work for Eurosport.

2021 WST Pro Series – Group N

The first week of the new WST Pro Series concluded yesterday, with Jack Lisowski and Luca Brecel coming through Group N.

Here is the report by WST:

Lisowski And Brecel Progress

Jack Lisowski topped Group N of the WST Pro Series with Luca Brecel second, both players advancing to the second phase by the narrowest of margins.

Brecel won the Championship League last June and enjoys the group format

In an exciting conclusion to the day’s action in Milton Keynes, five players went into the last round of matches with a chance to make it through to the second stage in March, all having won four of their first six games.

Zak Surety could have finished in the top two by winning his last match against Brecel, but he lost 2-0. Jackson Page needed to beat Michael White 2-0 to guarantee progression, but lost 2-1.

Meanwhile, Lisowski saw off Graeme Dott 2-0 and Andrew Higginson beat Brandon Sargeant 2-0. That left Brecel, Lisowski and Higginson tied on five wins each, all with a frame difference of plus four. The next criteria is the head-to-head record, and the results between those three players were:

Lisowski 2-0 Higginson
Brecel 2-1 Lisowski
Higginson 2-1 Brecel

While the trio were tied on one win apiece, Lisowski had the best frame difference in this mini-group with +1, followed by Brecel on 0, then Higginson on -1. Lisowski therefore topped the overall group with Brecel second and Higginson third. This criteria was set out in the rules before the event started.

Lisowski said: “I knew I had to win my last match 2-0 to have a chance – I did it and it feels great. I felt as if I was getting sharper as the day was going on. It’s a good warm-up for the German Masters.”

World number 14 Lisowski missed the Betfred Masters earlier this month after returning a positive Covid-19 test on the eve of the event. “I was gutted,” he said. “The feeling was ten times worse than any game I have ever lost. To not be able to play was so confusing. And then to be told I had Covid – I was thinking about all these things. Luckily I was fine, but I was gutted because I had a lot of momentum and I was playing great. I fancied a good run. But it wasn’t meant to be so I had to suck it up, take ten days in isolation and then started practising for this tournament.”

The £420,500 world ranking tournament resumes in March, with the next eight groups to be played from March 9 to 16, followed by the second phase, with 32 players drawn into four groups of eight. The top two in each of those groups will contest the final group on March 21. The 16 players to make it through so far are:

Joe Perry
Xiao Guodong
Kyren Wilson
Sunny Akani
Martin O’Donnell
Lu Ning
Stuart Bingham
Sam Craigie
Zhao Xintong
Dominic Dale
Shaun Murphy
Louis Heathcote
Luo Honghao
Zhou Yuelong
Luca Brecel
Jack Lisowski

As I expected, this format is helping the younger players: 10 of the above 16 are under 30 years of age, whilst we have only three in the current top 16. It’s a good experience and good money too if they do well in the group.

Zak Surety was outstanding at the start of the day. He is someone who I have often watched playing in amateur and pro-am events. He’s either very good or very poor. Yesterday he was very good for most of the day. Being able to do it under presuure is something he still needs to work on.

Graeme Dott was pretty terrible … like most Scots in this comp, probably due to issues hindering  their preparation. Dotty hates round-robins at the best of times. Yesterday’s result is unlikely to spark a change of mind.

 

2021 WST Pro Series – Group L

Luo Honghao won yesterday’s group, with Zhou Yuelong coming second. The highest ranked player in the group, Thepchaiya Un-nooh came last, which really surprised me.

Here is the report by WST:

Luo And Zhou Through

China’s world number 64 Luo Honghao won six from seven matches to top Group L and reach the second phase of the WST Pro Series.

Luo, 20, turned professional in 2018 after winning the WSF Championship to earn a place on the World Snooker Tour. However, he endured a difficult first two seasons, narrowly retaining his professional status at the end of last year’s World Championship.

He showed his talent today, securing wins in all of his first five matches to all but book a place in phase two. Luo recorded 2-1 deciding frame wins over Mitchell Mann, Leo Fernandez and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, as well as defeating Anthony Hamilton and compatriot Zhou Yuelong 2-0.

There was then a 2-0 loss to fellow WSF Championship winner Ashley Hugill, but Luo followed that up with a 2-0 defeat of Lei Peifan to end the day on 18 points.

It was world number 21 Zhou, who reached the semi-finals of the UK Championship earlier this season, that took second spot to also ensure progression.

Zhou went into his final match needing to win to ensure a place in the top two. He did just that, beating Thai number one Un-Nooh 2-0 with breaks of 85 and 134. That left Zhou on 15 points, with five wins from his seven matches.

Both Zhou and Luo will return in March for the second phase of the £420,500 ranking event

Week one concludes on Monday with Jack Lisowski and Graeme Dott among those in action in Group N.

NAME P W L FW FL P
Luo Honghao 7 6 1 12 5 18
Zhou Yuelong 7 5 2 10 5 15
Ashley Hugill 7 3 4 8 8 9
Mitchell Mann 7 3 4 9 9 9
Leo Fernandez 7 3 4 8 10 9
Anthony Hamilton 7 3 4 7 10 9
Lei Peifan 7 3 4 7 10 9
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 7 2 5 6 10 6

Actually Luo didn’t endure a difficult first two seasons. He did very well in his first season, qualifying for the Crucible on his first attempt. Unfortunately, his first round match at the theatre of dreams was a nightmare. Suffering from a bout of food poisoning he was unable to play as well as he can and ended up whitewashed by Shaun Murphy. This misfortune seems to have knocked his confidence down and he struggled badly last season. This result might prove mightily important for Luo. Not just because this is the kind of competition where players are guaranteed a certain number of matches, no matter the outcome of any of them in particular, but also because it’s a confidence booster and it’s useful ranking points. Luo is provisionally ranked 64th. The player ranked 63th is Marco Fu who isn’t playing this season. The next player is Daniel Wells and Luo has a cushion of 11250 points over him. Neither have qualified for the 2021 German Masters. Dominic Dale could push him out of the top 64 by making the semi-finals next week, Louis Heathcote would need the Final, a few down the rankings would need the title.

 

 

Players in the Sunday News: Anthony Hamilton, Yan Bingtao and Ronnie

Anthony Hamilton will play in the WST Pro Series today. He has been interviewed by Phil Haigh and has also answered fans questions on twitter via Phil Haigh’s account.

In this interview he explains how he is still struggling with the aftermath of covid-19 and how a positive attitude is helping him through the difficult times.

Anthony Hamilton talks still feeling the effects of Covid, his American alter-ego and a move into commentary

2017 Players Championship - Day 1
Anthony Hamilton is still struggling with the symptoms of Covid (Picture: Getty Images)

Two months after testing positive for Covid-19, Anthony Hamilton is still feeling the effects but is back in action this weekend as he looks to get his season back on track.

Hamilton can count himself especially unlucky to contract the virus after spending months shielding and barely leaving the house due to having asthma therefore increasing the risk of Covid.

The Sheriff of Pottingham famously qualified for the World Championship over the summer but decided competing wasn’t worth the risk and pulled out, a decision which he did not take lightly as he turned down a first visit to the Crucible since 2008.

Having returned to competition, the 49-year-old was forced to withdraw from the UK Championship in November after testing positive for Covid-19.

Two months later and he is still not back to 100 per cent, admitting that even when playing again in December, he was struggling to stand by the end of a best of seven match.

‘I still have got the lingering effects, like a lot of people have,’ Hamilton told Metro.co.uk. ‘Fatigue and breathlessness. I’m better than I was, it’s getting gradually better, but I’ve been knocked for six a bit.

‘About two months since I had it now. I played a match just before Christmas, it was only a best of seven, but I definitely flagged towards the end, I could almost not stand up.

‘I was like, “Jesus, this is more serious than I thought it was.” It’s only a short drive back from Milton Keynes but it felt like driving back from Glasgow.’

2017 Players Championship - Day 5
Hamilton is back on the table on Sunday in the WST Pro Series (Picture: Getty Images)

The match Anthony is referencing is a 4-3 loss to Eden Sharav in the Scottish Open, which proved to him how hard the virus had hit him.

‘I felt good up to 2-2, but then I was just hanging on,’ Hamilton explained.

‘Before Covid I was getting really fit, it’s weird for me, but I was feeling quite good. I was doing 80 miles a week on the exercise bike, I felt great.

‘But the contrast from then to now is night and day, it’s like I didn’t do anything for those six months, it’s been wiped out.

‘I used to feel like this in my 30s when I was in the pub all the time, I’m too old for that now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for the pub but I don’t want to go to work feeling s**t. It’s lose lose.

‘I still think I’ve been lucky, it’s just annoying that it gets in the way of every day life, but that’s hardly a hardship compared to some people. Yeah, I feel like crap, but you have to have a word with yourself, it could be a lot worse.’

It’s been a tough year for everyone and Hamilton is keeping a smile on his face despite everything, feeling that a 30-year professional snooker career helps you deal with disappointment.

‘I’ve definitely had enough of all this, we all have,’ Anthony said of the pandemic. ‘But I’m half used to feeling frustrated and depressed from being a snooker player for 30 years.’

The Sheriff feels that there are people to blame for the state the country is in right now, and has some strong words for the Government and how they have handled the crisis.

‘It’s unfortunate that we’re living in the country that’s dealt with it the worst in the world,’ he said. ‘Nothing makes any sense, people are dying, it’s frustrating that we’ve let fops run the country.

‘We’ve let the upper class take over politics and now we’re paying for it. Obviously America have just had the worst character in the history of politics and we’ve probably got the second worst, you’re probably looking at Pol Pot for number three!’

One positive of having caught the virus for Hamilton is not having to be quite as intensely strict about shielding as he was for much of 2020.

The Sheriff was barely leaving his home before, washing anything and everything he touched and he is now allowing himself to be slightly more relaxed after a positive test.

‘I’m not shielding like I was before, not quite so military about cleaning everything,’ he explained. ‘Obviously the positive about having it is I should be safe for a while.

‘I’ve let my brain chill out for a while and not clean every door handle I’ve touched, that’s a relief.

‘It was taking me 40 minutes or so to clean the table before I started practice, even though no one was really on it. The cloth, cushions, rails, balls, it was a ball ache. So now I’ve just been getting my cue out and playing, which is nice.’

Helping Hamilton through this trickiest of years is a positive attitude he forced himself to adopt since he turned 40-years-old.

There is nothing complicated to the plan, Anthony just chooses to look on the bright side of things when it comes to snooker, which he feels anyone can replicate.

The former German Masters champion knows that the unwavering positivity doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him, so he holds a cliched image of an ultra-cheery American in his mind for him to take on while at the table.

‘The most underused part of coaching in snooker is the mental side, everyone thinks about the cue action and stuff, but I’ve realised myself in the last eight or nine years, I’ve started skinning the cat in a different way,’ Anthony said.

‘I can’t possibly play good snooker anymore, but I can make up the deficit with better thought patterns and positivity.

‘Jesus Christ, I can’t believe how much you can get out of just doing the right things mentally. I just came up with it myself, I took things on board from years ago when I was coached by Terry Griffiths, but it’s mainly doing the hard work.

‘People don’t realise how hard it is to do the right things when things aren’t going your way, it’s not human nature to think positive when things are negative all the time, but that’s the only way to be if  you want to get out of the bad situation.

I’ve taught myself to do the right things while I’m out there in the match, there is literally no point in being disappointed during the match because that’s not going to get me a result.

‘I can be as disappointed as I want in the car on my way home, but while I’m out there, stay positive, even if I’m getting pumped, you never know. Honestly, it didn’t take long for matches to start turning my way.

‘I wish I’d done this when I was a good player. If I’d done that in my 20s and 30s, before I’d got injured, I think I’d be retired on a beach somewhere now.

‘It’s no more complicated than just deciding to be positive. I equate it to being American, everything’s great all the time, I just tell myself to be American.

‘I’ve just missed the black off the spot, don’t worry everything’s great, what’s next? It’s gone. It works and it works immediately.’

2018 D88 German Masters - Day One
Hamilton reached two ranking quarter-finals last season (Picture: Getty Images)

Hamilton has been struggling with neck problems for years, which means he cannot produce the snooker he did in the past, but his American alter-ego keeps him very competitive.

‘The more you do it the more it works,’ he said. ‘Before you know it you’ve turned four or five matches around in a year that you never would have won in a million years.

‘It makes you feel invincible. Even if you get beat you can feel happy because you know there’s nothing more you could have done. It’s when you come away and you know you’ve let your head drop in the middle of a match, then you drive home and you hate yourself because you know you could have given a bit more.

‘It’s the same as practicing the physical part of the game, you have to keep doing it all the time because it’s unnatural to be positive all the time, especially someone who’s realistic and cynical.

‘I just take on the American persona while I’m playing, everything’s great, then on the way home, go back to British and call myself a s**t c**t then. It works immediately, I love it.’

The four-time World Championship quarter-finalist has no intention of hanging his cue up any time soon and is still ranked #46 in the world, despite his troubles with Covid over the last 12 months.

However, he is eyeing up a new string to add to his bow, in the commentary box.

The Sheriff feels some snooker commentators can be too critical and not analytical enough, and he is keen to bring his own style to the gig.

‘Hopefully in the future I’m going to be commentating,’ he said. ‘I was supposed to do some commentary before Covid for Eurosport, so hopefully it will happen again.

‘Some of the commentators have lost all empathy, it’s like everyone has to play at Judd Trump’s level all the time, but no, woah, woah, woah, it’s not that easy. You know it’s not that easy!

‘I’m hopefully going to bring a bit more empathy. If someone is blatantly not putting it in then slag them off, but no one needs to be slagged off for trying their best.’

International Championship 2016 - Day 3
Hamilton has been a pro since 1991 and has reached a high of number 10 in the rankings (Picture: Getty Images)

Hamilton wants to see more analysis of technique and the technical side of the game, which he feels is missing, especially on BBC coverage of the sport.

‘I prefer Eurosport, it’s the home of snooker now, really,’ he said. ‘I watch some American sport, because I’m interested, and they don’t commentate for people like me, they commentate for people that have been watching the sport since they were kids.

‘It’s my job to catch up with the sport, not for them to dumb it down for me. That’s why I like Eurosport, they go a bit more in depth, but I still think some people are being patronised.

‘[Alan] McManus is really good, sometimes he’ll explain something and I’ll be applauding, thinking, “thank God, someone’s finally explained it.”

‘I saw a BBC pundit about three years back at the UK Championship and he said to me: “Alright Ant? I didn’t know you were still playing.”

‘I’d made it to the semi-finals of the European Masters a few weeks before, a full ranking tournament. That’s the BBC for you, it’s lazy.’

Hamilton heads to the WST Pro Series on Sunday looking for his first win of the season and, although he knows Covid and his neck could both hamper him over a long day of seven matches, he is looking forward to competing again.

‘We’ll see how I do physically because it’s a long day,’ he said. ‘It’ll be nice to play, it’s always nice to play snooker,

‘Best of three is a bit weird, we’ll see how it goes, but I’m well up for it. I’m always up for it, I’m the archetypal pro.

‘Play some snooker, nick a bit of dough, hopefully qualify, but if not, I’ll be trying my best.

‘Seven matches, win or lose, I’ve just been playing a few frames in practice, so to play a few frames is great, to play a few matches back-to-back is gold dust!’

Anthony as always not afraid to tell the truth. I can’t understand why some dislike the guy. He’s a great person.

Coming to the “answers on twitter” thing I picked this…

HamiltonOnRonnie-1HamiltonOnRonnie-2HamiltonOnRonnie-3

So much for the usual Ronnie bashing attempt.

The other player who has been in the news over the last days is if course Yan Bingtao.

I picked this article by the Shanghai Daily

Snooker prodigy motivated by filial love

YAN Bingtao has risen from a poor working-class background and playing to support his cancer-stricken mother to become China’s latest sporting prodigy.

The 20-year-old snooker star stunned four-time world champion John Higgins 10-8 to claim the prestigious Masters title last Sunday at England’s Milton Keynes, becoming the tournament’s youngest winner in 26 years. It was world number 11 Yan’s first major title and he is just a year older than Ronnie O’Sullivan was in 1995 when he won the Masters at 19, also beating Higgins.

“I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win at least one or two world titles,” O’Sullivan, a six-time world champion, said.

Nicknamed “The Chinese Tiger,” Yan’s roaring triumph in his Masters debut is the culmination of a long struggle which at times seemed destined to end in a heart-breaking whimper.

He was born in Zibo, in China’s eastern province of Shandong, on February 16, 2000 and his first taste of holding a cue was on a rickety outdoor billiards table when he was 7 years old.

“I remember that it was uneven, there were leaves in the corners and the white ball went in a strange way,” the state-run People’s Daily quoted him as saying last year.

But Yan had talent and hoping that his boy had a future in the sport, his father Yan Dong quit his job at a pharmaceutical factory.

Against the advice of friends and family, the pair left home and Yan quit school aged 8 or 9 so they could pursue his snooker dreams in Beijing.

“To save money my father and I rented a room in the suburbs with just a bed and desk, costing 280 yuan (US$45) a month,” Yan said.

They could not afford heating and it was so cold that they wore their coats indoors, Yan once told Chinese media.

Father and son struggled to make ends meet and they admitted defeat, returning home to Zibo.

According to some accounts, the family sold most of their possessions to fund Yan’s career.

In 2013 they were plunged into crisis when Yan’s mother, the family bread-winner, was diagnosed with rectal cancer and needed an operation.

Earning the money to fund his mother’s recovery motivated him to enter more and more tournaments.

‘Never give up’

At 13, with his reputation on the rise, Yan began competing as a wildcard at professional events.

A year later, in 2014, Yan became the youngest winner of the World Amateur Snooker Championship.

He has been on a sharp upward trajectory since, turning professional in 2015, moving to England to further his career and capturing his first ranking title in Riga, Latvia in 2019.

Sheffield-based Yan collected 250,000 pounds (US$340,000) with his Masters triumph — the biggest payday of his fledgling career — and is widely praised for his dedication and hard work.

He is prime among a number of upcoming Chinese players and touted in domestic media as the successor to 33-year-old Ding Junhui, who has long been the country’s best player and an inspiration to Yan.

Many observers, including O’Sullivan, highlighted the new champion’s poise and maturity in storming back from behind to stun Higgins. At 45, the Scot is old enough to be Yan’s father.

In a touching denouement, Yan’s girlfriend translated his post-match interview into English on television.

But Yan’s thoughts inevitably soon turned to the two people who gambled everything for him.

“My mum and dad were watching on TV, they probably didn’t sleep tonight,” Yan said.

“They have always told me to never give up and to enjoy my life.”

No wonder that Yan is so mature and hard working. He deserves every success he gets. 

2021 WST Pro Series – Group A

Shaun Murphy topped Group A yesterday, with seven wins out of seven matches. Louis Heathcote came second.

Here is the report by WST:

Magic Murphy Progresses

Triple Crown winner Shaun Murphy eased through at the WST Pro Series, winning seven matches from seven to top Group A and progress to the second phase.

Despite the Magician’s dominance, it wasn’t until he earned a 2-1 win over 1994 Masters winner Alan McManus in the second last round of matches, that he secured his progression. Breaks of 95 and 59 were enough to see Murphy seal the deciding frame win. He followed that up with a 2-0 defeat of Shoot Out champion Michael Holt.

Joining Murphy in the second phase is Leicester’s world number 70 Louis Heathcote, who recorded a crucial 2-0 defeat of 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty in his last match to claim second place in the group. Heathcote fired in a break of 113 in the decisive frame, to leave himself with an unassailable advantage over nearest rival McManus. The Scot beat compatriot Fraser Patrick 2-1 in his final game to finish level with Heathcote on 15 points, but went out on frame difference.

Murphy said: “The secret of these formats, certainly for me, is that I don’t tend to look at the situation of how you stand throughout the day. I don’t think it does you any favours. I try 100% on every shot, in every match, each time I play. Looking at tables and working things out doesn’t really do anything for me. In fact, it just puts pressure on.

“I had three centuries today, so I’ve had a good day’s workout. I think we saw how coming to the Championship League prior the Masters sharpened John Higgins up and he put in a good performance at the Masters. That sort of thing can benefit me. Living in Ireland, with the travel restrictions means coming here isn’t as easy for me. I’m not quite as well practised as everyone else is, I’ll stay here now, try to stay out of everyone’s way and get ready for the German Masters.”

Both Heathcote and Murphy will return in March for the second phase of the £420,500 ranking event

NAME P W L FW FL P
Shaun Murphy 7 7 0 14 5 21
Louis Heathcote 7 5 2 12 7 15
Alan McManus 7 5 2 11 6 15
Xu Si 7 4 3 10 7 12
Michael Holt 7 3 4 8 10 9
Brian Ochoiski 7 2 5 6 11 6
Ken Doherty 7 2 5 6 11 6
Fraser Patrick 7 0 7 4 14 0

Fraser Patrick came last, failing to win a match all day. Most Scots have performed very poorly so far and I can only suppose that they find it hard to get proper practice and preparation.

It’s a good result for Louis Heathcote who is currently ranked 70th and need points to stay on tour this season. Louis has qualified for the German Masters next week, which obviously improves his chances as well.

It’s also a very good result for Brian Ochoiski, the French amateur who had celebrated his 22th birthday on Friday. He beat Fraser Patrick and former World Champion Ken Doherty, earning himself a £1000. France is not much of a snooker nation. Brian’s father, Stephane, who is a player and a coach, has been trying to promote the game in his country, but the French Federation remains very much focused carambole for now. The extremely poor quality of the French commentary on ES isn’t helping at all. I’m a Belgian native French speaker, but I will watch the snooker with English or Dutch commentary unless I have no other choice than the French channel, in which case I usually end up muting it. It’s that bad. Every good result by Brian is important when it comes to promote snooker in France. 

Shaun looked sharp and … slimmer. He’s been working on his fitness whilst helping charities as he explained to WST:

I Produce My Best At My Fittest – Murphy

2020 Masters - Shaun Murphy entrance enhancedWorld number seven Shaun Murphy says it is no coincidence that some of his finest moments have come whilst being in the best shape of his career.

Triple Crown winner Murphy has revealed that he will be undertaking a weight loss challenge with snooker MC Phil Seymour in order to raise funds for Jessie May Children’s Hospice and Kitchen For Everyone: York. They will be battling to see who can lose the most weight between now and the eve of the Betfred World Championship in April.

To donate to Shaun and Phil’s challenge click here.

A big motivating factor for Murphy, alongside raising money for charity, was to recapture his top form.

“I was at my best in physical terms around 2014 and 2015. I played some very good stuff around then. I don’t think that was a coincidence. If I can get near to that, then I will be very happy. The absolute worst case scenario is that, come the World Championship, I will be in the best physical condition of my life. One thing is for certain, it can’t hurt. There are no negatives to what Phil and I are trying to achieve,” said six-time ranking event winner Murphy.

“I think in some ways my 2015 Masters win eclipses my World Championship win. I want to get back the level of fitness I had then. If you look at the top players, one of the things they have in common with each other is being very fit and not carrying much excess body fat. They have endurance on their side. I don’t have that in common with them at the moment, but hopefully in a few months I will.

“I always had it in my head that come the start of 2021, I would make a concerted effort to do something about it. I was actually doing an Instagram Live with Stephen Hendry and someone asked if I could have done things differently to achieve more in my career. I think, as hard as it is to accept, I have been my own biggest problem and being overweight has contributed to me perhaps not quite achieving the same success that some others have had.”

Murphy admits that the lockdown period has been difficult for him in terms of keeping his weight down. The Englishman has also discussed the impact that both the lockdown and comments on social media have had on his mental health. Having previously taken a break from social media, Murphy now says he wants to tackle the issue head on.

“I was aware for a long time that the weight was creeping on. I really struggled in the first lockdown with the mental side of it, not being able to get out and practise and play on the tour. All of those things. When we did return, we were trapped in a hotel in Milton Keynes, I just really struggled with it. I didn’t go and see a doctor or anything, but I would say I was borderline suffering with depression really. I was very low.

“In my life, when I have felt low it has normally coincided with food. I was eating too much and eating the wrong things. When the tour started back, I realised that the waistcoat was a bit tighter than it used to be, so it was back into the wardrobe to find a different and bigger one. I realised this wasn’t going in the right direction. I have a history of not really dealing with it, there is quite a lot of trolling that goes on social media and people can be quite nasty about things. I went into my shell. I got my runners on at the start of lockdown and got out there and tried to do a few miles. When you are carrying too much excess weight it is either too difficult, too embarrassing, or a mixture of both. Then somebody Tweets you having seen you running around your town and it isn’t too pleasant, it doesn’t encourage you.

“Some of the comments on social media are just vile. I often wonder how we got into this body shaming culture, when did we start bullying each other about the way we look? I wanted to do something about it. I decided on New Years Day, that I would start highlighting people saying these things. I’m going to start calling it out when they are vicious and bullying you. If you aren’t mentally strong, these things can have a real knock on effect. We’ve seen some really high profile celebrities take their own life. It is awful really. I just decided I wanted to do something about it.”

Murphy’s decision to try and reduce his weight coincided with similar ambitions to Seymour. The pair decided to team up and embark on their Snooker’s Biggest Loser challenge. Murphy hopes that as well as providing a source of competitive motivation, they can raise some much needed funds for charities in the process. So far they have raised a £2,210.

“I’m delighted that Phil jumped at doing the challenge with me. That competitive element of a deadline and beating each other gets the juices flowing. It has already spurred me on to not have that piece of cake and make sure I am staying healthy. It is something I need, that thing to spur me on. The last time I lost considerable weight was because I had my wedding and wanted to look good in the wedding pictures. Without that goal or reason to do something about it, I find it hard. I’m really enthused and motivated. There is a lot of banter and it is out of a spirit of wanting each other to do well. We set a very conservative target of £1,000 and we hit the target in 36 hours. We can’t believe how generous people have been. We are made up that people have donated and hope that people continue to.

“The financial difficulties charities have had recently is another example of how far reaching this pandemic has been. It has stretched into every crevice of our lives. These charities are just not getting the funds they are used to and that they’ve had in the past. People are being furloughed, or are losing their jobs and they are turning to charities that haven’t got the funds they’ve had before. It is a vicious circle. Hopefully what we are doing can bring a bit of good.”

I have highlighted one sentence … because I want to answer it: “It was always that way Shaun, certainly for girls anyway. “.

Anyway, that’s a great way to tackle it. Well done Shaun and Phil.

This competition is all very short matches, but if  matches are close, a player could end up playind 21 frames in one day. That’s more than to win any two session final currently on the main tour. So, it IS a test of stamina.