The Masters 2020 – Day 3

The “curse” is over… in the sixt match of round one at Ally Pally, the top seed won, as John Higgins beat Barry Hawkins. Reanne Evans was in the Eurosport studio and very sensibly had stated that there are no “shocks” at the Masters; those are the best 16 players in the World and anybody can beat anybody. There are results that go against most expectations but no shocks.

One of those “less expected” results came in the first match of the day, as Shaun Murphy beat Judd Trump by 6-3, despite Judd scoring three centuries. But, as they say, a century wins you just one frame, and Shaun was the better match player out there. Shaun used to say that he has no safety game, but this isn’t the case anymore. Since he’s moved to Dublin, he’s practicing with Fergal O’Brien and it shows. Judd’s attacking safeties yesterday were a bit sloppy, and more “attacking” than “safe” which is not something one can afford against a potter of Shaun’s ability.  Shaun took advantage and progressively took control of the match. You could see the doubts creep in Judds mind, and with them, the mistakes crept in his game as well.

Shaun Murphy 6-3 Judd Trump (WST report)

Judd Trump’s hopes of defending his Dafabet Masters title were dashed in the first round at Alexandra Palace as he lost 6-3 to Shaun Murphy.

So far, each of the first five matches at snooker’s biggest invitation event have been won by the lower ranked player, and Trump follows Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen as early casualties. Murphy goes through to face Joe Perry in the quarter-finals on Thursday afternoon.

Today’s result is hardly a shock as Murphy himself is a Triple Crown winner and has a title under his belt this season having won the China Championship.

But it’s a significant blow to Trump’s top-dog status. The world number one enjoyed the best year of his career in 2019, winning the Masters, the World Championship and four other titles. He started 2020 with the perfect warm-up by winning a Championship League group last week, but Murphy looked the sharper player in the closing stages today.

Trump took the opening frame with a break of 128 then Murphy dominated the second and made a 71 to lead 2-1. Two more centuries from Trump, 116 and 119, put him 3-2 up.

Bristol’s Trump had first chance in frame six and made 47, then Murphy made a 77 clearance which shifted the momentum. A 52 clearance in the next gave world number ten Murphy the lead, and in frame eight he converted a superb long pot on the penultimate red and made 41 to lead 5-3. Runs of 34 and 47 in frame nine were enough to give him victory.

“Judd is a joy to watch and he made three great centuries early on,” said 37-year-old Murphy. “But those only give you one frame and getting to six first is the only statistic that matters. My safety was decent, I fed off his mistakes and made some vital clearances.

“I first came to this tournament at Wembley Conference Centre as a 12-year-old and sat there with my big bag of M&Ms wondering if I would ever get to play in it. Since my first time I have taken to it well. My wife says I’m the biggest show-off she knows and snooker’s just my outlet. I’m never happier than when I’m out there in front of everyone.”

Trump said: “I’m very disappointed although I don’t feel I played that badly. Shaun is a class player and he held himself together well. The sixth frame was important because if I had gone 4-2 up I would have been full of confidence.”

At the start of the evening match, neither player looked sharp. In his pre-match interview with Rachel (from ES) Barry Hawkins had appeared very nervous and even apprehensive of the match to come. He asmitted that he’s going through a period where he feels demotivated, and can’t bring himself to put the required work in. It showed. He was dreadful for most of the match. The balls went all over the place, same as you can see in clubs when amateurs have a knock. John, facing an opponent who was struggling badly and playing terrible, grew in confidence and he started playing  better and better.. Pride got Barry fighting towards the end, and he scored the only century of the match, but it was too little, too late. It’s not the first time that Barry goes through a bad spell. Last time, it transpired that he was facing serious off-the-table family related problems. Hopefully all will be well gain soon.

John Higgins 6-1 Barry Hawkins (WST report)

John Higgins swept aside Barry Hawkins 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals of the Dafabet Masters at Alexandra Palace in London.

The Wizard of Wishaw produced sharp display, freezing out his opponent, who struggled apart from a solitary century in the sixth frame. The result sees Higgins enhance his head-to-head record against Hawkins and he now leads 8-3 in meetings on the professional circuit.

Scotland’s Higgins is competing in his 26th consecutive Masters and has won the title on two occasions. However, the four-time World Champion hasn’t lifted the trophy at this event since his epic 10-9 final victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2006.

Higgins will see this as an opportunity to claim a first Masters win in 14 years, with all previous matches this week going against the player seeded in the top eight. So far Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Judd Trump have all fallen by the wayside.

This evening, breaks of 57, 53 and 74 helped Higgins to claim the opening three frames, before he took a tight fourth to lead 4-0 at the mid-session.

When they returned Higgins had established a 62-0 advantage in frame five. Hawkins battled back into the frame thanks to a run of 58, but he failed to get good position on the final black. He spurned two opportunities, before Higgins stepped in with a fine long range effort to lead 5-0.

Hawkins got a frame on the board with a century break of 101, but it was just a consolation with Higgins closing out the 6-1 win thanks to a break of 58. Next up Higgins face Ali Carter for a place in the semi-finals.

“To beat Barry 6-1 is brilliant. He didn’t really turn up tonight though and made it pretty easy for me. We have all been there and especially in an arena like that. Everything seems to get on top of you,” said 44-year-old Higgins.”It was a good atmosphere and more rowdy with everyone shouting for Barry to come back, what an arena it is to play in. It is absolutely fantastic and definitely rivals the Crucible one-table setup.

“I think everyone left in the tournament will feel they are in with a good chance of winning it. Being honest, at the start of the tournament people would have been tipping the likes of Ding, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson. With all the first five favourites going out it is incredible.

“It is always tough playing Ali. He is a great cueist and had a good win over Mark Selby. I’m calling him Denmark because of what happened with them getting a late call up to Euro 92 and winning it. He has nothing to lose and when that happens he is a really dangerous player.”

Hawkins said: “I don’t think I have been knuckling down enough. It is a bit of a vicious circle, because I know I need to get motivated to do well in these tournaments, but it isn’t there at the moment. When I go out there I just have no confidence at all because I haven’t worked hard enough.

“I need to have a good long look at myself. If I want to start doing well again and performing like a top 16 player I need to start getting more dedicated and putting the hours in.”

 

The Masters 2020 – Day 2

Day 2 at the 2020 brought an extraordinary comeback from Stephen Maguire in the afternoon and a magnificent display from the debutant David Gilbert. Both sent their top 8 seeded and former Masters Champions opponents home.

Maguire came back fro 4-0 and 5-1 down to beat Neil Robertson and, in the process, produced one of the most extraornary shots in the sport’s history.

Maguire 6-5 Neil Robertson (report by WST)

Stephen Maguire made one of the best comebacks of his career as he recovered a 5-1 deficit to beat Neil Robertson 6-5 in the first round of the Dafabet Masters.

World number five Robertson failed to capitalise on chances in the closing stages as he became the third player seeded among the top eight to fall so far at Alexandra Palace, following the exits of Ding Junhui and Mark Selby on Sunday. Glasgow’s Maguire is through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2015 and will face Mark Allen or David Gilbert next.

World number 15 Maguire is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career having lifted trophies at the Six Red World Championship and World Cup as well as reaching the final of the UK Championship. But even he must have though his hopes of a run this week were over when Robertson cruised into a 5-1 lead with top breaks of 76, 136 and 71.

Maguire sparked his fight back in frame seven with a run of 105. The Scot trailed 56-0 in frame eight, but battled his way back and eventually got the better of a safety battle on the yellow then cleared for 5-3.

Robertson had another match-winning chance in the ninth and made 40 before failing to split the pack of reds from the blue. Maguire punished him with a 65 clearance. And a break of 81 in the next from Maguire draw him level at 5-5.

First clear chance in the decider went to Robertson and he made 28 before missing a tricky black. Maguire’s match-winning 62 included a risky do-or-die pot on the green on 20 when it looked as if he had run out of position.

“It was a tough green I took on to keep the break going – but I wasn’t going out playing safe today. If it went in, I fancied dishing up. If it didn’t, I’d be going home,” said 38-year-old Maguire. “I’ve played a few 5-5s and I know funny things can happen. I just went for everything and managed to win.

“I never show any emotion, but I gave it the fist there and nearly uppercut myself in the chin with that punch. It was stupid really, it’s not me. But it just shows you winning means a lot.

“It has to be one of the best comebacks of my career. I haven’t done that from 4-0 down much – I had one against Mark Williams at the UK Championship a couple of years ago. But that is right up there.

“Neil was the better player and should have put me to bed 6-1 or 6-0 after the interval.  You don’t get these comebacks very often, so they’re special.”

Robertson said: “I was rusty because I hadn’t played a match for a while. I had chances, but played a couple of bad shots and got unlucky in splitting the pack at 5-3.”

Before the tournament, Robertson pledged to donate £5,000 plus an extra £100 for every century made during this week’s tournament to the WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation in light of the current bushfires.

Today he added: “A couple of other players have pledged more donations which I really appreciate. I have been really emotional following what’s happening, especially as it’s close to where my family live. My mind is back home and it puts a game of snooker into perspective, though I don’t want to make any excuses about today’s result.”

Here is the most extraordinary shot:

David Gilbert had promised himself to play with freedom and enjoy his first Masters appearance. He did just that … completely outplaying Mark Allen was the bonus result!

David Gilbert 6-1 Mark Allen (report by WST) 

David Gilbert enjoyed a sensational Dafabet Masters debut, demolishing Mark Allen 6-1 to book his place in the quarter-finals at Alexandra Palace.

Tamworth’s 38-year-old Gilbert has enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years to secure his place in the world’s top 16 and earn a maiden Masters spot.

He appeared at the World Championship as a seed last season after reaching the elite 16 for the first time. Gilbert went on a fairytale run to the Crucible semi-finals, where he was beaten 17-16 by John Higgins.

Defeat for 2018 Masters champion Allen means he is the fourth player seeded among the top eight to fall at the first hurdle, with all matches so far going to the lower ranked players. It comes after opening round defeats for Ding Junhui, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson.

Gilbert came flying out of the traps this evening. He fired in breaks of 77, 121 and 58 on his way to taking a clean sweep of the frames before the mid-session, where he led 4-0.

Allen pulled one back when they returned, but it was to no avail as Gilbert shot past the finishing line with breaks of 95 and 53 to secure a superb victory. Next up Gilbert faces Stephen Maguire.

“It is easily the best performance of my life. Mark Allen is an amazing player, it is Alexandra Palace and it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Gilbert. “I wanted it to go that way, but it is very rare I play like that, let alone in front of 2000 people. It is a dream start.

“We came down last night and watched Mark Selby and Ali Carter walk in from the Century Club, where we had dinner. It was a great atmosphere. While I was watching the Jester walk down, I just thought that this was the place I wanted to be. I tried to enjoy it, not stress and go for my shots. I don’t want to be a number anymore, I want to be a part of things like this. Hopefully I can build on that.

“I love Stephen as a player. I always thought when we were kids that he was the one  that would go on to win everything and he nearly has. I would swap with him in a heartbeat. I saw the end of his game earlier, I am sure he will be full of confidence like I am.”

Allen said: “With Dave on his debut here it can go one of two ways. You can feel inspired and start like he did, or you can feel the nerves and fall flat on your face, that was what I was hoping for but it didn’t happen. He played great, but there are a lot of questions to be asked about how I played.

“I felt very good out there, but just couldn’t get anything going at all. It was very poor performance. It is hard to pinpoint what it was, I felt good technically, just maybe I wasn’t quite strong enough mentally tonight.”

Ronnie was in the studio in the evening. He was full of praise for David Gilbert. David himself credited Steve Feeney for his successes over the last couple of years.

Despite the bitter defeat Mark Allen spent 20 minutes signing for the fans  in the arena after the match. Credits Mark!

This is the evening session mid-session:

and the evening session review:

So far none of the top 8 seeds have gone through the quarter finals, and none of the former Masters champions. The latter is sure to change today as Judd Trump will play Shaun Murphy. And so far my predictions have all gone badly wrong. I promise, if Ronnie enters the World, I will predict boldly that he will go out first round and never win it again! Who knows…

The 2020 Masters – Day 1

It was a day of “upsets” in Alexandra Palace yesterday, as both “underdogs” (sic Philip Studd) beat the upper seeds.

Ronnie was in the studio all day, and will be there for most of the week.

There is a new setup for the event, with a bar, and reserved seating for VIPs. The setup around the table is also different, and the players now sit in “formula 1” type of seats!

Masters2020CenturyClubVIP

Overall it seems that those changes are appreciated are really add glamour to the event, which is good.

Anyway, here about the action …

The first match, Ding v Perry was very strange. Before the MSI Perry wasn’t playing well, he looked tense, Ding was outscoring him in all stats, he had a marvellous 135, up to now the only century of the event. But it was still 2-2 at the MSI. Actually, in my eyes at least, already then Ding’s body language wasn’t great. It reminded me of the Ding we saw early in the season. After the MSI, Perry started playing the way he can, very solid match play, and the match became very one sided. Ding had collapsed.

It’s bizarre because Ding looked in great spirit ahead of the event, if this interview (BBC) is anything to go by:

Masters 2020: Ding Junhui relaxed and ready for Alexandra Palace challenge

Yesterday, it seems that the old demons were back…

Joe Perry 6-3 Ding Junhui ( report by WST)

Joe Perry recorded a fine 6-3 defeat of Ding Junhui to book his place in the quarter-finals of the Dafabet Masters on the opening afternoon at Alexandra Palace in London.

The Gentleman is making his first appearance at the Masters since losing 10-7 in the 2017 final against Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Victory for 45-year-old Perry enhances his head-to-head record against Ding, but he still trails China’s number one 11-6 in their professional meetings. Next up he will face the winner of Tuesday’s first round clash between World Champion Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy.

Ding had come into this week having secured a fourth career Triple Crown title in December, defeating Stephen Maguire 10-6 in the UK Championship final.

This afternoon’s defeat for 2011 Masters winner Ding contributes to his already poor record at Alexandra Palace. He has now lost in the opening round in seven of the nine years since the event moved to Alexandra Palace in 2012.

Perry took a 25-minute opening frame this afternoon, before a sublime run of 135 saw Ding restore parity at 1-1.

Chatteris cueman Perry then regained his lead, but Ding made it 2-2 going into the mid-session interval.

When they returned, a break of 71 saw Perry edge 3-2 ahead. However, Ding once again drew level, compiling a 71 break of his own to make it 3-3.

From there it was Perry who took control and charged to the line. Contributions of 93 and 83 helped him to take three frames in a row and emerge a 6-3 victor.

Perry said: “The second half of the game was much better than the first. I felt good at the start, but then I missed a few easy balls and started thinking a bit too much. The interval came at the right time, because I felt like I was hanging on.

“He is one of the best players in the world and has been for a very long time. When he is on his game, as we saw in the UK Championship, he is pretty much unplayable. If you draw a top player like that and they are on their A-game you are up against it, but if they are missing the odd one or two you have to be there and take your chance.

“This tournament feels how it should. It is the absolute blue riband event on the circuit. You have the World Championship, but this is the showcase. It is the only event in London and the top 16 are here. I loved how there are supporters on sofas in front of the commentators now. It feels like the perfect venue.”

Ding said: “The match was a 50-50 one, but I didn’t take enough chances. I was losing position of the cue ball, trying to pot hard shots and missing every time.

“He did well today. Every time I missed, he took the chance and won the frames. I didn’t feel much pressure, but also didn’t quite have the concentration either. That is going to happen some days.”

Coverage:

The tournament and match preview:

The match review with Perry:

The evening match brought another upset. Mark Selby looked great at the Scottish Open, but apparently still struggles in the majors. He was pretty awful before the MSI, his highest break in the 30 something, and Carter without plmaying much better went 3-1 up. At the MSI, Selby was seen on the practice table with his good friend Bobby Lee. When they resumed, he won three frames in a row to lead 4-3. But then the match turned again, mistakes crept in in Selby’s game, Ali started playing well,  punished them and went on to win 6-4.

Ali Carter 6-4 Mark Selby (report by WST)

Ali Carter defeated Mark Selby 6-4 in a pulsating Dafabet Masters opening round clash at Alexandra Palace in London.

Essex cueman Carter has never been beyond the quarter-final stage at the Masters, but will now compete in the last eight for a third time, when he faces either John Higgins or Barry Hawkins.

Carter earned his place in this week’s event by the narrowest of margins. Despite being ranked 17th in the world, he qualified after Ronnie O’Sullivan withdrew from the tournament.

Selby has won the Masters on three occasions, only Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan have won more. However, in recent years the Jester from Leicester has struggled in the event. Since 2015 he has only won three matches at Alexandra Palace and has failed to go beyond the second round.

Carter imposed himself on proceedings in the early stages this evening. A typically gritty opening frame saw him come from requiring two snookers to steal on the final black.

The Captain then claimed the second frame to establish an early 2-0 advantage. Selby pulled one back, but it was Carter who took the final frame before the mid-session interval to lead 3-1.

There was a dramatic frame when they returned, in which Carter appeared to be in the ascendency, but he broke down on a run of 61. Selby then produced a superb clearance of 74 to snatch the frame on the black. Selby clenched his fist in celebration as he kept himself in contention at 3-2.

Runs of 56 and 94 from Selby then saw him take the lead for the first time in the tie at 4-3. However, Carter refused to wilt and restored parity with a fine break of 82. He then moved one from victory at 5-4 and didn’t hesitate at the finishing line, securing victory with a contribution of 68.

Afterwards Carter cited Selby’s celebration in the fifth frame as a motivating factor on his way to victory.

“It did fire me up, big time. I don’t like any of that. He was looking at all of his followers in the crowd and gave it the fist. That was a little knife in the heart,” said 40-year-old Carter. “I am delighted to win. The closer I got to the finishing line the more focussed I got and the easier I found it, so that is a good sign.

“I felt like I didn’t play well before the interval and I was 3-1 up. All of a sudden after the break I ran out of position and before I knew it I was 4-3 behind. I thought I might have missed the boat, but I dug in and I’m really pleased to win.”

World Snooker Tour@WeAreWST

🗣 “It did fire me up, big time”

Mark Selby fist pumped tonight.

It spurred @TheCaptain147 on to a 6-4 first round win

Embedded video

On his celebration following the fifth frame Selby said: “It was a big frame. If I was in that position and 3-1 up, I am sure he would have done it to me. It is a big tournament and you see it in other sports, so why not in snooker? It was nothing against Ali, I just knew that if I went 4-1 down I was massively up against it.

“The first frame was possibly a little turning point. I should have just potted the yellow and been 1-0 up, but after that the game never forgives you and it didn’t up until the interval. After that I felt really strong. At 4-3 up I had a blue into the pack and if I land on a ball I go 5-3 ahead and I think I win the match. After that I didn’t really get a chance.”

Coverage:

The match preview

The match mid-session

Ali’s post-match interview:

Finally WST announced that they will match Neil Robertson donation to the WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue

WST will match Neil Robertson’s contribution to the WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation, in light of the current bushfires.

Australia’s Robertson has kindly offered to donate £100 for each century made at this year’s Dafabet Masters by all players, as well as contributing an additional £5,000.

This is a fantastic gesture from Neil for an extremely important cause and we would like to add our support by matching his donation.

The thoughts of everyone at WST are with all of the people affected by these terrible bushfires.

This is a great gesture. Thank you WST

The Triple Crown Logo – Meaningful or Gimmick?

Today, eve of the 2020 Masters WST has published this:

Players who have won all three events in snooker’s Triple Crown Series will be sporting a new icon on their waistcoats at the Dafabet Masters.

In recognition of the outstanding achievement of winning the Dafabet Masters, Betway UK Championship and Betfred World Championship, those players will wear a Triple Crown logo (above) at every tournament where waistcoats are in the dress code.

Six players will carry the logo at Alexandra Palace:

John Higgins – four time World Champion, three time UK Champion, two time Masters champion
Mark Selby – three time World Champion, two time UK Champion, three time Masters champion
Mark Williams – three time World Champion, two time UK Champion, two time Masters champion
Judd Trump – current World Champion, 2011 UK Champion, current Masters champion
Neil Robertson – 2010 World Champion, two time UK Champion, 2012 Masters champion
Shaun Murphy – 2005 World Champion, 2008 UK Champion, 2015 Masters champion

Other than this half dozen, the only five Triple Crown winners in snooker history are Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Alex Higgins and Terry Griffiths.

There will also be a special display cabinet in the Fan Zone in the main foyer at Alexandra Palace where fans can find out all about the Triple Crown Series and the trophies.

A spokesman for WST said: “We have 25 tournaments around the globe, but the Triple Crown events remain the most prestigious and historic in snooker, and they are the titles the players covet most. In honour of the elite group of players who have won all three at some point during their career, we have created this new logo which they can wear with pride.”

I have to say I feel a bit uneasy about this thing. Of course players who have won all three tournaments should be proud. They carry a lot of history and prestige, they are major events, but … maybe I’m getting really old … it feels a bit like kindergarten stuff. You know, the “outstanding” kids getting some recognition in the form of a diploma, badge or star to show off. I wonder how the players feel about it and whether they will be given the choice to wear the logo or not.

 

An interview with Ronnie ahead of the Masters 2020 and a Preview

This interview was conducted by Eurosport before the Christmas break.

Thank you for making it available to me.

ROSMaster2020Interview-1ROSMaster2020Interview-2ROSMaster2020Interview-3

And now for a bit of last 16 preview for what it’s worth… 

Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy

Judd Trump is the defending champion and, surely, he starts the tournament as favourite given how well he has played over the last year. In fact it was his 10-4 win over Ronnie in last year final that started it in earnest. That said he couldn’t really get a tougher opponent than Shaun Murphy in his first match. Shaun had a nightmare season in 2018/19 but is playing much better this season. Judd hasn’t been at his best just before the holidays break, he’s lost to Nigel Bond of all people in York and failed to qualify for the European Masters. Now, he was probably very tired and in need of a break. Yesterday, he won Group 6 in the Championship League Snooker. He looked in good form but CLS form doesn’t mean much: in 2010 Ronnie and Mark Selby played in Group 2, just before the Masters, finished 6th and 7th of the group, both relegated, only to meet in the Final of the Masters the next week. Shaun has been very solid this season, making it to three big finals, winning one. However, one of the finals he lost was a 10-3 defeat to Judd. I expect Judd to win, but the match to be close, probably 6-4 or 6-5. 

Ding Junhui v Joe Perry

I can see only one winner here and it’s Ding. Ding has won the 2019 UK Championship last month, playing really well. He also qualified for both the 2020 European Masters and the 2020 German Masters. During the last month of 2019 he has beaten Ali Carter, Ronnie, Yan Bingtao, Stephen Maguire, Matthew Stevens and Peter Ebdon (never easy). In fact, over the last two months he’s lost just one match. Joe Perry on the other hand has had an indifferent season so far, and was dreadful in the CLS over the last two days. His only hope is that Ding has gone off the boil completely during the holidays break. My prediction: a comfortable win for Ding: 6-2 or 6-3.

Mark Selby v Ali Carter

Mark Selby has been a bit in and out so far this season, as he has been since mid 2017, but he still won two ranking events over the last months, including the last one of  2019, the Scottish Open. He has also qualified for both the 2020 European Masters and the 2020 German Masters. He should feel reasonably confident again. Ali Carter hasn’t got past the quarter finals in any event this season so far, and that only quarter final came at the six-reds World Championship. Add to that the fact that when things don’t go his way, he’s prone to getting frustrated and throwing his toys out of his pram. I can see only one winner, Mark Selby. I won’t predict a score. Depending on Mark’s form it could be close or totally one-sided.

John Higgins v Barry Hawkins

Neither players have been at their best so far this season. John Higgins though has reached a semi final twice, where he lost to Judd Trump both times, Also, he hasn’t lost to any low ranked player all season: the only players out of the top 16 who beat him were Graeme Dott, Kurt Maflin and Yan Bingtao. Barry Hawkins is going through a terrible season. He won the 2019 Paul Hunter Classic, but other than that he didn’t go past the QF in any event, and he only reached that stage twice, in the 2019 Shanghai Masters and in the 2019 China Championship, rather early in the season. Their head-to-head is pretty close: it’s 9 wins to Higgins for 8 to Barry, and Barry actually won the last of their encounters, and the only one that was played this season. So it’s hard to call. John Higgins has got slightly better results this season, but his record at the Masters is not great. I will go for 6-4 either way.

Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire

Both Neil Robertson and Stephen Maguire have blown hot and cold this season. Neil won the 2019 Champion of Champions, beating Judd Trump by 10-9 in the final, and Ronnie by 6-5 in the semi final, both very high quality matches. He’s also reached the semi finals in the 2019 Shanghai Masters where Ronnie beat him by 10-6, but in the ranking events he hasn’t got past the last 16. Stephen Maguire has won the 2010 six-reds World Championship, and was runner-up in the 2019 UK Championship but other than that hasn’t gone past the last 16 in any event. So, this match is very hard to predict. Neil Robertson though is coming to Ally Pally with a goal…

NeilMastersTweet

A very honourable goal. I believe that this will motivate him big time. Because of that, and because he’s been doing really well in invitational events so far, I will go for a 6-4 or 6-3 win for Neil.

Mark Allen v David Gilbert

Mark Allen has got a very strange season so far. He’s reached the semi finals 6 times out of 11 tournaments he’s played in. In the others he lost in the last 64 twice, in the last 32 twice and in the last 16 once. David Gilbert’s season has been just as bizarre: he’s made it to one final, one semi final, 4 quarter finals … but also lost in the first round 5 times.  The main factors in this match will probably be, one, that this is David Gilbert first ever Masters and the London crowd is usually quite animated and loud, and two, that Mark Allen was bitterly disappointed by his performance last year and will want to redeem himself. The rowdy atmosphere should suit him. Prediction: 6-3 or 6-2 to Mark Allen. 

Kyren Wilson v Jack Lisowski

If one forgets the Paul Hunter Classic, Kyren Wilson’s season has been rather poor: one semi final at the 2019 World Open, one quarter final at the 2019 Shanghai Masters and a couple of last 16. Jack Lisowski’s season has been similar: a final at the 2019 Scottish Open, a quarter final at the 2019 Shanghai Masters and a couple of last 16. It’s also Jack’s first Masters and, in my opinion, Jack tends to be a bit overawed when facing a big stage for the first time. This is a very big stage with a unique atmosphere. Because of this I expect a comfortable win for Kyren: 6-1 or 6-2. Now I wish I’m wrong here.

Mark Williams v Stuart Bingham

Now this one promises to be hard fough match, but not necessarily high quality. Mark Williams season hasn’t been great but there were signs in the recent months that he is back practising and playing well again. He lost to Shaun Murphy by 10-9 at the 2019 China Championship, and won 6 matches out of 6 in the round-robin phase of CLS Group 5 earlier this week. The problem with Williams is that he doesn’t seem to be able, or find the necessary motivation, to do it consistently. Stuart Bingham hasn’t got past the quarter finals in any event, and reached that stage only twice, one being at the six-reds World Championship. Not great. I expect Mark Williams to win by 6-3 or 6-4.

That’s for the first round. What about a winner? Ronnie goes for Ding; it’s a prediction he does with his heart I’m sure but I genuinely believe that Ding has a good chance. Actually, should they both win, he will face Judd Trump in the quarter finals, which is better than facing him in the final. I expect the winner of that QF to go and win the title. Other than those two, I think that Mark Selby and Neil Robertson are serious contenders.

 

A surprisingly positive interview with Barry Hearn reflecting on Ronnie missing the 2020 Masters

Don’t stop at the title, it’s only a small part of what Hearn had to say to the BBC 

Ronnie O’Sullivan: Missing Masters a ‘career mistake’, says Barry Hearn

The part in bold ( bold added by me) is both heartwarming and a bit worrying. But we shall see what the rest of the season brings. Ronnie had been in and out of love with snooker for most of his life. I doubt that he will be able to stay away from it entirely one day.

Round-up of the past few days at the tables

Two “groups” of the Championship League Snooker 2020 were played earlier this week, with Anthony McGill and Judd Trump booking their spot in the Winners Group.

Full results for Championship League 5

Full results for Championship League 6

As usual this competition threw some strange results. For instance, Mark Williams was absolutely flying in the Group 5 round-robin stage, winning 6 matches out of 6. He then lost in the SF … and finishied 5th in Group 6. That said, it’s a lot of snooker condensed in 4 days, and players tend to treat it as a bit of paid practice.

Gao Yang from China won the 2020 WSF Junior Open in Malta

Here is the report by WPBSA

Glory For Gao at WSF Junior Open

  • 9th January 2020

Gao Yang has defeated Sean Maddocks 5-2 to claim the inaugural WSF Junior Open title earlier this afternoon in Malta.

The15-year-old Chinese talent becomes the first winner of the prestigious new junior event and will earn a two-year main tour ticket to the World Snooker Tour from the start of the 2020/21 season. The competition saw 55 of the best young snooker players in the world aged 17 or under compete over six days to become champion.

Gao, who previously competed at the WSF Championship in 2018 and recently appeared as a wildcard at the 2019 World Open in Yushan, qualified from a tough group in second place before surviving deciding-frame encounters against Scotland’s Dean Young and later his compatriot Yi Ze Wu to progress to the final.

Awaiting him in the final was England’s Maddocks, who starred in the groups dropping just one frame before reaching the title match with victories against Bradley Tyson, Antoni Kowalski, Jovan Todorovic and Irish prospect Aaron Hill.

It was Maddocks who made the stronger start to the final, taking two of the opening three frames to lead 2-1 as he looked to go one better his performance at Q School last year which saw him narrowly miss out on joining the professional ranks.

The fourth frame would however prove to be a key turning point as trailing 54-26, Gao cleared the table in two visits to draw level at the mid-session interval. This would prove to be the start of a four-frame winning run as he hit the front for the first time with a match-high break of 72 on the resumption of play, before adding the next two to secure victory.

All the detailed results can be found here.

Remarkably, there were only two Chinese players in the draw – Gao Yang and Wu Yize – and they met in the semi finals, before the winner of their match went on to win the whole event. This and the 5-2 score over Sean Maddockx, in my eyes, confirm that currently, the young best amateurs come from China and the current structure of the tour is what prevents them to dominate snooker. As I explain in my previous post, the “World” tour remains very UK centric and bias in favour of UK players.

The highest break of the tournament was a 121, made by Julien Leclercq from Belgium. Julien, 16, reached the last 16 of the tournament, narrowly losing by 3-2 to Wu Yize. This is a very good result for Julien who doesn’t benefit from as strong an amateur scene as his UK fellow juniors to play in. Julien did much better than the more fancied Ben Mertens. He’s one year older than Ben, and more mature. That matters in a tournament like this one. He will play in the “main” WSF event as well, as will Ben.

Regarding Gao, he’s only just 15, and will not been 16 yet at the start of next season. So, he may not be able to take his tour card immediately, because he may not be able to obtain a visa and a work permit in the UK until he’s 16. I read in Lewis comments that he might lose part of his prize money in this case. If this is true, it’s unfair. I would understand that a player who is in a position to take his newly earned tour card, but chooses to opt out, would get a reduced prize money, but not if it’s because of external circumstances like in Gao’s case.

Update I just spoke with Matt Huart who confirmed that half of the prize money is indeed dependent on the commitment of the player to take their tour card. Gao is determined to turn pro next season and has pulled out of the main event. Matt wasn’t sure what would happen if he was prevented to do that by circumstances beyond his control.

The “main event”, the 2020 WSF Open starts today in Malta. All results will be made available here.