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.
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 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…
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!
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
By Owen Phillips
11 January 2020
Chinese superstar Ding Junhui says a carefree approach to his snooker is behind his impressive return to form.
World number nine Ding was at his imperious best as he won a third UK Championship title in December and he remains confident as he prepares to get the 2020 Masters under way on Sunday.
The 2011 Masters champion, who faces Joe Perry in the first round, told BBC Sport: “I was punishing myself.
Before winning his 14th ranking event at the end of 2019, Ding had not lifted a ranking title since 2017.
But a change in management just six weeks before the tournament in York, along with a new mindset and smarter practice regime, has seemingly had a revitalising effect.
“I was too hard on myself. and a snooker player shouldn’t do this,” said Ding, who is now working with Django Fung, the man who also manages world number one Judd Trump.
“I have learned to deal with defeat, failure and bad things. I need to forget it.”
Ding’s success earned him a fourth win in one of snooker’s ‘Triple Crown’ events. The World Championship – the sport’s other showpiece event in the ‘Big Three’ – still eludes him, but Ding feels he is in a good place to add to his tally at London’s Alexandra Palace this week.
Since beating Marco Fu 10-4 in the Masters final nine years ago, the 32-year-old has only twice gone beyond the first round in eight attempts.
The Sheffield-based player said he has improved his concentration and has been trying to make sure he is “better when having a bad day”.
Playing with a plan and dealing with pressure
“I am confident. I played well at the UK Championship, some of the best [snooker] of my career,” he added. “I had a great Christmas and New Year and I enjoy this tournament and would love to win it again.
“Now I have a plan in my practice. I never used to have. I have less time but more quality and more concentration – and always a plan.
“I am still improving. Sometimes I play too aggressive. I am still learning a bit with my game. I can be stronger to compare with Stephen Hendry or Ronnie O’Sullivan. There is space to go up.
“But I have more confidence to win games. It did not use to be like that. I would not look forward to playing the big tournaments where there was more pressure.”
Ding’s more relaxed stance means he can relish the chance to perform at the Masters.
“For snooker tournaments this is huge,” he added. “It’s a great venue for snooker fans – around 2,000 people. Everyone wants to be in the Masters. It’s a special tournament. It has a long history. The Worlds means everything but this is a huge tournament.”
But although he is eager not to feel the pressure, the weight of expectation in his homeland makes that somewhat difficult.
“Being Chinese everyone expects me to win. And after the UK Championship, they think I cannot lose any more,” he explained.
Interview by 5 Live snooker reporter Jamie Broughton
Yesterday, it seems that the old demons were back…
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.”
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 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.”
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.”
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.
This interview was conducted by Eurosport before the Christmas break.
Thank you for making it available to me.
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…
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.
“It is probably one of those decisions I think we have all made in our lives that you look around now or later and say ‘I shouldn’t have done that, that was a waste’,” Hearn told BBC Sport.
“It’s extra disappointing because he has a fabulous record at the Masters. He doesn’t have to travel very far, it’s his home tournament and he has a legion of fans who will be disappointed.
“I feel more sorry for Ronnie missing than anyone else because I feel it is a huge career mistake for him.”
O’Sullivan, a 36-time ranking event winner and five-time world champion, won his first Masters crown in 1995 at the age of 21.
Last year he reached his 13th final but was brushed aside 10-4 by Judd Trump in a one-sided contest at London’s Alexandra Palace.
Trump’s stylish victory was the start of a fabulous year which also saw him win the World Championship for the first time.
Is ‘flag-waver’ Trump ready to replace Ronnie?
Hearn said the time could be right for Trump to take on the mantle of snooker royalty from O’Sullivan and his fellow greats.
“Who knows what the future holds for young Mr O’Sullivan,” Hearn added. “But whatever it does, he has been a wonderful addition to the world of snooker for many, many years and we wish him well in everything he does.
“Ronnie has been around for so many more years so has built a brand value. This is Ronnie O’Sullivan – a genius. He is his own man and does what he wants to do. And maybe he has reached the time in his life where he has fallen out of love with snooker.
“Everyone benefits from the big personalities at the top. Every snooker player has benefited from Ronnie’s personality and skill. But no one lasts forever.
“Ronnie’s a sad loss for the Masters, there’s no two ways about it. But he is not an irreplaceable loss because Judd is world number one and there are lots of other great players at this event.
“I do need a flag-waver – and Ronnie has done that job brilliantly well. We have always had one like Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis. But a really successful sport has depth of talent as well and people, while they want excellence, do not want to see one-way traffic.
“Judd is clear world number one, the first player to earn more than £1m in a season. He has a very good image for snooker. He is a young, vibrant attacking player. He has a great lifestyle and is someone that a kid could aspire to be. He ticks an awful lot of boxes as far as the personality is concerned.”
“There are a few older boys – the ‘Class of 92’ with Mark Williams and John Higgins – who are still very capable players but are reaching their sell-by date.
“Time waits for no one. And you look at Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski and you think these will be good replacements. They are lively, attractive players with good personality that we can develop.
“We are in a good place with talent coming through. Ding Junhui winning the UK Championship has reignited China – if it needed reigniting.
“Our job is to make sure we have an army of people that want to be the next Ronnie O’Sullivan – both on the table and from a personality perspective as well.”
The 2020 Masters, which consists of the world’s top 16 players, takes place at Alexandra Palace from 12-19 January, and is live across BBC TV and online.
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.
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
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.
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.
Snooker’s commercial arm has relaunched as the World Snooker Tour (WST) to reflect its global growth over the past decade.
Previously known as World Snooker, WST runs the professional circuit around the planet, with a tour of 25 events and total prize money of £14.6 million.
A new logo and branding for the tour have been created, which will be used going forward at all events and on all digital platforms, including the official website WST.TV
WST has grown rapidly over the past decade; during the 2009/10 season there were just six world ranking events and total prize money of £3.6 million.
In 2010, World Snooker was taken over by Matchroom Sport, chaired by Barry Hearn. Today, snooker has vastly improved opportunities for the players to compete in lucrative events across the world, and for the fans, with 500 million people watching the sport’s linear and digital broadcast.
Hearn said: “Our decision to relaunch as WST with fantastic new branding is part of our vision for snooker as we reflect on a decade of change and look forward to a bright future.
“Over the past ten years we have exploited the massive popularity of our sport across the planet. We have created new events with lasting legacies and worked with broadcasters to bring snooker to an ever growing audience. We have modernised our sport, particularly through social media, to appeal to a young generation of fans, and our new branding reflects that.
“We have tripled prize money over the past decade, and looking ahead to the next ten years I believe we can double it again, towards £30 million. Rather than resting on our success, we have plans in place to continue our development with relentless ambition.
“Recently we announced a new event in Saudi Arabia which will set a new record for prize money for one event, and it is a ten year deal with the intention to grow snooker at grass roots level in the region.
“As well as expansion into the Middle East we are pushing hard into India where we think there is enormous potential. North America, South America and Africa are also potential markets with a bright future. Soon we will announce plans for an exciting new online platform which will bring snooker to even more fans in every corner of the globe.
“Perhaps our greatest asset is our inclusivity. Anyone can play snooker regardless of age, gender or nationality, the only criteria is ability. There are great incentives for any young player across the world to rise through the ranks, while they are inspired by their heroes who have reached the top level.
“This is an exhilarating time to be a WST player or a fan of the sport, and as we look ahead we are limited by nothing other than our own imagination.”
WST: The Statistics
Global TV audience
500 million people
1.6 billion households
64,400 linear broadcast hours
13 digital platforms
168 million live video views
There are players from 21 different countries among the 128 on the World Snooker Tour.
There are 104 national snooker federations worldwide. An estimated 120 million people across the globe play snooker.
World Snooker Tour total prize money, season by season
2009/10 £3.6 million
2010/11 £5.3 million
2011/12 £6.2 million
2012/13 £7.0 million
2013/14 £8.3 million
2014/15 £8.1 million
2015/16 £8.0 million
2016/17 £10.3 million
2017/18 £13.6 million
2018/19 £13.2 million
2019/20 £14.6 million
Number of ranking events, season by season 2009-2019
Impressive? Yes it is but…. I’m an European and I can’t help to think that there are some fundamental changes needed before it’s a WORLD tour. Currently it’s still essentially a UK centric tour. Why? Well consider this:
All three majors are held in the UK
All flat draw events that are played at the main venue are held in the UK
All qualifiers are held in the UK
The Q-school is held in the UK
This basically means that young aspiring players, who aren’t millionaires, have to live in the UK, something BTW that could become more difficult for EU citizens with Brexit coming.
China injects a lot of money in the sport, yet their young players have to come to the UK to qualify for their home events. Is that right?
Just imagine for a minute that it would be the other way around. Just imagine that UK players would have to qualify for the Home nations, the UK Championship and the World Championship in some obscure remote town in China. How many would succeed? How many would go and live in China, learn the language, accept a totally different culture, different food, be separated from their families, deal with the time difference? How many would cope? Be honest, not many. Especially when you hear people like Mark Allen and Ken Doherty telling you how hard it was to expat themselves from … Ireland, a country sharing the same language, culturally close, with no time difference and one hour away by plane. If it was the other way around, the circuit would be dominated by Chinese and Asian players, make no mistake, because they have much better stuctures to support and develop their young talents. The current structure of the tour is massively biased in favour of UK players. Yes, they are a majority, but the whole system is designed to keep it that way. That has to change if there is a real ambition to be a WORLD tour.
all flat draw events should be played at the final venue from round 1
if there are “tiered” events, the qualifiers should be played in a location geographically close to the main venue, and right before the main event , as is the case for the World Championship
the main tour qualification process needs to change. For the near future, “de-localised” Q-schools would be the easiest option. It would be a long term project, and would need a change in mentality, but, possibly, an “ELO” type of rating system – replacing the current rankings – could eliminate the need for the Q-school entirely. And before you tell me it’s impossible to use in snooker, it IS used in table tennis.
Snooker’s elite players are under no pressure to play in the lucrative but controversial new tournament in Saudi Arabia, World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has said.
The ranking event with the biggest prize money will take place in Riyadh in October, with the champion earning £500,000 from a total fund of £2.5m.
Hearn said the decision to go was made for the “betterment of our sport” and “we go, invest and create”.
“Every player can go or pass,” he said.
The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will see the country host a ranking event for the first time in 2020 as part of a money-spinning 10-year deal.
However, human rights organisation Amnesty International has highlighted the country’s “abysmal” human rights record. Heavy restrictions on freedom of expression and women’s rights have been raised, as has the use of the death penalty for offences not recognised as crimes under international law.
The Kingdom has sought to stage sporting and entertainment events in a bid to attract visitors and move away from its oil-dependent economy.
Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title victory over Andy Ruiz Jr took place there in December, and boxing is far from alone in staging events in Saudi Arabia, with football, motor racing, tennis, golf and WWE wrestling all recently being held in the Gulf state.
But despite accusations that the event is a cash-chasing exercise and also part of a calculated attempt by Saudi Arabia to cleanse its image through ‘sportswashing’, Hearn is adamant the long-term vision has honourable motives.
Hearn says it is a chance to bring about change and offers, as a sign of progress, the fact that female referees will be used.
“We are all aware of the situation, but sport knows no boundaries in our view and we are there to spread the gospel of sport, and in this case the gospel of snooker,” the 71-year-old said.
“There are probably half a dozen countries in the world that have human rights issues. Whether you consider that to be a transitional stage of a country’s development or whether you say ‘I am not having anything to do with them’ – I would rather communicate, have conversations and try to move forward.
“Sport can be a conduit for achieving that, given time. But it does take time.
“The fact we are using women referees is a major step forward.
“I am impressed with the attitude of the Saudi government and their investment in sport because they are making a push to make their younger people more active and that can only be beneficial. Sport is an issue that moulds countries together. It forms character in young people. It gives expression and an opportunity to those that may not have it. There is a bigger picture.
“It’s important to realise that every country has their own culture. There will be countries where we don’t agree with their culture and there will be countries that don’t agree with ours.
“So rather than get it over-complicated, I find it is easier for me to concentrate on what I am good at, which is the development of sporting opportunities. And perhaps, part of the by-product of the success of that venture will be a general change that makes everyone feel more comfortable.”
Hearn, who has just passed the 10-year anniversary as chairman of snooker’s commercial arm, wants to double snooker’s current prize pot of £17m in the next 10 years and continue its “globalisation”.
A rebranding from World Snooker to World Snooker Tour is designed to give a new look, “probably following on the lines of the tennis ATP Tour and golf’s PGA Tour” and give “a significant standing within the sporting world”.
Hearn added: “We have had a fascinating and fabulous 10 years. We have woken up this sleeping princess and have done well.
“We have gone from prize money of £3.5m to £17m. There are more tournaments than ever before; we have ticked a lot of boxes.
“The relaunch is a statement that the journey has only just begun. We have achieved all our ambitions in 10 years and now we set ambitions for the next 10. We believe we are a significant player and the future is bright.”
A Saudi spark
Hearn hopes the move into Saudi Arabia will increase competition and bring about “a natural progression” of even bigger and better tournaments.
“We are there to create an infrastructure of snooker via coaching, via academies, through player visits and universities and schools,” said Hearn. “We are trying to motivate a country and the brief of the Saudi government is we want to be more involved in sport generally.”
World number eight Kyren Wilson, 28, told BBC Sport that the huge prize money on offer and snooker’s global development was “great for the players”.
“Going to new places and growing the sport is wonderful,” said the former Masters runner-up.
“The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.
“The good thing is that the tournament has a long-term plan, with coaching structures and plans in place to get youngsters involved, which is brilliant. Using women referees in Saudi Arabia is also a big step in the right direction.”
Hearn added: “The bigger picture for us is establishing a global footprint. Saudi Arabia is an escalating contract for 10 years so we have a chance to really make a mark in that territory and we hope other territories will follow.
“People have egos and demands and desires and want to show their country to the best possible audience around the world.
“Anthony Joshua went to Saudi Arabia and it had massive ramifications around the world, with other countries coming on and saying ‘what about us?'”
The British heartlands
Hearn insists the traditional snooker strongholds in the UK and Ireland will not be overlooked. The Chinese market is still a key target and India remains a major focus, but the WST will not be “turning eyes away from any opportunity anywhere in the world”.
“We respect the traditional heartlands,” he explained. “We have a lot of support there and they have history. The new markets don’t have history yet, but given time they will do.
“We are looking at the world, not just our parochial attitude with where we have been and come from. Every major sport has followed the same pattern. There is a big market out there and in today’s world it can be quite easily monetised which takes it to the next level in terms of prize money.
“Our job is to maintain our Triple Crown events [the World Championship, the UK Championship and the Masters]. They have so much history that we still have an obligation to make sure they are still of relevance.
“But professional sport is governed by prize money and opportunity, and if we are trying to be an aspirational sport for young people around the world, we have to set our bar high. You are only limited by your own imagination.”
Barry Hearn: “Every player can go or pass”, in theory, yes, practically, if they are under strain ranking wise, no, they can’t and Hearn knows that very well. He’s not a liar, he’s still an hypocrite.
Kyren Wilson: “The political side and the ethical decisions are not something that I am involved in. That is down to those in control. As players we often live in a snooker bubble.” You have children don’t you Kyren? What kind of world do you want for them? You think you are safe? Let me tell you this: your attitude is the same one that allowed the Shoah to happen (*), and other atrocities and disasters as well. Basically, “It’s not my business, it’s not impacting MY life anyway”…. for now.
That said Saudi Arabia opening itself to sport may actually force them into some changes, create a “de facto” mentality opening that they will not be able to control and “close” again. If so, great.
(*) … I can almost hear a good few thinking “what the fuck is the Shoah?”