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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

World Championship The Talking Points

So as Mark Williams puts some clothes back on & the dust settles on another world championship, what exactly did we learn over the last two 17 days?

The Class of '92
In the piece I wrote in the wake of last years final ,I suggested that after seeing the way that Higgins faded on the final day against Selby,we were perhaps now at the stage where the games biggest prize might just be beyond these three great champions. Well how wrong was I, as Higgins & Williams once again proved the old adage of form been temporary ,but class been permanent.The way this year went whose to say this wont be be witnessing something similar next year?

Ronnie O'Sullivan
The main surprise ,after the sensational season he's had, was just how limply Ronnie, exited the tournament in round two.It is ever more likely that his final defeat in 2014 to Selby will be the closest he gets to a sixth world crown. However seeing his two oldest rivals contest the final may just give him the push he needs to really make one more concerted effort to get back to the Crucible summit & it will be interesting to see if his playing schedule next season is built around peaking in late April.

Mark Selby
Its been a strange season for Selby,who on the face of it had a decent campaign by picking up the International Championship & China Open titles, but elsewhere largely having a miserable time of it. In one prediction I did get right,I said in my preview that if he were to be vulnerable it would be in the early rounds and so it proved as Joe Perry dumped him out on the opening day.

It would be foolish to suggest that this heralds the end of Selby as a major force in the game, but you just wonder if we have been spoilt by the standard that O'Sullivan, Higgins & Williams have maintained into their 40's. This has not been the norm and at 35 Selby is older than Davis or Hendry were ,when their game went into terminal decline.Of course the game is different now,with more tournaments putting less emphasise on long periods of heavy practice & not really the talent coming behind that they were faced with, but I'm just saying, though I do see plenty more titles in Selbys future, it would be dangerous to just presume his best form will automatically return.I think this is even more so the case with 36 yr old Neil Robertson.

Beaten semi finalists Wilson & Hawkins
Its a rare thing to have two cracking semi finals at the Crucible ,but that's what we got here as Wilson & Hawkins pushed their opponents all the way.

It has been a difficult season for Hawkins off the table, but he showed his liking for the Crucible to again make a bold bid for the title. The fact he just came up short again in the semi final will be gut wrenching for him & you just wonder how many more times he can go to the well here and recover from the disappointment.

Wilson on the other hand gave the impression here that he will be contesting at the business end of this championship for many years to come.A great break builder, he is calm under pressure and has a self belief that he will win that never comes across as cocky.He will have learnt a lot from his first experience of the single table set up here and I would be shocked if he's not a major contender in all the big events next season as well as back at the Crucible.

Ding & Trump
Another year, another chance slips by for the two most talented players currently at the top of the game yet to claim the world crown.After two great runs at the title in the last two years,it seemed Ding had laid his Crucible ghosts to rest, but they came back to haunt him in abundance here as he bowed out tamely to Hawkins in the quarter finals. The most disappointing thing about him here was to see just haw little fight there was in him when Hawkins started to pull away.He would do well to spend his summer studying how John Higgins handles adversity as with his current attitude it would be hard to see him ever lifting the trophy here.

Judd Trump is another a the stage in his career where the world title, that at one stage seemed his destiny, is something that will forever allude him.Here again this year he was very lucky to escape from the first round against debutant Chris Wakelin ,before finally bowing out to John Higgins in a decider in the last 8.This on the face of it, was a good performance, but it was his comments, once again,  about his opponents "luck" that struck me. This seems to be a trend with Trump in recent times after defeat, he blames everything bar his own shortcomings for his defeat. If this sort if attitude continues to go unchecked he will continue to be the sports top nearly man.One "Triple Crown" title is a poor return on his talent. It may be up to someone in his circle to start pointing out some uncomfortable home truths to him.

So thats it then, as a season dominated by the over 40's ends with Mark J Williams deservedly getting his name on the sports most famous trophy for a third time, we are as always left with a mountain of questions as to what the new season will bring.Lets hope whatever happens it will prove as enjoyable as the one just past.Enjoy your summer.



Monday, 7 May 2018

Mark Williams 2018 World Champion

Mark Williams is the 2018 world champion after finally seeing off John Higgins 18-16 in one of the best finals we've seen here in many years,

The story of the season has been the resurgence of the "class of 92" so it was, in retrospect, not that big a surprise to see two of them in the final, but perhaps what we might not have expected, was just how much both men would have left in the tank after 17 days of intense competition.

Starting out today Williams would have been delighted the way he rallied to claim that 10-7 overnight lead, having been earlier pegged back to 7-7, and things just got better straight out the gate today as he took the first four frames to the interval to lead 14-7.

Williams was now looking a man completely at one with his game as he serenely floated around the table,there was even whispers of it finishing with a session to spare, but  we should know by now, you count out John Higgins at your peril.Back came the Scot after the interval,but although he did take three of the next four, he still had it all to do trailing 15-10 coming into the night session.

What Higgins needed to produce tonight was a perfect session of snooker and it certainly started that way, with a 131 in the opener to close to 15-11.The next two frames followed a similar pattern, as Williams was suddenly struggling to get over the line in frames and two big dishes (67 &82) from Higgins saw him close to with two at  15-13.

Amazingly he also took the next to the go to the interval just the one behind at 15-14 and then followed it up with a 62 break when they resumed to draw level at 15-15.

Just what was going through Williams head at this stage is anyones guess,but having lost 8 of the previous 9 frames, he showed just why he has won so many big tournaments over the years to steady the ship and edge ahead again at 16-15,

A 100 break in the 32nd frame moved him to the brink at 17-15 and the title looked all but his as his break reached 63 in the next, only for him to then miss match ball pink.Higgins being Higgins cleared nervelessly with 65 to make it 17-16.

By now we were wondering what else could happen in this one,but in got Williams again in the next and this time there was no mistake as he sealed the title with a fine break of 69.

So a third world title for Williams, 15 years after his second  and one year after failure to qualify for the championship had him contemplating retirement. Whether this revival is entirely down to his devotion to the "SightRight" techniques or the fact that trying something new just gave the encouragement to practice seriously again its impossible to know, but what it has done is provide one of the games greats with a boost of confidence that has seen him back in the winners circle three times this season, including the biggest one of all.

For Higgins after all he has battled, not just in this match, but at various times over the fortnight, this will be a crushing defeat. He will look back at the slow start he made yesterday as perhaps the key moments in this match and although he can be rightly proud of how he fought his way back into it, you just wonder if now after a second world final defeat in a row ,if a fifth title will just prove beyond him.

We must finish though, by again saluting our champion. It was so nice to see his family living every shot from the balcony,especially when you remember that for his kids, this is their first time seeing him on top of the world. It also serves as a timely reminder for a newer generation of snooker fans, who perhaps don't pay due respect to the past, that when we dine out on talk of the games all times greats, Mark J Williams deserves his place at the table.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

World Final Day One.

Nostalgia was very much the order of the day today,as we started the best of 35 final wondering,would we be seeing John Higgins lift the trophy for a fifth time, 20 years after winning his first or would it be Mark Williams claiming a third title 15 years after his second?

For all though that these two are the oldest pairing to reach a final in Crucible history,,there is no fluke about it, as both have shown all season that they are still forces to be reckoned with in the game and have at various times in the last two weeks produced some of their very best snooker.

The question starting out today,was just how much they both had left in the tank for this one,with focus especially on Williams following his late night finish in the semi final.

Any worries on this score were quickly put to bed though as Williams settled immediately  to lead 4-0 and it was  Higgins who was struggling to find his touch. We knew however it would only be a matter of time before he did and having got off the mark in frame five,he took three of the next four to trail by two at the end of the first session, the score 5-3.

Into tonight's nine frame session and if the afternoon was about settling, tonight was about showing they meant business ,as the standard noticeably went up a notch. Here the four frames to the interval were shared to move the score along to 7-5,but when Higgins then took the next two to level at 7-7 you sensed he might be finally getting on top.

Williams was having none of it though as he responded to Higgins's equalising century with one of his own to regain the lead at 8-7, before also taking the next to extend it to 9-7.

One frame left then and although both had chances it was again Williams who took to just edge the session and extend his overnight lead to three again at 10-7.

So advantage Williams then,but this one is a long way from over and since we're dealing in nostalgia, wouldn't it be nice if we had a final frame decider for the first time in 16 years

Saturday, 5 May 2018

SEmi Hinal

The 2018 world final will be a case of back to the future as John Higgins faces off against his fellow "class of 92" graduate Mark Williams for the games biggest prize.

First up John Higgins reached his seventh Crucible decider after a hard fought victory over Kyren Wilson..I said in my preview of this match that if Wilson were to win this, he probably needed a good start to capitalise on any tiredness Higgins may have been feeling after  his last eight tussle with Trump, but although Higgins was visibly showing signs of fatigue, Wilson couldn't make the most of it and Higgins would have been delighted to emerge with a 5-3 lead from the opening session.

This turned out to be the key moment in this one as,try as he might over the following two days Wilson was continuously playing catch up. If the match against Trump showed Higgins's at his determined best,this match showed  just what a dogged matchplayer he can be,even when not at his best For large parts of this match Higgins scoring just wasn't there,but he kept eking out the frames he needed to maintain his advantage throughout.

Starting today he still lead by two at 13-11 and by the mid session interval that had moved along to 15-13.From here it was fight to the line and as so often in the past This was where Higgins showed his class,knocking in breaks of 100 & 98 to seal a 17-13 win.

So for Higgins a chance to right the wrongs of last years final defeat to Selby, for Wilson some time to reflect on a season that saw him reach a Masters final & experience the one table set up at the Crucible for the first time.He can take a lot of positives from what he did here & it would be a shock if we don't see at the business end here for many years to come.

The other semi final seemed to following a similar pattern as Hawkins opened up an early two frame lead at 5-3,that turned into 9-7 & 13-11 over the next two sessions.

The standard had been pretty high in this in this one over the first 24 frames,but with a place in the final at stake, that was not to continue into the final session.

Twitching was the name of the game as the last session turned into a bit of a slog with both players struggling to find some rhythm. It was Williams though who was putting the frames on the board and he levelled things up at the interval at 14-14.

Best of 33 had now become best of 5,but by now nothing was coming easy to either of these two great competitors.Hawkins did edge ahead again at 15-14,but William again drew level ,before taking the lead for the first time in the match at 16-15.

The next frame was a long tense affair,but eventually Williams potted a marvellous long pink and then rolled in the black to  reach the world final for the first time in 15 years.

So will it be a 5th title for Higgins or a 3rd for Williams?
Well after 15 gruelling days of competition, the world final always to some degree comes down to who has the most left in the tank and this time that might be even more relevant than ever .These two great champions have been pushed to the limit at various times over the fortnight and it could very easily boil down to who has something left for one last push to the top of the hill.

It is for this reason I just favour Higgins, he has the most recent experience of these back to back four session matches and although he did fade on the final day against Selby last yr,I still think he will have enough in reserve for another world crown this time score prediction 18-13

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Quarter Final Round up plus Semi Final Preview

And then there were four, after a day that delivered three one sided victories,but one dramatic finish that had the Crucible rocking.

On paper the match up between John Higgins & Judd Trump looked to be the tie of the round and boy was that to be proven to be correct,in what was a match for the ages.

Higgins had reached this stage with some superb snooker in his opening two matches , whereas Trump had largely struggled to reach this stage.

For all that though, it was Trump who got off to the better start to lead after the first session 5-3. When he extended that lead to 7-3 this morning  he looked to be taking control, but we should know better at this stage than to write off Higgins & back he came to not only draw level ,but to maybe consider himself unfortunate not to lead 9-7.

That last frame of the session did go to Trump though to leave it 8-8 and present  us with a mouth watering best of nine for a place in the last four.

Into the night then and it was once again Trump who stamped his authority early to lead 11-9. Higgins though did yet again what great champions do when their back id to the wall, he knuckled down and fought back , taking the next three to lead 12-11.

Higgins was in first in the next,but this time it was Trump who showed the type of  character that he has so often in the past lacked to clear to the blue and force the decider.

Higgins would not be denied though and he made the most of his second scoring chance to secure a hard fought 13-12 win.

In the semi final he will face the youngest man left in the tournament, in Kyren Wilson.

Wilson reached the single table set up for the first time with a sparkling 13-6 victory over Mark Allen. 

Many , myself included , thought this would be a closely fought encounter,but a superb second session saw Wilson establish an 11-5 overnight lead and the from here the result was never in doubt.

Talking of one sided matches, Barry Hawkins once again showed his liking for this place with a 13-5 demolition job on Ding Junhui.

Following Ronnies  exit  in the last round many were predicting that this would be the year that Ding finally delivered the games biggest prize,but having looked in fine touch in the earlier rounds ,he was once again found lacking when the pressure came on and really bowed out here quite tamely.If this is something he wants to rectify,he would do well to watch a recording of John Higgins tonight

Hawkins will face Mark Williams,whose revival has been one of the stories of the season and the Welshman will be quietly  fancying his chances of a third world title here after another strong finish to see off Ali Carter.

A close finish had looked on the cards here also, but starting the night leading 9-7 Williams floated his way to a 11-7 lead that left the result in little doubt.Carter dug deep to close to 11-8,but that was to be his last frame of the match, Williams running out a comfortable 13-8 winner in the end.

So what of the semi finals. Well the old sentimentalist in me would love to see a Higgins v Williams final,but really such is the degree of respect in the snooker world  for all four of these competitors, no matter who wins it will be a great story.

As far as predictions go I think the key question in the Wilson v Higgins match will be just how much that last eight match took out of the veteran Scot.

Of course it is a four session match over three days,but we have seen time and time again just how important those early exchanges can be. I think if Higgins can at least stay close in the first session tomorrow he may just have a bit too much experience at this level for his young opponent.
Prediction 17-12 Higgins

If that one is hard to call then the match between Hawkins & Williams is nearly impossible.

Hawkins has of course been a regular at the business here in recent years,but perhaps the main difference this year is the fact that he has reached this stage without much drama and as a result will have plenty more left in the tank.

For Williams,I think, in recent years he has felt that these days were behind him and now finding himself here again he wont want to give it away easily.

For that reason I just favour the Welshman to edge this and give us that dream final ,but it will be close Prediction 17-15 to Williams


Monday, 30 April 2018

World Championship Day 10 Round up + Quarter Finals preview

Eight men remain in the hunt to be crowned world snooker champion this night week and it must be said, a case can be made for all of them.

Before we get into what might happen in the last eight though, we'll quickly run through the last of the round two action today.

Judd Trump finally showed up in his match against Ricky Walden to run out a somewhat comfortable 13-9 winner in the end.

This one had given every appearance in the first two sessions that it would be a lot closer than this,but things turned decisively in frame 18 when,leading 9-8 & building a nice early frame lead,Walden went for a kamikaze red to the middle.He missed and trump cleared with a superb 66 to level at 9-9.

From here he never looked back an ran out an easy winner.

Also Mark Williams produced his best snooker of the match in the final session as he recorded a 13-7 victory over Robert Milkins & Ding quickly got the frame he needed to beat Anthony McGill 13-4 .

So into the quarter finals then and first up we have a repeat of the Masters final as Mark Allen once again faces Kyren Wilson

This could be a real cracker from two player who I think are well suited to the multi session format.Allen has produced his best snooker,since that Masters victory,here this week & Wilson hasn't been under any pressure as he breezed through the opening rounds.

This is possibly the hardest match to predict,but I just think that when it comes to it, that Mark Allen may just have that little bit extra to see him over the line.
score prediction 13-11 to Allen

Also in the top half of the draw we have a repeat of the 2011 final here as John Higgins faces Judd Trump.

The way he played in that championship it seemed only a matter of time before Trump claimed the crown,but here we are seven years later and he's yet to get that close again.

Higgins of course reached last years final & looked for a long time like the winner, only to run out of steam on the last day.

This week Higgins has been at his supreme best yet again in demolishing Jack Lisowski 13-1 whereas Trump has seemed , at various times in both his opening matches, to be all at sea.He did however produce his best snooker at the end of his match with Walden and if he can carry that confidence forward he could give Higgins plenty to think about.

Higgins will rightly start as favourite in this one,but he can these days throw in an odd shocker and anyone thinking of backing the odds on should be conscious of this.

That said, I think  with Trumps confidence seemingly so fragile at the moment,Higgins is just the player to capitalise and I predict he'll win 13-7

Into the bottom half and an intriguing clash between Ding Junhui & Barry Hawkins 

After a number of years of struggle here,Ding has in recent years shown a real liking for this place and here faces someone else, in Hawkins, who comes alive at this venue.

This again is tough to call,but I think Ding has shown enough here in that last two seasons to suggest he really has learned how to manage this tournament.I expect him to show that gain here and run out a comfortable winner 13-6

Finally after accounting for one legend Ali Carter faces another in Mark Williams. Williams has had a great season and although he hasn't quite shown it here this week, he's reached the quarter finals with some ease.

Carter of course reached this stage by finally recording a first career victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan , in a tense affair and it remains to be seen just whats left in the tank for the battle ahead.My feeling is that this might just be a case of "after the lord mayors show" for Carter & I think Williams will win 13-9

It all gets underway at 10am Tuesday

Sunday, 29 April 2018

World Championship Day 9 Round up.

Middle Sunday at the championship and in theory a day with no match playing to a finish,but others had different ideas.

After the elimination of the hot favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan here yesterday at the hands of Ali Carter ,it was perhaps time for someone to step to fill the void at the top of the market and today we saw two real contenders stake that claim.

John Higgins has of course been here many times before and showed himself to be in fine form here yesterday as he opened up an 8-0 lead over Jack Lisowki. The four time former champ was in no mood to hang around today either, as he extended that lead to 10-0 when they resumed. Lisowski did at least manage to avoid the whitewash, taking the next with a fine run of 81, but a 100 from Higgins in the next was followed by a tournament high break of 146  to make it 12-1.He could only manage 73 in frame 14 but it was enough to see him through with a 13-1.

So last years runner up is into another quarter final here and who can say, the way he played today that a fifth world title isn't in his sights.

It did look for a long time like we would have two matches today would be  finishing with a session to spare ,but Ding  Junhui fell one short of this against Anthony McGill, albeit all but over with the Chinese star holding a 12-4 advantage

Ding was simply superb in the first session here as he stormed to an 8-0 lead and although he took his foot off the pedal tonight,make no mistake, Ding is here with the full intention of claiming that elusive first world title.

In the other round two matches playing to a finish tomorrow a real slog looks on the cards as Judd Trump & Ricky Walden head into their last session locked together at 8-8.

This one has been a nervy affair all day with both player producing moments of brilliance,but also throwing in some shockers.It would certainly be no surprise to see this one go all the way to a decider.

Things look a little more comfortable for two time champion Mark Williams who holds a 10-6 overnight lead against Robert Milkins. Williams has not been at his best in this one,but as so often with him he is still doing enough and surely a last eight encounter with Ali Carter awaits.

Of course with only two session tomorrow we can all have a bit of a lie in before it all kicks off at 1pm