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Friday, 5 May 2017

Thoughts On The Game

So this is it then, the 2016/17 season is now confined to the history books & Mark Selby has rode off into the sunset with the sports most coveted trophy,but what about the season that was? Well here are some of my thoughts on what we've seen over the last 12 months.

Looking back Monday night on the previous 17 days of snooker action,I couldn't help but think how this world championship had been a perfect snapshot of what we had seen over the entire season,some really great moments,but on the whole some pretty uninspiring stuff.

We get told time and time again that the standard is getting higher a,but the evidence simply does not exist to support this.Of course with so many tournaments now,it would be impossible for every one of them to be a classic,I mean not every "Super Sunday" in the Premiership produces a goalfest,but I do feel overall and  perhaps the first time in the modern era,the standard at the top of the game has probably regressed slightly.

Evidence of this I think is clear in the number of players over 40 who are still competing at the business end of tournaments.This is in stark contrast to what we saw,say 15 years ago.Some of this can be attributed to the fact that in days past the players who got to that age maybe didn't have same practice motivation & now with constant tournament play that this is not such an issue,but you can't say ,wonderful and all as their victories were to see,that Mark King & Anthony Hamilton are better players now then they were in their 20's or 30's.

Another thing we must start to come to terms with is that the days of the "class of 92" are  slowly coming to an end,This may seem a strange thing to say in a season where Ronnie won a 7th masters & Higgins won two big early season tournaments,before getting within 3 frames of a world title,but bear with me while I explain.

Ok firstly these two greats on their day can still produce snooker that's better than anyone still playing the game,but I think where the problem lies with them now is that they can't be guaranteed to produce it when its needed most.Ronnie for example started very poorly in the UK final against Selby & even with a late rally couldn't claw his way back.The same can apply to his lacklustre middle session against Ding in the worlds.That would not have happened an O'Sullivan in his prime Yes he did win the Masters,but I don't think anyone can say he was at his best there either.The same applies to Higgins.who lets be honest, at his height, would not have lost a world final from 10-4 up against anybody.

I  have no doubt these two will once again be challenging for trophies next season,but I think the chances of them adding to their World title hauls are getting slimmer.

At the other end of the spectrum we have a number of young players who started to make waves this year and its from this generation that the next great champions may come.Most notably among these players yet to reach 20,we had the Chinese trio of Yan Bingtao,Zhao Xintong & Zhou Yuelong..These three will no doubt be winning tournaments in the coming years as possibly also will Jackson Page from Wales who at 15 is the current world under 18 champ and showed he is the real deal,by making the third round of the Welsh Open.

Sadly things don't look as healthy for snooker here in the Rep Of Ireland.This years marked the 20th anniversary of that memorable night when Ken Doherty lifted the world crown and its hard to see that success been repeated anytime soon.At 45 Fergal O'Brien is admirably holding back the tide as long as he can to remain our highest ranked player,but with Ken dropping off the tour,before been awarded a two year legends wild card,the next highest ranked Irishman is Josh Boileau.

Now Josh is a talent,but in the first year of the two year tour card he obtained by winning the European Under 21 title,endured a tough season.That said ,a victory over Shaun Murphy in Wales and a wonderful fightback from 7-2 down to 9-9 against subsequent Crucible qualifier Gary Wilson,showed this lad can play.Hopefully a good start to this season can ease his demotion fears and allow him to establish himself properly on the tour for many years to come.The future of Irish snooker may for the foreseeable future ,rest in his hands.

Finally though lets talk about the man currently head & shoulders above his peers at the top of our game.It says a lot about what we have come to expect from Mark Selby,that when the fightback begun in the final ,there was a certain inevitability about him going on to lift the title. We have seen time and again with him  that he has an extraordinary will to win, that coupled with a superb big match temperament and an unflinching self belief have helped establish him as the greatest champion of his generation.

With everything I have said above,its hard to see where his challengers for the games big prizes are going to come from in the next few years.This of course will lead to the inevitable debates about where Selby stands on the all time list. I have said before that I don't think he is near the level of the likes of Davis,Hendry,O'Sullivan or Higgins & nothing that happened in the last fortnight has changed my mind in that. Suppose the basis for my argument on this is that the true greats,in this case the four i have listed above,would have been multiple world titles in any era.I'm not yet sure that can be said about Selby.

The fact remains though that he is the preeminent force of his generation  and it will be up to the others to step up to the mark to challenge him next season

Anyway that's it from me .I may look in more detail in the coming weeks at those ranked immediately below Selby in the ranking & what they need to do for the coming season to narrow the gap,but for now thats it.Best of luck to all competing in Q school next week.Ciao.

Monday, 1 May 2017

World Final Selby Reigns Supreme

Mark Selby is the champion of the world again after beating John Higgins 18-15 to claim the title for a third time in four years at the Crucible this evening.

In doing so he joins a very exclusive club of back to back winners here that also includes Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry & Ronnie O'Sullivan and has now firmly established himself as the greatest champion of his generation.

Starting today at only 10-7 behind having struggled for much of yesterday,the parallels with the 2014 final against Ronnie were there to see and the vital third session was almost a carbon copy of three years ago.Here  Selby switched into full suffocation mode & this coupled with some superb breaks when the chances occurred saw him turn that 10-7 deficit into a 13-11 lead at the end of a shortened afternoon session.

Into the evening and any hopes of a revival  for Higgins seemed remote as Selby stretched further ahead  to lead 16-12 at the interval.To his credit Higgins dug deep like the great champion he is,claiming the next three to get within one at 16-15,but when Selby knocked in another brilliant pressure red in the next to start a nerveless break of 131,the writing was on the wall and he duly did the necessary in the next to seal the 18-15 win.

As a result of this Selby has virtually secured his place at the top of the world rankings for the foreseeable future & when we consider that this was his fifth title of a season that also include another UK crown,this may be as close to total dominance as we're ever likely to see again.

For Higgins,well he will be devastated that he let a 10-4 lead,with an opponent seemingly all at sea, slip through his fingers. Looking at it now its hard not to draw comparisons between him and his fellow 41 yr old Wladimir Klitschko who at the weekend lost in a dramatic fight against Anthony Joshua.These were truly great champions,giving it their all,but ultimately time was shown to have caught up with both of them.

As for Selby people will now  be talking about him in terms of been alongside the likes of Hendry ,Davis,O'Sullivan & Higgins in the all time list. Personally I don't think it does ,but rather than rain on his parade tonight I will blog about it later in the week.One thing that is for sure is that he has a depth of belief  that makes him very hard to beat when he he up for it and he sets the target all must aim for when the new season starts in about a months time!!

Finally thank you to everyone who read this blog during the championship,I hope you found it informative & enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.Don't forget I can also be found on Twitter @thegreenbaize.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

World Final First Day Round up

Day one of the 2017 final completed then & John Higgins finds himself with a 10-7 lead over Mark Selby after an intriguing two sessions.

This is rather strangely,the first world final contested by two multiple world champions,but even the greats are not immune to early nerves and both here struggled early on to come to terms with both the occasion and the table conditions..

The first few frames were shared,but the first real break came in frame four as  Higgins rolled in a fabulous 141 to go to the interval level at 2-2.

This break seemed put Higgins in the groove and with Selby, perhaps showing the effects of his long semi final with Ding,struggling to get going, Higgins started to exert full control on all aspects of the game ,winning the last four to lead 6-2.

Out for the night session then and the despite sharing the opening four again to move the score along to 8-4,it was Higgins who stepped on the gas again to move six clear at 10-4. Selby was now in some real trouble,but in a repeat of his late efforts against Ronnie on day one of the 2014 final,he capitalised on a rare missed pink from Higgins to close to 10-5,before,with a renewed spring in his step, he also took the last two to be very much still in this a 10-7.

With all things now left  beautifully poised for tomorrows afternoon session,what will each player be feeling tonight?

Well I suppose initially the happier will be Selby, after enduring the day he had,to be able to dig out those last three frames will almost feel like he's in front.He'll be now thinking ,a good nights sleep to shake off the last of the Ding hangover and go at it hard tomorrow.

Higgins on the other was probably leaving the venue cursing himself for letting Selby off the ropes and not securing a bigger overnight lead,but I'd say by the time he reached his hotel he will have been reflecting on a job well done today and the fact that a 10-7 offered this morning would have been snapped at.

One thing is though regardless of how they feel now,both men will be starting to eye up the third session as the one to make their decisive move for the title. In that 2014 final Selby did a real number on Ronnie & eventually broke him in that corresponding session ,but against Higgins,he will not be able to boss things to that extent and that may prove the difference in the end.

If Higgins is to secure the eight frames he needs for a fifth world crown,he will need to produce one of those all round flawless days that he has done so often in the past.

Its going to be a fascinating watch.Session three starts at 2pm

Saturday, 29 April 2017

World Final preview

The final of the 2017 world championship will see Mark Selby & John Higgins face each other over the best of 35 frames ,after both came through contrasting semi finals today at The Crucible.

Mark Selby reached his third world final in four years here,but only after eventually seeing off the determined challenge of Ding Junhui 17-15 in one of the most memorable semi finals here in years.

John Higgins on the other hand had a far more straight forward path to the title decider with 17-8 victory over a badly out of touch Barry set up this rematch of the 2007 final.

Well of course a lot has changed in a decade.That final victory heralded the start of another period of dominance for Higgins through his early 30's,which would see him add a further two world titles to his CV over the next four years and cement his place on snookers "Mount Rushmore"alongside Davis,Hendry & O'Sullivan.

For Selby this final appearance came as a surprise to many,but it undoubtedly put him forward as one of the next generations real rising stars and the intervening years have seen him establish himself as possibly the games current dominant figure.

So a decade on from their previous meeting in a world final what can we expect?

Well in contrast to that final, Selby will start this one as a strong favourite after showing,yet again, in that semi final win over Ding ,that he has a depth of character unparalleled among the current generation. The fact is he has played like a champion here all tournament. growing in confidence performance round after round and looking set to peak when it matters most.

Higgins for his part has also produced some of his best snooker here & his victory over Mark Allen in round two was up there with his finest Crucible performances.Since then his performance level has dipped a bit,but that fact that Hawkins was playing so poorly probably didn't help his concentration either.and that coupled with an overwhelming desire to reach another world final at the age of 41 ,might have seen him just try too hard. I think now that he has achieved that goal,the shackles may come off again & the John Higgins of old might just be lurking underneath.

If that does happen this could turn into a really fascinating match as Higgins is certainly someone who can cope with Selby's hard match play.

What this boils down to is this. Can Higgins at 41 summon one last big effort & produce the snooker that has seen him win four of these titles? I think if he can ,he can certainly win a fifth title here.I just have a sense though that that may be beyond him and by Monday night we will be looking at Mark Selby,three time world champion.


Friday, 28 April 2017

World Championship Semi Finals The Story so Far

The second day of action in the semifinals for this years championship  and after an engrossing days action,things are set up nicely for tomorrows final sessions.

The tie between defending champion Mark Selby & Ding Junhui is turning into a real Crucible classic as these two heavyweights of the sport go into tomorrows final session locked together at 12-12.

The two sessions these two played today really had everything snooker can offer from,big breaks to pressure pots to wonderful safety and all things in between.

Coming out this morning,Ding held an overnight 5-3 lead,but it was Selby,doing what Selby does best who bossed the early proceedings, taking a series of lengthy hard frames to edge ahead.This session was really reminiscent of the way Selby played to break O'Sullivans resistance in the final of 2014,so it was a tribute to Ding that he managed to get a couple of frames on the board with big breaks to at least show he was still in good stroke.Even allowing for this though, Selby finished the morning with a 9-7 lead 

Into the night then and a vital eight frames for Ding.,who you felt, really needed to win the session to keep his hopes alive.Here though an extraordinary thing happened.Not only was Ding competing with Selby in the safety battles,but he was noticeably getting the better of them & for the first time in this championship Selby was showing the signs of feeling real pressure.

The question was could Ding turn this superiority into winning the session? This he duly did in style,taking the last two of the night with centuries to win the session 5-3 & set up the grandstand finish tomorrow afternoon.

The other semi final has been a little more sedate & with two sessions played it is the four times champion John Higgins who holds the upper hand,leading Barry Hawkins 10-6.

This one has lacked the fireworks we've seen in the other semi final,but Higgins wont be worrying about that if  he manages tomorrow evening to reach yet another Crucible final.They resume for their third session at 10am with Hawkins needing to do something special if the result of this one is be thrown into question,

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

World Championship Semi Final preview

Quarters finals completed and eight has become four in the hunt for the 2017 world title.

The first semi final will be a rematch of last years final,as Mark Selby once again faces Ding Junhui over four sessions at the Crucible.

Selby reached yet another semi final here with a dominant display all round matchplay to ease past Marco Fu 13-3 with a session to spare.

Selby had started this championship with a comfortable,but not spectacular win, over Fergal O'Brien. Indeed he wasn't that brilliant in his first two session against Xiao in round two,but in the last session of that one something clicked into gear for him and that continued here as he was simply superb against Fu. There is no better time to be finding your best form than at the business end of world championship .

In many ways the same thing applies to his opponent Ding Junhui who,got a major monkey off his back by finally recording a big tournament win over Ronnie O'Sullivan in a cracking match today.

The damage in this one was done by Ding in the middle session where a series of big breaks left him with a 10-6 overnight lead. Good as that was though,it was perhaps even more impressive today that ,when Ronnie started to fight back,his game held together and the big breaks kept rolling in as he got over the line in the end 13-10.

So what can we expect here? Well looking back at last years final,it could be argued that it was the first session ,where Selby got off to a flyer leading 6-0 that decided things,as try as he might, Ding could not get back level with him.Obviously the Chinese no.1 will be hoping for a better start here and I just think that if he can stay with Selby early on,that that may just make the difference.

I'm going for a Ding win 17-13

The other semi final pits four time champion John Higgins against Barry Hawkins who has become something of a Crucible specialist in recent seasons with a number of notable scalps.

Higgins reached his first semi final here since 2011 with a comfortable 13-6 win over Kyren Wilson whereas Hawkins will be pleased that,after seeing his good lead over Stephen Maguire disappear when the Scot levelled at 9-9,he managed to rally again to run out a 13-9 winner.

For this one I think we can apply the same logic as we did in the quarter finals.If Higgins plays his best,then there is only one winner ,but if he's below that for any reason,then Hawkins is just the type of  player who could take advantage.That said though Higgins has always been the type who,the further he get into a tournament ,the harder he is to beat and I expect him to come out on top here Score prediction 17-10

Away from the table Barry Hearn made some exciting announcements today relating to a new Challenge tour,better dispersal of the prize money further down the ranking and the eradication of tournament entry fees. All positive things .Now if only he'd do something with the UK Championship to make it great again and a few less best of sevens and things would be great!

PS I hope some of you had a few pound on my recommended bets at the start,I suggested Higgins (2/1) to win his quarter & Ding 5/2 to win his .Also value each way title bets on Higgins 16/1 & Hawkins 18/1 still both in play with one guaranteed some return.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

World Championship Day Eleven Round up

Day eleven at the championship heralded the beginning of the quarter finals and was most notable for the one sided nature of all the contests

We'll start with the Ronnie O'Sullivan v Ding Junhui match and here "The Rockets"quest for a sixth world title is in real danger of coming unstuck against an opponent who seems to have finally found his Crucible groove.

The first session of this was played this morning and Ding was quick out the blocks with a century & two breaks of 70 plus to lead 3-0.Then a sea change as back came O'Sullivan to level at 3-3 before the last two were shared to leave it 4-4.

The general consensus at this stage was that Ronnie had weathered the storm and would pull away tonight,but although the first two were shared again,making it 5-5 ,it was Ding who started to score heavily again & a visibly under pressure O'Sullivan was struggling to find any answer as the Chinese moved 10-5 ahead.

Belatedly Ronnie did manage to get the last of the session with a run of 104,but at 10-6 down will need an almost perfect session tomorrow if he is to avoid defeat.

If Ronnie task from 10-6 down is difficult,then Kyren Wilsons one from 11-5 down must be nye on impossible,especially against a John Higgins playing as well as he is.

You have to feel a little for Kyren here though as with the scores tied at 3-3 he suffered some tip damage & subsequently lost the next two frames to trail 5-3 going into tonight. Here he never really got going as Higgins turned the screw and barring a miracle,this one might not last for very long when they play to a finish in the morning.

Also going into tomorrow with a commanding lead is Mark Selby,who made sure he exploited any tiredness Marco Fu may have been feeling after last nights heroics,flying out the gate, to take an early 5-0 lead this afternoon

Fu to his credit took the next two & could have taken the last of the session as well,but it eventually went to Selby to leave the defending champ with a healthy 6-2 overnight lead.

In the other match with only the one session played,Barry Hawkins leads Stephen Maguire 5-3.Hawkins had gotten the better of the early exchanges here to lead 5-1,but in a potential turning point in the next Maguire got the couple of snookers he required to take it on the black,before also adding the last of the session to trail by just two overnight.

All four of these matches play to a finish tomorrow,so by this time tomorrow night we'll be down to just four remaining in the tournament and with the venue then reverting to the single table set up, its then the fun really begin!