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Monday, 6 February 2017

Hamilton the German Master

After 26 years on the circuit and at the ripe old age of 45,Anthony Hamilton is finally a ranking event winner,after fighting back to beat Ali Carter 9-6 to lift the 2017 German Masters title in front of a pack house at the Tempodrom in Berlin last night.

Long since been regarded by everyone in the game as the best player never to have won a ranking title,Hamilton must have surely felt at this stage of his career that his chance of doing so may have gone,but in an era of the game where it seems 40 is the new 20,he finally shook that monkey off his back,to win this in style..

Its worth bearing in mind at this stage also that only a year ago it looked as though Hamilton may well fall off the tour ,but a couple of wins in the Gdynia Open saw  him stay on by the skin if his teeth.

From there this season the signs of an upturn in form were there,with a quarter final in the English Open and and unlucky semi final defeat to Hawkins in the Northern Ireland Open.This week that form continued with fine wins over Williams,Selby & Bingham on his way to the final.

In the final itself it seemed early on as if that hard fought semi final victory had taken its toll on him as he trailed 3-0 & 5-2,but crucially he took the last of the afternoon session to trail 5-3 going into the night.

From here he turned on the style,producing the kind of break building that has always been talked about in the game of been his norm in practice to win five in a row to stand on the brink at 8-5.Carter to his credit dug in to take the next,but Hamilton for once wasn't going to denied,as he closed out the win in the next to seal a famous 9-6 win.

I'm not sure looking at him,as the packed Tempodrom rose to salute their new champion,that the enormity of what he had just achieved had fully sunk in,but as his parents,who had come to Berlin for a spot of sight seeing,came down to congratulate him it gave us one of those moments that brings a lump to the throat of all sports fans.

Of course immediately on Twitter last night the discussion  turned to the question of who is now the best player not to have won a ranking event.The fact that until last night the answer would have unanimously been Hamilton,shows just what a wrong has been righted here. Well done The Sheriff of Pottingham. 



Sunday, 22 January 2017

Ronnie Secures a Record 7th Masters title

Ronnie O'Sullivan now stands alone as the winningmost player at The Masters,after seeing off Joe Perry 10-7 to lift the title for a record seventh time,but boy did he have to work hard for it.

The finals of recent years have pretty much all been one sided affairs and the vast majority of snooker fans expected the same here,but the clues that this might be a little different were there early on as a nervous looking Ronnie threw in a few uncharacteristic misses and Perry punished him to take a 3-1 lead to the interval

That was to become 4-1 and really should have gone 5-1 in the next,but a missed red from Perry gave Ronnie the chance to nick it & he went on to somehow escape from an afternoon where he had a high break of 58 level at 4-4.

Into the night and still not firing on all cylinders Ronnie started to pull away,taking the first four to lead 8-4,but back came Perry with inch perfect runs of 117 & 92. to close to 8-6.

Ronnie responded with a 112 of his own to move to the brink at 9-6 & although Perry narrowed the gap to 9-7,Ronnie won a battle on the last red in the next to clear to the pink and much to his relief get over the line 10-7

If ever it was evident just what working with Dr Steve Peters has done for Ronnie,then it was today, as struggling yet again with tip problems,perhaps also a little with huge expectations and against an opponent who looked set punish any mistake,he managed to keep,a dare I say Selbyesque, level of professionalism to seal the win.

We have been so used over the years to seeing Ronnie  steamroller his way to titles,it was actually nice to see him apply himself to the task with such determination.

For far to long the sadness of Ronnie was that he didn't seem capable of getting the same level of enjoyment from playing the game that we got from watching him.That seems to have changed now,as possibly with the knowledge that his best days are not going to last forever,he is now relishing every challenge.

It would of course be remiss of me not to mention Joe Perry who has had another fabulous week and,but for a few missed chances could have pulled off one of the sports biggest shocks here today.Hopefully he can bring this form forward to claim another title somewhere soon.He's too good not to have won more in the game.

Finally though what about our record breaking champion?I have never been one of those people who believes that Ronnie has to break Stephen Hendrys world championship record in order to be considered the greatest ever.He is the best snooker we have or probably will ever see and that  for me is beyond argument.That said though I do think anytime one of Hendry's records is broken it is worth marking and  those of us who have witnessed this,will be waiting a long time to see it bettered. 

Well done snookers true Master Ronnie O'Sullivan.



Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Masters Semi Final round up

The 2017 Masters final will see six times champion Ronnie O'Sullivan take on Joe Perry for the £200,000 top prize after a dramatci day of semi final action.

This will be Ronnies twelfth Masters final,but he only got there by coming through a dramatic and high quality semi final against his in form opponent,Marco Fu.

Fu has been in the form of his life recently and his intentions here were clear from early on,as with runs of 89 & 110 he took an early 2-1 lead.Then drama as the tip on Ronnies cue needed replacing and the interval was taken a frame early to accommodate Paul Colllier in his efforts to fit a new one.

Well it certainly seemed to do the trick as a on resumption a quickfire 95 drew things level at 95 & from here things only got better.A 141 from Fu put him ahead again at  3-2,but not for long as Ronnie produced a 122 to level things up 3-3.

Into the next and it was Ronnie who got in first before breaking down on 47 allowing Fu to clear with 83 to go 4-3. History looked to be repeating itself in the next,but this time with a potentially match winning lead on his mind,Fu missed a red with the rest and Ronnie cleared to go 4-4.

From here Ronnie finally took control to go on and seal his 6-4 win with runs of 83 & 69.

The second semi final was not the line up we may have expected,but Joe Perry and Barry Hawkins were certainly there on merit,having each produced some fine form in beating their more fancied opponents.

This was a far more tentative affair with the opening four frames shared to go to the interval at 2-2.The occasion seemed to be getting to both players as they both missed uncharacteristic balls,but it was Hawkins who slowly started to open a lead.Three frames in a row put him on the brink of the final at 5-2,but just when it looked as though Perry was dead in the water back he started to come back.

Perry nicked the next from needing a snooker to trail 5-3 & by now starting to cue more smoothly,his confidence grew.He took the next to get back with one an then the tenth to force the decider.

Hawkins by now must have been thinking not again in a career blighted by letting big leads slip.,but slipping away it was.

In the decider Hawkins even managed to get in first and build a 50 point lead,but there was no stopping Perry now & he produced a wonderful 70 to the blue to clinch a famous win.

So what of the final?Well I suppose it boils down to just how much Perry has left in the tank after that extraordinary win..Ronnie will rightly start a warm favourite and if I'm honest I don't see anything other than a record seventh masters title going the way of "The Rocket".by a margin of maybe 10-4 or 10-5.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Masters Semi Final Preview

Into the last four we go then at the 2017 Masters and not the line up that many would have expected

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marco Fu
Ronnie O'Sullivan is now within touching distance of defending his crown & claiming a seventh Masters title,but will have to first get past an opponent in Fu who is riding the crest of a wave at the moment.

Ronnie reached yet another Masters semi final after getting the better of Neil Robertson in a match that never really lived up to expectations,Not that it didn't start well,the first couple of frames were shared with big breaks,but from here things got little scrappy.Although showing flashes of form as he did in his first match,Robertson is still quite clearly not yet back to his best and Ronnie took full advantage to run out a comfortable 6-3 winner.

Marco Fu for his part kept up his fine recent form & once again produced a superb all round display to easily sweep by Mark Allen 6-2.

So what of this semi final,Well of course Fu's recent good run didn't just begin in his victory in Scotland,but in the UK Championship where ,but for a kick he may well have beaten Ronnie to reach the final.He will also have no fear of playing Ronnie as he has beaten him on some of the games big stages in the past.

Still though for all this I just think Ronnie will win this.He has certainly not been near his best yet this week,but that can always just a day away with Ronnie & I think the carrot of another big title will spur him on to victory.It will be close though.
Ronnie to win 6-4

Barry Hawkins v Joe Perry
Not the pairing many would have expected ,but both these two are here on merit having produced some dominant performances this week.

Hawkins has a record as good as anyone on the games biggest stages in recent years & that continued today as he brought an end to the Mark Selbys dreams of the "Selby Slam".

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the afternoon for Hawkins was the fact that when it twice looked as if Selby was about to claw his way back,he managed to steady the ship and was well worth his 6-3 victory.

Perry meanwhile has been on paper the most impressive performer this week & he followed up his 6-1 victory over Bingham with another 6-1 win tonight against a badly out of sorts Ding Junhui.

This one is hard to call,but I just think the greater experience at this stage could be the telling factor and I expect Hawkins to reach the final for a second year in a row
Hawkins to win 6-3


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Masters Quarter Finals preview.

After what has been a week of snooker at its very best,16 have become 8 in the hunt for the 2017 Masters title.

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Neil Robertson
First up we a real battle of the giants as two of the games greats face off against each other.Ronnie of course is lucky to be still here this week after surviving a match ball black against Liang in round one,but in the end closed the match out well to squeak through 6-5.

We often see the reprieved man in these events go on to be victorious,but Ronnie will know he will need to play better if he is continue in his quest for a seventh Masters title here.That is because last night against Ali Carter,we saw the type of display from Neil Robertson that had been missing so far far this season.This really was the Aussie back to his free scoring best,slamming in long pots and building big frame winning breaks.

So a fascinating match lies in store,but I just feel this is the type of match Ronnie thrives on in the big arena and he may just edge it here
Ronnie to win 6-4

Marco Fu v Mark Allen
Both these men will be coming into this match with heightened confidence after each coming through final frame deciders in round one..

If ever there was proof that success breeds success,thee Marco Fu is it. In the days of old,the way his first round match began here,Fu would have been gone from this tournament,but despite some fabulous stuff from Trump to lead 3-0,Fu's head never dropped and drawing on the comeback he made last month to beat Jon Higgins in the Scottish Open final,he again fought back here,knocking in three centuries of his own to edge past his opponent 6-5.

The match between Mark Allen & John Higgins never quite reached those heights,but was fascinating none the less and it was the man from N.Ireland who got revenge for some recent defeats to see off the Scot 6-5.

This has the makings of another close one,but i just think Fu is riding the cresy=t of a wave at the moment and fancy him to maybe nick this.
Fu to win 6-4.

Joe Perry v Ding Junhui
The most one sided victor in the first round belonged to Joe perry who swept past Stuart Bingham 6-1 in a typically solid Perry display.He will have to produce that or better again here to see off his Chinese opponent Ding Junhui.Ding,who came here this year on the back of five successive first round defeats at the Masters since he lifted the title in 2011,got through a potentially tricky first round clash with rising star Kyren Wilson 6-3 and will now be fancying his chances of making an impact here this week.

Perry is just the type of player Ding has struggled against in the past ,but I still expect the Chinese to come through this
Ding to win 6-3

Barry Hawkins v Mark Selby
Mark Selby stands just three wins away from the "Selby Slam",but only after coming through the sternest test this afternoon against Mark Williams.Selby had looked superb early on as he lead 3-1,but after the interval when things got scrappy he found for once an opponent at least his equal in digging things out.Williams had even carved out the first chance in the decider,but the cruellest of kicks on the blue proved to be his last shot as Selby produced a gutsy clearance to fall over the line 6-5.

Williams was also a deciding frame loser in the first round here last yr against Ronnie,who of course went on the claim the title & Selby will be hoping history repeats itself this year.

Standing in his way next is Barry Hawkins,who was a convincing 6-1 win over Shaun Murphy tonight. Hawkins is very much a man for these big tournaments and was runner up here last year,.If he produces his best he is well capable of beating beating the world champ,but I think much like Ronnie,it could again be a case of  a lucky escape spurring Selby on and I see him reaching the last 4.
Selby to win 6-2

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Masters Preview

Well after a short break from our screens over the Christmas period,snooker returns with a vengeance this weekend,as all eyes focus on the "Ally Pally" in London for the start of the 2017 Masters and what a fascinating tournament it promises to be.

Top Half
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Liang Wenbo
Ronnie was at his imperious best here last year as he swept aside Barry Hawkins 10-1 in the final to claim a sixth Masters title and although he has as of yet failed to reach that level again this season his overall application in his matches has been excellent.After a few near misses it is surely only a matter of time before hi wins again and where better than here in his own back yard.

Liang Wenbo has already had a season to remember,lifting the English Open title and its not beyond the realms of possibility that the unpredictable Chinese could cause an upset here,but I just don't see it happening
Score prediction; Ronnie to win this one 6-2

Neil Robertson v Ali Carter
This could be an interesting one. All recent form between the two points to a Robertson victory,but after a good start to the season,the Aussie went completely off the boil towards the end off 2016,so Ali may well smell blood here.That said though I still think Robertson might just edge it in a close encounter that may well go the distance.
Score prediction Robertson 6-5

Judd Trump v Marco Fu
Another intriguing encounter here with Trump trying to put aside an indifferent Masters record against the tours most recent winner in Scottish Open victor Marco Fu. Trump for his part has also tasted success this season,but after that impressive victory in European Masters,it has once again been disappointing that he hasn't kicked on to challenge for silverware more consistently.I still think Trump might edge this one though.
Score prediction Trump 6-3

John Higgins v Mark Allen
Leave aside Selby and without doubt the player of the season has been John Higgins. The legendary Scot has been at times back to his very best with superb victories in the China Championship & the Champion of Champions.He may even have claimed another UK had it not been for a deciding frame defeat by Selby .Included in those fine runs were a couple of victories over his opponent here and despite a poor Master record by comparison with everything else I expect Higgins to progress here .
Score prediction Higgins 6-4

Bottom Half
Stuart Bingham v Joe Perry
A match here that will also be hard to call,but that is mostly down to the fact that both these players have largely struggled after decent starts to the season. I think though Binghma might have the edge here,provided Mrs Bingham hasn't gone into labour!!
Score prediction Bingham 6-2

Ding Junhui v Kyren Wilson
Potentially the tie of the round here with the Chinese no.1 taking on the brightest of the games rising stars.Ding delighted his home fans with victory over Selby in the Shanghai Masters in September,but when he was beaten 10-1 by the same opponent in the International Championship it seemed to rock his fragile confidence again and his form dipped thereafter.Wilson has also had a mixed time of it,at times looking the real deal and at others looking that he still has much to learn,just how he handles his debut here may well tell us where he is.

Another tough one to call,but I think experience may seal it for Ding
Score prediction Ding 6-4

Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins
Murphy has been in the headlines in recent weeks with his stated aim of becoming world no.1 and although this tournament does not carry any ranking points,victory here would maybe show that such a dream may still be achievable. His opponent here Hawkins will be hoping to go one better than last year,but a remarkable head to head record in Murphys favour here may well be the telling thing.
Score prediction Murphy 6-3

Mark Selby v Mark Williams
The big question this week is can Selby join the elite club who have held the games three biggest prizes at the same time. Selby was at his very best  just last month in beating Ronnie to claim the UK  title and a repeat of that form here would certainly see him go very close to achieving that.Ironically Selby's first round opponent here is the last man to hold all three majors at the same time, Mark William,The Welshman has shown flashes of his old best of late,but I doubt he has it still to repel Selby
Score prediction Selby 6-2


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Trump The European Master

Judd Trump is the European Masters champion after getting the better of Ronnie O'Sullivan,9-8 in a pulsating final in Bucharist this evening.

A final between these two always comes with the promise that there might be something special in the offing and that is certainly what we got here in a free flowing exhibition of all that is good in the game.

This was Trumps sixth ranking title and its hard to believe any of the other would have given him as much satisfaction as this one did against an O'Sullivan playing near the top of his game, in fact is says a lot for Trump that despite what his opponent was producing,it was he who produced the bigger breaks.

Into the match itself and it looked early on as if it was going to be "one of those days"for Trump as after a few slices of bad fortune he somehow found himself 3-1 down at the first midsession interval & then 5-3 down at the end of the first session.

Trump though,with what seemed total faith in his game reeled off the first three of the night to lead 6-5.,before a 72 from Ronnie stopped the rot to level at 6-6.When Ronnie then also took the next two to lead 8-6,a 29th ranking title for O'Sullivan looked assured,but back came Trump with a 109,his third century of the day,to close to 8-7.

Into the next and on the flight home it is perhaps on this one that Ronnies mind will focus when he thinks about where he lost it.On three separate occasions here Ronnie knocked in cracking opening reds,but couldn't fashion any of them into the match winning chance he needed and Trump capitalised to level at 8-8.

Into the decider and it was Ronnie again who failed to capitalise from the opening chance,before Trump took full advantage of a missed long red .holding his nerve to construct a fabulous match winning break despite the black tied up in baulk..

When Trump burst on the professional scene in 2011,you would never have though it would take him until 2016 to win a sixth ranking title,but he has perhaps at times not shown the game or his talent the respect it deserves,hopefully now though we are looking a a mature young man who will go on the fulfill his full potential in the game.

As for Ronnie,although upset that he didn't win this,he will also probably be quite satisfied with his game that seemed to be getting sharper and sharper as the week with on. On the evidence of this there is little doubt that 29th ranking title is not far away.

This of course was the first ranking event held in Romania and after a week where the the crowds and enthusiasm just grew and grew I have no doubt we will be back here for many years to come.

Finally it would be remiss of me to let the day pass without mentioning the late great Paul Hunters,whose tenth anniversary occurs today.Its hard to believe with the way the game has gone in that time that he wouldn't have been by now probably a multiple world champion.Sadly that chance was robbed from him at a much too young an age.One thing for sure though is that he would have approved heartily of the swashbuckling way this final was played today.

We now move into a manic period of tournaments with the English Open starting in the morning.