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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

International Championship Last 16 round up and QF preview.

It may only have been the round of 16 but today saw another great day of action at the International Championship which included among its headlines,. mixed fortunes for the home players,a couple of former world champions showing good form,a few results that could have a major bearing on the world rankings and the continued rise of a young sensation.

Perhaps the story of the week so far has been the progress of 14 year old Lu Haotian who has once again shown what a raw talent he has. Today he once again came through  a final frame decider this time against the ultra experienced Dominic Dale and even at this early age has shown he has nerve to go with the ability.No doubt we will be talking about this kid for many years to come.He now faces his toughest battle to date in the quarter final where he meets Neil Robertson.Robertson has been quite impressive this week and booked his place with a 6-2 victory over Matthew Stevens.

It was of course as a 14 year old we first saw Ding Junhui when he played as a wildcard in the China Open many moons ago. He would go on to win that tournament a couple of years later but in the time since he has often struggled under the pressure of the expectant home crowds. Those fans were once again left disappointed today when he went down 6-4 to Shaun Murphy.This was a top quality game where the momentum swung both ways before Murphy showed his class winning the last two frames comfortably having earlier let a 4-1 lead slip.

Murphy will now play Marco Fu who came through following a long tense battle with Mark Davis 6-4,One has to feel sympathy for Davis who had he won would have secured a place in the top 16 for the first time in his career but now finds himself agonisingly in 17th place.

Elsewhere Mark Allen defeated Cao Yupeng in a rematch of their controversial Crucible encounter 6-2 to continue his recent run of good form and he will need to be at his best when he once again tackles Judd Trump in the next round.Trump had a straight forward victory 6-0 win over Aditya Mehta who failed to reproduce the form that saw him beat Suart Bingham yesterday.This promises to be a mouth watering clash between these two young guns and if it lives up to their clash in last years UK final the crowds in Chengdu are in for a treat.

An added incentive for Trump will be the knowledge that reaching the final this week will see him become the new World no.1.This is due to the fact that our current no.1 Mark Selby bowed out in a marathon match today with Ricky Walden going down 6-3.

Walden would want to recover quickly from that gruelling encounter as he is not likely to get any respite tomorrow when he face Peter Ebdon for a place in the semi's.Ebdon made short work today of Stephen Maguire recording a comprehensive 6-1 win..

We are really now at the push coming to shove stage of this tournament with every game from now on been played on a televised table .Each of the eight players who are left will feel they are well capable of lifting the trophy come Sunday but if I was to pressed to tip someone I would slightly favour Judd Trump.I feel the extra incentive of the no.1 spot been up for grabs will give him the drive he needs.I have of course often been wrong before!!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

International Championship. The story so far

We may only be three days in but the inaugural staging of the International Championship has already provided plenty of thrills and spills as well as a few shocks.

Firstly lets get the old chestnut of the Wildcard round out of the way.Much has been written about this over the years and on the face of it it does seem grossly unfair that professionals having come through the qualifiers have to go play an extra match to get to tournament proper,but rightly or wrongly thats the way it is.As the old saying goes the man who pays the piper calls the tune and as long as those promoting these tournaments remain insistent on this it is the way things will stay.

As always these rounds do claim some main tour pro's and here was no exception.Ken Doherty fell 6-5 to Zhao Xintong, and Michael White went down by the same scoreline to the young sensation Lu Haotian who had the added bonus of going straight into the last 16 following Ronnie's withdrawl and will face Dominic Dale,Cao Yupeng, Aditya Mehta,Fergal O Brien and Jamie Burnett did manage to make it through some tricky ties to make last 32 but the shock results didn't end there.

The first upset in the last 32 was the exit of John Higgins who fell at the first hurdle as he attempted to make it back to back ranking victories follow his recent Shanghai Masters win.He started well in his match with Cao Yupeng but his form dipped completely after a game changing fourth frame and although he did rally late on he went down 6-3. Cao's reward is a Last 16 clash against the impressive Mark Allen who put his travel problems behind him to beat Robert Milkins 6-2.

Another man who experienced travel problems was Neil Robertson .but he produced a solid display against Ryan Day beating him 6-3.He will play Matthew Stevens next.

Ding Junhui has not always produced his best in his homeland but can be happy with his display in beating his fellow countryman Zhou Yuelong 6-1 to set up a clash with Shaun Murphy who also eased his way through with a 6-0 crushing of Andrew Higginson.

Judd Trump started his quest to go one better then his runners up spot in last months Shanghai Masters with a decent display that hinted at better to come in his 6-3 win over Fergal O'Brien and will face India's Aditya Mehta next.Mehta in what is surely his biggest victory yet beat the man in form Stuart Bingham 6-4.He had at one stage lead 4-0 and managed to hold his nerve to hold off  the Bingham comeback.He will no doubt be relishing the chance to play Trump tomorrow.

In other matches World No.1 Mark Selby negotiated a tricky last 32 encounter with Ali Carter to progress 6-3 and will play Ricky Walden who came through a long gruelling battle with Lu Ning 6-4.Stephen Maguire beat Jamie Burnett 6-3 to set up a rematch with his China Open conqueror Peter Ebdon and Marco Fu scraped through in a decider with Martin Gould.He will face Mark Davis who beat an obviously under the weather Mark Williams 6-4.

Tomorrow will see all eight last 16 matches taking place so by this time tomorrow we will know who the Quarter finalists will be.By then I may even get off the fence and try predict a winner!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

International Open preview

This Sunday will see what is no doubt the biggest tournament to take place outside the UK when the first staging of the International Open kicks off in Chengdu China.With a top prize of £125.000 it is not speaking out of turn to suggest that this tournament will if not rival the UK Championship in the years to come it will certainly sit along side it in terms of prestige.

The other element of this tournament which is to welcomed is the fact that the whole way through the matches will be over the slightly longer format with all matches to the semi best of 11 and the semi's best of 17 over two sessions.This is a format I have always liked as the difference between best of 9 and best of 11 is massive especially from a psychological .point of view to a player trailing 3-1 at the interval.In this era of everything been turned into bitesize it's nice to on occasion have a bit of slow burning drama.

Of course this tournament was to have seen the return to action in a full ranking event of our reigning World Champion Ronnie O Sullivan for the first time since that victory in the Crucible but he much to the disappointment of the organizers and fans withdrew at the last minute on medical advice.This came on the back of an article earlier in the week where he was quoted as regretting entering this run of tournaments and again talking about retirement.AS I have said in the past lets hope Ronnie does return to health soon and gets back to the level he displayed in lifting the World title as Ronnie in top form is still the most breathe taking sight we will ever see in snooker.

Of the player who have made it there will be plenty who feel they have a real chance of lifting the top prize. Among these will be John Higgins who play superbly in lifting the Shanghai Masters last month and indeed the man he beat in that final Judd Trump who di very little wrong.Another man in form is Mark Allen who showed his wellbeing in Antwerp with a fine display to win that EPTC event.

If we are talking about players in form you can't but mention Stuart Bingham who produced on of the evenings of his life on Thursday night when he withewashed both Mark Selby  and Neil Robertson 6-0 in the Premier League. If the saying is true that success breeds success then he surely must be on a high coming in here and will take someone playing well to beat him. 

You can't preview a tournament in China without mentioning Ding Junhui despite his poor record in his homeland but surely he will put this to right at some stage and there would never be a better week then this.

I could go through maybe another half dozen names and not mention the winner here but I'm not going to.Instead I will lokk forward to some early mornings this week and the excellent coverage on Eurosport of a tournament that could herald a major change in the way snooker is seen in Asia.Keep an eye out for my daily updates from Tuesday on.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Reardon at 80 and Paul Hunter remembered

For all the bad press that social networks get these days and perhaps rightly so at times their are instances where they prove their worth by allowing people the chance to mark certain events.That was the case this week as Snooker fans paid tribute to two men whose contribution to the game will never be forgotten,

The first of  these is Ray Reardon who on Monday celebrated his 80th birthday. I am of course too young to remember Ray in his prime so my memories are of him towards the end of his career but his record speaks for itself. You don't win six World Championships beating the players he did without been an excellent player  .

Like all great champions he knew how to win and didn't wilt when the pressure was on.He was the best player in the world and carried himself as such.He was also it seems not adverse to using a little bit of psychology.In Steve Davis's autobiography from 1981 he tells the story of a match he played against him as a teenager in a round robin pro/am.By the time these two had met Davis knew he only needed to win one frame of the four in the match to advance but having lost the first two Reardon had a heated argument with the ref about the position of the reds for the break off.This resulted in the balls been re racked a total of six times before Reardon eventually broke.By this stage the young Davis's concentration had completely gone and he exited the tournament losing the match 4-0.but with a valuable lesson learnt.

Of course Davis would go onto dominate the game in the 80's and I think perhaps unfairly the achievements of Reardon became quickly overlooked by the new generation of snooker fan much in the way Davis's achievements are by the current generation.

Regardless of this I think whenever snooker minds meet to discuss the games greatest players Ray Reardon deserves his place near the top on every list.

Unfortunately the other player remembered this week would not get the chance to fulfill his undoubted destiny in the game. I refer of course to Paul Hunter. Tuesday. marked the sixth anniversary of his passing and it is still a day no snooker fan will forget,

My first memory of seeing Paul play would have been an early round UK Championship against Hendry at the top of his game. I can't remember the year but I do remember Paul lead after the first session before Hendry asserted in the night session.The result didn't matter though,it was the style of this kid still in his teens that caught the eye.He seemed to have that rare ability to flow around the tables that only the very best possess.

He will rightly be remembered for his three final frame victories in the Masters where he first became the darling of the red tops with his infamous "Plan B" victory over Fergal O Brien as well as his three ranking event victories but the memory of him that will always stick with me came in the 2003 World Championship.In his semi final with Ken Doherty he lead 15-9 going into the last session but in one of the most extraordinary sessions ever seen at the Crucible  Doherty fought back to win 17-16.Anyone would have forgiven Paul for wanting the ground to open up and swallow him and probably inside he did as well but outwardly he gave Ken a smile and took the defeat with grace and dignity.

This told me all I needed to know about the character of the man.Of course its impossible to predict how his career would have panned out I find it hard to believe he wouldn't have at least challenged for the games top honours.

Lets take a moment this week to reflect on what these two great men have done for the sport we love.