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Monday, 9 December 2013

UK Championship Final + thoughts on the tournament

Neil Robertson last night joined the exclusive club who have won snookers triple crown,when he completed a stunning comeback to beat Mark Selby 10-7 and claim the 2013 UK Championship title.

This result had looked unlikely early on as it was Selby who was the quicker out of the blocks,winning the opening frame with a break of 130 and establishing a 5-1 lead with the Aussie seemingly unable to settle.
From here the last two frames of the session were going to be all important and it was Robertson who took them,to leave the arena a much relieved man only trailing now 5-3.

Into the evening and it was Selby who took the opener to go 6-3, but it was to be last frame for a while as Robertson upped a gear to take the next 5 in a row and establish an 8-6 advantage.Selby to his credit stopped the rot in the next to close to 8-7 and in a dramatic next really should have drawn level at 8-8 but he missed a crucial final black,leaving it in the jaws.Robertson tapped it home to go 9-7 up and duly won the next to secure the title.

This win secured that the Aussie would end the calendar year as the world's no.1 ranked player and such has been his consistency in ranking events in 2013,.Few could argue that he doesn't deserve that position.

For Selby he will be disappointed he couldn't defend his title.but he can look back with satisfaction of the way he defended his crown.Its probably fair to say he has yet to rediscover his best form of a couple of seasons back,but he has certainly shown enough in recent weeks to indicate it might not be far away.

So what of the tournament itself.Well as we all know this was the first time we have used the flat 128 draw for this tournament and those in favour of it will point to the fact that 14 of the top 16 seeds reached the last 16,so the best players still come through.but that for me is not the issue.

No for me the problem was the chaotic and confusing  nature of the first week of action,indeed this only started to feel like the UK Championship when we reached the two table set up last Wednesday.This may just be my old traditionalist tendencies coming out,but it is still something of a concern in what is the games second biggest prize.I contrast this with the World Championship where,thanks to the qualifiers now been broadcast on the internet,we can get gripped by that Crucible fever a week before the action even starts on the BBC.

Another problem I found last week was that thanks to the BBC,whatever its faults, this is one of the sports few terrestrial outings in the UK each year and for the first four days the casual snooker fan was"treated"to a series of either totally one sided matches between our top players and lower ranked opposition or even if it were a close match it been mainly down to a below par performance from the higher ranked player.Is this really taking advantage of one of the rare times our sport is actually in the shop window?

Anyway regardless of the complaints it appears that this format is here to stay.Lets just hope,that despite some of the bravado from Barry Hearn over the last week,that the powers that be do actually listen to the  genuine grievances some of the players have expressed..Lets also hope that,though probably inevitable, this change doesn't come to the World Championship for many more seasons.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

UK Championship Semi Final round up +Final preview.

So here we are,after 12 days of action and 126 matches played we are down to the last two men standing in the 2013 UK Championship and they just happen to be the current World no.1 & 2,Neil Robertson & Mark Selby.Who says the flat draw makes it all a lottery!

Both these men have of course very special reasons to want to lift this trophy on Sunday night.For Robertson it would mean joining the select club who have won the games three top prizes,having already added the World Championship & The Masters to his cv and for Selby it would see him joining an even more exclusive club of those who have successfully defended the UK title,this a feat only Steve Davis a Stephen Hendry have achieved in the past.

Before we get in to the final itself lets look briefly back at how they got through their semi finals..

First man to reach the final was Robertson,but only after he came through a real thriller with Stuart Bingham.
The afternoon session of this one gave no indication of what was to come as a series of scrappy frames that could have gone either way but it was the Aussie who lead at the end of it 5-3

Into the evening and Robertson seemed to be coasting to victory when he won the opening three frames to go 8-3. Bingham won the next to at least force the mid session interval but no alarm bells would have been ringing for Robertson just yet.That however would start to change in the next as with the scores close & Robertson in control of the safety battle on the colours,Bingham fluked the green out of a snooker and cleared to make it  8-5.This was the spark Bingham needed as he became a changed man,striding around the table confidently and making it 8-6,8-7 & then unbelievably 8-8.

Robertson's head at this stage must have been all over the place,so it is a measure of the man that he managed to pull together a telling contribution 59 when his chance arose and although this didn't see him fully over the line he managed to later pot the final red to seal the win 9-8.

Selby made it through to the final with a 9-5 win over Ricky Walden that will be remembered not for the quality of snooker both player produced,but for the a remarkable piece of history in frame seven.After what had been a pretty scrappy opening six frames that saw Selby hold a 4-2 lead he knocked in the opening red in the next,finished on the back and went on to complete the 100th 147 in professional snooker,the crowning moment of which was a fabulous final black to the middle pocket.The crowd rose to their feet to applaud what they had just seen as this moment of magic changed what had been a forgettable afternoon of snooker into one they'd never forget.To top it off Selby also added the last of the session to lead 6-2.

Coming out tonight then Walden knew he needed a good start but despite some good openings he just couldn't get going and Selby cruised into an 8-2 lead.Walden to his credit dug in to win the next three to make it 8-5 but Selby finished the job with a classy century to book his place in the final winning 9-5.

So what kind of final can we expect then.Well in this modern era of the game where we are told its all attack, we have two players in Robertson and Selby whose style of play would have fitted in to any era of the game.I really don't think either man this week has played at their peak,but in many ways the fact they have still both reached the final shows just how good they are.Certainly neither player will lose this final because they just gave up.

For that reason,I think we are in for a very close match that could very well require the full 19 frames to decide who lifts the trophy.As for the winner,well I just have a feeling it will be our defending champion Mark Selby writing his name in the history books,but I could be wrong!!

Friday, 6 December 2013

UK Championship Q/F roumd up

Four men remain in the hunt to be crowned UK champion this Sunday after a day  of high drama at the Barbican Centre yesterday.

Stuart Bingham showed once again that he is someone we have to take seriously when it comes to  challenging for the games big titles with a thrilling 6-4 win over Ronnie O'Sullivan. Coming in to any match with Ronnie the most important thing any player can do is get off to a good start an that is exactly what Stuart did taking the opening two frames and then going interval with a 3-1 lead.

He extended that lead to 4-1 before the inevitable O'Sullivan fightback begun.Two qucikfire frames saw him close the gap to just one at 4-3 Bingham was starting to show a few signs of nerves at this stage but held himself together well to move to the brink at 5-3.Ronnie wasn't finished yet as another century closed to 5-4 ,but Bingham had enough in the tank to seal the win in the next and record a famous 6-4 win.

This was only the second time Bingham has beaten Ronnie and he fully deserved this win.As is the case though when you reach the semi finals of such an event as this,the task doesn't get any easier and he now faces.perhaps the player of the tournament so far,Neil Robertson

Robertson was again in supreme form as he raced to a 4-0 lead over Stephen Maguire.The Scot to be fair to him wasn't enjoying the best run of the ball,but managed to at least stop the rot winning the next to trail 4-1.The next two frames were shared before Robertson sealed his place in the semi final wining in the end 6-2.

Now we are at the semi final stage f course the matches revert to best of 17 and I think that will be significant factor in the outcome of this one.As well as Bingham did yesterday to hold off Ronnie,I just don't see him been able to sustain that over two sessions against Robertson and I expect the Aussie to win this score prediction Robertson 9 -5 Bingham

On the other side of the draw Mark Selby remained on course to become only the third player in the games history to successfully defend this title in a real late night thriller with Barry Hawkins.

Selby won the opening frame in this one,but it was Hawkins,who has a good recent record against Selby  who took the next three to go to the interval leading 3-1.Hawkins.The following two frames were shared before a key moment in the next.Hawkins looked like going 5-2 up but a missed red allowed Selby to do what Selby does as he cleared up to make it 4-3.Hawkins to his credit,managed to refocus taking the next to lead 5-3.

Selby though  has not achieved the success he has had in recent years purely by playing quality snooker.but also because he has a never say die attitude which means he is never beaten until the final ball is potted.He showed that here once again,as he won the next two to level at 5-5 and force the decider.That decider was a long 50 minute affair which Selby always seemed in control of.That said there threatened to one last sting in the tail as Selby failed to get out of a snooker and left a free ball,that if converted would have allowed Hawkins to win but he missed his nominated pink and it a few shots later it was all over.Selby winning 6-5

His semi final opponent will be Ricky Walden who beat Mark Allen a a one sided match 6-2.The first two frames were shared in this one before Walden moved in to a 3-1 lead .Allen was clearly out of sorts and it emerged at the interval that he had discover problems with the ferrule just before the match.Some more running repairs delayed the resumption of play but he still could never get going and Walden quickly put this one to bed to book his semi final place.

This semi final has the look of one that could develop in to one of those close late night encounters.Walden has played some very good snooker here this week and whereas Selby has not been at his supreme best he will be hard to beat at this stage of the tournament.For that reason  I think Selby will edge this one
score prediction Selby 9-7 Walden

We are now down to a one table with the first of semi finals between Bingham & Robertson taking place today and the other tomorrow,A great weekend of snooker awaits.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Uk Championship Q/F preview + predictions

Last 16 day at the UK Championship and today we saw the games big names just start to flex their muscles but also the end of a dream run for one

Ding Junhui came into this tournament as the man of the season so far thanks to his victories in the last three full ranking events,but that amazing run came to an end today at the hands of Ricky Walden.This one ebbed and flowed each way as Walden saw his early 3-1 become 3-3 before he once again stretched ahead  5-3.Ding produced a wonderful 135 to get back within one a 5-4 before a tense 52 min frame went the way of Walden to put him through to the Quarters and a clash with Mark Allen.

Allen reached the last 8 with a 6-4 victory over Judd Trump in a match that never really reached the heights we were expecting,indeed early on,such was the poor quality of Allen's play that he was lucky to be only trailing 4-2. At this stage though the Ulsterman showed the all round player he has become as he came back to win the last four in a row and seal the win 6-4

Score prediction This is a hard match to call as both players are on their day very capable players,but I just feel Allen may have that little bit extra here and he may come through in a close finish.
 Allen 6-4 Walden

 I think its fair to say anyone watching snooker for the first time this week having heard of this Ronnie O'Sullivan character will have been wondering what the fuss was about as he has just done enough in his early matches to win,but that changed tonight as he visibly upped a gear to dismiss Robert Milkins 6-0 in only 68 mins.Really extraordinary stuff.

His opponent in the last 8 will be Stuart Bingham who brought the run of Ireland's David Morris to an end in convincing style with a comfortable 6-1 win.

Score Prediction This one will be a rematch of the recent Champion of Champions final which Ronnie narrowly won but I don't think this one will be as close. O'Sullivan 6-2 Bingham

When Ronnie was sweeping his way into the last 8 on one table Neil Robertson was doing the same on the other table as he produced a dominant display to beat Joe Perry 6-1.Robertson has been a scoring machine and will be hard to stop here as he aims to complete a career grand slam of our Major tournaments.

Standing in his way here will be Stephen Maguire who came through an all Scottish tussle with John Higgins.This one was close early on with the score at 2-2 as they went to their mid session interval,but it was Maguire who stepped it up when play resumed and he forged away to a 6-3 win,in the process moving to the top of the high break table with a total clearance of 142.

Score Predictions Another close match in prospect here with Maguire seemingly rediscovering his best form as the tournament goes on.That said though the Aussie is in superb form of late and I expect him to win this Robertson 6-4 Maguire 

Meanwhile the defending champion Mark Selby is,after what had been a slow start to the week,just beginning to move through the gears as he reached the Quarter finals with a 6-2 win over Graeme Dott.

Selby is one of those players who gets harder to beat the further in to a tournament he gets and he will have to be at his best again in the next round when he faces Barry Hawkins who eventually edged Murphy in a late finish last night 6-5. This was a real old fashioned thriller with the scores going 2-2 & 4-4 before Hawkins won a 50 minute frame to lead 5-4.Back came Murphy to draw level.but it was Hawkins who won the decider with nerveless break of 70.

Score Predictions This is another tough match to call.That said I do expect Selby to win it but he can't afford to get off to as slow a start as he has on some occasions this season.Still though I think the Leicsterman will have enough to win this one Selby 6-3 Hawkins

All in all then a fascinating days snooker ahead,I can't wait

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

UK Championship Day 8.The smoke finally clears

There is an old saying in horse racing that goes "the bigger the field the bigger the certainty" and whereas that has never really made sense to me in a gambling way,it certainly seems to be ringing true in this years UK Championship,as the starting field of 128 has whittled  its way down to 16 with the majority of the games big names still in the running to be crowned the 2013 champion.

It has been argued in places that now we are down to two tables in the main arena,that this is where the tournament really starts and it is difficult to argue with that assessment.Whatever the arguments for or against the flat 128 draw,one of the things that will have to be looked at are the congested and down right confusing opening few days where it proved almost impossible to follow what was happening even for those of us who were actually making a real effort too.I can't imagine what the casual snooker follower made of it.

So that said,what of those big names we talked of?Well coming in the games current big four of Ronnie,Ding Robertson & Selby looked to be the favourites for this and each still remain in the hunt as we reach the business end of things.It's probably fair to say none of them have played up to the level we have gotten used to recently,but in truth they haven't needed too against opponents who haven't really pushed them.That will change from now on though as the opponents get tougher.

If the title doesn't  go to one of these men,the next group .to look at are the other course and distance winners in the field and we also have four of them left with John Higgins,who has made his way quietly through to this stage away from the tv tables,Stephen Maguire who,despite his dislike of the format,has shown a real desire to stick around with a couple of good comebacks,Shawn Murphy who has started to find his game again after a poor season so far and Judd Trump who has possibly put in the best performance of anyone here this week in the last round against Xiao Guodong.indeed his match against Mark Allen looks to be the tie of the round.

In one of the rare sections of the draw that did open up following Marco Fu's shock exit in round one it is Irelands David Morris who has come through to continue what has been a really good season so far for the man who had to requalify through Q School having fallen off the main tour.His run in the Wuxi Classic during the summer proved what a talent this young man is and he is very much starting to establish himself as Irelands number 1.He faces a tough test in the next round though against Stuart Bingham,but I really don't think a result here is beyond him.

The first of the last 16 matches get underway tonight and by tomorrow evening we will be down to the final 8.By then things really will have started to get serious and the controversies of the opening few days will,at least temporarily,be put to one side as we wait to hail our  champion on Sunday. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

UK Championship Day 5 First round finally comes to an end!

Five days into the 2013 UK Championship and although over 70 matches have now been played,the talk so far has had very little to do with the action on the table,with the new structure dominating the headlines.

The decision to change the games second biggest tournament to the flat 128 system was always going to be controversial and if the powers that be were hoping that once it started those fears would disappear,they were very much mistaken as a succession of big names lined up to complain about everything from the new format to cramped playing conditions.

The most vocal of these were were probably Judd Trump who called it a circus,Ali Carter who was disappointed with the way the tables were squeezed in and Stephen Maguire who reckoned the tournament had now been ruined,but these were by no means the only ones.

It was not only among the players though that this debate was raging but also among the twitter community on social media where opinion ranged from those dead against the changes,to those fully behind them and every other emotion in between.

Personally I  think its too early to tell if this is the right thing or not.Certainly teething problems with such a radical change are to be expected,but I hope & expect,with our sports current management,that all sides and opinions from the players will be listened to with a view to improving things for everyone.

So what of the snooker itself? Well yes we had a few minor upsets during the week but nothing exceptional apart from the exit of Marco Fu at the hand of amateur Mitchell Travis.The rest of the big stars all made it through round 1 but defending champion Mark Selby was made to work very hard by promising young prospect Shane Castle,with the 15 year old leading at one stage 3-1 before Selby eventually went through 6-4.Surely a player we will be hearing about for many years to come.

On the plus side the crowds at The Barbican seemed to good today so hopefully as the field thins out over the next few days the headlines will be purely about the what is happening on the 12x6 tables.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

UK Championship preview

For all the competitive action we are spoiled with these days there are certain events still that will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of snooker fans and the UK Championship which began on York today is one of them.

The big change this year of course is that the flat 128 draw which means everyone entering the tournament at the first round stage.This is a system that is already in use in all PTC events and now in most ranking events,but it remains to be seen how it will work here in a tournament that is only second to the World Championship in terms of prestige.I do understand the logic of everyone starting on an equal footing,but I have to say,I personally am yet to be convinced it is the right thing for this tournament.

Anyway it is the way it is this year and for all the fact we will start today with 128 players in the draw it will be something of a minor shock if the winner doesn't come from the four men at the top of the betting market.

These are of course Ronnie O'Sullivan,Ding Junhui,Neil Robertson & Mark Selby

Lets start with Ronnie then.Last May,after a year out,he swept aside everyone to claim his fifth world title and just last weekend he won the Champion of Champions event playing at probably 75% of his powers.Ok this might be a slight over simplification of things but the fact is, if the Ronnie of the last two Crucibles turns up,he will be very much the man they all have to beat.

If for whatever reason Ronnie isn't at his best the player who may well take advantage is  Ding Junhui,who has been enjoying the season of his life so far,having collected the tours last three ranking titles.Ding also has two UK Championship titles to his name but he is arguably playing a higher standard now then when he won those titles.Certainly I feel he is better equipped  to deal mentally with the pressures involved  in digging out results if needs be and he will be a handful here for whoever he plays.

There was a story told by Neil Robertson last year where in a late night discussion with Stephen Hendry the legendary Scot had described Robertsons break building was amateurish.Well this certainly seems to have been the wake up call the Aussie needed as his break building this season has been phenomenal.He has already amassed a staggering 50 century breaks this season and is well on course to smash the current record of 61.This together with what was already a sound all round tactical game has seen him stretch his lead at the top of the world rankings.There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge first but a potential semi final clash with Ronnie is a mouth watering prospect.

No preview of the favourites for this event would be complete without mentioning our defending champion Mark Selby.This time last year Selby was just entering a period brief domination that would see him lift this crown and follow it up with  PTC success and then the Masters title in January,since then though he has  slightly gone off the boil and seemed to be really struggling in the early part of this season. A solid run in the International Championship last month gave a indication that he was beginning to find his form again and victory over Ronnie in the final of the Ruhr Open confirmed it. Also in his favour here are the slightly longer matches.He is one of those player who the longer he stays in an event the harder he is to beat.

As I have said,these are the men in form but it would be dangerous to dismiss out of the hand the chances of former winners John Higgins,Shaun Murphy,Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire as well as recent double PTC winner Mark Allen.

All in all we are in for an interesting 13 days of action with coverage commencing on the BBC & Eurosport on Saturday

Monday, 25 November 2013

Ronnie O'Sullivan is the Champion of Champions

Given his dominance of the last two world championships,perhaps it is appropriate that Ronnie O'Sullivan is the first winner of this new Champion of Champions event,but boy was he made to work for it by Stuart Bingham in a tense days action at the Ricoh Arena.

Following his late night deciding frame victories over Ding & Robertson the previous two evenings Ronnie came into the final as a heavy favourite to lift the crown,but it was Bingham who made the perfect start taking the opening frame with a century.Ronnie then toook the next two and looked set to make it three in a row before Bingham nicked the last before the interval to make it 2-2.

There were real signs now that Ronnies exertions in the previous rounds had taken a toll on him and Bingham was doing what he had to do in taking full advantage to move into a 5-3 lead with his second century of the day.The last frame of the session was now vitally important and it was to go to  Ronnie with a classy 130 break to set up an exciting evening session.

On the afternoons evidence it looked unlikely that either player would pull away with this match and so it proved  in a tense evening session where the lead changed hands again and again.

Firstly Ronnie took the opening two frames to lead 6-5 before Bingham responded to go 7-6.Ronnie again took the next two to lead 8-7.Bingham did manage to level things again at 8-8 before Ronnie dug deep once more,to take the two frames he needed and seal the 10-8 victory

This win typified everything we have come to expect from Ronnie in recent seasons.There were definite stages in this one where the Ronnie of old would have thrown his head in the air and buckled,but we just don't see that these days.Instead he put his head down and ground out a win under difficult circumstances.

As for Stuart,once the disappointment of defeat subsides he can look back at another fine weeks work where he not only claimed the scalps of Judd Trump & Mark Seby but also pushed the world champ as much as anyone could in a final.There was a time when Bingham reaching the business end of tournaments was considered a shock,but such has his stock risen in recent years that that is certainly no longer the case.He is now one of a band of players capable of challenging for any tournament he enters.

So what of the tournament itself. Well a new tournament,especially an invitational one,in an already full calendar  was always a risky move,but \I think this one has been met with universal approval.The venue looked to be made for snooker,the crowds were great all week,The players seemed to like the format and responded with some high quality play and ITV4's coverage,especially the commentary team lead by Clive Everton(what were the BBC thinking) and supported by Neal Foulds &Alan McManus,was beyond superb.All in all a fabulous tournament that,on this evidence will quickly establish itself as one of the highlights of the season.

Finally lets once again salute our champion.I think few would argue that this was Ronnie at his supreme best but he battled hard and thoroughly deserved his win. The fact that this wasn't him at the peak of his powers and yet he still managed to beat the seasons two best players so far (Ding & Robertson) on his way to the title will surely leave everyone else shaking there heads and wondering how they can stop this man.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Champion of Champions semi finals preview

If a tournaments future is decided purely on what we see on the table then the future of this Champion of Champions event is certainly assured after a week of high drama and superb snooker at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry that has left us with two fascinating semi final clashes today.

First up we have Mark Selby v Stuart Bingham.

With all that has gone on since it seems an age since Mark Selby became the first player to reach the semi finals last Tuesday,but we shouldn't forget just how well the Leicester man is starting to pay now after,what for him had been a quiet start to the season.He arrived here hot on the heels of a thrilling victory in the Antwerp Open,where he beat Ronnie in the final and looked sharp again here in firstly beating Shaun Murphy 4-2 and then defeating Stephen Maguire 6-3.

Stuart Bingham has of course in recent seasons been enjoying a level of form rarely seen in his career previously and he showed again signs of that form in easily dismissing Ricky Walden 4-0 before then comfortably beating a clearly low on confidence Judd Trump 6-2.

So who is going to win it? Well in this one I just have a feeling that Selby is beginning to find his best form again and that he will be too strong for Bingham here score prediction 6-2

The other semi final is between two of the games real giants as Neil Robertson faces Ronnie O'Sullivan.

This one is a clash of two reprieved both were on the verge of elimination in the previous rounds.Robertson firstly took his time to wake up against Matrin Gould,trailing in this 3-1 before finding some form to win it 4-3 and then later,in as high a quality match as you are likely to see.he edged past Ali Carter 6-5.

Ronnie on the other hand swept through his first game against Mark Davis 4-0.before facing the man of the season so far Ding Junhui.This was another real cracker with Ding showing why he has won so much lately,taking advantage of some mistakes by Ronnie to lead 3-0.Ronnie did start to play a bit better then but still looked bang up against it when he trailed 5-3.Here he showed though just how much he has that will to battle these days and produced two quick fire frames to level at 5-5 and force the decider.

Into the decider then and it was ding who drew first blood with a 50 before Ronnie looked set to produce one of his classic match winning clearances  only to inexplicably miss match ball blue,Both players had a couple of goes at it then,but it was Ronnie who prevailed to get through 6-5.

This is a sei final to call as both players are capable of such a high standard.Roberson has a victory over Ronnie in a recent PTC event,but that will count for little here over the longer distance.I just have a feeling in this one Ronnie might edge but it will be close.We could even be looking at another 6-5.

So there we have it,a super semi final line for what has been a superb week of snooker action

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Round up of recent events

Deep into November we move then and with the the UK Championship looming large on the horizon,some of the games big stars are beginning to find some form.

First up Mark Allen made it back to back PTC event victories,when he followed up his triumph in last months Ruhr Open with another fine performance,this time beating Judd Trump to win the Kay Suzanne Memorial Cup.

Allen with a trophy is something many of expected to see a lot of when he burst on the scene a number of years back but for various reasons this hasn't happened.This of course is something that can be said about a lot of players who are just on the margins of the very top of the game but with Allen the problem,especially in the last twelve months,has seemed more then anything else to be the fact that players seem to play their absolute best against him,One thing we do know is that success breeds success,so hopefully now he can take the step up to challenge for the games top titles.I have always felt he that he certainly has a Masters title in him.

As well as seeing Allen triumph here,it was also nice to see Trump back playing well again.The reasons for his lack of form this season has been the subject of much speculation in social media circles,but really in this modern era no player is going to be able to sustain top form all the time and it was only a matter of time before he found his game again,

Just how sharp his game is getting was again evident in Antwerp at the weekend where,although he lost to Mark Selby in a decider he did record his first professional 147 during the match

Talking of Selby he was also someone who had fallen off the radar a little of late,but he did enjoy.a good run at the recent International Championship and with his defence of his UK Championship title just around the corner he warmed up nicely this weekend by beating Ronnie O'Sullivan to win the Antwerp Open.

Many look on these PTC events in europe as testing ground for full ranking events in the future and if this weekend is anything to go by the Belgian public can look forward to seeing a lot more snooker action, as they once again turned out in their droves to see the games stars in person.

As a reward for their support the local crowds got a really great weekend of action that ended with a superb final that went all the way to the deciding frame.This had looked unlikely when Ronnie took the fourth frame to lead 3-1 but Selby as we know never gives up and he fought back to 3-3 to set up the grandstand finish.In that decider it looked as though Selbys efforts were going to be in vain as Ronnie got in,but a surprising missed black gave Mark the chance and he duly cleared up to win the title.

Into this week we go then and the action continues to come thick and fast as ITV4 gives terrestrial coverage to the first staging of the Champion of Champions tournament.This,as the name suggests brings together all the tournament winners for the past twelve months to compete for the £100,000 top prize.This also brings an interesting new format to the table with essentially each quarter been completed on each of four days with semi finals on Saturday and a two session final on Sunday.

Some have raised concerns about how close this tournament is to the UK Championship which begins on the 26th of the month,but surely there is no better quality practice these players could have then playing other top stars under match conditions.

Here's hoping we see good crowds,good snooker and every reason for ITV to try and extend their renewed interest in the sport.

Finally if all this snooker action isn;t enough,why not have a look at Steve Davis in the Jungle as he competes on I'm a Celebrity get Me Out of Here......God help us!! 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Internation Championship final round up + Thoughts

Ding Junhui yesterday added the 2013 International Championship title to his recent victories in Shanghai & India to make it three ranking titles on the bounce,but boy was he made to work for it,as Marco Fu pushed him all the way in what was a final of the highest quality.

As has been quoted many time over the last few days,this was the first time somebody has claimed three ranking events in a row since the great Stephen Hendry won five in a row in 1990.This was of course at a time when Hendry  dominated the game.much as Davis had done in the decade before. It is unlikely we will ever see this sort of domination over a long period of time again,but maybe now with so many tournaments, short bursts of invincibility,like we have seen from Ding over the last month, will become the modern version of dominance.

This has truly been a glorious period for Ding.He has always been a joy to watch in the balls(every bit as beautiful to witness building a break as O'Sullivan & Higgins) but he now seems to have the all round game that perhaps hasn't been there in the past.His temperament under pressure had,with in fairness some justification, been questioned but I think those doubts can now be put to bed after coming through the sternest of tests here in the final.

On to the match then and what a match it was. Fu started the brighter of the two,winning the opening two frames.Ding eventually got off the mark in the third before Fu won the next to go to midsession interval 3-1.We have often seen how a interval can change things as Ding emerged to play what can only be described as flawless snooker as breaks of 92,138,127 & 126 moved him into the lead at 5-3.Fu to his credit managed to win the next to finish the session  just 5-4 down.

Into the evening then and Ding was quick out the blocks with another century,his fifth of the match,to move 6-4,but Fu ha also grown in confidence since his Australian Open win and fought back to level at 6-6.

In a match that was now quickly becoming a classic Fu edged ahead again at 7-6 before Ding responded to make it 7-7.This pattern continued into the next two frames with the score becoming 8-8 before a dramatic hour long 17th frame went to Fu leaving him just one from the title at 9-8.As we've said earlier though this is a very different Ding these days and the Chinese superstar held his nerve to win the next making it 9-9 and forcing a decider.From here he was not to be denied as,to the delight of the crowd,he wrapped up the title with a run of 91.

A great final then to cap a great week of snooker action.When this tournament first staged last year,with the longer match format it was presumed it was done so with the hope of it eventually becoming a major to rank along side the UK Championship.Of course the advantage to "UK" has is long a history,but things have to start somewhere and if it continues to serve up finals of the quality we have seen these last two years then it wont be long before it has a a rich history of its own to look at.

As for the finalist, although ultimately falling short Fu can be rightly proud of his performance.he has always been a player with great ability but has lacked the consistency needed to win the titles his talents deserve.There have been signs this season though that he has rectified these problems and if he has he will be a dangerous opponent for anyone he meets.

Ding however continues to ride the crest of a wave.His play over the last month has been phenomenal,not just his break building but also in his approach to the game.He has been the standard bearer for Chinese snooker for so long now you tend to forget he is only 26.His emergence all those years ago sparked the Chinese love affair with the game which has seen so many more players come through albeit none of them quite at Dings level.If continues to improve now,(something which is entirely possible as he is now theoretically only coming into his prime) he may well be the man to beat come the Crucible next April.We can only imagine what the first Chinese World Champion would do for the game!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

International Championship Semi Finals round up.

The final of the International Championship will be an all Asian affair as Ding Junhui battles it out with Marco Fu over the best of 19 frames to see who will be crowned the 2013 champion.

Ding made it three ranking event finals in a row with a fine 9-7 win over Greame Dott in what was a high quality match.There wasn't much in this one early on as they went to the interval at 2-2 before Ding managed to edge the next mini session to move ahead 5-3 at the end of the session.

That lead became 7-3 as Ding threatened to pull right away but Dott has always been a fighter and started to find some form,knocking in three consecutive breaks of 70 plus to close within one again at 7-6.In the past Ding might have crumbled at this stage,but he is a very different character these days and produced a lovely 121 break to move to within one of victory at 8-6.

Dott wasn't finished though and won the next to make it 8-7 before looking set to force the decider when he built a big lead in the next only for Ding to produce as wonderful a 63 clearance as you will ever see under pressure to win the frame on the black and secure the win.

This of course not only puts Ding into his third consecutive ranking final but it also puts him on the verge of winning his third ranking title in a row.Just what an achievement that would be can be measured by the fact that it is 23 years since someone last did this and that someone was Stephen Hendry at the height of his powers.

The man who stands in Dings way of course is Maco Fu after he came through a real battle with Joe Perry that went all the way to the decider.The standard in this was perhaps not of the high level we had in todays semi final but what it lacked in quality it certainly made up for in drama.

It was  Perry here had the early advantage in this one,leading 5-3 after the opening session but Fu started the brighter in the evening and he quickly reeled off three in a row to lead 6-5.Perry.Perry struck back in the next to level at 6-6 and from here on it turned into a bit of an old fashioned the next four were shared to make it 8-8 and force a decider,After all that had gone before,this was never going to be a clean kill and so it proved as both players had their chances before Fu finally came out on top of a battle on the colours.

So a fascinating final we have in store then,with Ding a strong favourite but in Fu someone who is capable of beating anyone when on song.After last years epic between Trump & Robertson we could well be in store for something the same again.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

International Championship Quarter Finals round up

Quarter final day in Chengdu produced high drama,tension.some top drawer snooker and one very late finish as eight became four in the quest to claim the 2013 International Championship title.

At the start of the day the pick of the four matches appeared to be the clash between Mark Selby and Marco Fu and so it proved as these two served up a thriller.This was on of those matches that swung both ways with Selby getting off to the better start,establishing an early 2-0 lead before Fu turned it around to lead 3-2.

From here Selby won three in a row to move within one of victory at 5-3.It looked likely that that victory would come in the next but he failed to make the most of a couple of really good chances and a tricky snooker wasn't enough to see him over the line as ,Fu somehow found his way out of it at the third attempt to swing the momentum his way..Fu would go on to win that frame and never looked back as breaks of 84 & 112 secured the two he needed to reach the semi final.

His semi final opponent will be Joe Perry who produced the performance of the day in beating Ryan Day 6-1.It was Day who won the opening frame but Perry drew level at 1-1 before producing a break building exhibition,which included three centuries,to run away with the next five and march into tomorrows best of 17 semi final.

The other semi final will feature tournament favourite Ding Junhui after he came through a real battle with Peter Ebdon 6-3..Ding had started the stronger taking the opening two frames to lead 2-0 before two long frames were shared to make it 3-1 at the interval.The pace of the match seemed to be getting to Ding at this stage and perhaps he was there for the taking but Ebdon just couldn't produce the heavy scoring that had been the hallmark of his victory over Neil Robertson yesterday.Despite this he did pull one back to trail 3-2 but Ding reeled off two quick frames to stand on the verge of victory at .5-2.One certainty in this game though is that you seldom get victory handed to you against Peter Ebdon and he pulled one more back to trail 5-3 before one final push from Ding saw him past the finish line 6-3.

His opponent in Saturdays semi final will be Graeme Dott after the Scot brought to an end the fine recent run of Liang Wenbo.This one was a pretty even contest early on,with the score level at 2-2 at the interval.but the story of this one was that of too many chances been offered up by Liang and even though he did win one further frame it was the 2006 world champion who came through 6-3

In an all to rare occurrence these days the semi finals will played over two sessions and best of 17 with Fu v Perry taking place tomorrow and Ding playing Dott on Saturday.The main question though as we head for the weekend is can anyone stop Dings march to a third ranking title in a row?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

International Championship Day Four.Last 16 round up.

Day Four in Chengdu and what a mixed bag it produced with some dominant performances and a couple of real thrillers.

With that in mind there is really only one place to start and that is with the match between the world no.1 Neil Robertson and former world champion Peter Ebdon. Robertson has been playing some really superb snooker of late,knocking in centuries for fun and when he opened up a 3-1 lead here with his 39th century of the season he looked to be in control. Ebdon though has never been one for rolling over and he came back with a fabulous 134 of his own to make it 2-3 and he soon made it 3-3 with a fine 87 in the next.

The momentum was now well and truly with the veteran as Robertson seemed to be feeling it.Another couple of 50 plus breaks saw Ebdon move within one of victory at 5-3  and indeed in the next a run 56 looked like becoming a match winner only for him to overcut a tricky red allowing Robertson the chance to counter. That is exactly what he did,digging deep to close to 5-4.Into the next and it was Robertson who struck first here with 68 before a counter from Ebdon just fell short when he missed the final pink.A few safties followed before Robertson potted a superb long pink to level at 5-5.

Into the decider then and in a thriller,both players had their chances,but it was the veteran Ebdon who came through to win 6-5.Ebdon is a player who has always divided opinion among the snooker public but today was certainly an example of everything that has been good about the former world champion and if I'm honest,I have always found it fascinating watching him construct a break.

He will need to once again be at his best in the quarter final though as he faces the man in form and home favourite Ding Junhui,who came through his match with Matthew Stevens in a canter winning 6-1. To be fair to the Welshman the scoreline doesn't tell the whole story of this one as,after a scrappy start the score could easily have been 2-2 at the interval.From here though Ding visibly upped a gear and was at his brilliant break building best running away with the last three frames he needed to secure the 6-1 win.The hat trick dream still very much alive.

Elsewhere the Zhao Xintong's amazing week came to an end when he ran in to an in form Marco Fu losing.6-2 but on all evidence here he is still a name to watch for.Fu now meets Mark Selby who also enjoyed a 6-1 win over Stuart Bingham.As I said yesterday Selby's progress this week has gone under the radar slightly but he one of those players who,the further he gets into a tournament the harder he is to beat.This one could really be cracker.

Meanwhile Liang .Wenbo followed up his fine victory over Ronnie with a runaway 6-1 defeat of Mark Davis. Its not that many years ago that Liang was expected to become the next prolific Chinese winner after Ding, but he seemed to lose his way and fell down the pecking order a bit.Ths season however he has shown a bit of a revival and winning last weeks Asian Tour event seems to have helped reignite his confidence.He will face now face Graem Dott in the last 8 after the Scot held off a late fightback from Kurt Maflin to go through 6-5

Talking of players who at one stage seemed destined to challenge for titles only to hit a slump in form, Ryan Day showed a welcome return to something near his best in beating Fergal O'Brien 6-3. He will face Joe Perry who also scored two centuries in beating Mark Allen 6-4

Down to the last 8 we are then with Ding perhaps a strong favourite for the title,but there will be plenty of twists and turns before the trophy is lifted on Sunday.

Last 8 draw
Ryan Day v Joe Perry
Marco Fu v Mark Selby
Peter Ebdon v Ding Junhui
Graeme Dott v Liang Wenbo

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

International Championship Day Three

One of the things we are constantly lead to believe is that all these tournaments with short frame formats are a lottery and that to really see the top players at their best we need longer frame formats.If that is indeed the case then what we have seen this week is further proof that the gap between those at the top and the rest is narrower then ever.

On a day of big stories the biggest of all of course was the defeat of the World Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan who went down 6-4 to Liang Wenbo.This had looked unlikely when Ronnie raced in to a 3-0 and he still looked a heavy favourite a 4-1,but a combination of perhaps Ronnie losing a little focus and Wenbo's growing confidence turned things around and he won five frames in a row to record the win.This was the first time he has beaten Ronnie and just how much it meant to him was obvious by the way he celebrated potting the match ball.His opponent in the last 16 will be Mark Davis who beat Stuart Carrington 6-3.

Of Course the man in form coming into this event,is home favourite Ding Junhui who this week is looking to complete that rarest of hat tricks,winning three ranking events on the bounce.Having survived a right tussle with fellow Chinese Cao Yupeng yesterday which he edged 6-5 Ding had to again here pull out all the stops to get past James Wattana,eventually sealing the win 6-3 in what was a highly entertaining match.He will now face Matthew Stevens who comfortably beat a badly out of sorts John Higgins 6-2.

The other story of recent weeks has been the astonishing break building form of Neil Robertson who racked up a further three centuries,including a high break equaling 143, in his 6 -1 win over Un-Nooh.That took his century total for the season to a remarkable 38 and if he keeps this up he will surely smash the current record which stands at 61.Robertson will face Peter Ebdon in the next round after the veteran edged past Mark Joyce 6-5.

With all this going on is easy to look past perhaps the most extraordinary performance this week which has been that of wildcard Zhao Xintong. Firstly the Chinese beat the recently crowned world senior champion Steve Davis 6-1 in the wildcard round,he followed that up with a 6-2 win over Craig Steadman and then today he beat last years Crucible runner up Barry Hawkins again by a scoreline of 6-1.Next up for him will be Australian Open winner Marco Fu who today beat Xiao Goudong 6-4.

In other matches Alan McManus couldn't repeat the performance which saw him eliminate the defending champion Judd Trump yesterday as he went down 6-4 to Ryan Day.Day will now face Fergal O'Brien after the Irishman came through,a match which was very much played at its own pace,beating Rod Lawler 6-4.

Mark Allen is also through after a hard fought victory over Dave Harold,the score 6-4 and he will face Joe Perry who beat David Gilbert 6-3.With all that has been going on former World no.1 Mark Selby has slipped in under the radar this week,but he is still very much alive in this tournament after beating Peter Lines today 6-4 and he will now face  Stuart Bingham who beat Martin Gould also 6-4

Finally rounding of a bad day for the golden generation Mark Williams went down 6-2 to Kurt Maflin who will now face Graeme Dott after the Scot beat Kyren Wilson 6-1.

Tomorrow see's the last 16 matches taking place which are bound to produce more stories in what already been a great week.

Last 16 draw
Ryan Day v Fergal O'Brien
Mark Allen  v Joe Perry
Zhao Xintong v Marco Fu
Stuart Bingham v Mark Selby
Neil Robertson v Peter Ebdon
Matthew Stevens v Ding Junhui
Grame Dott v Kurt Maflin
Mark Davis v Liang Wenbo

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Nugget wins World Seniors title

Steve Davis last night added the 2013 World Seniors title to his long list of snooker triumphs when he came from a frame down to edge past the defending champion Nigel Bond in the final.

This was a case of third time lucky for Steve in this event having lost out in previous finals to Jimmy White and Darren Morgan and it was obvious for all to see how much it meant to him to finally win it.

The other thing that was clear was how his game seemed to step up a notch the further he went through the tournament.This was particularly evident in the final where having gone behind he produced breaks of 66 & 68 to win the match.The fact he had a 95% pot success rate.albeit in a short format,proves once again as they say,that form is temporary but class is permanent.

Class of course is a word that could always be applied to Steve,not just for his displays on the table but also for the way he has always conducted himself off it.The sport of snooker could not ever wish for a finer ambassador.

The tournament itself proved to be a bit of a mixed bag with these legends producing some flashes of great snooker,but also at times some stuff that was hard to watch.This is something we just have to accept with these type of events as these are players who are largely lacking in match practice,but for all that it was still obvious on the table that these guys haven't lost that competitive instincts that made them great champions in the past.

Finally though lets again salute our champion. The one thing that struck me last night looking on Twitter was the outpouring of joy at seeing Steve,after all these years again holding aloft a trophy.As Dave Hendon said this morning in his excellent blog Steve is no longer merely respected by the snooker public he is now also loved. Surely its only a matter of time until we hear Arise Sir Steve.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Indian Open.A look back at an extraordinary week.

Ding Juhhui today became the first player in 10 years to win back to back ranking titles,when he proved too strong for the Aditya Mehta,beating the local favourite 5-0 to add the inaugural Indian Open title to last months Shanghai Masters,but for once the winner is only part of the story after a week that we could very well be looking back on in years to come as a pivotal moment in the games global expansion.

More of that later,but firstly lets talk about our champion. Last month Ding finally got the victory China he had been craving and the question was would he kick on and really make his mark this season?Well since then he has been runner up in the Ruhr Open to Mark Allen and again played some fabulous snooker this week beating,among others,the other form player Neil Robertson on his way to the final here.

In the final itself he was at his ruthless break building self as he quickly snuffed out any hopes of a home victory. The fact that is in indeed 10 years since someone did win back to back ranking titles shows just how well the Chinese is playing at the moment.He has always been an exceptional talent,having already won both Masters and UK titles,but you get the feeling now that he is just moving up to another level and can really challenge for the big one next May.

As I've said though Ding is only part of the story and in many ways how appropriately that he is,as it was his run to the title in the China Open that turned a then general interest into a national obsession with the sport.For Ding Junhui then,read Aditya Mehta no,as he enjoyed the week of his life to become the first Indian player to reach a ranking final.

To say this was a dream run is in no way overstating it,as along the way he beat former World Champions Peter Ebdon and Mark Williams,former UK champion Stephen Maguire and fellow Indian professional Padkaj Advani (who also had enjoyed something of a week himself reaching QF beating Mark Allen).

The final proved to be a step to far,but this is a week Mehta will never forget and he has proven.maybe as much to himself as anything else,that he can mix it with the big boys.Hopefully now both he and Advani can use the experience they've gained this week to really establish themselves as contenders for tournaments in the future.The sport in India certainly couldn't have two finer ambassadors.

As for the tournament itself,it can only be described as a marvelous success.Maybe I missed it but I don't remember any players complaining about the playing conditions,which is a rarity these days and it seemed to be played in front of practically full houses all week.I dare say we will be seeing the tour return to India in the near future.

Anyway onward we go with the Senior World Championship this weekend,Asian Tour event 3 next week followed by The international Championship in Chengdu starting next weekend where Judd Trump will be the defending champion and Ding will be looking for his third ranking title on the spin.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Shanghai Masters and Other News.

A week that saw snooker hit the headlines for stories we'd all rather not see,managed to finish on a real high yesterday in Shanghai as Ding Junhui came out on top of an all Chinese final,beating Xaio Guodong 10-6 to claim the 2013 Shanghai Masters title.

This was a long overdue success on home soil for Ding,who first announced himself on the world stage,when at the tender age of 17 he beat Stephen Hendry to win the 2005 China Open title.Thiat victory sparked a huge surge in interest in the sport in China and propelled Ding to national hero status.

If anyone had predicted then that it would take over 8 years for Ding to again claim another ranking title in his homeland they would have been laughed at,but the added pressure of an expectant nation seemed to wear heavily on his shoulders and since then,with very few exceptions,he has generally struggled when in front of his home crowd.

That was until this week where he played the best snooker of anyone in the tournament to lift the thoroughly deserved title.Maybe now with that monkey now removed from his back he can start producing the kind of snooker on a consistent at home that we are used to seeing over here.

Of course the other thing that victory in 2005 did was lead to wild predictions of a Chinese lead domination of the game taking place in the coming seasons.This we know as of yet has failed to materialize,despite a number of pretenders to Dings crown of Chinese no.1 emerging only to subsequently fall by the wayside.I do however feel that in Xiao Guodong we have someone who,if not a challenger for Dings no.1 spot,is certainly capable of  becoming the undisputed Chinese no.2.

Xiao showed great temperament here all week and didn't seem at all phased by playing in his first ranking final yesterday.Hopefully the experience he earned this week will serve him well over the rest of the season and he can become the player he undoubtedly has the ability to become

Away from the action on the table last week however one story dominated.

This sadly was the news that Stephen Lee had been found guilty on seven counts of match fixing and can expect a hefty penalty when his punishment is handed down on the 24th September.

I'm sure most of you by now will have read the findings so I'm not going to rehash them here except to say that with the evidence as it is presented,it is hard to see how any other conclusion could have been reached.It is here where the WPBSA must be commended.Over the past year the board have come in for plenty of criticism for the length of time the investigation was taking,but I have always firmly believed that time should never be a factor if something is been done properly. That certainly seems to be the case here.They must also be praised for the immediate release of the full findings to the public.This is the sort of transparency we've see all to little of in the past.

Of course,as is often the case in this modern social media world the story quickly moved on when Ronnie tweeted what amounted to nothing more then idle speculation about other unnamed players who may have been involved in match fixing at some stage or other. These vague utterances of nothingness were picked up immediately by media outlets and suddenly snooker it seemed had an epidemic of match crooked players.

Ronnie did retract his statement the next day,which is fair enough but by now he should realise that such is his stature in the game that if he says anything it will be jumped on and treated as gospel by a media desperate for any slice of scandal.That said if he does genuinely have any evidence of match fixing he should inform the authorities.

Speaking for myself I wouldn't suggest for one minute that the above case is the only time match fixing has occurred in the sport in recent times,but on the reverse side of that I don't believe,like that guy in the bookies who believes every race is fixed,that its as widespread as some believe. I expect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Onwards we go then and with the long bright evenings of summer now a fading memory the snooker season really can get going. I can't wait.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Nugget & I, A Fans Story

"How many times have I been here before" That was the  thought that went through my head last Thursday as the clock ticked past midnight  and Steve Davis completed his stirring comeback from 3-1 down to beat Jamie Jones 4-3 in the ET3 event in Doncaster.He would go on to the last 16 on Saturday where he was narrowly defeated 4-3 by Marco Fu,but that is not what I'm here to write about,rather this is an account of how in an ever changing world "The Nugget" has remained the one constant in my life for the last 35 yrs.

Thinking about it maybe is was always going to be thus,as September 1978 was not only the month Steve turned professional but also the month of my birth.This happy coincidence has meant my life has run in parallel with the career of the great man and boy what a career it has been.

Obviously at this remove it would be impossible to remember the exact moment I started to watch snooker and follow Steve,but I do have vivid memories of the "85" World final and was sufficiently interested in it to remember been possibly the only Irishman crying for Steve (I was only 7) when Taylor potted that black to lift the title.

My other memory from this time was a trip to Dublin on the eve of my First Holy Communion and walking half the city with my ever so patient parents,as we searched in vain for a blazer with a black waistcoat so I could look like the main man on my big day.To my disgust the nearest we could find was a maroon one which I refused to wear as it was too "Alex Higgins"!

Moving on the next thing to cross off the list was to see him play As i've said before i was lucky enough to live within a few miles of Goffs,the home of the Irish Masters,so to my delight that chance came in 1987 when,with my father,we made the first of what was to become an annual pilgrimage to semi finals Saturday.His opponent on this occasion was Terry Griffiths and after Steve had recorded a 6-2 win I remember queuing for his autograph and only his,as after Steve signed my book I took it and walked away just as Terry was getting ready to scribe his name on it.

The 80's drew to an end with Steve claiming a 6th World title with his most comprehensive win to date,an 18-3 victory over John Parrott.Surely,I thought,as the new decade began that this dominance of the game was set to continue!

Of course we now know it didn't .A combination of the arrival  in the big time of Stephen Hendry (God how the 12 year old me hated him) and an alignment problem meant the man who had been almost unbeatable was now just another one of the pack. Titles were still won,but they were becoming fewer and further between.It should be noted that a despite this,a run of consistent form in 1994 had him just one victory away from regaining his World no.1 ranking but his world championship semi final defeat to Hendry meant that this would never again be the case.

The 90's rolled on and I would be lying to say it was always easy to watch,as it seemed at times that Steve's biggest opponent was not the man sitting in the opposite chair,but instead the ghost of his former self.That said though,as is often the case,this only made the victories,when they did come,all the sweeter.

The most sparkling of these at this time was his epic B&H Masters triumph over Ronnie O'Sullivan in 1997 at the old Wembley Conference Centre. This had looked most unlikely as Ronnie,playing snooker from the Gods raced into an 8-4 lead.Steve was not for lying down and he fought back to win 10-8.By this stage I had long given up watching the match from my armchair and was now kneeling in front of the tv willing every pot in.I think i still have the final stages on video somewhere.

Into a new century we moved and Steve seemed to change his outlook towards the game.Gone now the shackles of trying to compete with the past,but in their place an acceptance that everything must pass and a desire to keep trying to be competitive against a new generation of players.

This new approach has on occasion produced some stunning results,like his fabulous run to the final of the UK Championship in 2005 and his memorable second round victory over defending world champion John Higgins at the 2010 World Championship.(I'm not too proud to admit that this one also brought a tear to my eye) I for one couldn't think of  better way to sign off if indeed this is to be his last hurrah at the Crucible

As for me my one remaining wish  was to get a chance to play a frame against the great man and.thankfully that opportunity came in an exhibition,when I outbid all my rivals in a auction(I wont say how much I paid) to get that chance.The frame itself is something I will never forget as I struggled  to control my shaking hands to play my opening shot.Steve to his credit gave me a generous handicap and plenty of chances which,as I managed to start potting a few,was enough to see me win the frame.The result was only secondary though to the thrill of playing the great man and to be honest I would have been equally happy to have sat there watching Steve knock in a century against me.

Thats it then and here we stand on the 22nd August 2013 the day of Steve's 56th birthday and he is still holding back the tide with the occasional displays of brilliance.

As for myself I have finally accepted that I'm not going to make it on the baize and have instead turned my hand instead to writing about the sport I love.Obviously to that end I have to try and be as impartial as possible when composing articles but I hope having read this you will forgive me,if every so often,that goes out the window when The Nugget is playing.

Happy Birthday Steve and heres to the next 35 yrs .

Sunday, 18 August 2013

ET 3 Bluebell Wood Open

Ricky Walden held off  a determined fightback from Marco Fu to win the deciding frame and claim the Bluebell Wood Open at the Doncaster Dome last night.

In a final that was hard fought and scrappy at times it was Walden who took a lengthy opening frame to lead 1-0.Fu leveled with a century in the next but it was Walden who pulled away again to lead 3-1.Fu to his credit battled back to win the next two to level at 3-3 and force the decider.

This turned into one of those long nervy deciders where both players had their chances before a fluked red allowed Walden in and he duly made the most of knocking in a smooth 65 to claim the title.

This was a fine win for Walden who must still have an odd sleepless night about how he let that World semi final against Hawkins slip from the his grasp.A crushing defeat like that has the potential to be a career defining moment for a player,but the surest way to dull the memory is to win matches against good players and that is what he did here,not just beating Fu in the final,but also with earlier wins over Ali Carter,Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy.

For Fu he will be slightly disappointed not to have claimed his second title of the season but he can be happy with how he fought here to get back into it and also with how he held off the fightback of Ding in the semi final when having lead 3-0 he saw Ding level at 3-3.Al this bodes well for him for the season ahead.

Of the games other big names the worlds top three ranked players all failed to negotiate the first round here with Neil Robertson & Judd Trump both losing deciding frames to Liang Wenbo & Ding Junhui and Mark Selby letting a 2-0 lead turn in to a 4-2 defeat to Vinnie Calabrese. 

Ronnie O Sullivan showed signs that he was not just here to punch in on the clock in coming back from 3-1 down to beat 15 Lyu Haotian in the first round,Haotian for his part impressed again in this match and there is little doubt that with the more experience he gets the higher his star is going to rise.Ronnie eventually went out in the last 32 to the impressive Peter Lines.

John Higgins also failed to reach the final day letting a 2-0 lead slip against Rod Lawler losing in the end 4-2.

Also a special word must be spared for Steve Davis,who may be only a few days away from his 56th birthday,but once again showed that the fire burns as bright as ever in reaching the last 16,,indeed his form here,not least in his fightback from 3-1 down against Jamie Jones, was as good as anything he has produced in recent years.He will have no doubt been annoyed with himself that he couldn't make the most of his chances when he lead eventual runner up Marco Fu 3-2 before eventually losing a tight decider.

So ends the tours stay in Doncaster with the venue coming in for some criticism for the uncomfortably warm playing conditions.Hopefully this is something that can be looked at in future as from a facilities point of view it seems to have been  vast improvment on other PTC venues,

Anyway onwards we go and it's off to Germany next weekend for ET4 The Paul Hunter Classic ..

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Round Up of Recent Events.

When those of us in this part of the world have in recent weeks been enjoying that rarest of meteorological occurrences,an actual summer,the 2013/14 snooker season has continued to find its feet crowning its two latest champions in Australia and Holland.

First we go to Bendigo where Marco Fu ended a six year claim his second ranking title and in the process break local hearts beating Neil Robertson 9-6 to lift the Australian Goldfields Open title.

Fu has always been a player who.when on form,is capable of beating anyone in the game but his problem has always been inconsistency.It would have been hard to believe when he reached the final of his first professional final,The  Grand Prix in 1998 that he would only have two ranking titles to his name by now though he has also reached the semi's at the Crucible & the final of both the UK Championship and the Masters but thats where he has found himself. That said I read he has now reached a level of contentment in his private life and this victory could lead to more of the same as the season progresses.He may yet finish his career the kind of CV his talent deserves.

For Robertson this would have been a bitter disappointment as he would have dearly loved to have won a title on home soil and with the future of this tournament yet to be decided he may not get another chance to do so.

Whereas the future of snooker in Australia may be in doubt the same can certainly not be said about Holland,where the circuit returned to packed houses for the first tournament held there in over twenty years,this past weekends Rotterdam Open.

It's funny how quickly things can change in this game. When Ronnie claimed his fifth World title in May much was written and talked about how his standard was still of such a high level whereas it appeared the other two great players of this era,John Higgins and Mark Williams, had seemingly begun to go into irreversible decline.

Fast forward a couple of monthes and Higgins has already claimed the first EPTC in Bulgaria as well as finishing runner up in the Wuxi Classic and now Williams has claimed his first title since the 2011 German Masters beating Mark Selby 4-3 in the final to win the Rotterdam Open.

The green shoots of a recovery in form had been there in  Bulgaria last month but here he seemed to step it up another level with at time a display of long potting and fearless break building that was reminiscent of ten years ago when he was an almost unstoppable force.Maybe this win was just the spark at 38 that Williams needed and it might yet spark a rich autumnal harvest in his career.

Away from the table last week we also got the news that India will be hosting its first ranking event this season when the Indian Open takes place in Delhi this October.This is great news as the profile of the sport in India has grown in recent years with the emergence of Pandkaj Advani and Aditya Mehta .Hopefully this will lead to even more people in India getting an appreciation for the game that did actually begin in that country.Certainly in Advani & Mehta the game could not have any finer ambassadors there.

Finally I like everyone else in the snooker world was delighted to hear the news in Friday that Ali Carter has got the all clear following his recent cancer scare and will return to action in time for the Shanghai Masters.Hopefully he can now put this behind him and get back to what he does best.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Wuxi Classic Final.

Neil Robertson lifted the first ranking title of the new season after he fought back to beat John Higgins 10-7 in what was a high quality Wuxi Classic final.

Robertson recently returned to the world no.1 spot and his victory here means he is likely to stay there for a long time,such is the lead he now enjoys over his nearest pursuer .

Here he certainly performed like a world no.1 after this one had threatened to get away from him in the first session as Higgins,playing the sort of snooker that saw him reach the final without much fuss,quickly established a 5-2 lead.

Robertson had been slightly subdued up to this point but suddenly started to find his form and won the last two of the session to be just 5-4 behind at the end of the play.

He started the evening session in the same vein and unbelievably took the first four frames to make it six in a row and lead 8-5 going into the mid session interval. Higgins safety game was unusually below par but he still managed to stop the rot in the next to close to 8-6.

The one thing we do know when we get a final between two of the games proven winners is that neither will blink with the winning line in sight and Robertson moved within one of the title,taking the next to lead 9-6.

He looked like sealing victory in the next when he established a 50 point lead,but Higgins,as he has done so often,dug deep and with the help of a wonderful positional shot from brown to blue he closed to 9-7.

Robertson again failed to make the most of an early chance on the next,but another unexpected safety error from Higgins gifted him the chance he needed and he did enough to secure the win 10-7.

For Robertson this was his second title in China in a row after he took last seasons China Open in  April and  though every title is to be celebrated,he will be particularly pleased here to have won beating an in form Higgins.There was a time over the last couple of seasons where it appeared as if Robertson was beginning to get bogged down in matches and this was stopping him play his natural game,but he seems to have started this season with a different approach and he is reaping the benefits of it.

As for Higgins he will be disappointed to have lost having lead by so much early on,but when you consider how badly he was playing towards the end of last season and the fact he is using a new cue he can take a lot confidence from this going into the rest of the campaign.He has looked back like his old self when in among the balls and you have to feel he will only improve further as the season goes on.I think talk of his demise can certainly be forgotten for a while.

That is it from the first full ranking tournament of the season then and I think if its a sign of things to come we are in for great season.Next up is the Australian Open which unfortunately will be missing some of the games big stars who have decided not to enter.It will though of course feature Robertson who will be desperate to make it back to back ranking titles by winning on home soil.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Wuxi Classic Final preview

The final of the Wuxi Classic 2013 will be between the circuits two in form players,as John Higgins squares off against Neil Robertson tomorrow in search of the seasons first ranking title as well as the £80,000 top prize.

This may have been the first tournament to use the flat 128 draw but the one thing that has always rung true,no matter what the system and that is that the players who are playing the best snooker in each half of the draw will come through and here was no exception.

Robertson was the first of the two to reach the final as beat his Crucible conqueror Robert Milkins 6-2.This one was never really close as Robertson,having taken a scrappy opener,went through the gears to lead 4-0 at the interval.Milkins managed to get on the board taking the next and then reduced the deficit to 4-2,but Robertson again stepped in to seal a straight forward win.

In the second semi final Higgins recorded an equally emphatic win against his old adversary Matthew Stevens,,also winning by a scoreline of 6-2. This one maybe was a little closer then the score suggests,but despite having chances in most frames Stevens could never really take advantage and it was Higgins who,once in,always looked likely to punish the Welshman. It wasn't until Higgins at 5-0 stood one away from victory that Stevens eventually got going,but 5-2 was as close as he could get and Higgins saw out the win with a break of 101 to set up the final most neutrals would have wanted.

So what of the final,Well it may only be June but this really has the potential to be one of the matches of the season as these two giants of the game come in here on top form.Robertson,by virtue of his recent performance will be the World no.1 no matter what happens here but he would dearly love to add this title to his China Open success from last season.Higgins though,fresh from his victory over Robertson in the final of the ET1 event in Bulgaria a fortnight ago will fancy his chances of claiming a remarkable 26th ranking title.

I fancy this to be close but \I just think Higgins might have enough to win it, possibly by a scoreline as close as 10-8


Friday, 21 June 2013

Wuxi Classic The final four.

A repeat of the recent Bulgarian Open final clash between John Higgins and Neil Robertson is very much still on the cards after todays Quarter finals action in Wuxi .

The talk that Higgins was a spent force in the game is starting to look a tad premature and the way the coasted through the field to reach the quarter final suggested he is very much on the way back to his best form.That said it was expected that he would face a much sterner test today against a confident Joe Perry but in truth it didn't materialize as he secured a  comfortable 5-2 win.

His opponent in the semi final will be Matthew Stevens who brought the run of Irelands Davy Morris to an end also by a scoreline of 5-2.Still though this has been a remarkable week for Morris,when you consider that only a month ago he was battling through Q school just to get back on the tour.He has always been highly thought of in Irish snooker circles and hopefully now is when he starts to deliver on that promise.

As for Stevens he has always played well in China and reached the final of last seasons World Open.He has always had a big result in him but I really don't see him denying Higgins another ranking final appearance.

The other form man this season has been Neil Robertson and he came through a really tough test against Cao Yupeng to reach the semi final finally in what was a high quality match.The match seemed to have turned when Robertson missed a black to lead 4-2 and then found himself 4-3 down,but he once again showed us what a battled hardened player he has become to come through 5-4.

It would be hard not to feel a little sorry for Cao as he played well enough to beat most players but on this evidence we could finally have another Chinese with the potential to win titles  and in turn maybe take some of the pressure off Ding who has been carrying his nations hopes for so long.

Robertson's opponent will Robert Milkins after he saw off the challenge of Anthony Hamilton by a score of 5-3 Milkins has been another man who has started to flourish again in this new era of constant snooker and has claimed some big scalps of late,not least Robertson himself in in the first round at the Crucible..On this occasion though I feel Robertson will be too strong and will set up a dream final with Higgins on Sunday.

So we have now moved from  a flat 128 to 4 for the first time in a ranking event and what have we learned? Well I think we have seen that the players who are playing the best snooker reach the semi finals.who knew?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Wuxi Classic & then there were 16

After a hectic few days in the Wuxi Classic,16 men remain in contention to lift the first full ranking title of the season.

The first tournament of the year is always likely to produce some shock results as many of the games top players probably haven't fully committed to their practice routines yet, That certainly seemed to be the case with Trump and Allen as both bowed out limply.

They were joined on the plane home by recent World championship runner up Barry Hawkins who went down 5-4 to CaoYupeng.and Stuart Bingham who lost 5-2 to Anthony Hamilton.

Also failing to make an impact was local favourite Ding Junhui who once again failed to make an impact on homesoil going out 5-1 to Joe Perry,Perry's confidence of course is sky high after his victory in the ATC1 at the weekend.

It hasn't been all bad for the games stars though as John Higgins kept up his fine start to the season by breezing through his first few matches and once again looks the man to beat.Also rekindling some of his old form is Mark Williams who fresh from a good run in ETC1 produced a high quality display to edge past Jack Lisowski.5-4.

Also into the last 16 is David Morris who will be playing at this stage of a ranking event for the first time.Davy has been talked about in snooker circles in Ireland for a long time now and after failing to make a real impact first time around,but after coming through Q School he seems determined to make the most of his second chance.

There is just a quick look at some of the highlights of the week so far and no doubt theings wil be a lot clearer following tomorrows action

Heres the last 16 in full 

Robert Milkins v Scott Donaldson
Mark Williams v Anthony Hamilton
Ben Woollaston v Cao Yupeng
Mark King v Neil Robertson
David Gilbert v Joe Perry
John Higgins , Xiao Goudong
Peter Lines Matthew Stevens
Ali Carter v David Morris

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A look ahead to the Wuxi Classic

The snooker roadshow makes the first of its five visits to China this season when the city of Wuxi plays host to the first full ranking event of the season,The Wuxi Classic.

Of course in this new era of a practically all year round snooker,tournaments come thick and fast and this last week has seen the first two title winners of the 2013/14 season.

Last weekend John Higgins proved that talk of his demise had been greatly exaggerated as,with the aid of a new cue,he beat Neil Robertson 4-1 in the final to lift the Bulgarian Open title in front of a hugely enthusiastic crowd in Sofia and yesterday Joe Perry won the first of the APTC  events with an impressive 4-1 win over Mark Selby in the final.

It is though with the first full ranking event that the season gets going and there will be plenty of players looking to get off to the perfect start. This was the first event to use the flat 128 structure for the draw which meant the first round was played in England to whittle the number travelling to the venue down to a mere 64.Among those who failed to negotiate this round and so wont be here this week were Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy.

Also missing will be Ronnie O'Sullivan who had to withdraw from the qualifiers because of a family bereavement and Stephen Maguire who didn't enter.

This still leaves a strong field though and all eyes locally will be on Ding Junhui to see if he can finally get the monkey off his back and win again on home soil.A lot of attention early in the week will also be on nine times womens world champion Reanne Evans who qualified for this event and by the draw should have been playing Neil Robertson only for the dreaded wildcard round to intervene.Hopefully she can get through this and get the match she deserves.Regardless though it really is time to get rid of this annoying feature of the Chinese events.

So who will take home the winner cheque of £80,000? Well time will tell but one thing for sure is you can watch all the action unfold on Eurosport. starting Monday morning at 7.30

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Victoria Bulgaria Open Preview

Barely a month after the curtain fell on the 2012/13 season with Ronnie O'Sullivan lifting his fifth world title,the first champion of the 2013/14 season will be crowned this weekend in Sofia as the city plays host to the Victoria Bulgaria Open.

In truth though the action has not really stopped as the last month has seen three Q School events,as well as qualifiers for the Wuxi Classic and the Australian Barry Hearns ambition to make snooker an all year round sport comes closer and closer to been realised.

The Wuxi qualifiers,if that is indeed the right term,were the first to use the flat 128 draw and among the big name casualties who wont be making the trip to China are World no.1 Mark Selby,whose slump in form continues  and Shaun Murphy.Ronnie O'Sullivan wont be there either as he was a late withdrawal following a family bereavement .

So on to Sofia we go then and as ever with these European Tour events it serves a mixture of the great and the good. Ronnie is making the trip this time and along with the likes of     Robertson,Murphy,Higgins,Hawkins and defending champion Judd Trump,he will be mixing with amateurs as well as some of the games newer professionals.all of whom willbe hoping to lift the title come Sunday evening.

If last years first staging of this event is anything to go by,those who are playing are certain to be met with full houses and enthusiastic crowds as the popularity of the sport continues to grow all across europe.The  part Eurosport has played in this can't be underestimated and they will again be showing extensive coverage on all their channels over the weekend.

Snooker on tv at the start of June.Did we ever think we'd see the day!

Monday, 6 May 2013

World Championship 2013 The Final day two

The 2013 Betfair World Champion is Ronnie O'Sullivan after he completed an 18-12 victory over Barry Hawkins. in what was probably the best final we have seen in many years.

Starting with Ronnie leading 10-7 any thoughts that he had weathered the Hawkins storm were quickly put to rest as Barry won the first of the session .Ronnie as he had done throughout day one,responded by winning the next to go 11-8 and with one of the best clearances we have seen all tournament he clinched the next after Hawkins had missed a frame ball red.

You would have forgiven Hawkins at that stage if his head at dropped,but he found his form again in the next to close to 12-9 at the interval.This was already a better final then what had been expected and Ronnie upped his game even more,winning the next with a majestic 133.The next two frames were shared before Ronnie ensured that he would keep his record of wining every session ,knocking in his 6th century of the match to go within three of the title at 15-10.

One session remaining then and Hawkins was now at the point of no return,knowing he needed perfect snooker to have a chance.To his credit that was how he started,rolling in a 127 in the first and a 66 in the second to reduce the deficit to 15-12.He was also in first in the next but a missed red to the corner allowed Ronnie the chance he had been waiting for and he moved to 16-12 with a break of 77.That became 17-12 in the next courtesy of an 88 and the end came in the first after the interval when he rolled in an 86 to claim the 18-12 win.

So that was it then. Ronnie claimed his fifth World crown and became the first man since Hendry in 1996 to successfully defend the title. In doing so he has proven himself yet again to be not just the best player in the world now, but agruably the greatest of all time.In this championship he showed not just the superb break building that we sometimes take for granted from him,but also a level of match play snooker that was as good as anything we have ever seen.I know we are sick of hearing it but to be doing this after a year out was truly phenomenal All this provided proof,if proof were needed that when he put it together,he is practically unbeatable.

I also must pay tribute to Barry Hawkins who produced one of the performances of his career on the games biggest stage, I will admit to been one of those who thought he would just be blown away here but he really put it up to Ronnie and who knows ,another opponent on another day and he could have been holding the trophy.Hopefully he can carry this new confidence forward into the new season and claim the titles his talent deserves,

The night though belonged to Ronnie.Who knows how many more times we'll see him play in the future,he probably doesn't know himself,but no matter how many time it is we should savour them, because we will never see his like again.All Hail King Ronnie.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

World Championship Final 2013 Day One

The final of 2013 betfair World Championship and based on the evidence of the last two weeks most people were expecting simply the coronation of Ronnie as World Champion,but it might not be the cakewalk they were expecting after a fascinating first day of final action.

Coming in this afternoon the question was how would Hawkins settle on what was no doubt the biggest day of his career.and early on,the signs were not good as a series of poor shots gifted Ronnie the opening which he took to lead 2-0.Hawkins to his credit though suddenly found his form and leveled at 2-2 at mid session interval.

The whole tournament people have asked how would Ronnie respond if he fell behind and we finally got the answer to that this afternoon as Hawkins took the next to lead 3-2 and Ronnie responded winning the next three with the aid of two centuries to lead 5-3 at the end of the afternoon.

Into the night then and real signs that Ronnie was feeling it a bit more then we expected and Hawkins perhaps sensing this started to play his best snooker. The first four frames were shared to go to the interval at 7-5 to Ronnie ,but Hawkins kept his momentum going and made it 7-6 before then getting  133 to level again at 7-7.

Tho only time we have seen Ronnie under this much pressure before in this tournament was when Ali Carter drew level with him at 7-7 in their second round match,On that occasion Ronnie dug in to win the next two and he did exactly the same here,knocking in back to back centuries once again to lead 9-7.

The final frame of the session now took on added importance and it seemed both players knew it as the tension mounted. A series of masterful safety shots from Ronnie seemed to give him the upper hand until Hawkins fluked the green.Every shot now was vitally important and when Ronnie played a loose shot on the blue Hawkins potted it and the pink,but failed to get on the black.He then played a poor safety and Ronnie held his nerve to pot the black and go 10-7 ahead overnight.

So not the procession people were expecting and Hawkins can be very happy with his days work despite  trailing going into tomorrow. He will feel if he gets off to a good start in the afternoon he still has every chance here.Ronnie can also be content that,despite having made four centuries,he holds a lead without been at his best. What it does mean is we are set fair for a great days action tomorrow to round off this championship.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

World Championship 2013 Semi Final round up.

The final of the 2013 Betfair World Snooker Championship will see defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan face Barry Hawkins  after two very different semi finals finished at The Crucible today.

It's been one of the anomalies of the sport over the years that many of the clashes we would have loved to have seen in the final actually took place in the semi's.I'm thinking here of Davis v Hendry in 1994 and the three occasions where Ronnie met Hendry at the semi final stage.

We can now add to that list the names of Ronnie & Judd,as the most gifted players of their respective generations met here in the most eagerly anticipated match the Crucible has seen in many years.

Judd had reached this stage after coming through a thriller with Murphy 13-12 in a match that showed his growing maturity and he spoke of taking the game to Ronnie and having no fear.

In their first session both showed what they were capable of as firstly Ronnie opened a 4-1 and then Judd countered to finish the session at 4-4. The score moved to 6-6 at start of second session but Ronnie,perhaps smelling a bit of blood upped a gear after the interval to move 9-6 ahead  This was now threatening to get away from Judd,but he managed to win the last of the session to close to 9-7.

In a match over this length it is often the third session that is the decisive one and so it proved here in a night of high drama and a little controversy.Ronnie,still not at his heavy scoring best,but certainly with his game head on opened up a 13-8 lead before Trump won the next make it 13-9.The night took a strange turn in the next when firstly it appeared someone in the crowd was deliberately trying to put Judd off and then Michealla Tabb warned Ronnie for making a rude gesture with his cue.This seemed to rattle Ronnie for a few shots and give Trump the upper hand as he took the frame to close to 13-10.

This put major emphasis on the final frame of the night and is was perhaps here more then anywhere else we saw the benefits of the work Dr Steve Peters has done with Ronnie as he put all that had gone before behind him to take it in one visit and go 14-10 overnight.

This left Trump with a mountain to climb this afternoon and it proved to be beyond him as Ronnie closed out the match to win 17-11.

So that was it then from a match that although never quite living up to it's billing qualitywise was highly entertaining none the less.Trump will look at the fact that he scored in nearly every frame but just could never get the cue ball on a string the way he needed to really make the big breaks and push Ronnie.He will learn from this though and his all round play in this tournament suggest he is maturing as a player.He will certainly be back

For Ronnie this will be a highly satisfying win as ,although he didn't make a century,he by and large controlled the match in every department and punished his young opponent for every mistake.He will strongly fancy his chances of adding a fifth world title to his cv here on Monday night.

The man hoping to stop him winning that fifth title will be Barry Hawkins after he came through an extraordinary match with Ricky Walden.With neither player having experienced the one table set up at the Crucible before there was always a danger that they both could get caught in the headlights in this one and so it proved to be,as both struggled to find their best form.

In a first session where both were badly out of form it was Walden who got off to the better start and took a 6-2 lead. Hawkins was nothing like he was in beating Selby or Ding so it was to his great credit that he managed to come out of the second session only 9-7 behind.

Onto the third session and it was Walden who again made the better start and stretched his lead to  12-8 at the mid session interval.There were four frames left in the session now and Hawkins would have felt he needed to win three of them to stay in touch.As it happened he did better then that as he won all four to level the match at 12-12.

This set up a grandstand final session that basically boiled down to a best of nine for a place in the final.The first frame seemed to be going the way of Hawkins again but Walden fought back to force a respotted black to go ahead for first time in the match at 13-12.This was the 5th frame in a row for Hawkins and he would incredibly make it 8 in a row as he moved to the brink of the final at 16-12.

Walden must have been wondering how on earth his world had caved in so quickly here,but he showed he still had a bit of fight still in him to make it 16-13 and then 16-14.For all the poor quality snooker then,this was beginning to build up into a fascinating finish.In the next Walden was again in first but unluckily knocked in a red when trying to split the pack and Hawkins did enough to get over the line 17-14.

This is a match you feel will play on the mind of Ricky Walden for a long time as he will be left to rue that slump that saw him lose a commanding four frame lead.half way through third session.Hopefully though in time he can put this behind him and start to focus on making runs like he had here a regular occurrence

For Hawkins this will have been the realisation of a dream,that it is unlikely even he saw coming true when  the draw.came out.The fact is though he has beaten Selby and Ding here and managed to come through a semi final where he had only managed a high break of 47 in the first two sessions,so he deserves his place in the title decider.

He will also have the  advantage of going into the final as a big underdog which may allow him play more his natural game then he was able to do against such an evenly matched opponent in the semi final

That said though I really don't see him having enough in the locker to take 18 frames off O'Sullivan and   I think we will be hailing King Ronnie the 5th come early Monday evening.