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The Master Snooker - A competion and game in transition
Member Name: thedevilinme
Advantages: Good week of snooker
Disadvantages: Poor standard
As soon as Phil Taylor left the Ally Pally with his mindboggling 15th world title the Alexander Palace was converted into the venue for The Masters Snooker, two colorful and atmospheric TV sports very welcome viewing in the horrible month of January. But the big name in the sport was absent, Ronnie O'Sullivan doing voluntary work on a farm in the New Forest in the crisp snow, playing some sort of gambit to be begged to come back by Barry Hearn. Whether Judd Trump can fill those big shoes in the coming years is for another day but it was his shoes that made the headlines here on day two, wearing a pair of bizarre looking things in his first match that looked more suited to Tom Cruise climbing those tall building s in Mission impossible than a snooker hall, a snip at two grand. They do say footballers should only wear gold boots when they have won a World cup or The Champions League. Trump is no Zidane.
The week got underway with the news the BBC have secured the live TV rights to the big three tournaments of the World Championships, The Masters, The Worlds and the UK Championships until the 2016-17 season, the so-called triple Crown. More big news off the table since the UK Championships last month is the top 32 players will no longer be guaranteed an automatic place in the latter stages of most ranking tournaments, often given a bye to the televised stages to secure good ticket sales and TV rights. It's a risky strategy for bolshi Hearn as the older and married players are already 'narked' about the amount of snooker they have to play around the world to sustain their ranking that keeps them away from their family and this may see yet more oldies retire. The Masters has sold out the venue this year because that top 16 is on show and if the players drop out of events in protest it may all backfire for Hearn. Hearn's plan is clearly to race through younger and fresh faces to reinvigorate the game and so far most of the things he has done seem to be working. Apart from the World Championship, Australian Open and Shanghai Masters, all professionals will play from round one in the other eight tournaments in a tennis grand slam style 124 flat draw. Big names will almost certainly fall in the first round of these qualifiers played in sparse halls in holiday camps but the plus is they will get more prize money than they did in the last 32 if they do try and win though.
All tennis grand slam winners have to win six rounds to maintain their ranking so why not in snooker? This, of course, will open the scourge of the pro golf and tennis tours, that of appearance money, some players earning more from that at events for just showing up than their finish. In golf and tennis many players agree to play and then tank in round one or two and still pick up their appearance money. I think Ronnie O'Sullivan has pulled out of the tour because Hearn won't let the sponsors pay the sports biggest star just to turn up. They will now.
There is something about Chinese star Xiang Ding that never sits right with me. It wouldn't surprise me is he has something dark in his life and career that dictates the way he plays. He never smiles, can 'tonk' a century at will but never seems to be consistent after showing great promise as younger player winning the UK Championships in 2009 and the Masters in 2011. He should be Judd Trump but he is heading backwards to Mathew Stevens territory. Maybe the Triads decide which games he wins.lol. Sometimes it feels like that, the final frame decider defeat to defending champion Neil Robertson 5-6 was a surprise to say the least. 'Robbo' wanted so badly to win that match and punched the air when he clinched it, the defending champion. Ding is expressionless, win or lose. Maybe he just doesn't have the passion for the game of the Aussie in tight games? One day we will find out the mysteries of Ding. In the evening session controversial Mark Allen saw off this seasons surprise package in 42-year-old Mark Davis 6-2 to set up the exciting clash with Neil Robertson. Not surprisingly Allen s not keen on Hearn's 124 draw format and said so.
The shameless John Higgins and the always ill Ali Carter met for the first time ever in the Masters, also never meeting in the world championships, the surprise stat of the day. I never liked Higgins and once he was caught bang-to-rites over the match-fixing thing I always cheer the guys hard he is playing. Once you cross the line land mock your sport like that you should go away and never come back.
Higgins has won the tournament twice and lost it twice and one of only six players to win it three times or more if he was to be victorious on Sunday. A scrappy 6-4 win here suggests it's not likely. Fellow Scot's Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott bored the evening crowd with Dott wining out in the decider at 12:45am for 6-5.
Enter Judd Trump in only his third Masters, humiliated in the first round of last months UK Championship on the BBC by being beaten by minnow Mark Joyce and so determined to put on a show here. He is a good looking lad and the type Hearn wants to see dominate his sport and so, critically, bring in younger sponsors an fans, with accompanying ego, those shoes making the headlines this time, not his snooker.
On the table and he is a bit of a one trick pony in that its all about taking on the long pots to get in and make the quick breaks, whereas when tied down lesser players inflict safety play on him to kill his rhythm. You can't win the world championship that way, as Jimmy White found out. Because of that open style players don't fear him as they did players like Davis and Hendry as they know they will get chances. Andy Murray now has that luxury of players rolling over to him in the early rounds in three sets of the slams as they don't think they can beat him anymore and so mental and physical energy is saved by the Scott. With Trump I don't think he will reach that awe and respect level and so will have to adjust his game and perhaps party a little less.
It went to the final frame again, this time Barry Hawkins the little known name exposing Trumps weakness. At 5-3 to Hawkins it looked like more BBC egg on the face for Judd but the kid can play and reeled off two hundreds in frame nine and eleven and through to the next round, Hawkins amazing missed black in frame ten to let Trump back in to seal the match a real shocker. In the evening session Shaun Murphy saw off Ricky Walden 6-4 in scrappy match to set up his clash with John Higgins.
An all Welsh encounter dressed the table in the afternoon as two once top players are clearly on their way down the rankings and into oblivion, Mark Williams hardly practicing these days. With Mark missing everything and Mathew Stevens 4-1 up and an easy brown for 5-1, that indifference showed. But Stevens missed that brown and fell apart, Williams actually using the earlier frames to find some sort of rhythm and form in a poor match to win the next five frames, an amazing game. The way the players played is the reason why they are going down the rankings, the highest break of the match being 68.
For the evening fare it was my pick Mark Selby (11-2) , who's square jaw and come to bed eyes have got the girls legs wobbling. It's interesting to note that the top four players in the world under Hearns reign are good looking young lads, brining back the glamour of the sport that used to draw in a big female audience.
Selby was up against Mark Bingham, none of those things, a bloke who looks like he should be driving a fork lift truck in Redditch, but played some good stuff to look home and dry at 5-1. But we know equally matched players can't coast in best of elevens and once Selby got into the balls to go 2-5 the rhythm was back and it was soon 5-5, by then Bingham missing easy ones through nerves and Selby the favorite, closing it out 6-5, why he is world number 1 and Bingham is ranked 16th.
Judd Trump (Eng) 6-5 Barry Hawkins (Eng)
Shaun Murphy (Eng) 6-4 Ricky Walden (Eng)
Mark Allen (NI) 6-2 Mark Davis (Eng)
Neil Robertson (Aus) 6-5 Ding Junhui (Chn)
John Higgins (Sco) 6-3 Ali Carter (Eng)
Stephen Maguire (Sco) 5-6 Graeme Dott (Sco)
Matthew Stevens (Wal) 4-6 Mark Williams (Wal)
Mark Selby (Eng) 1-4 Stuart Bingham (Eng)
For all Mark Allen's talk he has won only one tournament in his career and blags too much for his current ranking. But maybe its all about talking himself up and generating that negative publicity to get up for the big matches, going to a final frame decider with the more amiable and sensible Neil Robertson. These two were equally matched on form and it was only ever going be this way. Both had 92% pot success rates and whoever got in the balls on the final frame would win, Robertson the man with a century to win 6-5. To make that hundred he to escape from a tight snooker behind the yellow laid by Allen and he not only did that but potted a red over the pocket, a world and current Masters champion shot.
The evening session saw another exciting match up, the always thinking and decisive John Higgins going against the positive Shaun Murphy, again a thrilling match. It would be Murphy who clinched it with a clearance in the 11th frame decider, Higgins leading 51-0 and a missing an easy black to let Murphy in for a thrilling 81 clearance. Murphy is on for the Triple Crown to add to his World and UK Championships.
There could not be two different players in the game for the third quarter-final match up than Judd Trump and Graeme Dott. Trump is the handsome ladies man and rapid fire potter and attention seeker, Dodd the quietly spoken, squeaky voiced meticulous pro that sees every match with meaning and his life depending on every pot. Dodd knew that if you don't accommodate Trumps attacking game he loses interest and proved the case today, Dodd going 5-1 up in a poor match, incredibly with just one 50 break to his name, showing just how poor Trump was. Dodd wrapped it up 6-1 with a ton for his first Masters semi-final and Trump shuffled off to a bar to drown his sorrows. Trump reminds me of the up and coming rock band that has just been told that all the limo's, girls and swanky hotels come out of their pay packet, and not the record companies, and now is the time to get real to actually earn that glamour.
The evening session saw Mark Williams's deterioration continue as he went 4-0 down at the interval to the immaculate Mark Selby, the Leicester boy needing to do little to earn that lead, 46 his top break. Just as Trump couldn't come back from 4 frames down this time nor could the Welshman, 6-1 and job done for Selby, the long drive back to Swansea in the snow for Williams. I don't think we will see him back next year, the first victim of the 124 qualifiers.
Mark Selby (Eng) 6-1 Mark Williams (Wal)
Judd Trump (Eng) 1-6 Graeme Dott (Sco)
John Higgins (Sco) 5-6 Shaun Murphy (Eng)
Mark Allen (NI) 5-6 Neil Robertson (Aus)
Three world champions and the favorite for Sheffield (Selby) dressed two exciting looking semi-finals. But the first was a walkover as Murphy never really looked at his best this week whereas Roberstson did, 6-2 to the defending champion. When Robertson is playing well he looks the best player in the game when Ronny is not around.
The second semi-final saw the defending UK Champion Mark Selby go up against three time Sheffield finalist Graeme Dott, the ex world champion open in his battle against depression due to the death of his father and his wife's cancer. It was a really gnarly battle as a clearly off-color Selby couldn't get anything going against an equally ragged Dott, the table as equally inconsistent with players moaning all week about the roll and kicks. Dott had a brown for 5-1 but had been missing all night and so 4-2. Two frames behind was close enough and Gale slowed it all down to break Dott's minimal rhythm and it was 5-5, the final frame ending at 1:07am and Selby clinching it with a 70 break for 6-5. He will have to find a lot more to stay with Robertson.
Selby V Robertson
As 1963 edged in the nation was snug for the final, set to be a belter, The UK champion verses the Masters Champion. 10 of the 37 finals so far had gone to a final frame decider. If Robbo won he would be one of only four gays to defend it where as if Selby won it he would be one of only four guys to hold three Masters Titles. But it was one-way traffic as Selby took an early lead 3-0 and was never really challenged by a passive Robertson. The Aussie got within two after the interval but the standard was poor all night as it has been all tournament without Ronnie and Selby clinched the title 10-6 at 12:46am. It was interesting to note that when fans have paid up front they will be in their seat come what may but if there's a day off work or taking the kids to school going for snow they will take it.
And so on to Sheffield, Selby on for the Triple Crown, the current Masters and UK Champion going for all three, only four other guys doing that, Davies, Higgins, Williams and Davies...
Summary: Hearn is moving those snooker techtonic plates