Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Snooker: Marco Fu Defeats Ronnie in Aberdeen

It's amazing to think that a player of Ronnie O'Sullivan's ability hasn't won a ranking tournament since the 2005 Fáilte Ireland Irish Masters. That season was a reasonable season for Ronnie also winning the totesport Grand Prix and the Welsh Open, making up a trio of ranking events. He was probably feeling pretty good (by his standards of feeling good) because he'd won the World Championships the season before.

But it's worth noting that the tournament after the Welsh Open was the Malta Cup, a tournament he decided not to compete in. And the tournament after the Fáilte Ireland Irish Masters was the China Open, a tournament he decided not to compete in. Way back then the prize money was low and snooker was at a low point. I seem to remember Ronnie saying something along the lines of, why bother traveling to these events when you can only win a few thousand pounds? The fact that he'd won the previous respective tournaments might have had an impact too.

A couple of years on, and Ronnie still hasn't won a ranking event. He missed the Shanghai Masters earlier this season due to medical reasons, decided to skip the Pot Black Cup a couple of weeks ago because he fancied a run, and Marco Fu defeated him in the final on Sunday in the Grand Prix at Aberdeen.

It was a great final. Fu played excellent snooker to win and his 60 clearance in the 14th frame could be hailed as one of the greatest clearances of all time! I, for one, certainly thought that Fu could not clear the table in one visit. Ronnie had just knocked in a nice 58 but then broke down. Marco came to the table with at least 3 reds near cushions in the baulk area. For me it was a case of potting a few balls, running for cover and keeping the game tight. But Fu just kept on potting them, ball after ball, great pot after great pot, and my jaw was touching the floor as final black dropped.

This was Fu's first ranking event and makes him the third Asian player to win a ranking event, following in the footsteps of the great James Wattana, and more recently, the temperamental Ding Junhui. Marco Fu was very modest in his victory, saying that it meant more to him because he had beaten Ronnie in the final. Remember he also beat John Higgins earlier in the tournament, Fu has great records against these top players and is a player that should probably be in the top 16. Beating Ronnie and Higgins on the way to capturing a main ranking event would delight any top professional so you can understand how delighted Marco Fu is!

There are 5 more ranking events this season, can Ronnie get this curse off his back of not winning a ranking event since 2005? Marco is looking in good form. Could he win the World Championships this year. He narrowly missed the final in 2006 getting beat by Peter Ebdon by 17-16. Some people think it's Ding's year, becoming the youngest ever world champion but I think his temperament is in pieces after Ronnie demolished him in the Masters at the beginning of this year. Already we've had 2 unexpected champions this season in Dominic Dale and Marco Fu, what more will this season bring.

I'm looking forward to the second biggest tournament on the calendar in November, the Maplin UK Championships.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Snooker: Grand Prix - Sould We Have A Group Stage?

There has been some furore throughout the snooker world about the group stages at the Grand Prix in Aberdeen this week. There was furore last year too! I feel it's all a bit unjustified, and I'll explain my reasoning behind this.

First of all, not all the players have been critical of the format. Some have said that it's good for the game, some have said it's bad for the game. Some people have complained that it's too complicated, difficult to follow, that there are too many matches, not enough crowds coming to watch, too many dead games, and most controversially, too many insinuations about the integrity of some of the matches, etc etc (the list probably goes on).

Let's take one of the points that I disagree with the most. Some players, and some of the big names in the sport that commentate on the matches (I will not name names), have suggested that when a player is on the verge of qualification to the knockout rounds and relying on the outcome of another match in the group, that the players playing in that match aren't taking the game seriously enough because the outcome of their match has no bearing on whether they will qualify or not!!! (I hope you got all that.)

I would say that looking at this situation from a negative point of view, you can understand why the players are complaining about the format. BUT, the way I see it, if a player wins all his matches, they would never be put in this position in the first place. If a player doesn't win all his matches, he is putting the destiny of his qualification chances into someone else's hands. Stephen Hendry is a great example of a player who thinks like this. You would never hear Hendry criticise someone else for not trying hard enough as the reason for him not qualifying for the knockout stage of a tournament, be it this one, or the PartyBets.com Premier League. And for me, this is the way it should be, Hendry hasn't qualified, and he is to blame, nobody else, it's a simple as that!

I don't really think the format is too complicated either. The general public will have their favorite players, they may only follow specific groups, they may try to follow all the groups, they might only follow specific matches or specific players. If the general public follow only specific players then the format is great because they get to see 5 matches before the tournament even reaches the last 16. OK, all 5 matches might not be televised but they can follow all 5 matches if they go watch the games live at the venue. I'd say this is a big plus. I certainly don't believe it's too complicated for the players to follow their individual groups. So who is it too complicated for? I've no idea. As for too many matches, most professionals that I've met love to have the opportunity to play under tournament conditions as often as possible, and against top class opposition. The players are getting that in the group stages and they should take full advantage of it.

I'm not too sure about the argument that there are too many "dead games" either. What I mean is, a game where the outcome of a match has no bearing on the final standings of the group. Players put on exhibitions and people come to watch. Players don't receive additional raking points for exhibitions or trophies, but they still play them. I don't see why the public can't enjoy a "dead game" as much as they enjoy any other game. Most professionals are very professional in their approach to the game, and try their hardest in every match. I would have no problem buying a ticket to go watch a "dead game".

Generally, I think different formats of snooker is good for snooker. Be it group matches (Grand Prix and the Premier League), time restricted snooker (Premier League), and straight knockout snooker (most other events). And the winner of the knockout format so far this week has to be Liu Song who's through to the knockout stages with Peter Ebdon, Matthew Stevens, Mark Selby, Dave Harold and Joe Delaney in his group. He's proven himself in a major tournament, over multiple matches, under TV conditions, and against top quality opposition.

So for now I think I've said enough, ...feel free to leave your thoughts, I will reply (constructively). :-)