Friday, 23 November 2007

Snooker: Premier League

If you've been watching the premier league snooker, you will have seen some really great stuff over the last 10 weeks or so. As it stands now, the group phase is complete with Ding Junhui, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins going through to the semi-final stage in Aberdeen on the 1st of December. The final is the following day and both the semis and the final will be televised live on Sky Sports. Here's how the table ended up.

Pos Name P W D L Frames W Frames L 100+ Pts Money won
1 Ding Junhui 6 4 1 1 25 11 12 9 £37,000
2 Stephen Hendry 6 4 1 1 20 16 3 9 £23,000
3 R. O'Sullivan 6 4 0 2 24 12 9 8 £33,000
4 John Higgins 6 2 2 2 17 19 3 6 £20,000
5 Steve Davis 6 2 1 3 15 21 1 5 £16,000
6 Jimmy White 6 0 3 3 13 23 0 3 £13,000
7 Neil Robertson 6 0 2 4 12 24 2 2 £14,000

In the final matches last night, Robertson played White to see who would come bottom of the group, Ding played Hendry to see who would come top of the group and Higgins played Davis to see who would take the final knockout place.

The Robertson White was a fairly average affair that finished 3-3. Both players were disappointed with their form in the groups stages. White thought he could have won a couple of previous matches when in good positions and Robertson simply never got to grips with the shot clock stating, "I definitely know how long 25 seconds are now!".

Then came the match of the evening, Ding versus Hendry. Ding was absolutely awesome, I think this is the best I've seen him play, and quite possibly just as good as I've ever seen Ronnie O'Sullivan play. Now all he needs to do is to learn how to play left handed! :o)

Ding opened the first 4 frames with breaks of 133, 87 (could easily have been a century), 136 and 138. During these first 4 frames Hendry didn't score a single point and Ding eventually amassed 495 points without a reply. This is a new record beating the old record 494 set by John Higgins against Ronnie O'Sullivan in the 2005 Grand Prix final.

After the first century, Hendry got out of his chair to congratulate Ding, I've never seen this before from Hendry. And after the third frame (I think it was the 3rd frame), Hendry was overheard by the commentary team mentioning that he hadn't potted a ball yet!! After the fourth frame, the cameras caught Hendry staring at the table with a rye smile on his face, shaking his head in disbelief. I caught myself doing the same but I was staring at my 50 inch telly! :o)

In the 5th and 6th frames Ding only managed a 40+ and 50+ break. I don't know, I was expecting greater things! When Hendry finally did manage to pot a ball in the 5th frame, the Scottish crowd went wild, but it didn't last long and Ding eventually won 6-0. Hendry only managed 41 points in the whole match, and many of those points were fouls that Ding had conceded. Not too surprisingly Hendry didn't stick around for an interview after the match. This result is quite important for snooker fans as it means Ding won't face Ronnie in the semi-final. If we get a Ding Ronnie final and they both play to the top of their game, could be absolute cracker!

Top billing was Higgins versus Davis. This was a very important match as it was a fight for the last qualification spot. Higgins has had a very slow start to the premier league and has really struggled adjusting his rhythm to the shot clock. On the other hand, Davis seems to cope with it very well, has had much more experience with it, and generally seems to enjoy the up tempo format. Higgins was one point ahead in the table before the match so only needed a draw to qualify. Davis mention how only needing a draw to qualify should be piece of cake for Higgins, providing no silly mistakes are made and the manager doesn't use a rookie goal keeper... :o) The Scottish crowd certainly enjoyed Davis' remarks, ...obviously referring to England's disastrous match against Croatia in the final group match of England's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. But back to the snooker, wasn't a great match. Davis made some mistakes which allowed Higgins to stumble to a 3-0 lead. This meant Higgins had qualified. When at 3-0, Higgins seemed to lose concentration and Davis won the next 3 to draw the match.

After a couple of matches, I didn't think Higgins was going to qualify for the knockout phase. But like a true world champion, he managed to pull himself together and drag himself through. Higgins said the public will see a different Higgins in the knockout phase and I think we will too. One thing is for sure, he will have to play much better to beat the likes of Ding, Ronnie and Hendry. His semi final match will be against Ding.

Hendry came third in the group and looks a better player this year with his new cue. However, Ronnie absolutely loves this event and has thrashed Hendry before. I really think it's going to be Ding vs Ronnie final, and with all respect to Hendry and Higgins, I'm kind of hoping so too.

It's worth pointing out that so far Ding has had 12 centuries, 3 more than Ronnie, the next highest number of centuries in the competition is only 3 by Hendry and Higgins!!! I think it was mentioned that there was only 13 in total for the whole competition last year which means Ding has almost single handedly matched that number before playing in the knockout phase. The highest break so far was a magnificent 143 by Steve Davis in Derby, a record with the shot clock. Ding's total prize money so far is £37,000, more than what Maguire took home for winning the Northern Ireland Trophy, a ranking event. Come on WPBSA (or the WSA), pull your finger out!! The matchroom crowd certainly know how to stage a snooker event.

I'm really looking forward to the final weekend, I just know we're going to see some more great snooker!