Thursday, 31 January 2008

Snooker: 2008 Malta Cup

The Malta Cup starts on the 4th February and will be a group format tournament. There are 2 wilcards from Malta, Alex Borg and Tony Drago and 2 other wildcards, Marco Fu and Dominic Dale.

Ronnie will not be entering this tournament and Joe Perry has taken his place.

The groups are shown below:

Click here for a larger view.

This isn't a ranking event but it will be shown live on Eurosport I believe. More information can be found here.

Snooker: Fu Interview

Check out this excellent Marco Fu interview here!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Snooker: Today vs Yesteryear

I've heard a few people saying the standard of snooker these days doesn't compare to the Hendry and Davis eras. Here's a comment from an earlier post.

"It's tragic that the standard of snooker has gone down so far. Remember when Hendry, Higgins, Williams, O'Sullivan, Doherty, White, were all on top of their game 10 yrs ago, the game is unrecognisable now. Once O'Sullivan goes out, pretty much the standard drops like a stone, and so do the ratings."

Yes O'Sullivan went out early in the Masters, but I still think we saw some great snooker. Stephen Maguire had to play well to beat Ronnie in the first place! It was a great match that went down to the final pink. Look at Doherty's 3 centuries in 4 frames against Murphy. And Murphy himself played well against Ali Carter. Of course, there's also Selby, he played very well in all his matches, and 4 centuries in the final. He even matched Doherty's highest break in the final frame, a 141. It has to be said that that's a pretty awesome display for a relatively young player in his debut Masters, and winning his first ever major!

Domanic Dale played some great fluent snooker to beat Ryan Day in the Shanghai Masters final. And believe me, I never thought I would say "Domanic Dale played some great fluent snooker". That day he was entertaining and great to watch.

Again, Marco Fu played great snooker to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix. Ronnie had a couple of centuries and plenty of 60+ breaks but still lost to Fu.

Maguire finally found his form to win the Northern Ireland Trophy. In that tournament, Ronnie had 5 centuries in a row against Ali Carter in a best of 9 match! Maybe a sign that Ronnie was finally finding his feet (or his brain) again in ranking events.

Ronnie was back in the UK Championship! But it did look like Selby had him in the semis until Ronnie knocked in that magnificent 147 in the final frame. Ronnie went on to destroy Maguire in the final.

And of course Selby, in the Masters.

Professionals these days say the standard is higher than it's ever been. I've heard Davis and Parrott say this on the box! This is what some people are doubting. I remember the Hendry days better than I remember the Davis days, but I've watched many of the Davis victories on tape and he was devastating in his day.

Players were truly afraid of Davis. I've heard people in the past say that if a pro drew Davis in the first round of the tournament, ...they would already be checked out of their hotels before they even played against him! Hendry was incredible, he would just go for everything, and usually get it. He's (I think this is correct) more than 200 centuries in front of his closest rival which is O'Sullivan at the moment with 700+. That's some strike rate. And Jimmy with his flair, some of his shots have been astonishing to watch on TV, he's done things with the cueball that most people didn't think were possible.

I think because the gap was so large between the top ranked players and players ranked 5 and below of yesteryear, the top players were made to look good. Yes, they were good, very good, but didn't get the kind of competition the top ranked players of today get. Last season Robinson was the only player to win more than one ranking event, the rest were won by Ding, Ebdon, Murphy, Dott and Higgins (Ronnie won the Masters).

This year's winner so far are Dale, Fu, Maguire, and Ronnie (Selby won the Masters). The standard is so high these days it's taken Ronnie about 3 years to win a ranking event! I don't think the standard is lower than 10 years ago, I think it's just as high, if not higher. But what is most noticeable from the tournament wins over the last 2 seasons is the competition is fiercer than ever. You won't get only the top 4 players winning tournaments these days, it's players ranked all the way down into the 20s!

I think it's good for the game and long may it continue.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Snooker: Selby Seals His Maiden Win

Mark Selby thrashed Stephen Lee 10-3 in the final of the Masters yesterday evening. Throughout the tournament he had earned some really hard victories against Hendry, Maguire and Doherty. He took home a winner's cheque of £150,000 and, remarkably, in the final frame when the crowd were going mad and taking photographs with the flash on, knocked in a 141 to tie the highest break with Ken Doherty and take home a share of the £10,000 high break prize.

Selby's will to win is very visible when playing and it's great to see. Lee's frustration was evident, he certainly thought the balls were running against him and I think it was difficult for him to keep positive throughout the match. Lee couldn't manage a single frame in the evening session as Selby powered on.

In all Selby recorded 4 centuries in the match, a 124, 132, 125 and a 141, pretty devestating stuff! After this career debut win, is it possible to say he will win another tournament this season? Hard to tell as the standard is so high. Well played Mark!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Snooker: Master Final Preview

The Masters trophy will have a new name on it this season when Stephen Lee and Mark Selby battle it out in the final today.

This year has seen some great matches, many of them close and some surprises too. I rate Mark Selby very highly but it still has to be said that it's a bit of a surprise to see him in the final as it it with Stephen Lee. It's probably more of an achievement for Stephen Lee to be in the final as his season hasn't been that spectacular.

But Selby has been pretty solid all season and has had 3 6-5 victories to get him into the final. All cracking matches. Selby had a great comeback victory against Maguire and held on really well against Doherty who has been playing some good snooker in this tournament. Doherty was coming back strongly against Selby and you could see Selby's delight as he banged the table after potting the important red that took him into the final.

Lee's first match was a 6-5 win as well against Graeme Dott, another classic match. His quarter final and semi final victories seemed to be much easier though against Ebdon and Fu. Ebdon collapsed and was chasing maximums when he should have been concentrating on securing the frame and Fu didn't show the form that earned him victories against Davis, Robertson and Ding.

Lee is looking to get some revenge over Selby after Selby beat him in the World Championships. Lee was well ahead in that match too. I hope today's match will be a classic, ...but I don't think it will be! :o)

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Snooker: Tony Drago Interview on the BBC

Click here for a good interview with Tony Drago BBC website. Tony slates Prestatyn in a big way. Maybe it is time to move snooker qualifiers away from Prestatyn.

I've spoken to a couple of pro players about the place and they've generally described it as a dump!

Snooker: Ding Gets the Better of Higgins

Ding Junhui is back! In a ding dong battle with Higgins, Ding fought back from 3-1 down to level at 4-4. Higgins was playing reasonably well and knocked in breaks of 71, 73 and 62. But his cuing action let him down a couple of times as he seemed to hit across the ball. Ding took full advantage with breaks of 74, 54, 135, and 96. The last 2 frames went to Ding for him to win 6-4.

Once again Ding looked great when when in amongst the balls and the beat Higgins in the Masters is a yet another big scalp for Ding. He plays Marco Fu in the next round.

Dott managed to blow a 5-3 lead against Stephen Lee in the other first round match yesterday. Dott's game seemed to disintegrate a little only for him to get it back at 5-5. In the last frame Dott made a great break of 61 and was looking favorite. But he then let Lee in and he came back with a magnificent 64 break to win the match 6-5

Graeme Dott blamed the defeat on a bad bounce off the cushion when when on 61. But surely he can't take anything away from Stephen Lee's break when under immense pressure.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Snooker: O'Sullivan, The Hero of an F1 Driver

Gwyn Jones, a regular commenter on greenbaize found this article through a link on this site.

Snooker: Doherty And Fu Through

Doherty rolled back the years yesterday with a great win over Mark Williams. I fancied Williams to win this one as he looked to be getting some form back in the UK Championships. But it wasn't to be, Doherty was playing some of his best snooker in years to paddy power past Williams 6-2.

Williams went 2-0 up and was looking good with breaks of 118 and 69 but Doherty hit 6 of the best with breaks of 101, 89, 53 and 68. It great to see Doherty back on form again.

Williams is pretty negative about his future. He doesn't want to be playing in the qualifiers at Prestatyn next season and has said that if he's not in the top 32 he "probably won't stick around". This would be a sad loss for snooker. He's still a great player to watch and I still think he has a lot to give.

The Robertson Fu match was a cracking, long hard fought match. So much so, made me late for work this morning. Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! Like the Doherty Williams match, Robertson started out the strongest with breaks of 63 and 118. Robertson looked in really good form. But Fu showed then showed why he's won a ranking event this season and really got into some great break building of his own winning 4 frames in a row with breaks of 89, 71, 69 and 100.

Robertson had to dig really deep to stop Fu in his tracks but managed to win the next 2 to take it to 4-4. The next 2 were shared in what was turning out to be a great tactical game and so it went to the decider. The last frame was very cagey and could have gone either way, but Fu managed to win it on the final black. It was a really good match, for the purists Clive Everton said.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Snooker: Former World Champion Number 3 Out on Day 2

Yep, now Hendry is gone. I thought it was going to be a win for Selby rather than a really tough hard fought win! I didn't see the match live so it's difficult to comment on the performance of both players. From what I saw of the highlights and what I've read elsewhere, it looks like the match was a scrappy affair with Selby stepping up a gear when he was 5-3 down to come back and win 5-6. It's a great victory for Selby and another demoralising defeat for Hendry. Hendry will bounce back, he doesn't know when he's beaten. I still fancy him to win at least 1 more ranking event.

Davis was also beaten 6-2 comprehensively by Marco Fu. Davis was very unhappy with his performance and said that Marco would need to up his game in the next round. Marco agreed in his interview, actually he said this before Davis mentioned it, typical Davis diplomacy! ;o) There were some interesting quotes from Davis after the match:

"The end result was that I played rubbish."

"Who knows if this is going to be my last Masters because I might drop out of the top 16 by the end of the season."

"I'd prefer to qualify for the Masters by right, but if I get an invite I won't refuse it. I'll think about my career in the summer."

Ebdon is one of the former Wrold Champions through to the next round. Ryan Day will be very disappointed with his performance, he missed some really easy balls.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Snooker: Shock On The First Day

Ronnie's out! What's more, Ronnie's nerves got the better of him.

Maguire played much better than in the UK championships before Christmas, but Ronnie's form had dipped a bit. He couldn't really get himself into top gear.

Maguire went 4-1 up with breaks of 64, 103 and 84. He was playing pretty solidly although the snooker wasn't scintillating. Ronnie saw the danger, upped his game through sheer necessity and managed to claw back to 5-5 with breaks of 112, 72, 66 and 64.

The match went into a decider and the crowd was buzzing. Maguire had the initial chance but ended up letting Ronnie in. He was on the way to a magnificent clearance, it would have been a real classic. Ronnie had to play the final blue with the rest, it was a pretty simple shot. The problem was, to get position on the pink, which he needed, he had to punch the blue in and stun the white on and off the cushion. I thought he played the blue a little quick, regardless, he missed it, the blue ran up and down the table and Ronnie had left it for Maguire who also needed the blue and pink for the match. Maguire calmly knocked them both in to the disbelief of the crowd who were clearly backing Ronnie. Ronnie walked despondently out of the arena and Maguire followed him with a look of disbelief, and the hint of a smile, on his face.

Earlier in the day, Murphy beat Ali Carter 6-3. Murphy was 2-0 down and looked to be struggling, but as Carter was out of the arena for a comfort break, the look on Murphy's face seemed to harden, he looked a lot more focused for the rest of the match. Ali Carter didn't play great snooker and looked under pressure. Eventually, Murphy ran out with a well deserved 6-3 win.

Barry Hawkins couldn't get his game together at all against Welshman Ryan Day in the wildcard round. Day always looked too strong throughout the match and came though 6-2 to put him in the first round against Peter Ebdon.

I can't imagine delivering many more reports through the tournament as I won't have much more time to see the matches. But when I watch one, I'll deliver on the blog.

I think the Masters is now wide open though, there's something like 8 World Champions left in the draw. Keep watching!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Snooker: Masters Preview

One of my favorite tournaments starts on Sunday, the Masters. Staged in London at the Wembley Arena, the tournament has always seemed to exude class and glamor. For over 20 years it was staged at the Wembley Conference Center which has witnessed some unbelievable Masters snooker. With great crowds exceeding 2000, the atmosphere can be electric for one player and demoralizingly daunting for the other as Ding Junhui unfortunately found out the hard way last year. The crowds can destroy players long after the tournament finishes, more so it seems here than any other venue, ....again, as Ding Junhui found out last year!

Gold always comes to mind when I think of the Masters, probably because of the years it was sponsored by Benson & Hedges. Flowers! With flower beds flanking the table on either side. Jimmy White and Kirk Stevens dressed up sharp in their shiny white suits, and who can forget Kirk's fantastic maximum! The one table situation and top 16 only invitation format (with the exception of a couple of wildcards which are Marco Fu and Barry Hawkins this year) seems to add that extra prestige to the tournament.

As a huge fan of Stephen Hendry when I was younger, I never missed a match, and there were a lot of matches to miss! Hendry, almost 6 years unbeaten at Wembley, won in his debut season in 1989, went on to win 5 consecutive titles and eventually lost in 1994 in the final, the final frame, against Alan McManus. I was distraught, as I'm sure Hendry was too. McManus was the first player to win the current trophy, the previous one having been given to Hendry for winning it for the previous 5 years.

Another player that was almost single handedly destroyed by the Masters was Mike Hallett. Now a regular commentator on Eurosport, in 1988 he was thrashed by Steve Davis 9-0 in the final, ...yes, whitewashed in the final. Mike probably thought that it couldn't get any worse until 1991 where again, he got to the final. Hallett was playing Hendry, playing well and led 7-0 and 8-2. He only needed one more frame to take trophy away from Hendry who had won the 2 previous seasons. It was not to be, Mike's game abandoned him and Hendry staged a brilliant comeback to win 9-8! If I remember rightly, that wasn't the last of the disappointments for Mike that evening, upon returning home with his wife, their house had been burgled. Talk about getting kicked while you're down!!

Back to the present and hopefully Ding will not succumb to the Masters' demons, who can forget his magnificent maximum last year. That gave him the record for the youngest player make a televised maximum! He hasn't had a great season so far but he's so talented and looks so good amongst the balls that I really want to see him do well. However, it's going to be tough for him at the Masters this year, his first round match is against current world champion John Higgins who also hasn't had a great season so far. They both have something to prove and I think this will be a classic match.

The wildcards, Marco Fu and Barry Hawkins are playing Steve Davis and Ryan Day respectively, I expect these to be tough matches too. The Masters' great, Hendry, is playing Selby who is playing some brilliant snooker and is flying up the rankings. I think Selby is going to carry on his great form and beat Hendry in his tournament, unless Hendry can find some divine inspiration.

Two out of form players, Doherty and Williams are matched up in the first round and I think this will be a tight scrappy affair. Doherty thinks his newly born son will give him inspiration at the Masters and he thinks he can go on and win it! Williams looked to have found some of his old form in the UK championship before Christmas and I fancy him to beat Doherty, ...just!

The biggest match-up of the first round has to be Ronnie O'Sullivan vs Stephen Maguire, provisionally ranked numbers 1 and 2 in the world! Maguire won't want Ronnie destroying him again so I think this could be a lot closer than the UK final.

Spare a thought for Jimmy White who will miss his first Masters for many a year. Currently he's not on form at all and struggling to stay on the main tour next year. I dare say his fans will miss him as much as he will miss Wembley! And while on that note, ...don't forget 3 times Masters winner Paul Hunter. Who can forget his constant Plan Bs!!! Personally, I think he used to plan to be way behind after the first session on purpose!!! ;o) May he rest in peace.

All in all, I'm quite looking forward to Sunday, let's hope Wembley can produce some more magic!!