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!!


Douglas said...

The Hallett blow up was the worst... In one of the frames he needed the colours to win. In another frame he just needed the pink to win... worth watching if its on u tube somewhere. Some people are born winners like Hendry, some (although talented) are born losers ...

andy said...

I remember that match too. I nearly stopped watching it because I was gutted that Hendry was getting so hammered. But like Hendry, I stuck in there, ...moving closer and closer to the edge of my seat as the match approached it's climax.

Again Douglas, you're a little harsh on poor old Hallett!! I think I know why too. Hasn't it got something to do with you buying him a drink and him not buying you one back!! Bitterness gets you nowhere! ;o) And everybody knows that the star man of the Hendry Hallett doubles team of the 90s was Mike Hallett! :o)

Douglas said...

That's cos Hendry couldn't be bothered, and these doubles tournaments were Halletts biggest paychecks. A bit like Meo and Davis where Meo was the star, just because he was hard up and Davis was minted... ;)

andy said...

I was only joking! :o)