January 15, 2011

Masters Semi Final Saturday: It’s All About Courage

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:45 am

Sometimes you just need a bit of courage.

Today sees the start and end of the semi-finals here at Wembley as this afternoon Mark Allen takes on last night’s emphatic winner Marco Fu who wiped the floor with a woefully under par and under-the-weather Peter Ebdon. Then tonight Ding Junhui takes on the Stoke Potter Jamie ‘Claws’ Cope, who actually has as good a record against Ding as anyone, and probably better than most of the top players. The possibility of an all Asian final is still very much on the cards and it would be fitting if it were to be between the best ever, most successful players from that region.

But as well as courage on the baize, today also calls for more of the same off it. For yesterday, yours truly, that courageous bastion of baize truth and crusader for equal rights for our great sport sat rendered speechless for most of the day surrounded by familiar faces. The early sight of Sir Clive of Everton sprawled across a comfy sofa reading his newspaper immediately took me back to the first time I saw the great man, at the Guild Hall in Preston as a nipper. Instantly, I was 13 all over again with my dear departed dad standing next to me.

The difference being that ‘the kid SB’ confidently marched up to ‘Mr Everton’ (as SB Senior insisted I referred to him) with an autograph book in my hand and politely asked him to sign it. He did this with a smile and then sent me on my way as he disappeared to pursue his more important business. A far cry from the ‘mature and all grown up man’ SB yesterday who finally only plucked up the courage to address the great Sir Clive late in the day, in truth, to butt in on a conversation that he seemed to be having with anyone in the room that might want to listen.

But he was on top form, he is a great ambassador who should be being better utilised by the BBC, that without wishing to be overly critical, insist on inflicting others upon an unsuspecting public that they continue to treat like idiots. The Voice of Snooker is still just that and it is shameful that he isn’t still plying his trade on a regular basis at the big events for us all to hear. Despite the fact that everyone in the room was younger than him, he was still the last one in there and sat happily tapping away his thoughts on the evening’s rather tame action. Truly a one-off that snooker is lucky to have.

He even divulged yesterday to a little prompting from my vastly inferior self that he thought 80’s BBC snooker drama ‘Give us a Break’ was ‘rather good’ (he can even make that tiny phrase sound poetic) and at one point I even managed to make him laugh with a story about the Nugget, which I was amazed he hadn’t heard. That alone was enough to make the Wembley trip worthwhile. They say, never meet your heroes, I say, not in my case mister.

Anyway, there’s even more good news. I still haven’t been hospitalised by any angry famous faces for past blog crimes against good taste. Possibly because they haven’t the slightest clue who I am and have never read the blog anyway or (as I would rather like to think) because they have taken my slapstick juvenile attempts at humour for what they are. But I suspect it’s the former.

OK, so I may have labelled JV a potential serial killer and modern day version of Jack the Ripper just the other day, I may have inadvertently and in all innocence accused Dennis of having obsessive, slightly worrying thoughts and stalking a certain Canadian, I may even have named an entire blog and awards ceremony after the great WT without his permission and possibly even accused JP of being ‘a professional scouser’, but as yet there has been no hint of revenge attacks, perhaps they are waiting until Sunday night to get me into commentators corner and give me a good kicking.

In terms of betting this week, despite the odd lift it has been largely one to forget and while I’ll talk a little below about today’s matches I won’t be recommending any more bets (to huge sighs of relief from destitute and near suicidal followers). I’ll tell you what I‘m backing, if anyone is still deluded enough to be of the opinion that I can reclaim my ailing reputation with a semi-final triumph and an emphatic return to form. But as ever, I would advise you to take these previews for what they are, an opinion, plain and simple and just one of many.

By the way, for anyone watching today. I am donning the traditional mustard sweater.


Allen: A bit prickly.

1pm Mark Allen v Marco Fu

Only Past Meeting: PTC6 16/10/10 Mark Allen 4-2 Marco Fu

Best Match Prices: Mark Allen 1/2 (general) Marco Fu 15/8 (Boylesports)

Despite these two playing yesterday and being in the bottom half of the draw, they line up first this afternoon. This again leads me back to a question I asked earlier in the week, as Ronnie may have been competing in this match this would have ensured that the only evening session he would have played would have been the second session of the final. How strange, is this deliberate? Anyway, Allen continues to strive towards his first major title and he has the wind in his sails after, in his words ‘taking care of two of the best players in this’ in Ronnie and World Champ Robbo. One thing I got from seeing Mark in the flesh at his press conference yesterday was that despite him being a cheerful soul most of the time, he does get a little frosty when his record of not winning things is mentioned, immediately batting back such questions with a defensive ‘it’s you guys that keep bringing that up, it doesn’t bother me’. But if it doesn’t, he isn’t masking it very well as just from his body language you can tell that it is a monkey he would like off his back sooner rather than later and that brings with it that bit of added pressure. Marco on the other hand is the total opposite from the potentially volatile Northern Irishman and seems to take everything in his slightly hypnotic stride, it is also incredibly difficult to tell how he is feeling. He desperately wants to play Ding in the final and has that as his focus. I’d expect a noisy atmosphere in the arena today with Allen having a very vocal backing from his mates, but discount Fu at your peril, he is cueing well, has done what he has had to do to win and has the experience of winning semi-finals that Allen doesn’t. That makes this potentially a close match and I think it will be, possibly a decider, but in my view at least 6-4 either way which is why I will be backing over 9 frames at 11/10 with Bet 365.

7.30pm Ding Junhui v Jamie Cope

Past Meetings: Cope leads 4-2: Jamie Cope’s record against Ding is pretty impressive. He has won their last three encounters, all in ranking events and two of them in the last 12 months; winning 5-1 in Shanghai and 5-3 in the less exotic climate and surroundings of Newport. He also beat him 5-1 in the Welsh Open three seasons earlier. Prior to that, Ding beat Jamie in the Masters 5-1 in 2005 and 5-2 in a qualifying match in 2004. Their first meeting was back in 2003 in the UK Championship when Ding must have been about 7 years old and Jamie just out of nappies, Cope won that one 9-7.

Best Match Prices: Ding Junhui (4/9 Paddy Power) Jamie Cope (2/1 Skybet)

The information above may make Ding backers a little nervous and with Jamie attempting to reach his third major event final, it might not be the formality that some might think it will be. Cope reached the semi-final stage in Shanghai earlier in the season and put up a dreadful display against Jamie Burnett after looking good all week. This week he has looked OK, but has benefitted from playing two players totally devoid of form in Murphy and the hapless King. But like Fu, you can only beat what is in front of you and he looked in good shape in the latter stages of his last match. Ding on the other hand to me, has been the player of the week. His three centuries in the first four frames against Dotty demonstrating one of his great strengths, his start to a match. He is a master at hitting the ground running and coming into the arena and potting opponents off the table and despite his liking for forty winks after the first four frames he is a prolific front runner. For Jamie to have a chance here he has to stop Ding winning the first mini-session, a feat which better players have tried and failed. For that reason, and because I have felt since after round one that this tournament has the mark of Ding on it, I’ll be backing the Chinese sensation on the handicaps, for a scoreline I’d side with 6-2 or 6-3.

I’ll also be having a double as I’m here, then, when I’ve finished going through the discounted spirits bar in the players room I’ll also be having a bet. A double on Fu (+2.5) and Ding to win which pays just over Evens at Skybet.

Also bear in mind that a win for Marco, will, I am reliably informed result in the 1st Blog Followers Wedding. It’s like Blind Date, but I will then have more than a shared birthplace in common with Cilla Black which cannot be a good thing. But for the sake of love and happiness and because diamonds are a girl’s best friend but in my view a bit of a waste of money which would be better spent on a more expensive honeymoon, it’s fingers crossed for King of the Fairies Deco. I should add, that in my wedding speech earlier in the year to the currently much missed Mrs SB, I thanked Neil Robertson for the part he played in paying for the day, most people got it, others said ‘who’s he?’, but you can’t win ‘em all.

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