We arrive on Wednesday evening at the one-table situation in what is quickly becoming one of my favourite events on the snooker calendar in Clan-did-no as The Players Championship reaches the Quarter Final stages.
It’s a strange schedule really, to clarify, we start the quarter finals tonight with Ronnie and Judd and they finish with Ding v Hamilton on Friday afternoon, then the winner of Ronnie and Judd is back on Friday evening to play the first semi-final. There is no play on Saturday afternoon as ITV cover something where angry little people whip animals for pleasure then the second semi-final is played on Saturday night before Sunday’s two session final.
But what a joy it is to see just 16 top players at a venue, all thoughts of the Shootout, the Championship League and the seemingly endless best of seven comps are now but distant memories as I sit and wonder why more events can’t be just like this. But like I said in my initial preview, this excitement is borne out of the fact that I’ve been totally non-plussed with snooker for the past month and a half and now look forward as I do every year with wonder, to Sheffield via here and Beijing.
Ronnie’s been a bit rude about the host town and didn’t seem to want to hang around there for any longer than he had to. This obviously drew criticism from the Clan-did-no Tourist Board as ever since he mouthed off ITV have been at pains to tell everyone about all the attractions on offer at the seaside resort, from Ryan Day going on about something for adrenaline junkies to them more or less ordering Mark Selby to go to the seafront after his match and buy some fish and chips when he clearly just wanted to go back to his hotel for a kip, they are clearly doing a mop up operation from the unshaven Rocket’s verbal tirade on the opening night.
But nights like tonight is what snooker is all about, snooker’s two box office stars in a packed out one table set up, live on a station that doesn’t treat its viewers like they have just hatched. Buckle down for Ronnie v Judd, they both seem to be in great form, maybe we’ll see something special.
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Judd Trump
It’s hard to seperate the two these days both literally and formwise, they’ve been on the road together for a great part of the last year and a half and I think that’s helped Judd more than it’s helped Ronnie. Judd confirmed last night after winning that he doesn’t fear Ronnie the way some other players still clearly do and I believe him. This probably comes from spending time with him and seeing him at his most relaxed as well as his usual on-table aura-surrounded, worshipped superstar. It feels like Judd’s time to take over as snooker’s box office is now a little overdue, but this season there are a few shrewdies detecting (as they and I have before it has to be said) that his moment is about to arrive. Ronnie played as well as I have seen him play in a while in the first round and if he continues in that form he’ll win tonight, as he’s still the best when he is at his best, just. It’s all ifs and buts this and there will be plenty who will be backing both, I go for Judd in a decider and I’ve also daftly had a bet on there being a maximum along the way. There’s one born every minute.
Predicted: Trump 5-4.
Neil Robertson v Ali Carter
Even being introduced as Neil Robinsaaaaa wasn’t enough to knock Robbo off his stride in the first round and what followed was him coming back to some kind of semblance of his old self in hammering Barry Hawkins 5-0 in fine style. It’s four years since Ali beat Neil in anything of any meaning and the Aussie has won their last six big tussles, including at The Masters a couple of months back so on the history books you’d have to side with Robbo now we know he is coming back to form. Ali of course loves a challenge and will see this as a chance to stick a long overdue snooker shiner on his opponent. Carter is probably in the top 5 players of the season on the results he’s been posting and he’s finding a level of consistency that has in the past not quite been there. He took care of Shaun Murphy in a decider and if he’s to overturn this mini-hoodoo here he may again need all the frames to do it, but with Robbo back to form and holding the head to head aces I have to side with him.
Predicted: Robinsaaaaaa 5-3.
Mark Selby v Marco Fu
Selby holds quite a commanding lead between these two in the head to heads and they last met in a tight semi-final at The Crucible last season on Selby’s way to his second world title. I don’t know if it was that tournament or some time later that Marco transformed into the totally different player that lines up here. Gone is the rather robotic, fairly pedestrian player who could at times be quite sleep inducing, now we have someone who sees the shot and plays it, attacking more often than defending, maybe it’s something to do with that clock he wears on his wrist giving him lekky shocks if he takes too long. Selby wasn’t at his best in the first round but as usual won in a decider anyway, but his safety play unusually for him was what was letting him down and his opponent really let him off the hook quite a few times when clean in the balls. Marco is becoming a fantastic break builder and his confidence is sky high, I backed him last month for the World Championship at silly odds and I reckon he might just pip this one as long as he can avoid the decider.
Predicted: Fu 5-3
Ding Junhui v Anthony Hamilton
Ding managed to capture victory not so much from the jaws but the stomach lining of defeat against Higgins, 4-0 down with a highest break of 21 despite multiple chances and it looked for all the world like his recent poor form was to continue, but after the comeback of the season was complete here he is lining up against The Sheriff in Round 2. Pottingham’s finest performed extremely well in taking care of Stuart Bingham on day one and a repeat of that performance will make him very hard to beat. Ding holds a commanding lead in the head to heads but they haven’t met in anything this big for a decade so with Hamilton in such good form this might be one where the head to head stat will not really come into play. Hamilton is such a heavy scorer when he is in the mood and appears to be playing without a care in the world, just happy to be mixing it with the big boys like he used to and at long last earning some money from snooker. I’m going to take him to carry on his stunning run of recent form and do what Higgins couldn’t finish in round one.
Predicted: Hamilton 5-2
Recommended: Singles and a Double on Fu and Hamilton, best price for double is over 9/1 at Boylesports.