Snookerbacker

January 9, 2019

The Masters Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:30 am

The Pistol is back to defend his crown

All the left behind bodily waste and excrement has been swilled away, the last drunk lying in the corner with ‘180’ written in permanent marker on his arse cheeks has been given his marching orders and now the darts can make way for the altogether more respectable crowd at the Ally Pally for this year’s Masters. Mark Allen is back and in great form to defend the title he won 12 months ago.  

The Masters is always a great way to get rid of the January blues and by the time it’s finished those mornings are getting a little bit lighter and the nights aren’t closing in quite so much. But in the meantime, it’s time to watch the 16 best players in the world according to the rankings at least, battle it out in the electric atmosphere and one-table situation.

Can Ronnie O’Sullivan continue his virtual dominance of the sport these past few months in a tournament he’s won 3 times from the last 5? Or can Mark Allen become the first person besides Ronnie since Paul Hunter to retain the trophy now bearing Paul’s name? As well as these two form players we have a whole host of potters coming here determined to start their new year off with a bang and with the very handy £200,000 first prize.

Let’s take a look at the runners and riders and consider their form coming into this.

Click on the match to reveal the head to head record courtesy of the always excellent Cue Tracker. 

Mark Allen v Luca Brecel – Sunday January 13 at 1pm

The Pistol returns to the scene of his maiden major win in a great final over Kyren Wilson last season in pulsating form and riding high at the top of the one year ranking list. He faces Belgian Bullet, olive lover and serial holidaymaker Luca, who arrived to play the first round against Mark in this last year with two cues (as well as a nice tan), such was his lack of confidence at the time. Somehow, he’s managed to stay in the top 16 for another year though my guess is that unless he has a huge upturn in form soon he won’t be here next time, he is currently down in the mid-thirties on the one year list. The head to head shows 4 meetings with 4 victories for Allen so Luca, given the recent form of the two is really up against it here. He’s not been beyond the Last 16 in anything this season so far and my guess is he won’t break that trend here. Traditionally, this Sunday afternoon BBC curtain raiser provides a bit of drama, with more often than not in recent years a 6-4 or 6-5 result being the outcome. But on current form, I’d say that is another trend that is likely to be broken here, I can see nail-biting drama coming in a few of the first rounders, but not this one. Golden rule when betting: never trust a snooker player with a tan. 

Prediction: Allen to win 6-2.  

Ding Junhui v Jack Lisowski – Monday January 14 at 7pm

The enigma that is Ding Junhui faces one of the most exciting players to watch in snooker, Jack Lisowski, who is deservedly making his Masters debut this year after a great 2018 which has seen him rise to 7th in the one year ranking list, at last fulfilling in part the potential that he’s been showing for quite a few years now. The way Ding is nowadays makes it very hard to predict his matches, sometimes he looks so unhappy playing snooker you just want him to pack it in and go and enjoy himself after years of over-the-top expectation and immense pressure on such young shoulders, but then he’ll spring into life and show you why he shouldn’t. He’s not been playing in a lot this season, perhaps because of his new family situation and lost in the Last 16 of the UK to Martin O’Donnell when he was looking pretty promising coming into that match. In fact, his winning record this season isn’t bad at all and he did round off the year with qualification for Berlin, though it has to be said the draw wasn’t challenging for a player of Ding’s status. Jack’s been keeping his eye in since Christmas with a group win in the Championship League in Coventry so rustiness won’t be an issue for him. I find this a very hard match to call but I think if Lisowski doesn’t let the Palace experience get to him too much he can turn over a player who hasn’t looked as sharp as he does now for a year or so, if ferocious potter Jack gets an early foothold in the match he might be out of sight before Ding has even woken up.       

Prediction: Lisowski to win 6-3.

John Higgins v Ryan Day – Sunday January 13 at 7pm

These two seem to play each other quite a lot don’t they? Or is that just me? Anyway, they met here last year in the quarter finals and Higgins ran out a very comfortable winner but their latest meeting in Shanghai saw a deciding frame victory for Day, both matches over the best of eleven distance that this one is. Higgins seemed very down in the dumps pre-Christmas and there was even again talk from him of considering his future at the end of the season. I think his last two defeats in world finals have really knocked the stuffing out of him and sometimes I feel exhausted just watching him. But he can’t be feeling that bad as he knocked in a 147 in Scotland to round off the year so perhaps following the festive season he may feel a little better. Perhaps he was just having a bad week. Day hasn’t quite been the player he was this time last season following his run of tournament wins and he suffered a shock 6-2 defeat to Joe O’Connor in the UK at the very first stage so he’d like to get his season back on track this side of the new year with a confidence boosting run in this, given he’s fallen out of the top 16 on the one year list. Rather than a runaway win I think this one might produce the drama on Sunday rather than the afternoon match and I can see this going close given that the two are pretty evenly matched on current form and I’ll plump for the tenacious old warhorse Higgins to just edge it.    

Prediction: Higgins to win 6-5.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stuart Bingham – Monday January 14 at 1pm

Superlatives have come and gone, come back again and again and they just keep on coming, but Ronnie’s current spell of form is probably best summed up by Stephen Hendry when he said, without even a hint of self-awareness, that Ronnie’s recent run is as close to a domination of the sport that anyone has come since he did it. Allen may well be the man of the moment, but you have to factor in that his two big recent wins came in events that O’Sullivan didn’t enter and that in the middle of them Ronnie beat him in the UK final. The plain fact is that having played 28 matches so far this season, Ronnie has only lost two of them; to Judd Trump and to Dark Mavis (under something of a cloud from his previous match), so that is some going. Despite the commanding 14-3 head to head Ronnie enjoys over Bingham, Stuart is one of those players who to me gives it his best against The Rocket and is usually outplayed rather than intimidated into defeat, Ronnie seems to consistently up his game against some players for whatever reason and Stuart, unfortunately for him, is probably one of them. They have met twice this season, both victories as you’d expect given what I have already said for Ronnie, and you’d be a brave person to bet against another one here. It has to be Ronnie, in an event he clearly loves. Perhaps a showdown with Allen in the semi-finals is where this half is heading and the winner of the whole thing will come from that.    

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 6-2.

Who are you?

Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire – Wednesday January 16 at 7pm

Hey you over there! Yes you! Didn’t you used to be Mark Selby? The winning machine is clearly malfunctioning at the moment and despite a title, a classic semi-final with Ronnie in Belfast and a couple of quarter final appearances, Mark hasn’t won a match on the BBC since he lifted the World title in May 2017 with victory over John Higgins. He also lost in the first round here last season and has only won two matches here in the last four seasons. So what’s the problem with The Jester? It’s very hard to fathom but we didn’t even see him on our screens at York because James Cahill had already pumped him in the pre-TV stages so he clearly needs to up his game in the Grand Slam events to remind people who only watch snooker now and again who he is and what a handsome chap he has grown into. This might make this sound more of a crisis than it actually is given he is still 3rd on the one year list but I’ve got to give Hazel and the gang a little gem to dangle ahead of this match against Maguire. On the head to heads these two are pretty evenly matched and Maguire has been a bit more consistent than usual this season without causing a lot of bother at the business end with two semi-finals and a quarter final in York to his name. This match all depends on Selby really, he has to start putting things right soon in the biggest events but Maguire is a very dangerous opponent and not one you want to tackle when the BBC are on your back and shoving their own private records in your face, I think he’ll turn the corner soon, but I’m not sure it will be here, my bet would be Sheffield, where I think he feels most at ease.   

Prediction: Maguire to win 6-4.

Judd Trump v Kyren Wilson – Wednesday January 16 at 1pm

Let the pretend rivalry begin! As made-up stories designed to convince people they are true go, this is right up there with that big red bus that went on about giving money to the NHS instead of the EU or Donald Trump saying he’d never met that porn star who knew what his little fella looked like. But never over-estimate the intelligence of the general public is what I say. Anyway, I’m sure that the BBC will try and eeek out some needle between two basically nice lads, who just happen between them to carry a decent chunk of snooker’s long term future on these shores in their collective bridge hands. I seriously think the BBC have missed a trick not scheduling this one for the opening Sunday afternoon, it kicks off at 1pm on Wednesday when most people who will want to watch it are at work and it would have really showcased snooker’s future to a larger audience nicely in my opinion, but what do I know? They are pretty even on the head to heads but I’m kind of getting the feeling that the younger man, Wilson, is beginning to gain the psychological edge in the matches that really matter of late. Judd however as mentioned above is one of only two players to beat O’Sullivan this season and the only one to beat him when he was firing, he’s in great form, knocked in a maximum just before Xmas in the German qualifiers and has just won a group in Coventry so this is set up really nicely. I’d say this is poor scheduling for what looks on paper to be the tie of the round, it’ll come back to bite ya, mark my words.  

Prediction: Wilson to win 6-5.

Barry Hawkins v Shaun Murphy – Tuesday January 15 at 7pm

Another coin toss of a tie here between two players who have been under-performing so far this season, which is unusual for Murphy but generally par for the course for Hawkins, who tends to save his best for the second half of the season, namely Sheffield. Murphy came back to form in Scotland with his runners-up spot to Allen and then proceeded to knock in 8 centuries in 10 winning frames to qualify for Berlin, it seems the Magician’s wand may be slowly rediscovering it’s powers after it being a little limp of late since he upped sticks and moved to Ireland. Their last really meaningful encounter came at this stage two years ago when Hawkins rode out an easy winner, but with Murphy playing catch up on his peers already this season and now back in cahoots with his old coach, I sense that if Barry were to prevail again it won’t be such a procession. Given that these two are so evenly matched I’m only going with Murphy because I think he’ll have a strong second half of the season and might be a bit more focused at the moment, but I think we could have another very close one here.    

Prediction: Murphy to win 6-4.

Mark Williams v Neil Robertson – Tuesday January 15 at 1pm

A real Kebab versus Carrot affair this as the carnivorous current world champion takes on the plant-based Aussie who is showing signs of a return to something like his best this season, particularly in his trademark break-building department. The head to head shows a commanding lead for Robertson but this is masked by small time encounters in the Championship League which Neil usually wins. When you remove those it’s more or less level and surprisingly for two top players they haven’t met very often at all; just six times in nearly 14 years and never in a Grand Slam event. I say discount those minor event meetings but it is amazing how routinely Robbo wins these match ups, which perhaps suggests that he might enjoy playing Mark, but that may be just me reading too much into it, it could just be that MJW had too many sausages on his Crondon Park breakfasts on the days in question. Williams is making much about not really caring this season and if that’s true, who can blame him? But a carefree floater brings with him his own danger factor and if he really doesn’t give a damn if he wins or loses he’s shrugging off any pressure he might otherwise put on himself here. Robertson has already bagged 47 tons this season with Judd Trump the only player to have done the same kind of volume, and in that kind of scoring form that makes him a contender in any big contest. I just can’t get that Championship League formline out of my head here as there is very little else to go on so I’m plumping for Robbo to send Willo back to his caravan, which is probably now relocated to Barbados.  

Prediction: Robertson to win 6-3

RECOMMENDED BETS: Trebles and an Acca on all these four matches having over 9 frames: Higgins/Day, Trump/Wilson, Selby/Maguire, Hawkins/Murphy – Acca pays over 25/1 Boosted at William Hills. Trebles, Fourfolds and Accumulator on Lisowski, Maguire, Wilson, Murphy and Robertson – Acca pays 59/1 at Marathon Bet.  

Daily doubles will appear throughout the championship each morning on Twitter.

Quarter-finals:
QF1 (Allen / Brecel v Ding / Lisowski): Thursday January 17 at 7pm
QF2 (Higgins / Day v O’Sullivan / Bingham): Thursday January 17 at 1pm
QF3 (Selby / Maguire v Trump / Wilson): Friday January 18 at 1pm
QF4 (Hawkins / Murphy v Williams / Robertson):  Friday January 18 at 7pm

Semi-finals:
Winner QF1 v Winner QF2: Saturday January 19 at 1pm
Winner QF3 v Winner QF4: Saturday January 19 at 7pm

Final: Sunday January 20 at 1pm and 7pm

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