I hope she likes snooker.
While we have all been in the Land of Nod, dishing out the Z’s and dreaming hazy baizey dreams, the table pixies under the watchful eye of The Snooker Gods, have been hard at work at the Crucible with fluffy spanners, spiritual levels and magical fairy dust to transform the most cramped arena in snooker into the vast gladiatorial epicentre that is, ladies and gentlemen, the legendary one-table situation.
The four warriors left to fight to the death are a former champion, two former runners up and a 39 year old newbie, perhaps not, when we all looked at the quarter final line-up, the four that we expected to be the last ones standing, but all there as of merit and all in fine fettle.
The action kicks off at 1pm this afternoon when Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins take to the baize, which means Shaun will be able to assess and tell us all about the kickage levels before anyone else now that the tables have been turned. Nature loving Barry is straight back out there following his win last night over, it has to be said, a rather sour loser in Neil Robertson in another decider, he’s making quite a habit of these.
Tonight sees Judd and Ballrun start out their best of 33 frame marathon with the feverish Judd perhaps having expected to be facing Ronnie, but Ballrun overcame the fragile Rocket last night in very assertive style, the most watchful fanatics having long since detected that Ronnie was not ‘at the races’ either during this match or any of his others. Once more, the favourite tag proved too much for him and perhaps his winning days here are over, just like John Higgins.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how these might pan out.
Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins
Shaun has looked very sharp on the table this year and even picked up a ‘Best Dressed Player’ award from the sponsors yesterday now that he has returned that ridiculous clowns outfit he turned out in the other day for a bet to the fancy dress shop on Sheffield High Street. Barry in the meantime is again proving the old adage that The Crucible is very much a ‘horses for courses’ venue, lining up in his 3rd consecutive year at the one table situation. He’s generally very underrated is Baz and I’ve been guilty of this myself for too long, he’s a player that flies so under the radar that even if he arrived today wired up with a backpack the US Intelligence Agencies would decide he’s not worth the bother, but something tells me this underdog tag suits him just fine. Murphy on the other hand is a player that most of us believe to be firmly planted in the world’s top 5 (5 or 6 if you are Willie Thorne) and having achieved the ‘Grand Slam'; an accolade hastily made up by the BBC, this season by winning the Masters, he’s now up there with an elite bunch of the game’s greatest and most good. Their form coming into this championship could not really have been more different, Murphy has had a very good season and Barry has been pretty awful since December, but having survived three ‘too close for comfort’ encounters he’s somehow made it here and given that he’s not been used to being at this end of a tournament for quite a while he seems fresh enough and unlikely to use burn-out as an excuse. Maybe it’s the great British country air at his cottage that’s doing the trick. So who wins? Well I think it will be Murphy. At this stage you have to side with the player who you believe is in the better form and the way he closed out the match against McGill leads me to believe that if this gets close he can do the same here, he’s also not had the inconsistency that Barry has shown at times during his matches. But he’ll have to be right on his game, if he isn’t, prepare for another grappling win from The Hawk, who given everything I have said I do think is a pretty generous price to win for value hunters.
Prediction: Murphy to win 17-14
Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 3.5 centuries at 10/11.
Judd Trump v Stuart Bingham
Judd was nothing short of awesome against Ding and anyone that watched the first six frames and nothing else this week and is about to jet off on holiday will return expecting to read that he is the new champion of the world. He’s been threatening to perform like this here for the last couple of seasons but this time it all seems to be clicking into place and he now finds himself odds-on favourite to get his hands on the famous old trophy and read all the names of the traditionalist anoraks and old farts that have won it before him. He’ll also get the chance to give Burger King some much needed publicity in the press afterwards; such a noble cause. Stuart will be many people’s idea of a party pooper having knocked out the narky, unstable and frankly childish Rocket in clinical fashion. I for one don’t want to watch Ronnie if he’s not on his game and I’m glad he lost, his behaviour at times to me was bordering on gamesmanship and he’s lucky that he’s still being allowed to get away with it by some, though not all, of the referees. I think this match could be a cracker in terms of the standard and I expect Bluebell Wood to be the main beneficiaries. Both of them are approaching the match right at the top of their game so there is very little to split them. But I, like a lot of others now, think this is Judd’s time to shine and I can see him having a session in amongst these four where he takes a stranglehold on the match. As I said in the original preview a couple of weeks ago, he will be world champion, it’s just a question of when rather than if. He won’t get many better chances than this and all he has to do is to play the way he did in the last round and he’ll be covered in confetti on Monday night. He just has to keep his focus and not let the thought of winning put him off.
Prediction: Trump to win 17-11.
Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 3.5 centuries at 4/5.
Recommended Double: 2 points on Murphy/Hawkins +3.5 centuries and Trump/Bingham +4.5 centuries pays just on 3/1.