Thursday, 30 September 2010

Paul Collier EXCLUSIVE column - THE LAUNCH

Hi everyone.

I'm Paul Collier. For those of you who don't know me, I'm a part-time referee for World Snooker, and I also officiate all of the Premier League games.

Welcome to the first of a series of montly columns I'll be penning for OnCue.

Here, you can read how I've been keeping busy on the baize, and all my views on what's hot in the world game...

This week has been one of the quietest so far this month after the last few weeks were dominated by competitions.

One of the biggest talking points in the game at the moment is the changes to the ranking system. Now that they're being adjusted at more regular intervals of the season, and there are more ranking points up for grabs with the creation of the PTC and EPTC tournaments, some of the top 16 players are in big danger of sliding down.

It may not be good news for some of the more established players but, if you're winning matches, you don't have to worry.

For the younger players, it's great news though.

They've been handed a great opportunity to rise up the rankings quickly. And the PTC events also mean the young guns can experience what it's like to play the sport's biggest games much earlier in their careers.

It's the perfect apprenticeship and I expect to see more young players coming through in the next few years.

The players at the top of the rankings at the minute are the winners of the last two ranking events, Neil Robertson and Ali Carter.

I thought Neil was terrific in Glasgow. He carried staright on from the form he showed at the Crucible. He definitely deserves his place.

The whole World Open competition was entertaining. The Premier League is successful because of the shot clock, but the best of five frame matches really proved great for the neutral.

We're in an age where people want value for money and, with shorter matches, they get closer matches, and the chance to see more players.

There's extra pressure for the players to deal with but it's great expereince for more lower ranked players to earn a televised appearance too. It gives them a chance to get used to the conditions because some players are fazed by it.

One of my closest friends is Darren Morgan. He won't thank me for saying this, but he was a different player when the TV cameras started rolling. He found it very difficult, so hopefully these competitions will help the players who soemtimes suffer.

Ali won the tournament in Shanghai. I thought he played very well. He's one of those players who you're never surprised at if he wins a ranking event, but he's never labelled as one of the front runners either.

He's found a real consistency over the last couple of seasons. Being second in the rankings, shows how important that is.

Another player who's been in great form so far this season is Mark Williams.  

Mark and I have been friends for years because in the early 90's I was manager of the Emporium Snooker Club in Bargoed, where Mark played from when he first picked up a cue right up until last year when he bought his own club.

We often have a pint after a match and I'm really pleased to see him producing his best snooker again.

He'll be the first to admit he took his eye off the ball in the last couple of seasons, but he's settled down again and is putting a lot of practice in. It just shows, if you put in the effort, you get the rewards.

In his match against Mark Selby, he was 2-0 down and went on to win 4-2. When he levelled at 2-2, he turned round and said to me "I bet you didn't see that coming". It was a classic Mark moment. It's great to see him back.

No snooker column would be quite right without Ronnie either, after the month he's had. First, he pulled out of Shanghai, then he made a 147 in Glasgow before reaching the final.

I know Ronnie really well and he does make me laugh. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and I believe him when he says he got a bigger buzz out of leaving the final black on the spot. You could see the smile on his face. He's got a bit of criticism, but I think he's good for the game.

Even though September has been a busy month, we shouldn't forget about John Higgins and the conclusion of his tribunal.

I think it's time people stop questioning the verdict. All the evidence was presneted and he was cleared, so he's innocent.

He may have been a silly or even a lucky boy but I'm sure he's learned a lesson. Knowing John, his return to the table will be worrying him. It's difficult to know what kind of reception he'll get and the effect it will have on him.

It's important he does his talking with his cue.

He's in his 30s now, the twilight of his career, but he's got a lot of character. His record over the longer distance is great. I wouldn't be surprised if he's got another world title in him over the next four or five years.

Thanks for reading. I'll be back with more next month.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

60 seconds with... Adrian Gunnell

World ranked number 49 Adrian Gunnell has been a consistent player among the game's top 64.

While his goal has always been to break into the top 32, appearing at the televised stages of the World Open last week should give him a lift.

He was beaten 3-0 by Ding Junhui, but OnCue took a short time out to chat with the Telford cueman.

When did you start playing snooker and how?

I began playing the game on a full size table when I was 9-years-old. I only started playing snooker because I outgrew my 4ft pool table.

What's your proudest snooker moment and why?

My best moment was making a 147 in Thailand Masters qualifiers.

What's your lowest moment and why?

My lowest point was losing to Mark King 10-8 and missing out on qualification for the Crucible. I was leading 8-4 in the match as well. I didn't play for five months after that match and I would have quit the game had it not been for Del Hill.

Where do you see yourself in five year's time?

I would like to be living abroad.

What professional snooker player do you most admire and why?

I most admire Stephen Hendry. I think he's the greatest player ever and his dedication and work ethic was immense even when he'd won everything, when he could have been forgiven for easing up and enjoying his success.

What's your greatest snooker memory?

One of my favourite snooker memories is Paul Hunter going mental in the second session of the Masters final against Fergal O'Brien. He was 7-2 down and played unbelievable to win 10-9. Or, and maybe when Hendry made 7 centuries in the UK final.

If you weren't a snooker player, what would you be and why? 

I would perhaps do something in the motor trade as I'm a bit of a car fanatic.

Monday, 27 September 2010

World Open: Winners and Losers

The game of snooker was a definite winner over the last week.

Because of this, so was Barry Hearn.

Switching the World Open to a best-of-five frame shoot-out competition proved an absolute matserstroke by the sport's supremo. The action on the baize gave us all the entertainment we could have wished for.

World number one Neil Robertson was obviously the biggest winner of all. But OnCue takes a look at some of the other winners and losers of the past week's play.


Martin Gould

The 29-year-old is ranked a record high world number 26 after making it through to his first ever ranking event quarter-final.

The Middlesex born potter showed the kind of form that will help him realise his ambition of breaking into the top 16.

He got on with the game, played plenty of attacking shots and crusied without even a trouble to the last eight, before coming up unstuck against a fighting fit Peter Ebdon.

On this form, he's easily the best player outside of the elite.

Peter Ebdon

The Force needed all his might in Glasgow to break back into the top 16.

After falling out of the elite last season, Ebdon grafted as much as ever before. His reward was a trip to the quarter-final which sees him rise back up to number 13 securing his qualification for the UK Championship, and invitation to the Masters.

What made his triumph even greater was that he never really hit his A-game either.

Barry Hawkins

We all know how dangerous Hawkins can be when he's in form.

But his problem for many a season has been translating his spells of good play onto a more consistent level.

Although only over a short format, the Kent based player showed why he can break the top 16 again.

His highlight came beating one of this season's star performers so far, Mark Selby.

He eventually lost to Mark Williams but ran the in form Welshman all the way.

Igor Figueiredo

It was the Brazilian's first televised appearance, and even though he went down 3-0 to Williams, he showed exactly why some people are tipping him for great things.

He has a hugely entertaining open and attacking style of play, his cue power is immense, and he isn't fazed by the attention.

If he'd played most other players, he'd have come out much better. He was just unlucky to meet such an inspired Williams.

He did enough here though to prove he has a very bright future.

Ronnie O'Sullivan

The Rocket came to Glasgow world ranked six, left at number four and with a long overdue ranking event final under his belt.

After not even travelling to Shanghai, Ronnie was desperate for the ranking points more than most.

He met an on song Robertson in the final, but before that he made the game look effortless.

Ronnie was again the talk of the torunament after throwing in a 147 for good measure. His form here shows he can challenge again.


Bjorn Haneveer

The Belgium number one didn't cover himself with any glory after going down 3-0 to Stephen Hendry.

Bjorn has shown good form over the last 12 months in qualifiers, and he's produced some great results so far in this season's PTC events.

But when the cameras were rolling, he played the occassion rather than the match. Some of his shots were mystifying.

Playing the seven-time world champion is never easy, but when he didn't question the referee over a clear free-ball, everyone could tell his mind was elsewhere. That was his chance, and he blew it.

Shaun Murphy

Early exits in both Shanghai and Glasgow will have The Magician looking over his shoulder somewhat.

After a terrific start to his Premier League defence, many people have been tipping him for success this season.

But after suffering the biggest shock of this tournament, being whitewashed 3-0 by Dave Harold, he'll have to up his game.

Ali Carter

The Captain can probably live with his last 32 exit after winning the Shanghai Masters a few weeks earlier, but after setting himself such high standards, this was bad news.

A tough draw didn't help him, but now ranked as number two, making the quarter-final is surely a minimum for him.

Paul Davison

Paul is renowned as one of the toughest players on the qualifying circuit.

He's a hard match player, and when he was presented a tie against Jimmy White, he didn't take it.

The world number 82 was tense and distinctly off colour, which cost him the chance to play O'Sullivan.

Marco Fu 

Still a player who is difficult to understand. At times, he can be unplayable.

On others, he's way off the pace.

Glasgow saw one of the latter. Defeat to Andrew Higginson in the last 32 was a poor result, and he's lucky to have clung onto his top 16 status. Matthew Stevens nearly pipped him though.

If he carries on like this, he'll be out soon enough though.


Sunday, 26 September 2010

Robbo is king again

Neil Robertson is the undisputed king of snooker right now.

World champion, world number one, and tonight he added the World Open crown to his collection.

In May, he proved he was top dog in the longer form of the game at the Crucible. This week he proved he's the master of the shorter format as well.

The Thunder from Down Under didn't steal all the headlines earlier in the week. Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams were busy doing that for him.

Today, he dispatched of them both and again showed one of his greatest attributes is playing himself into a tournament.

The irony of it all, is just like at the Crucible, he only delivered his very best when he was in threat of elimination.

Being just a frame away from defeat against Martin Gould in Sheffield, was when he started showing his worth.

In his semi-final against Williams today he was 2-0 down, and on his way home.

This sparked him into life, and when the pressure was on, he produced his best again. This is the kind of quality that makes champions.

From that point on, he won 7 of his next 8 frames to defeat the Welshmen and hammer Ronnie 5-1 in the final.

And this wasn't just any Ronnie. It was a Ronnie who made the game look easy all week long.

But that's what makes Robertson so special. He's never fazed. He has ultra confidence in his ability, to the point where he makes it happen.

Another reason for the man from Oz to be fronting an extra smile this week is because his victory came when many tipped him to feel the heat of being world champion.

It's no secret in the game that the season after your first Crucible win is by far and away the toughest.

Robertson in theory is laid back enought to deal with it.

Tonight, he proved he can and will cope with it. He is without doubt the man to beat.

As for Ronnie, he showed this week he can still mix it with the big boys. As much as he protests, he played well enough this week to win it. He'll be hurting. But after missing Shanghai, even finishing runner-up here will hand him some valuable ranking points.

There's plenty of positives for The Rocket. The Kind of positives that suggest he could be in line to make a real challenge this season at the UK and World Championships.

Tonight's final concluded a terrific week for the sport. A week that is sure to stay in the game.

Switching to this shorter form of play wasn't universally approved by players and fans alike. But, there won't be too many doubters now.

It was great to wacth from ball one.

And I'm already looking forward to next year already.

The best-of-five shoot-out did give more opportunities for players lower down the rankings enjoy their day in the sun.

Gould made it to his first ranking event quarter-final, Dave Harold enjoyed a 3-0 win against Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins was arguably the best player outside of the the four semi-finalists.

But any arguments this format would dilute the game were dispelled as myth. All four of today's semi-finalists are reigning or fomer world champions. It showed that over however many frames, the best will still always rise to the top.

Glasgow has been a fantastic venue. Cracking stuff!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Producing under pressure

It was difficult at the start of the week to know quite what to expect at the World Open.

With matches being played under a shorter best-of-five-frames format, form can go out of the window, and so too could the quality.

And with the official rankings now adjusting at more regualr intervals over the season, namely next month, there's been a lot at stake for the players.

You could have forgiven them if this added pressure had seen standards dip.

But in a generation where the toughness of the plyers is probably higher than ever, being in the pressure cooker seems to have had the opposite effect.

There's been a lot of talk about Mark Williams' resurgence up the rankings.

He's a man on the war path back to form.

But many predicted his performances to level out. This week though, it's gone through the roof. In fact, he's back to the kind of form that landed him two world titles just under a decade ago.

With the spotlight firmly back on the Welsh Potting Machine, he's again shown that he's one of the best pressure players the game has ever produced.

Another player under the cosh at the moment is young gun Ding Junhui.

After a far from ideal start of the season where he suffered an early defeat in Shanghai and has stuttered in his opening Premier League matches, China's number one has been striking the cue ball as good as ever.

He looked imeperious as he ripped through Marcus Campbell earlier today.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has never been one to suffer from stage fright. But without a ranking title to his name in over a year, slipping down the rankings to number six, and the vultures out to get him, he's been back on clearance form this week.

He plays Stephen Hendry tomorrow, who was under threat of dropping out of the 16 when he arrived in Glasgow. When he needed displays though, he rekindled his conviction.

Players like Stephen Maguire and Martin Gould have been on fire too. This week has had the kind of quality that has come as a surprise considering all the biprducts which threatened to make it a hit and miss week.

So to all the players who have hit form this week, well done lads!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ronnie: A true genius at work

Ronnie O'Sullivan is a snooker genius.

There is no question about that.

But on an occasion when his vast talents should have won the day, The Rocket's dark side still managed to rear its ugly head, and sadly, overshadow his record breaking moment.

Potting a maximum 147 break should have been enough for Ronnie to have been basked in more glory.

After all, his career has been full of triumph.

They say he's the most talented player ever to pick up a cue.

Yesterday he probably proved that again becoming the first player in the history of the game to reach ten ranking event maximums, taking him ahead of the most decorated player in the history of the game, Stephen Hendry.

But unfortunately despite all this, and on a day when everyone should have been admiring him, fans in snooker clubs across the country have been criticising him instead.

He pocketed just eight points in his third frame against Mark King when he asked referee Jan Verhaas what the prize fund was for a 147.

The snooker world doesn't have a problem with that.

In fact, it's the kind of arrogance which you'd expect from a player of such greatness.

The part of yesterday's episode that doesn't sit quite right with fans, is the final moments of his magnificent feat.

Despite a career where Ronnie has always aspired to be a crowd pleaser, yesterday he forgot that.

Winning £4,000 is a fair sum of money in most snooker players' books

Ok, to Ronnie, it's nothing.

But making a maximum wasn't his chance to make quick money, it was a chance to win more glory.

He had a chance to knock snooker great Hendry off one of his many perches.

He had the chance to become Mr 147.

He achieved it anyway. But he did it the wrong way. It took poor old Jan to remind him about his fans.

All Ronnie was worried about was making 140 and then proving point by leaving the final black spotted.

It was about him making it the 'Ronnie Show'.

I'm a massive fan. I still am. Whatever he ever does, I will be. Because I believe he's the best of the best.

But yesterday left me with mixed feelings.

Part of me is smirking.

Smirking that again, when the fans who love to hate him were made to watch his brilliance once more.

In the world of snooker there's quite a fine margin between the Ronnie lovers and haters.

But even I, one of his biggest fans, felt a little bit let down.

Let down because he showed money (or proving a point) mattered more than the people who have supported him through thick and thin.

I'm sitting in the halfway house at the minute.

I'm pretty sure Ronnie couldn't give a toss about what happened yesterday.

Once again, his fans care more.

And in a strange way, reasons to believe O'Sullivan is a true sporting genius, rung through even truer here.

Like any genius, Ronnie is a fragile character. That's the only way of explaining what we saw yesterday.

He showed his good and bad here.

He showed why the public love to watch his talent. But he also showed the kind of controversy that comes with genius status too.

Despite all this, and however much some people may despise his behaviour, snooker still needs Ronnie.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Ronnie nets maximum

Love him or hate him, Ronnie O'Sullivan showed once again he is the ultimate genius of snooker.

He smashed in a maximum 147 break in the final frame of his 3-0 win against Mark King at the World Open this afternoon.

But actually, this is only half the story.

Just a frame earlier, after failing to gain good position on the green off the yellow, he smashed the ball without a care in the world.

Then in the frame where he made his 10th career 147, he refused to play his next shot after having eight points on the board, until referee Jan Verhas told him what the prize money was for the maximum clearance.

After learning it was just £4,000 - the same as for the highest tournament break - he shook King's hand with the final black still on the table.

Jan told him to knock the black in for his fans, and so he did.

In his interview after the match, he criticised Barry Hearn for the lack of prize fund and said he wasn't actually that bothered, and got no buzz from the break.

Today's events have sparked fury in the snooker world with many fans claiming he has a lack for his fellow players and the game. I have a feeling this debate is going to kick off big style now.

More to follow...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Entertainment matters

I know a lot of the seasoned pros haven't been enjoying this year's relaunched World Open.

But from a spectators point of view, it's been class.

Both Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams admitted they've not enjoyed being out there. But for me, that's the attraction.

I find it intriguing to watch the top players out of their comfort zone, and seeing how they react to best-of-five-frame battles.

What makes this competition such an attraction, as well as the random draw, is that every player is in with a chance.

I don't think if Dave Harold played Shaun Murphy in the first round at the Crucible ten times, he'd even win one. That's no disrespect to the Stoke potter, but the top player's in the game are so efficient over the longer distances, that it makes life for the lower ranked players too tough.

Just like the FA Cup in football, the snooker World Open could become the competition where we begin to see fairytale stories.

I don't think every tournament should be like this of course.

The major appeal of snooker to me is the slow burning tension the game creates, and that the best players are those who are mentally toughest.

It's a sport that tests determination and mind power. That should never change.

But, I also think this kind of quickfire snooker is fantastic as an annual ranking event. It mixes it up, and I've been down the pub this weekend and talked about snooker to all kinds of people.

It's captured a new breed of fan's imagination. And, at the perfect time too. Just as the John Higgins saga has dragged the sport through the rough, suddenly people are talking about the sport for the right reasons.

What has probably made this tournament even better is that players look sharper than in the Grand Prix in years gone by.

This is all down to Barry Hearn and the new tournaments he's introduced. The standard of play has been high, which is what we all want to see.

It also means players right down the rankings are in full swing, and therefore have the a higher chance of qualifying for a ranking tournament.

This means more pro players reach the televised stages of competitions. There will be more variety to the players who appear on TV, and in turn, the depth of the sport will become even deeper.

So, it's a big thumbs up from me.

I'm going to enjoy this week big time.

Stuart Bingham EXCLUSIVE interview

Coming this week...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Williams back in the big time

Mark Williams plays his first Premier League match in more than five years tonight.

There may not be any ranking points attached to this event.

In fact, it has almost no impact on other areas of your game either.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has virtually dominated within this format of the game over the last few years, but he's still struggled to be as effective at the major ranking events.

Shaun Murphy was winner last year - he failed to win any ranking events in the same season.

But this didn't stop Williams being desperate to win back his place.

Because being part of this parade proves your status as a member of the real elite in the sport.

The Welsh Potting Machine used to be a regular Premier League competitor, but after slipping quickly down the rankings, he lost his spot.

A climb back into the top eight and victory at last season's China Cup has ensured Williams is back playing in the popular competition.

He plays his first match in the Premier League for more than five years.

And against Mark Selby tonight, he'll be looking to have an instant impact.

He told "It feels very good to be back in the Premier League.

“I haven’t played in it for many years and it’s one of the best tournaments around so I’m looking forward to it.

"I wasn’t confident of getting back in the Premier League and I thought it was far away and the chance had gone.

“I was too far down the rankings and was never going to get a wildcard as you have be in the top six or seven to have a chance.

“For 12 to 18 months it looked like there was no way on earth that I would get up there but somehow I’ve managed to do so.

“I dropped down the rankings like a stone and at one stage I was at 47 and couldn’t see a way back to the top.

“But with a lot of hard work and practise I started to climb the rankings the right way. It’s a lot easier to fall down the rankings than to climb back up.”

60 seconds with... Igor Figueiredo

Brazil's Samba star Igor Figueiredo has taken the circuit by storm this year with some fantastic displays already this season.

He kicks off his World Open campaign this weekend when he faces former world number one Mark Williams in the last 64.

OnCue asked him some quickfire questions on the eve of the tournament...

When did you start playing snooker and how?

I started playing when I was five-years-old watching my dad play impressed me with what he could do on a pool table and that was how I started to learn.

What's your proudest snooker moment and why?

I've had several great moments. The first was when I won my first national championship and my dad was watching. It gave him the return for all the time he'd invested in teaching me. He was very patient and put in a lot of effort.

What's your lowest moment and why?

My worst moment was when I lost the national championship final. I was totally unprepared for this technically and physically. It was not a good moment in my career. I don't ever want a moment like that again.

Where do you see yourself in five year's time?

That question, I don't know the answer, but I hope with my family by my side and doing well in the rankings. I want to continue playing and representing my country.

What professional snooker player do you most admire and why?

I've liked Stephen Hendry for a long time. He dominated the game when he was at his bets. His coolness and precise moves were almost unbeatable, but I also like Ronnie O'Sullivan. His play is impressive.

What's your greatest snooker memory?

My best memory in my career was getting to the semi final of a national championship when I was just 13. I was in all the newspapers and on television. I decided from then on that I wanted to work hard and be the best.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Carter crowned Shanghai king

Snooker won't have many madder weeks than the one just gone by.

It started with the 2009 Shanghai Masters winner Ronnie O'Sullivan pulling out the competition ahead of his title defence.

In the middle, we had John Higgins' tribunal, where he was found not guilty of match fixing.

Then, on the actual baize, the form book went out of the window with many of the game's top players leaving Asia much sooner than they would have hoped. And no-one would have put money on Jamie Burnett reaching the first ranking event final of his 18-year professional career.

While all this was going on though, Ali Carter pulled out a kind of 'Classic Carter' display this week to capture his second ranking title win, and continue his climb to the precipice of the sport.

The Essex cueman is probably the most under-rated player within the top eight rankings right now. No-one ever raves about him and he's become known as one of the game's best grafters. But that doesn't really do his talent the justice it deserves.

As well as his tenacity, it's because of his very balanced game that he's ghosted so high up the rankings in recent seasons.

He's always been capable of knocking in competitive breaks, because he's such a sweet striker of the cue ball.

But ever since the 2008 world championship, where he made it through to the final, he seems to have acquired a tougher, more resilient streak. And it's no coincidence that since then he's become a much tougher cookie to break down, which has translated to his rise up the rankings.

He can battle, and he does this a lot more often now. But this added ability has somewhat overshadowed the fact that when he's playing well, he's actually very easy on the eye.

Saying this, I don't consider Carter the kind of player who's going to suddenly blow everyone away, win four ranking events in a season, and become the next world number one. His game is more based on his steady approach, and excellent shot selection. He's acquired an excllent discipline between taking shots on, and playing safe. This is a winning formula in anyone's book.

While I'm wary not to sell him short, the fact that he wasn't many people's tip for the title this week, suggest he's definitely under-rated but also that he's not a player feared on the circuit. People don't like playing him because he's hard to beat, not because he's unplayable in full flow.

He played terrifically well all week. You don't beat players like Mark Selby unless you're on the top of your game. He sure was that.

But he'll also admit himself that he profited from other player's being off colour. Avoiding the likes of Shaun Murphy, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson was a blessing. No disrespect to Burnett, but he could have been handed many tougher finals.

They say you can only beat what's in front of you. He achieved that and deserves his success. It's reward for his great consistency.

He was presented with a golden chance to winning a ranking event this week, and he grabbed it with both hands.

Well played Ali!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Roewe Shanghai Masters - Day Four - Bell rings on Ding

Dreams of the Shanghai Masters gaining its first ever homegrown champion came crashing to an end as Ding Junhui was resoundly beaten 5-1 by OnCues's dark horse tip, Jamie Cope.

The Chinese star rode his luck yesterday in round one coming back from 4-1 down to eventually stumble past wildcard compatriot Jin Long in a deciding frame shoot-out.

No disrespect, but against such weak opposition, this result was a false dawn that Ding was ready to stake a real claim on winning silverware this season.

The world number five is still desperately lacking in match practice. We saw evidence of this when he was beaten so comfortably by the same scoreline to Shaun Murphy in the Premier League.

And against a razor sharp Cope, Ding had no answer.

The Chinese cueman had an impressive season last time, reaching three ranking finals, and winning the UK Championship. This lifted him from a player tinkering towards the bottom of the top 16, to one of sport's leading lights.

He'd have been hoping to push on even further this year, but has had a far from ideal start, despite being one of the competition's firm favourites.

Ding wasn't the only one of the bookmakers top guns to be eliminated today.

Murphy come unstuck 5-2 against Welshman Matthew Stevens, who is enjoying a period of renaissance in his career at the moment.

The former giant put in the performance of the championship so far to reach the last eight.

This year's world championship runner-up Graeme Dott put in a stirring display too. He grafted for his life to beat Mark Williams 5-4 and deny him a seventh title in Asia.

These results have pathed the way for Mark Selby, who is now firmly installed as the man to beat.

His passage to the quarter-finals wasn't without a scrap though as he came up against a tenacious and confident Graham Gould.

The Jester from Leicester ran out a narrow 5-4 winner.

Drained from yesterday's triumph against world champion Neil Robertson, Peter Ebdon lost 5-3 to Mark King, and Jamie Burnett made lightwork of Andrew Higginson to whitewash his way through to the next round.

Another corker was the battle of Essex.

In a free flowing game, Ali Carter beat Stuart Bingham 5-3. A number of fans are now sounding out Carter as the man most likely to beat Selby.

And finally, Mark Davis continued to emerge as a player to fear. He recovered from 2-1 down to knock out another front runner, Stephen Maguire.

Quarter-final draw:

Jamie Burnett v Mark Davis
Graeme Dott v Jamie Cope
Ali Carter v Matthew Stevens
Mark Selby v Mark King

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Higgins let off the hook

We all get our fair share of luck over the years, but I can't help but feel John Higgins got an entire lifetime's worth and more today.

His two-day tribunal reached conclusion this afternoon, and the three-time world champion was found not guilty of match fixing, and given a mere £75,000 fine and six-month back dated suspension from the sport.

This will see the Scot back on the baize in November, ready to compete in this year's Masters, UK Championship and World Championship.

Where is the justice in this?

While Higgins claims all he is guilty of is naivety, I feel more strongly. True, he may not have known what he was getting himself into when he travelled to Kiev with his manager Pat Mooney.

But we've all seen the video footage. And on the back of this exchange, although he says he felt intimidated, he never told the authorities.

The result was the reputation of the sport being dragged through the mud, on none other day than that of the world final.

His actions, in my opinion, warranted a stricter punishment.

Only John knows whether he would have gone through with the match fixing scandal. He claims not, and the panel believe him.

I fear the fans of the sport will be a little tougher to convince.

And all because of this foolish moment, whether innocent or not, Higgins has now lost every inch of the reputation he fought for years to build.

Despite having accumulated 21 ranking titles in his decorated career, I know fans will not be able to take to him like they did before.

I'm sure he'll fight tooth and nail to win more trophies in the game. This setback will probably reinvigorate his determination. And I wouldn't put it past him picking up the world title again this year.

That's just the kind of player he's always been.

But whatever pots he can get his hands on, he faces no bigger challenge than winning back the respect of the snooker fans who once adored him.

Roewe Shanghai Masters - Day Three - Ebdon dethrones world champ

The pressure was on world champion Neil Robertson today.

The Aussie was playing his first televised match since capturing the Crucible crown in May, and a lot was being made of how he would cope this season as a first time winner of the greatest prize in the sport.

Becoming the hunted from the hunter hasn't been an easy role to play for former first time winners over the years.

While Stephen Hendry went on to capture five ranking titles the year after his first Crucible win, others have not fared so admirably. In fact, others have been a shadow of themselves when asked to play under a never before experienced spotlight.

Ambitious Robertson will be been keen not to fall into that bracket, but he didn't have the best of starts in Shanghai.

He was beaten 5-4 in a close fought match with Peter Ebdon, who ironically holds the worst ever record the season after becoming a first time world champion.

After his triumph in 2002, he failed to make a single ranking event final in the year after, and his tenacity managed to rock Robertson in his first outing.

The world number one has been widely tipped to cope with the added pressure that comes with being world champion. His laid back attitude to the game has been the foundation of his success so far in his career.

But today proved he can be rattled, although he'll be hoping it was just an off day.

Robertson wasn't the only former world champion to come unstuck on day three of the competition either, as 13-time winning duo Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were both booted out in the first round.

The Nugget lost 5-3 to an impressive Jamie Cope, while the record-breaking Scot went down 5-2 to an up and coming Martin Gould.

Gould is emerging as one of the best players on the circuit outside of the top 16, and this win will do his ranking chances no harm at all.

2005 Crucible winner Shaun Murphy showed it will take a little more to knock him off his perch.

He recovered from 3-1 down against Stephen Lee to win 5-3, and prove exactly why he's being touted as one of the front runners to win this competition.

Mark Selby and Ding Junhui are up there with the bookmakers too. They both progressed to the last 16 to keep their chances alive.

Selby defeated Chinese wildcard Mei Xiwen 5-2.

It wasn't so straight forward for Asia's brightest hope Ding. He found himself 4-1 down against Jin Long before battling back to win on a tense deciding frame.

Elsewhere, Mark King did his top 16 survival hopes a world of good with a 5-3 victory against Joe Delaney, while Ali Carter beat Dave Harold 5-3.

Round Two draw (to be played Thursday 09 September):

Jamie Burnett v Andrew Higginson
Mark Davis v Stephen Maguire
Mark Williams v Graeme Dott
Jamie Cope v Ding Junhui
Ali Carter v Stuart Bingham
Matthew Stevens v Shaun Murphy
Mark Selby v Martin Gould
Mark King v Peter Ebdon

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Roewe Shanghai Masters - Day Two - big guns beaten

Today was where the Shanghai Masters really hotted up.

Day two sees the introduction of the game's elite top 16 players, and any signs that the competition may suffer in entertainment value because of the exclusions of John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan, were dismissed as myths.

We had thrills, spills and more as round one kicked off.

And plenty of this tournament's big guns were left wondering where it all went wrong, before it even begun.

Mark Allan, Ryan Day, Marco Fu and last year's finalist Liang Wenbo were all sent packing, as the game's pecking order was thrown out of the window.

Essex cueman Stuart Bingham arguably took the biggest scalp of the day, beating the world number 10 Allan by a 5-2 margin.

Bingham has been one of the success stories in the season's PTC events so far, and he carried this confidence straight into Asia to blunt the Northern Irishman's hopes here.

Welshman Day has been sliding out of form at an alarming rate over the last year.

The world number 11 is in serious danger of slipping out of the top 16, and he couldn't arrest these worries, being beaten 5-3 by a solid Andrew Higginson.

Hong Kong's Fu was many people's tip for the shock first round exit, and world ranked 22 Mark Davis didn't disappoint in his maiden season in the game's top 32.

He came out 5-4 winner in an epic battle that went to the wire.

Asia's hopes had already taken a blow earlier in the day when last year's finalist Wenbo lost 5-3 to a resurgent Matthew Stevens.

The Wales potter has promised to make this a season that counts in his return to the top fo the sport, but he faced a massive test here. He didn't fall short either.

Wenbo is now in desperate threat of dropping out of the top 16 when the rankings are aligned in October. This would see him miss out on his first ever appearance at the Wembley Masters in February.

OnCue tipped Mark Williams for the title and earmarked Stephen Maguire as a potential first round casualty.

World number six Williams lived up to his billing, fighting back from 3-1 down to beat 2008 Shanghai Masters champion Ricky Walden 5-3 with a stirring comeback to continue his love affair with competitions in Asia.

Maguire faced an in form Judd Trump, but showed no mercy beating the 21-year-old 5-3.

The day's final game saw the clash of two former world champions.

Graeme Dott proved more recent success counts beating Ken Doherty 5-4 in a nail-biter.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Roewe Shanghai Masters - Day One - wildcard wonders

Wildcard day at the Shanghai Masters is always a shaky one for the few qualifiers that have to test their hand against China's brightest talents.

Opponents can be attacking, unpredictable and more than anything else, always backed by the home crowd.

In today's eight matches, six qualifiers came through unscathed, but Robert Milkins and Mike Dunn did come undone.

World number 35 Dunn will be the most disappointed. He missed out on his chance to meet tournament favourite Mark Selby after losing 5-1 to world ranked 102 Mei Xiwen.

Everyone knows Jin Long is a difficult prospect too after he finished third place in 2008 Jiangsu Classic competition. He proved this again stunning world number 40 Milkins 5-3.

His reward is a round one clash with fellow compatriot Ding Junhui.

The Darling of Dublin Ken Doherty got out of jail coming back from 4-2 down to dramatically beat Mohammad Saijad in the deciding frame.

A break of 83 in the final frame spared the 1997 world champion his blushes and set up his next match with Graeme Dott tomorrow.

Elsewhere, it was pretty much plain sailing.

Jamie Burnett beat Tian Pengfei 5-2, and now finds himself into the last 16, as he walks through round one, where he would have met Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Andrew Higginson beat Rouzi Maimaiti 5-2 and Martin Gould defeated Li Hang 5-3.

Dave Harold and Joe Delaney were both easy 5-1 winners.

Round one draw (to be played Tuesday 07 September and Wednesday 08 September):

Jamie Burnett v Walkover
Ryan Day v Andrew Higginson
Marco Fu v Mark Davis
Stephen Maguire v Judd Trump
Mark Williams v Ricky Walden
Graeme Dott v Ken Doherty
Jamie Cope v Steve Davis
Ding Junhui v Jin Long
Ali Carter v Dave Harold
Mark Allen v Stuart Bingham
Liand Wenbo v Matthew Stevens
Shaun Murphy v Stephen Lee
Mark Selby v Mei Xiwen
Stephen Hendry v Martin Gould
Mark King v Joe Delaney
Neil Robertson v Peter Ebdon

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Roewe Shanghai Masters 2010: BIG tournament preview

No country has embraced snooker quite like the fans in China have in recent years.

The phenomenal reception they give the sport when it comes to town is the main reason why players across the professional tour look forward to coming to Shanghai so much.

Ever since a ranking tournament came to China's second largest city in 1999, the public who live here have been hooked.

And in 2007, the Shanghai Masters began in its current format and has since become a staple in the snooker calendar as the opening ranking event of the season.

There really is no better place in the world for the season to kick off either because the fans love it so much, and so do the players.

Like the opening day of any sporting season, every player relishes the first ranking tournament of the snooker campaign. It's a chance for the sport's top guns to get big points on the board early doors. And a chance for those further down the pecking order to get their season targets off to a healthy start.

And the atmosphere Shanghai creates for snooker just makes it extra special.

The season's curtain raiser is always an intriguing one, but maybe this year, it's the case more than ever before.

In past seasons, players have arrived in Shanghai cold, with nothing but practice play under their belts.

This year, under the stewardship of Barry Hearn, the season is already in full swing thanks to the creation of the PTC events, that have kept players busy already.

While in the past, players may have needed a match or two to find their rhythm, this year there's no excuses. The top guns can really hit the ground running, which should make for some fascinating snooker from ball one.

While Ronnie O'Sullivan's withdrawal from the competition is clearly a hammer blow to the tournament's worldwide appeal, once the action begins, the competition will be as fierce as ever.

Sit back and enjoy, but first OnCue brings you its tournament preview.

They said...

All eyes will again be on China's top player Ding Junhui as snooker returns to Asia.

The two-time UK Championship winner hasn't won on his home soil since he lifted the China Cup in 2005.

Returning to his motherland will surely give him a boost of confidence, and he looks like he'll need it after being the only player on the professional tour yet to stike a cue ball in a PTC event this season.

Ding only has a 5-1 drubbing against Shaun Murphy in the Premier League to look to as comfort.

He told World Snooker: "I had a problem with my visa so I wasn't able to get to the UK.

"Everyone else has been playing in the PTC events, so it might be difficult for me in Shanghai because I have not played any matches.

"Since I got back to Sheffield I have been practising every day and I just have to try hard to play well. I'm looking forward to it because it's close to my home town and the support I get from my friends there is very special.

Last time out

Ronnie O'Sullivan is notoriously a good starter to the season.

While some other players suffer from a bit of rust, the Rocket's natural talent normally sees him begin strongly.

This was the case last year when he won the Shanghai Masters eventually beating home hope Liang Wenbo 10-5 in the final.

He cruised relatively easy through the final but faced a rocky path to make the showpiece beating Graeme Dott, Marco Fu, Ding and John Higgins along the way.

OnCue's tip...

Many people have been backing Mark Selby to win this one, but I've got my money on Mark Williams.

The Welshman is coming a lot closer to the kind of form he showed a decade ago.

It's been a gradual climb back to the top of the game, and I fancy him to have a really strong season in the major ranking events this year.

He faces 2008 winner Ricky Walden in the first round, and could face Dott in the second, but I can see him comfortably making the last eight. He's got a great pedigree in Asia, and don't be surprised if he meets Murphy in the final either.

OnCue's dark horse...

I'd keep your eyes out for Jamie Cope.

He's been going quietly about his business so far this season, but there's murmurs he may be playing himself into form just at the right time for this one.

His inclusion into the top 16 is an unexpected one, granted only because because world number one Higgins is still suspended. But he'll be determined to make it count even more, so that next time he's here on merit.

OnCue's flop...

Because Judd Trump is in such fine form at the moment, I think Stephen Maguire could be a first round casualty.

Last year, he consistently made it past the early rounds in events, but never took himself took the next level.

I think he'll have a better season this year but in Shanghai, I have a sneaky feeling it could get worse for him.

At the bookmakers...

It's no surprise to see Ronnie was the bookmakers favourite again here.

But since his withdrawal, Mark Selby has been installed as the new favourite at 4/1. He's closely followed by home hope Ding on around 7/1.

World champion Neil Robertson is a best priced 8/1 third favourite, followed by Murphy and Williams at 10/1.

As for the outsiders, EPTC1 winner Trump can be backed at 20/1, Stephen Hendry picks up 40/1 and last year's finalist Wenbo is on offer at 25/1.

Friday, 3 September 2010

O'Sullivan critics having a field day

The fans who love to hate Ronnie O'Sullivan were out in force today.

He officially announced his withdrawal from the Shanghai Masters this morning because of personal problems.

And as usual, people were quick to jump on his back, just like they revel when he's knocked out at the Crucible.

There's an ugly love to loathe attitude towards him within the game, that seems to rear its head everytime he strays from the most accepted journey of a snooker player. Maybe it's because some people can't accept his attitude to the game is different from many others who play it.

This time round, World Snooker didn't exactly help him to defend his corner.

Yesterday they briefly published an article in error saying he'd withdrawn from the competition because of a back injury.

This was swiftly removed, but not in time to stop the cat coming out the bag before intended.

Ronnie, being his usual caviler self, then went on to make two centuries in his Premier League curtain raiser against Marco Fu, and when the article reappeared this morning, back problems had mysteriously developed into personal problems.

We can argue all day about the legitimacy of the reason that's been given. But quite frankly, it doesn't matter. It's not our choice whether Ronnie goes to China or not. It's his own decision.

It's been highlighted in various media sources that this will be the third ranking event Ronnie has pulled out of in China.

But it's certainly not my place to start inventing conspiracy theories about why O'Sullivan has missed so many events in Asia.

It could be a coincidence, or it might be because he doesn't like playing there.

What I'm more disappointed about is that the first major ranking event of the season will be played without either the current world number one or the reigning Shanghai Masters champion.

Considering the current low image snooker holds in the public eye, it's hardly an ideal scenario as Barry Hearn is trying to relaunch the sport.

But all this O'Sullivan criticism has to stop. Whether you like his demeanor or not, he's the most talented player the game has at the moment.

He hasn't won as much as in his career as his vast talents are capable of. But as much as we prod and poke at his attitude, he'll never change. He's not going to become a Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry.

In my own humble opinion, I think Ronnie needs as many ranking points as he can get to reclaim his world number one ranking this season. If I was him, I'd be breaking my back (excuse the pun) to go and play in Shanghai. I'd be determined to prove my doubters wrong.

But, critics has never been something that has bothered Ronnie before and I'm sure it won't anytime soon either.

The fact is that Ronnie's fans care more about his world ranking than he does. He's said it a million times. All he cares about is turning up, playing snooker and seeing how he does. He'll never get bogged down in the politics of the game. It's not his style.

So while I expect nothing to ever change, I don't see what these obsessive critics are achieving.

Ronnie won't be in Shanghai. I doubt he'll miss it, but it will miss him. Snooker needs players like O'Sullivan.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Fu finds middle ground to earn draw

There's always been a sense of unpredictability about watching Marco Fu.

You never know whether he's going to turn up on his A-game, or look totally unrecognisable as one of the sport's leading players.

Well, on the opening night of the Premier League in Southampton, he was somewhere in the middle as he managed a 3-3 draw with Ronnie O'Sullivan, who admitted after the match he was happy to take a point.

The Rocket had to come from behind three times to earn a draw, in a match where very few chances were left unpunished.

Fu came flying out of the blocks with a break of 63 to claim the first frame. Ronnie levelled with efforts of 76 and 61 in the second.

Fu was back on top after clinching a scrappy third but O'Sullivan replied with a scitilating 119. He fell behind again as the Hong Kong cueman guaranteed a point with a frame-winning break of 87 in frame 5.

And then in the last,the Rocket made 103 to leave the match honours even.

Fu said: "3-3 is kind of a fair result as we both had chances to win the match. I played better and felt a little more comfortable as we’re playing more matches this year. I feel confident and hopefully can continue like this."

Champion Murphy sets his defence marker

Beginning the defence of any title is never an easy feat.

But a majestic performance from the Premier League reigning champion Shaun Murphy made it look easy against Ding Junhui.

The magician cruised to a comfortable 5-1 win compiling breaks of 124, 109, 55 and 45 along the way.

The Englishman was always favourite for this clash considering the lack of match practice Ding brought to the table having not participated in any of the new PTC events so far this season.

But even he would have been surprised at the ease in which he chalked up his first win on Matchday 1 in Southampton.

After the match he said: "Job well done, a good start."

Next up for Murphy is Hong King's Marco Fu when the competition lands in Preston on Matchday 3.

Ding doesn't have to wait as long to put this right as he's up again on Matchday 2 against Ronnie O'Sullivan in Plymouth.

60 seconds with... Ian Glover

Ian has been an ever present in the four PTC events this season.

OnCue asked him some quickfire questions to find out more about the man who has set his sights on the main tour.

When did you start playing snooker and how?

I started playing snooker when I was 13-years-old. My grandad introduced the game to me and I've been hooked ever since.

What's your proudest snooker moment?

Making my first 147 when i was 15-years-old.

What's your lowest snooker moment?

Probably last week in the EPTC1 in Germany because of how badly I played.

Where do you see yourself in five year's time?

Hopefully on the main tour moving up the rankings and being a serious threat.

What professional snooker player do you most admire?

Jimmy White. My grandad took me to the crucible to watch him play and I was amazed with his very entertaining style of play. He was a crowd pleaser. He was a nice guy whether he won or lost. He's a class act!

What's your greatest snooker memory?

Beating Mark Williams 4-1 at the PTC3 event in Sheffield. I was very proud to beat him because I think he's probably one of the top five best players of all time.

He is a player I always grew up watching and admired, so to beat him made me very proud.

If you could make one change to the game, what would it be?

Give me a wild card for the main tour, haha!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

BBC remembers Hurricane Higgins

Paying tribute to a legend is the most difficult assignment a journalist can ever be given.

It is one of the rare moments when a writer can clammer up, and worry about whether their words are great enough for the person they're describing.

Alex Higgins was such an iconic figure within snooker that as people pen his tributes, they wonder if they really are doing this great man justice.

A writer can only write about what he knows, or what he has seen.

The danger in this is that not everyone remembered Higgins in the same way, and you only have a set number of words or minutes to capture this all.

In essence, this job of paying tribute to Higgins is a greater task than that for just one man.

While Clive Everton penned one of the most moving obituaries I've ever read in the Observer newspaper, the only way of really remembering Higgins and all the different sides to his character, is to ask people to tell their own stories about him.

And this is exactly what the BBC did in their documentary, Alex Higgins: The People's Champion.

The result was a perfectly fitting tribute to one of snooker's greatest greats.

There was no shortage of emotion. This tale definitely pulled at the heart strings, but also showcased some of his greatest moments on the baize, with his wonderful talents there for all to see.

And for all his shortcomings, you cannot deny his legendary status within the game.

Even some of Higgins' fiercest rivals could find nothing but heart-warming words about what he did for snooker.

From a tired old professional sport, Higgins took snooker on a journey from the doldrums, and left it somewhere close to Hollywood.

His exploits on the colour television show Pot Black were massive, but his effects on the sport itself even greater, as he transformed the way it was both played and watched.

This BBC show mapped his rise, celebrated the height of his success in the 1982 World Championships, but maybe most importantly, didn't gloss over his dramatic fall.

Alex had many dark days in snooker. No-one is denying that. Both on and off the table, he faced troubles.

The documentary didn't try to mask that. That's what made this reportage so frank, and therefore compelling.

It was honest, and to the point, just like Higgins himself. Its assessment was full, sometimes even damning.

You could come away from this show knowing exactly what made him great, what stopped him achieving more, but more importantly what made him different, and what made him Alex Higgins.

The game gave him plenty, but he gave the game more.

Inside just 60 minutes of intriguing coverage, Higgins was given the kind of considered report, his vast talent and dedication to the sport deserved.

Hurricane, R.I.P.