Sunday, 24 July 2011

The man with the biggest bottle

Stuart Bingham has had his bottle called into questions this week - but today he proved he's got what it takes to perform under pressure as he captured his first ranking event title.

Ballrun staged a dramatic comeback coming from 8-5 down to beat the world number one Mark Williams, capture the Australian Goldfields Open title and earn his reward for 16 years as a professional.

What a sweet moment!

Bingham is one of the most liked men on the professional circuit.

He has nothing but respect for the game and is not afraid of dedication, shown by his willingness to play in all tournaments, big and small, down the years. That's why so many people are so pleased about his success.

But none more so than Bingham whose face was a picture as he lifted the trophy to cap off an excellent tournament down under.

Tonight, he'll be enjoying plenty of champagne, I'm sure.

But it nearly didn't go his way, of course.

After finishing the first session level at 4-4, he couldn't have started the second anymore nervous. Trailing 8-5, he was staring down the barrel as Williams closed in on a 19th ranking event title. But after fluking a snooker, he was thrown a lifeline and went on to perform heroics.

He played with the same positive attitude we've come to expect from him down the years, and then in the final frame, there were twists and turns but he managed cross the line.

A sublime cross double to the middle pocket proved key but he sealed the title with the simplest of greens, into the same pocket, after Williams suffered a dreadful kick.

He clenched his first - and he was a champion. Just like he's dreamed about for years.

I'm sure it's as sweet as he always thought it would be - and this week he's really deserved it playing some delightful snooker along the way.

Now firmly into the top 16 on the provisional world rankings, it will be interesting to see how much more success he can enjoy this season.

For Williams, this defeat was of stark resemblance to his collapse at last year's UK Championship final, where he squandered a 9-6 lead to also lose in a decider against John Higgins. I

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Ballrun Bingham into Bendigo final

Record-breaking Stuart Bingham proved he's in the form of his life by reaching his first ever ranking event final at the Australian Open today.

The world number 17, who already admits it's the best moment of his career, ran out a comfortable 6-2 winner against former world champion Shaun Murphy and now faces world number one Mark Williams to finally lift a trophy after years of graft in the game.

The great thing about snooker is that  players always know exactly how well they're playing. After beating Mark Allen in the quarter-finals, Bingham said it would take someone playing "very well" to knock him out - and Murphy wasn't up to the task.

Adding those two wins to a second round victory against Ding Junhui, Bingham has put his Crucible disappointment in April way behind him and is playing the best snooker I've ever seen from him.

Before now, Bingham's former greatest moment will surely have been beating seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry at the World Championship 2000. A lot has changed since then, namely Bingham improving his all-round game and becoming a more consistent qualifier.
It's taken him until 35-years-old to make a ranking final, but some people never get there. At last, everything he's ever played for is coming off. Victory tomorrow would be a great reward for his career where he has played in all events, big or small, in order to realise his dream and for his love of snooker.

There will be plenty of neutrals willing on Bingham but he will still go into tomorrow's final against Williams as the underdog. Saying that, you'd be silly to write him off. Being an underdog is a familiar role to him and it's in this position where he's enjoyed his greatest successes. Coupling this with his excellent form, he has the minerals to pull it off.

That doesn't mean it will be easy and he'll have to start strongly. Williams is one of the game's great champions who knows how to win big matches. He proved he's not in bad form himself either with an easy 6-2 semi-final win against Ken Doherty this afternoon.

While all of Williams' nearest rivals in the rankings have fallen to shock defeats this week, the Welshman has kept doing enough to progress and in turn proved why he sits at the top of the pecking order.

Like Williams, Bingham is known for attacking prowess. He's got the scoring game to win but, in the end, it might come down to how well he fares in the safety department. He's improved in this area ten-fold in recent years, but will have to be at his very best this tomorrow.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Bringing the best out of Bingham

Stuart Bingham is enjoying the most successful week of his snooker career in Bendigo - but it's not been without controversy.

The Basildon potter and world number 17 may be renowned on the circuit as Mr nice guy but, this week, the gloves are off - and he's playing as well as ever.

In fact, he's in to the last four of a major ranking event for the first time in his career.

His quarter-final clash with Mark Allen today was dubbed as a grudge match following comments in the press from the Northern Ireland man where said: "There's a bit of history between us. We don't get on.

"It would be nice to send him back where he belongs."

It may have been nice, but Bingham was fired up and ran out a thoroughly deserved 5-3 winner  after scoring the heavier of the two players.

Bingham is the kind of player who lives and breathes the game. It was obvious his sterner practice regime over the summer paid its dividends, and that should have been case closed.

But Allen wasn't content on letting it lie. He felt the need to upload a picture of former Chelsea FC manager Avram Grant, likening his looks to Bingham, and commenting: "how'd I lose to this ugly fucker??"

Now don't get me wrong, I like a player to speak their mind. I love a bit of needle. But this beyond acceptable. There's nothing worse than every press conference being filled with the same safe-bet answers, but the line has now been crossed by Allen

Allen also said yesterday: "He doesn't like me because I told the truth in a press conference that he has no bottle, no balls, and as he threw away a match (second round of the World Championship v Ding, 2011) after leading 12-9."

That on the other hand, is perfectly fair game. It's often referred to in sport as the war of words, and has been employed by some of the best in history.

Allen has over-stepped the war of words.I'm sure he won't care but Allen has gone way down in my estimations this week.

Whether he likes Bingham or not, professionalism is not an option in my opinion.

He added after his defeat today: "I enjoyed this game more and hopefully that's me getting the bug back for practicing more. When I do I know I won't be losing again to people like Stuart."

That sounds like Allen is getting a little bit big for his boots, considering he's yet to win a major ranking event himself. And I'd also be quite interested in placing some money on Stuart being ranked above Mark by the end of the season.

Bingham won't care one bit though. He'll be loving it out there. Wins against Allen and revenge on Ding are sure impressive as he continues to rise the ranks, now up to number 12 in the world provisionally - and he's playing well enough to go on and win the Australian Open.

First, he'll have to come past Shaun Murphy, who hasn't been in bad form himself this week. He dashed the dreams of this week's dark horse, Matt Selt, with a 5-3 win. He'll take some beating

On the other side of the draw, world number one Mark Williams produced a great pressure break of 142 to beat fellow Welshman Dominic Dale in a decider, and he faces Ken Doherty, who beat Mark Selby and has been rolling back the years in Australia.

Reaching his first ranking semi-final since the China Cup in 2006, the Dubliner looks as comfortable as ever, and a million miles away from the player who admitted he nearly quite the game two years ago.

Bring on the semi-finals!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Defiant Doherty downs Maguires

Ken Doherty turned the form guide on its head today with an excellent 5-2 win against Stephen Maguire at the Australian Open - proving he's still a long way from hanging up his cue

The  two players' form at last week's Thailand World Cup coming into this Bendigo clash could hardly have been more contrasting.

Doherty put in a string of uninspiring displays as Republic Ireland laboured through the group stages and then lost convincingly to China in the quarter-finals. Maguire on the other hand looked at the height of his form for Scotland, outperforming his partner John Higgins throughout.

On this basis, Maguire should have won hands down but the 1997 world champion had other ideas, as he dominated the Scot.

The win was a surprise and could hardly have come at a better time for Doherty. Currently ranked number 28 in the world, Ken needs results to retain his place in the top 32 for the next cut-off point. The 17-32 section of the rankings is as competitive as any right now. Everyone in there has been winning matches, and the Dubliner was being left behind.

While his odds of winning this match may have been slim, Ken has always been a fighter and has a terrific record away from the UK. He's won tournaments in Thailand and Malta before and has a good attitude to travelling.

While some players seem put out by the global path the game is taking, Ken just seems to be getting on with it, even after 21 years as a professional. Determined to continue playing the game he loves, today's performance suggests Ken still has a few years left in the tank.

Great news for Doherty fans but those in the Maguire camp were left to watch as he again fell foul of his inconsistent streak. Just a few months ago, he was in the final at the Welsh Open, and there were cries he was back to his best. Last week he was back playing what I call tournament-winning snooker, but today, he looked off-the-boil.

It will be interesting to see how he bounces back in Shanghai.

Ken wasn't the only non-top 16 player celebrating a win today though.

Stuart Bingham continued his charge to the top 16 with an impressive 5-2 win against recent World Cup winner Ding Junhui.

This was sweet revenge for Ballrun, who lost to the China ace in the last 16 at the Crucible 13-12 after leading 12-9.

Matt Selt continued his Australian Open fairytale with another defeat of a former Scottish world champion. He beat Stephen Hendry 5-1 to make his first ever quarter-final.

Liang Wenbo was also involved. He beat Matthew Stevens 5-4 as he shows more signs that he's ready to put his nightmare last season behind him.

Joe Perry nearly joined in but saw his 3-0 lead overcome by Mark Selby, who beat him 5-3.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Higgins falls down under

Another day in Bendigo and another shock first round exit in Australian Open.

Today, it was world number 43 Matt Selt who tore the ranking guide apart. He beat world and UK champion John Higgins 5-4, to reach the last 16 of a major ranking event for the first time in his career.

This will undoubtedly rank as Selt's best career win, but what made it more impressive, was that he had to recover from 4-1 down to pull it off.

While the Scot could probably count himself lucky to have established such a commanding lead  after the opening five frames in the first place, he failed to make it count with a performance so unlike Higgins, it was scary.

Usually renowned for his calculated and efficient game, Higgins proved today he's also susceptible to mistakes, just like anyone else. Just like Trump yesterday, he showed a little bit of rust from the summer himself.

Higgins missed a host of chances to seal the match in the final four frames, but full credit to Selt, who made him pay for his errors, and as a reward now faces seven-time world champion in the last 16 tomorrow.

Selt has built a reputation as a reliable, dependable and consistent player on the circuit over the last couple of years. Last season proves that entirely. Despite failing to make it to a major venue, he twice progressed to the final round of qualifying at the German Masters and World Championship, which earned him a place within the top 48 for the first time since turning professional for a second time in 2007.

But this season, he seems intent on taking his solid game to the next level, and making more of an impact. Wins against Adrian Gunnell and Ricky Walden for the loss of just one frame in qualifying for this event prove he's up for the fight - and beating Higgins will give him an added confidence boost.

Now his attention turns to another legend of the game in Hendry, who booked his place with a 5-3 win against  Martin Gould on Monday.

Hendry, who has recently vowed to win back a place in the top 8 of the world rankings, presents another winnable game for Selt.

As long as he doesn't play Hendry's reputation, he's got every chance of upsetting the apple cart again.

Obviously, Hendry hasn't completely lost his game, but it does go missing from time-to-time. Selt will get chances. If he takes them like he did against Higgins, he could be the success story of this year's maiden Australian Goldfields Open.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Davis shows Judd the Trump card

Judd Trump was dumped out of the Australian Open in the first round today - and the critics were out in force to stick the knife in

After losing 5-3 to Mark Davis in Bendigo, questions were being cast over the 21-year-old's tournament preparations.

His summer activities have been well-publicised on Twitter, and include holidays, fast cars and flash watches.

One tweep tweeted after he trailed Davis 3-0: "Ok someone has to say it. Judd needs to start behaving like a snooker player again. Who cares if he buys a crap watch or not?"

This comment is far from the worst and it's necessarily a criticism either, but perhaps just a warning that party time is over, and he needs to knuckle down again. I don't resent this comment in the slightest.

But I do resent comments which accuse accuse Trump of being work shy.

After all, it was because of hardwork that Trump earned godly praise for winning the China Open and being runner-up in the World Championship at the back end of last season.

While today's defeat leaves young Judd with plenty to think about having now started the season with two defeats in his opening two matches - it definitely isn't time to panic.

Of course, Judd wasn't at his imperious best but credit shouldn't be taken away from Davis either, who played some marvellous snooker to build a commanding, if not unassailable, 3-0 lead. From that point, Trump was powerless, and despite a worthy fight, couldn't quite scale the experienced pro.

Trump's shot selection was called into question. But, I remember it being called into question during his run to the Crucible final too. The difference is that in Sheffield, his shots were coming off. We can't have it both ways. You must concede that to have a player with such attacking instincts, it means that sometimes he may get it wrong.

Judd definitely got it wrong today, but that doesn't mean we should question his ability or work ethos. The media and the fans love to hype up players. Judd was worth every penny of that hype at the end of last season, and sure, he enjoyed it. Who wouldn't? But he never asked for it. Some people would say that he has to take the rough with the smooth. But I think people are too quick to forget.

His performances were so excellent at the end of last season that he earned instant snooker stardom.

As a result, he's let his hair down big time this summer, and rightly so. After winning his first major ranking title and reaching the final of the biggest snooker tournament in the world, he has plenty to celebrate. And we can't say we weren't warned either. Judd said himself after the world final that he intended to enjoy himself for a little while.

The summer break hasn't exactly been long, but even just a few weeks away from the table seems to have put his game back a little.

He's paid the price for that today but there's definitely no need to begin questioning his dedication. You don't get to a world final without bags of it.

Today, he wasn't at his best, so lost to a good player well in the hunt for a top 16 ranking position.  That doesn't make him a bad or uncommitted player.

It might be a little wake up call that it's time to focus, but mark my words: Judd Trump will be back.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

China on top of the world

China were crowned snooker's first world champions in 15 years today.

Asian duo Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo combined to beat Northern Ireland 4-2 in the final in Thailand and show why their nation really is the future of snooker.

There are more snooker players in China than anywhere else in the world put together. But this week, Ding and Liang proved they've got the quality as well as the quantity.

We've all known for a long time what an emerging force China are in the snooker world. Although this World Cup win is only a sample of two of countries top players, it at least shows how far they've come. Ten years ago, the thought of China beating the best of British in a World Cup event, would be beyond my belief.

But this week, they scaled them all. It's a pretty big achievement for a nation which harbours such grand plans within the sport, and a sign not only that the sport is becoming global, but in fact, it already is pretty global.

That's why I think China's achievements this week is huge for the game - and the Chinese fans will be absolutely loving it right now.

Australian Open: Tournament preview - No Rocket but Aussie show goes on

There really is no rest for the wicked in snooker these days.

No sooner has the World Cup drawn to a close in Thailand and it's time to go down under for the first major ranking event of the season.

Friday, 15 July 2011


After five long days of graft at the World Cup, we've got a grand total of zero shocks.

They say cream always rises to the top and that's been proved the case in Thailand this week as all eight seeds managed to find their way to the quarter-finals , albeit with differing levels of ease.

England, Wales and Scotland have as predicted led the way with an impressive four wins out of four, while Hong Kong, China, Australia and Northern Ireland suffered a single slip-up apiece en route.

Republic of Ireland's Fergal O'Brien and Ken Doherty made the hardest work of qualification though winning only two of their four matches and scraping through right at the death.

Trailing 3-1 against Wales today, 1997 world champion Doherty went into the final frame knowing only a win would do against Matthew Stevens. But he called on all his years of experience to get the job done and ensure the most experienced partnership in the tournament recovered from a shock opening match defeat to Pakistan.

This week's action means some of the biggest names in professional snooker, players we've grown fond of over the years, will compete in this weekend's knockout phase of the competition.

But it also means the massive efforts of the some of world's lesser known players from Malta, Pakistan, Poland and hosts Thailand go unrewarded.

Who wins it now is anyone's guess, as we're pretty much as we were before the competition kicked off.

The big three are still the big three and the outsiders are still slight outsiders despite showing glimpses of quality in patches.

While to some, the story so far may sound like we've been short changed this week, it also means you can't afford to miss any of the action this weekend with no nation emerging as real runaway contenders to lift the title.

My heart still says England. My head still says Wales but my tip is still Northern Ireland. Read into that what you will.

Enjoy the rest of the action!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Hard work ahead for England

As a proud Englishman, I'm flying the St George's flag this week hoping to see Mark Selby and Ali Carter lift the snooker World Cup.

It's difficult to read anything but positive messages from their performances so far - but the hard work hasn't even started yet.

The English duo have won 11 of their 15 frames played in the last three days steamrolling past Brazil, Belgium and India.

Selby has been the better player winning all six of his singles frames played, contributing to more than half of England's group stage points tally so far.

While Carter has slipped up twice against Belgium's Bjorn Haneveer and Luca Brecel, it's been the doubles format they've struggled in most with defeats to both Brazil and India. It's not going to get any easier as the opponents become stronger, but you do get the feeling the form guide is thrown out of the window in that format.

All in all, it's been a solid start from England's boys. But they're not alone with five teams still preserving an unbeaten record four days into the competition. We must also remember that their opponents haven't exactly been much to write home about either. But tomorrow they face Northern Ireland, who like them, have also won their opening three matches relatively easily.

Although qualification for the knockout phase is already virtually guaranteed, it will still be their biggest test of the competition so afr - and interesting test of their longevity in this tournament.

After that, they'll advance to the quarter-finals, and there really will be no easy games from then. The warm-up is over. Now, they must get down to business with four matches between now and lifting the trophy.

A good team spirit between Selby and Carter tells me they have as good a chance as anyone of winning the tournament but news on World Snooker yesterday maybe suggests otherwise.

Ali said: "I haven't felt that well all day and my guts have been bad and my Crohn's Disease has me feeling lethargic.

"I've played lots of matches feeling lethargic and still playing well.

"It's frustrating and it's been bad for three or four days with my stomach just feeling bloated and it's uncomfortable bending over the table."

Those comments don't bode too well because if England are to go on and win this tournament, they'll need both players in top form to beat some top teams in front of them.

Time will tell. But for now - come on England!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Battling for world domination

Competition to become snooker's first world champions since 1996 promised to be fierce - and so far it's proved emphatically the case.

With three days down, six nations remain unbeaten.

Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, China and Australia have all won their opening two matches - but something has got to give.

When Pakistan beat Republic of Ireland on the opening day, it looked as if we could be in store for a fair few shocks along the way. But it hasn't exactly happened like that. Despite some impressive displays from some of the lesser nations, on the whole, the fancied countries have found a way to win. There doesn't look like there's going too many, if any, huge shocks in the quarter-final line-up with the big guns mostly coming through.

So far, with little to choose between the title favourites, this leads me to think it could be team spirit and player compatibility that decides the destiny of the trophy.  Welsh dragons Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens showed that more than anyone else today as they began their doubles match holding hands in their seats.

While it was of a course a joke, it's great to see the tournament played in such great spirit. I haven't been able to watch as much of the action as I'd like, but what I have seen, has been enjoyable. It's been easy to dip in and out of and a welcomed change of atmosphere than that which surrounds the normal ranking events.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Filipiak stars but top order unmoved

Poland's prodigy Kacper Filipiak was the star of the show on day two of the World Cup - despite title favourites England, Wales and Scotland all winning their opening matches.

The 15-year-old wonderkid won both of his singles frames against Scotland's three-time world champion John Higgins and former UK Champion Stephen Maguire, but couldn't prevent a 3-2 defeat his nation.

Filipiak is new to the professional circuit this season after winning the 2011 European Under-21 Championship, but many people questioned whether he was old enough to successfully compete after suffering a 5-0 tour debut defeat to Li Yan in the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers.

He dispelled these theories as myth today - looking completely at home on the big stage to chalk two impressive wins.

After his victory, he said: "I was really relaxed – it was just a normal frame."

That sounds like the words of star if ever I've heard them. Simply in his comfort zone playing snooker.

Ronnie O'Sullivan followed this up by tweeting he'll be a future world champion. A pretty heavy endorsement by anyone's standards.

Scotland may have been made to scrap for their maiden wins at the World Cup, but Wales and England had no such trouble.

Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens flew the flag for the Welsh Dragons with a 5-0 demolition of Egypt, while Mark Selby and Ali Carter eased past Brazil 4-1.

Away from the big guns, Tony Drago was again in the thick of the action. He added to his scalp of Ding Junhui yesterday by beating former world champion Neil Robertson, but again saw Malta lose 3-2.

Belgium slumped to their second defeat in as many days. Bjorn Haneveer looked to have the win in the bag but lost the final frame from two snookers required against Pankaj Advani, as India recorded a 3-2 victory.

Elsewhere, Pakistan couldn't build on their win against Ireland yesterday. They were beaten by the Germans 3-2, as Lasse Munstermann won both his singles frames. Hong Kong beat Afghanistan and the UAE lost their first match to Thailand 1.

Notably, the standard of snooker was a lot higher today - proved by the action finishing a hefty three hours earlier than yesterday.

Monday, 11 July 2011

What happened to the 'luck of the Irish'?

Everyone said the home nations would dominate - but maybe we were all wrong.

The Republic of Ireland duo, Ken Doherty and Fergal O'Brien, stole the headlines on the opening day of the PTT-EGAT World Cup, but for all the wrong reasons.

They crashed to a 3-2 defeat against minnows Pakistan - and it got me thinking that maybe this short format and bizarre take on a doubles game could act as a leveller.

I don't want to come across too disrespectful, but you could get extremely long odds on Pakistan's Sahid Aftab and Muhammad Sajjad beating Ireland's experienced professionals. But that's exactly what they did. But with a high break of just 25 points.

The Irish can rightly feel hard done by, but they paid for not taking their chances.

Pakistan will celebrate their win and could go on to grow in this tournament, because they're not without ability. Sajjad was runner-up in the 2010 Asian Championship and winner of the Korat Cup in the same year while Aftab, who won both his singles frames, has already won the Pakistan National Championship this year and was a quarter-finalist at the Asian Championship.

 I'm sure there will be more success stories to come. Played under a short and unpredictable format, there's every chance of shock results.

The Irish can't have too many complaints although big questions were being asked of the alternate shots rule in the doubles match. These frames were long and laborious today. The players failed to find much rhythm and as result, the quality of snooker suffered. That said, it's all part of a new challenge, and I expect the standard in the doubles matches to improve as the week progresses.

Elsewhere on day one, Northern Ireland were the stars of the show. Gerard Greene and Mark Allen combined beautifully to beat India 4-1, and Australia won by the same scoreline against Thailand 1, with 2010 world champion Neil Robertson and amateur Steve Mifsud both playing their part.

It wasn't such a happy hunting ground for Hong Kong with Marco Fu on board. They also fell victim of a shock, beaten 3-2 by Poland, who boast Kacper Filipiak in their ranks.

Egypt's Yasser Al-Sherbini and Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-nooh emerged as players to watch. They both won their two singles matches to steer their teams to 3-2 wins against Germany and Afghanistan respectively.

My tip for dark horses, Belgium, were beaten 3-2 by Brazil but the game of the day saw China, led by Ding Junhui, beat Malta 3-2. Ding lost his singles match to Drago but scored 120 in the final frame to rescue the win.

Tomorrow big guns Wales, England and Scotland kick off their campaign - and they'll be wary of an upset themselves.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Wonders of the world

If Barry Hearn's grand plan for snooker is about dreaming up refreshing new formats and globetrotting the game into the media spotlight - the PTT-EGAT World Cup surely ticks both boxes.

With 20 two-man teams raring to go in Thailand tomorrow, the first snooker world cup since 1996 promises to be a classic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one for too many new gimmicks in the game. But the reincarnation of national team event, in my opinion, fills a massive void in the sport's now impressive calendar.

Although there hasn't been an event easily comparable to this since England hosted the football European Championship some 15 years ago, I do have fond memories of the last set of snooker Nations Cups, held between 1999 and 2001.

Most notably, I remember watching Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Lee, Jimmy White and John Parrott capturing the cup for England in 2000, beating Wales' team of Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Darren Morgan and Dominic 6-4 in the ITV-broadcast final.

When the television deal ended after Scotland's win a year later, that particular tournament was cast to ashes.

But now, with Hearn intent on putting a spring back in snooker's step, we have a fully-fledged World Cup back on the agenda.

The seven-day tournament will pit the two-men teams into four groups of five. Each team will play four five-frame matches, similar to the Davis Cup Davis Cup with two singles frames, doubles with alternate shots and then reverse singles.

The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout quarter-final stages where the same format will remain until a winner is crowned in the final.

I can't help but see Wales and Scotland as the two superpowers of this event, and the two to beat. With Matthew Stevens alongside Mark Williams and John Higgins paired with Stephen Maguire, not only do you have four very able players including the top two ranked players in the world, but they're also good friends too.

As with any team sport, spirit is important. These two teams are likely to have a great team ethos.

Just behind the two favourites will be England, made up of today's Wuxi Classic finalists Mark Selby and Ali Carter. Both playing well and blessed with an incredible match snooker streak, I'd expect to see them in the latter stages of the event.

Elsewhere, I'll be keeping a careful on Northern Ireland too. With Mark Allen and Gerard Greene, two top 32 players, they know what it takes to play at the top level. They're more than capable of capitalising on any slip-ups from the big boys.

If experience is the key, Republic of Ireland's Ken Doherty and Fergal O'Brien will surely be a good bet, but if a mix works better, seasoned professional Bjorn Haneveer and raw talent Luca Brecel could be dark horses for Belgium.

There's a lot of noise about China's hopes as well. With Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo, there's talent in abundance, but we all know how desperately Liang has been struggling over the last year or so.

Further down the pecking order, hosts Thailand have two teams made up of James Wattana, Passakorn Suwannawat, Thepchaiya Un Nooh and Dechawat Poomjaeng. They could spring a surprise, and Neil Robertson leads Australia along with capable amateur Steve Mifsud.

With so many teams capable of playing a starring role, that's what probably makes the tournament so exciting. Eurosport will again be showing the action.

For a full run-down of the groups and schedule, visit,,13165~2375432,00.html

Selby seals Wuxi Classic title

Mark Selby must step up to win trophies this season.

Today, he grabbed his first of the season with a 9-7 win against Ali Carter in the Wuxi Classic final - and I just wonder what a milestone this could become.

The Jester enjoyed his most consistent season to date last year as he climbed up to third in the world rankings with the help of runners-up place in both the German Masters and China Open.

Bu while the points he collected in the 2010/11 season were impressive, he knows he has to lift silverware this season because when every player calls time on their career, this is how they are judged.

Luckily for Selby, who has surprisingly won just a single major ranking event in his career so far, he's very close to adding more.

While today's victory is unlikely to rank alongside his career highlights when he does eventually finish playing the game, I get the feeling this could be the start of a season where he begins proving his quality with trophies.

What I like most about Selby is how well suited his game is to win tournaments. He's a very able break-builder, as he proved in Wuxi by making his 200th competitive century, but he's also one of the most tenacious match players circuit, which he again counted on today to fight past an equally-determined Carter.

With this win comes a cheque for £20,000 - but he won't have long to bask in the glory of his success. He must now travel straight to Bangkok to ironically pair up with beaten-finalist Ali and fly the flag for England in tomorrow's world cup.

The good thing for England fans is that it's obvious both players are playing good snooker in order to make this final. They'll have a great crack at another title next, I'm sure.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Wuxi wonder Ding is man to beat

Chinese national treasure Ding Junhui can do no wrong in the eyes of his hometown fans.

The Wuxi City-born star doesn't have the luxury of playing as many tournaments on home soil as his British competitors, but when he does, he always tries to put on a show .

Today, he didn't disappoint. The national hero lit up this year's Wuxi Classic with the finest match of the tournament so far.He pulled out all the stops to beat Stephen Maguire 5-4 in a thrilling encounter, being dubbed as the best match of the snooker season so far.

While Maguire wasn't exactly at his fluid best when he beat poor Liang Wenbo yesterday, for Ding, this was his first match of the new campaign.

With the weight of expectation from his home fans heavy on his back, he could easily have been beaten by the Scot, who at least had a chance to get his eye in yesterday.

But Ding, who has matured over the last two seasons, didn't bow to the pressure. Instead, he embraced the occasion using all the resilience he's developed in his game. With age, he seems to have learned to enjoy his home ties, a trick some players never master.

That's why I'm not afraid to label him the favourite for this year's Wuxi Classic title.

A lot of people in the snooker world are predicting that despite the game being at the height of its competitiveness, Ding will win a couple of events this season. Victory here would set him a great marker for the campaign ahead.

But he could yet have to avenge the demons of last year's final, where he spurned an 8-2 lead to lose 9-8 in the final to Shaun Murphy.

With the Magician facing Ali Carter in the semi-final, a possible re-match is on the cards. But first, he must battle his way past Mark Selby, the player he beat in the World Championship quarter-final back in April.

The Jester didn't look in any mood for messing around this morning as he easily brushed aside Graeme Dott 5-0.

But Selby has been always capable of that kind of massacre performance. The real test comes against Ding, when we'll see if he's brave enough to stick by his attacking guns, or whether he's pushed back into his defensive shell, which will suit Ding down to the ground.

One thing is for sure: Ding will have legions of fans flooding to the venue for the final two days of the tournament.

I expect Ding to take it all in his stride, and put right his Wuxi Classic wrongs of 12 months ago.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Murphy plots more Wuxi Classic magic

Shaun Murphy will attempt to defend the Wuxi Classic title this week - but he'll be hoping  to make lighter work of getting his hands on the trophy this time round.

Last year it was the case of Magician by name, magician by nature as he staged one of the most impressive of the season to land top prize.

The world number seven fought back from an 8-2 deficit to beat Ding Junhui 9-8 in the final as the Chinese potter squandered the chance to lift the title in his hometown, Wuxi City.

Murphy's fightback didn't help him win the hearts of the natives but it was to prove a real highlight in an otherwise patchy season for the 2005 world champion.

Watch him capture the title here:

If Murphy is to repeat his triumph in China, he'll need to win three matches after being fast-tracked to the quarter-finals where he'll meet fellow world champion Peter Ebdon or  his amateur opponent Rouzi Maimaiti.

Also waiting in the quarter-finals is 2010 Shanghai Masters champion Ali Carter, who will play the winner of Matthew Stevens and new professional  Yu Delu, who recently won three matches at the Australian Goldfields Open qualifying event.

The other side of the draw sees popular Ding Junhui waiting to play Stephen Maguire or Liang Wenbo and Mark Selby pitted against either Graeme Dott or Cao Yupeng.

This tournament also marks the first televised event of the campaign, as Eurosport embarks on the beginning of an 18-day run of live snooker including both the PTT-EGAT World Cup and Australian Goldfields Open.

The Wuxi Classic begins at 6am on Thursday, and the final will be played on Sunday.

Here's how the prize money will be shared out:

Winner: £20,000
Runner-up: £10,000
Semi-finals: £5,000
Quarter-finals: £2,500
Round One: £1,250
High break £1,000

Monday, 4 July 2011

In the hotseat: PTC1 stars Eden Sharav and Robbie Williams

The PTC series remains a wonderful platform for amateur players to make a name for themselves and test their game against the very best.

Two of the success stories from the PTC1 event were Eden Sharav (ES) and Robbie Williams (RW), who both made it to the last 16.

That has fuelled their hunger to make it on to the professional circuit next season, and given them a good foundation of ranking points to help themqualify through the PTC Order of Merit.

OnCue caught up with them to find out more about them and their fairytale story in Sheffield...