Sunday, 19 February 2012

Fixed for the Welsh final

Ding Junhui and Mark Selby will contest today's Welsh Open final knowing neither of them have reached top form yet.

It's been a funny week for both players in Newport but yet they are still living to tell the tale with the chance to pick up silverware.

Ding was sat in his chair in the deciding frame of his quarter-final clash against Stephen Lee with defeat staring him large in the face. His fortunes soon changed when a spectator's mobile phone sounded and cost his opponent a pot.

Picture by Monique Limbos
His performance in the semi-final against Shaun Murphy was largely improved but was still aided by an out of sorts Magician.

The Chinese star has yet to hit top gear but will not be complaining as this run to the final comes as perfect timing after a difficult patch.

Since losing to Neil Robertson in the quarter-final of the UK Championship he's struggled to match his own very high standards.

His defence of the Masters was halted on the first day against Ronnie O'Sullivan and he was also knocked down at the first hurdle in Germany by his fellow countryman Yu Delu.

As for Selby, his luck came far earlier this week. He nearly fell a cropper to ranking event debutant Sam Baird in round one. He had to fight back from 3-2 down to win on a decider.

Poor performances in each of the last three events have suggested he's finding it difficult coping with the pressures of being world number one.

It was universally recognised that coming to Newport he needed to step it up a notch and show added resolve. Although his performances haven't been utterly convincing, he's showed his trademark battling qualities and is still standing.

Last night he was berated for slow play and 'boring' snooker as he beat O'Sullivan 6-2 to book his place.

You cannot deny the Rocket was nowhere near the kind of form that saw him win the German Masters and through to the semi-finals here but a lot of credit must go to Selby for that.

The Jester has got Ronnie's measure. He knows how to play him and never let him find his stride. He is a tough and determined character but applied an effective defensive game and fed of his opponents mistakes.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's called great matchplay snooker. The great thing about Selby is that he always has proficient match tactics. But when they don't go to plan, he doesn't go to pot.

When Selby meets O'Sullivan there is always a great clash in styles. That is why the match has become one of the most fiercest rivalries in the modern game. Ronnie finds it difficult to break Selby down and that was probably in his head before this match began.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Selby wasn't playing good snooker himself but managed to stall O'Sullivan and win ugly. Top players have to accept they can't always play well. It's easy to win when you play well. Selby  has a great advantage that he can get results even when he's not at his best.

This quality makes Mark a good bet for the title today.

However he plays, he'll be fighting all the way and never knows when he's beaten.

While he can enjoy sitting at the top of the world rankings because of his consistency, Selby knows when his career ends he will ultimately judged on titles won. His return in that department isn't as high as it should be. He's won just two major ranking events and will know the importance of adding to that tally. 

The good thing for Ding is his vastly improved tactical game. He's one the sport's best all-round players and is capable is standing toe-to-toe with Selby if the match turns scrappy. He's got a good record of winning titles considering he's still just 24-years-old. Long gone are the days of his soft centre. He can now back up his excellent break-building skills with the ability to be patient for his chances and bounce back from a deficit.

The head-to-head stats between these two makes for interesting reading. Out of their 14 meetings, they've each won seven apiece and predicting the outcome of this match is as tough as that suggests.

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