Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Ronnie ready to return

It's the news we've all been waiting for. Ronnie O'Sullivan will be back to defend his world title.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The four-time Crucible king has taken his break, cleared his head from the game and admits he's been bored on his sabbatical, so is ready to have another crack at glory.

Ronnie has always been strong-minded, never afraid to go against popular demand, but his decision to come return to the game for Sheffield is greeted with universal cheer.

Without Ronnie, this year's packed season has produced drama and quality; plenty of it. We've seen there is life after Ronnie, and he's not bigger than the sport. But the fact remains that he is still the single-biggest draw in the sport.

His inclusion at this year's World Championship adds a buzz only he can create. His participation will help snooker back into the media headlines and put a spring in the step of our biggest tournament.

Any tournament loses some of its magic without its defending champion, but snooker's grandest event without its biggest player would have been a cruel blow.

We don't have to worry about this now. O'Sullivan is back and the fans have got their man.

Ronnie returns in a position of luxury too. He has achieved greatness throughout his career time and time again on a snooker table. He has nothing left to prove. His doubters are as good as gone. Victory at the Crucible just under a year ago, when many had written him off, proved he was still the best around.

Lacking in match practice and without any notable competitive contest under his belt this season means he faces a big test on his return. Can he come back to claim a fifth world title? You can never say never with the genius.

Ronnie has always loved a big challenge and can be motivated by coming back with the chance to secure arguably his biggest ever triumph.

O'Sullivan has always been loved. Today he enhanced his romance with the fans further. Now he has the opportunity to achieve something truly special, even by his own tall standards.

Ronnie, it's great to have you back.

Ronnie's press conference

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The World at our feet

The World Open is about to get started and it really feels like the beginning of the all-important final stretch of the season.

We're at the business end of a frantic campaign as we travel to Hainan Island. It's just two months and three more tournaments until it's time for the really big one, the World Championship.

Before the Crucible though, there are a few titles up for grabs, form to be acquired and big matches to be played in preparation.

It's a sign of the times to say this will be the fourth of five events being staged in China this season. Events in the Far East are becoming commonplace but a lot more unusually, this is also the first ranking event in 20 years to be broadcast on ITV.

You can catch all the action on ITV4 with popular commentator Clive Everton leading the way.

This development is potentially huge. It means snooker is available to the masses. If all goes well, it could be the start of an excellent relationship and it's timing could hardly be better. Those of you who opened the Sunday Mirror today will have seen a stunning exclusive where suspended player Joe Jogia lifted the lid on match fixing he's witnessed on the circuit. It seems to be just another in a string breaking stories that seem to be dragging the sport through the mud.

So here's to hoping ITV can help get the game attract attention for the right reasons this week.

What can we expect on the baize this week then?

Well, in a season where no-one has achieved dominance, drama has been plentiful. In fact, the last 11 ranking events have had 11 different winners and, as always, this event is wide open.

Mark Allen is bound to be a big talking point. He is defending his maiden ranking title but more famously stole the headlines a year ago for his rant about China on Twitter. He'll be hoping for a quieter week but will still want to get his hands on another trophy.

Fighting him all the way could be a number of regular faces. Stephen Maguire recently won the Welsh Open and will be eager for more. Mark Selby and Neil Robertson will want to step up their pursuit of world number one Judd Trump. Judd himself will be looking to justify his position at the top after a troublesome few months. Shaun Murphy has been near but far in recent months. He could go one better. And, Ding is playing well again and due a title on home turf.

John Higgins and Mark Williams are playing far from their best but know how to win and Stuart Bingham is becoming the man never to write off.

It's going to be another great week of action - but don't be surprised if Ronnie O'Sullivan's arranged press conference finds a way of overshadowing proceedings for a few days at least.

Enjoy the tournament!

Talking Snooker... with Monique Limbos

It's that time of the season again when I pick the brains of another snooker enthusiast.

Photographer Monique Limbos is next up in the hotseat for my Talking Snooker feature, sharing her pearls of baize wisdom with readers.

We've got three tournaments to go until the big one at the Crucible. This time out, Monique and I talk through the battle for the world number one spot, who will be in the shake-up for the title and whether Ronnie will make a dramatic return to defend....

OnCue: Let's begin by talking about the most recent event winner; Stephen Maguire. It's been a long time since he won his last major ranking event. He wasn't pleased that the media kept mentioning it, but it was too obvious to ignore. It's never nice to watch a player with so much class struggle to win titles. A lot of people have said he is an under-achiever, so this was a timely win and potentially the kick-start he needs.

Monique: None of the top players can ignore it, even when the press doesn't mention it, because to be the best you need to be very competitive. They all care about winning events.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Maguire gets that winning feeling

Stephen Maguire's long wait for a major ranking title is finally over after winning the Welsh Open.

He went through the full spectrum of emotions before sealing a dramatic 9-8 victory against Stuart Bingham, giving him his first proper trophy for nearly five years ago since winning the China Open in 2008.

Maguire led this entertaining, high-quality match 2-0 and 4-2 but then lost five of the next six frames to trail 7-5.

But two frames adrift, struggling under pressure and being faced with some big questions, he came back fighting to force his way over the line.

The Scot has lost some big finals since his last triumph in Beijing and is quick to admit the longer the wait goes for a title, the harder it gets. The signs were certainly there that he had to win the match mentally as well as just physically.

This is Maguire's fifth ranking event and arguably means more to him than most.

The Scot says he has got sick and tired of hearing journalists talking about his trophyless spell, but it's fact that couldn't be ignored. Now, the monkey is finally off of his back.

We've got used to hearing the same old line. A player of Maguire's class is too good to have gone so long without a victory. Well, hes' finally got it and it hasn't come without hard work.

Maguire has been knocking on the door of a return to the winning enclosure for the past two years. More recently, he's been playing competitive matches and on the practice non-stop since the turn of the year and has rightly earned his reward.

He said himself after the match that nothing can replace that winning feeling and as he smashed his knuckles against the table seconds after sealing the deciding frame, the intensity of his celebration told the whole story.

Maguire has always been a fine promise. His breakthrough season in 2004 saw him win two ranking events. He was tipped from there to potentially go on to dominate the game. It hasn't quite happened and some say he's one of the real underachievers in the modern game. 

Maguire, though, has never been one to give up easily. He is an intense player, who has never been one for hiding his feelings in a match. He was really put through the ringer in Newport. This final will go down as a classic. The standard of scoring was superb and there were also plenty of twists and turns to keep us entertained.

Bingham more than played his part and in the end will feel as if he let his opponent off the hook.

Maguire did enough in the end and the scars from such a lengthy spell without a win will now begin to heal. He can focus his efforts now on winning more silverware. He is definitely capable.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Who will be the Welsh Open winner?

Stuart Bingham and Stephen Maguire are ready to lock horns in this year's Welsh Open final.

Two very determined players have their eyes on the prize in what would be a trophy they'd feel is all about making up for lost time.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Essex's Bingham is enjoying the golden years of his career after many as a professional scrapping away from the TV tables and just trying to reach somewhere near his great potential.

Scotland's Maguire has always been a class act but has found major trophies difficult to come by in recent years.

In a period of the game where consistency is hard to come by, remarkably, this is Bingham's fifth final of another excellent season. Victory here would mark his fourth trophy of the campaign after winning two APTC titles and the prestigious Premier League crown.

A major ranking event has so far eluded him, though, after losing out to Ricky Walden in the Wuxi Classic final despite making a 147. He won the Australian Open in 2011 and needs this title to join a list of players who have won multiple ranking events.

He beat form man Ding Junhui 6-5 yesterday in a match where pressure got to both players in patches. The Chinese star has been playing well all week but this was the first time he came under real threat, and couldn't find a way over the line.

Bingham, on the other hand, has played well in bits but most importantly delivered the goods during the closing stages of his matches. And let's be honest, that's when it really matters.

Over the course of a ranking event, things will not all be plain-sailing but Bingham has showed he can respond with some gutsy play. His clearance to pinch the decider against Neil Robertson was one of the breaks of the season.

Lifting the trophy would mean everything to Bingham. He has fought hard to work his way up the snooker ladder and would finish the night number seven in the world with a win.

He struts his stuff out on the TV tables like he really believes he belongs with the big boys now and enjoys playing the game as much as he ever does.

His opponent, Maguire, will be looking to dominate the table as always.

He's one of the game's real powerhouses who refuses to give an inch. He's been punching the ball with authority this week and bullying the balls around like only he can in spells.

Picture by Monique Limbos
A 6-4 win against Judd Trump last night will give him even greater confidence but he profited from a style of match that suits him best. Maguire enjoys his snooker more when the balls are open and in situations where you can just go for your shots.

It is sometimes when the table goes scrappy that he can lose his thread.

There was a stage in Maguire's career when he was being tipped to win every title going. His capture of the UK Championship back in 2004 was thought to be the start of a spell of dominance, but it hasn't quite gone that way.

In fact, you have to go back as far as the China Open in 2008 to find his last major ranking event success. This is nearly five years ago and difficult to even comprehend of a player so good.

As he admits, the longer the wait goes on, the tougher it gets. He'll want to get back into the winner's enclosure but will have to tackle the mental effects of having to wait so long.

He's being showing signs of competing for major titles again for a while now. I'm told he's recaptured some of his dedication.

This could be another great final. These two fantastic break-builders will be hoping to score their way to the title and can be relied upon for maximum effort right under the winning line.

It's a race to nine frames and it begins on BBC2 Wales and Eurosport at live at 1pm.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Ding sets pace into final four

Ding Junhui has proved what all of us already know this week in the Welsh Open.

When he's playing well, he's unbelievably good. His break-building is neat and tidy, his cue ball control is arguably as good as anyone and he finds a way of playing with effortless class.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Ding has progressed into the final four in Newport this weekend showing glimpses of his best and is being widely tipped to retain the title he won here a year ago.

In fact, victory would help Ding defend the trophy just as John Higgins did in 2011.

When Ding plays this well, it always evokes memories of his sensational breakthrough and reiterates why he was dubbed almost a certain future world champion. Perhaps his time of form could be perfect for the Crucible this year? 

The Chinese star may be playing some excellent snooker this week but there is still plenty of work to be done after all four of yesterday's favourites in the quarter-finals made it through to the best-of-11-frame matches.

Next on Ding's hitlist is Stuart Bingham. He will need to improve substantially on the performance he put in to beat Ken Doherty 5-3 but has the confidence of beating Ding in their last three meetings.

Ding has form on his side and usually gets stronger and stronger when he wins events.

In the other semi-final, Judd Trump faces Stephen Maguire.

Trump has been encouragingly playing himself into form this week. He survived a scare against Dominic Dale, beat Andrew Higginson comfortably and knocked out Pankaj Advani 5-2 in the last round.

The ability to play yourself into a tournament is an asset all the great snooker champions have possessed, but something we haven't seen too much of yet from Judd.

He has been on a barren run of form since winning the International Championship in November. His run here will take him back to world number one and lifting the trophy would be a perfect reply to his long list of critics, on and off the table.

Nothing fuels confidence like winning.

Maguire will fancy his chances though. Matches against Judd tend to be open. That suits the Scot down to the ground as he sometimes loses his way when matches become scrappy.

He's played well in patches this week. He was excellent from 2-1 down against Matthew Stevens to beat him 4-2 and was like a steam train out of the blocks versus Alan McManus yesterday, converting his 3-0 lead to a 5-3 win.

It's great to be able to watch snooker on the BBC.

Settle down and enjoy the action.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

May the best Gentleman win

Joe 'the Gentleman' Perry has a habit of going quietly about his business on tour - but today he said his piece loud and clear.

No-one gave him a prayer as he lined up to face world number one Mark Selby in the opening round of the Welsh Open. Fresh from a virtuoso demolition job on Steve Davis, Selby came into the match on fire and Perry wasn't being given a sniff of a chance.

But he showed what playing at venues is all about: taking your chances.

Perry's performance was, as always, no fuss and no nonsense. He sunk balls fluently and proved he's capable of beating anyone should he be given the chances.

When you watch Perry in full flow, it's difficult to understand why he has never won a ranking event. He strikes the ball sweetly and quickly strings together high breaks.

The amount of tournaments being played these days means things can quickly change. Just before Christmas I visited Gloucester and saw him lose to amateur Oliver Lines in the UKPTC3 event. He looked out of form and frustrated with the state of his game.

Confidence is something which has arguably held him back throughout his career, but he's been around the block and seen plenty so knows to believe in himself when he gets the opportunity. He looked to be back on song now.

Perry is still one of a clutch of players who can pose a big threat on their day to the very top established players. There's a possibility the draw here in Newport could open up nicely Joe and he could put together a decent run.

He is one of four players left in the tournament sponsored by the South West Snooker Academy's On Q Promotions in Gloucester.    

He's enjoyed a great victory today and now has the chance to build on it.

Last 16 line-up:

Tom Ford v Ken Doherty
Graeme Dott v Pankaj Advani
Stephen Maguire v Matthew Stevens
Neil Robertson v Stuart Bingham
Ding Junhui v Mark Allen
Judd Trump v Andrew Higginson
Alan McManus v Joe Perry
Sam Baird v Robert Milkins

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Advantage Advani

Pankaj Advani showed the snooker world exactly what he's all about.

The seven-time billiards world champion is playing in his rookie season on the professional snooker tour and tonight beat Shaun Murphy 4-3 on his venue debut at the Welsh Open.
He played some impressive stuff along the way and showed why he could have a very bright future in his chosen new disciple of cue sports.

His cue ball control is immaculate, his touch and judgement around the balls superb, he is a great shotmaker and appears to have a rock solid safety game. Although his cue action is unorthodox, he makes up for it with great skill.

Murphy is one of the true title contenders in every event he plays in, but Advani limited his chances well.

He looked unfazed on the big stage and it's hardly a surprise when you consider he's already reached superstar status in billiards.

Pankaj looks to have a really bright future on the old green baize. Just like his fellow countryman Aditya Mehta, he' has a top class attitude and looks willing to work hard for his success and take his chances.

It's fantastic for the wider snooker audience to get the chance to see Advani in action. This will become the case more and more once tournaments switch to a flat 128-man flat draw next season.

These kind of shocks are what the first round matches are all about. It shouldn't always be plain-sailing for the big boys. Players such as Pankaj will make sure of that.

Advani wasn't the only player outside the top 16 to make his mark today in Newport. Sam Baird qualified for his first venue at the Welsh Open a year ago and enjoyed more success in the tournament with a 4-0 victory against Gerard Greene.

There was also some cheer from the older guard. Ken Doherty sent John Higgins home and Alan McManus battled his way to victory against Barry Hawkins.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Night night in Newport

One thing you can usually gurantee with snooker is a late night finish - but not in Newport.

The opening day's action at the Welsh Open was wrapped up as the clock just passed 8.30pm, thanks to the much-maligned best-of-seven-frame format and the favourites largely running the show.

The introductory exchanges of this year's tournament was dominated by those you would expect.

Defending champion Ding Junui played well in spells to beat Dechawat Poomjaeng 4-2. But he said world number one and recent winner of three ranking events Mark Selby would be the man to beat this week and it's difficult to argue.

Selby beat Steve Davis 4-0 and completed the match with a devastating pot success rate of 98 per cent. At one stage in the clinching frame, this was still up at 99 per cent.

These weren't the only favourites winning the day. Judd Trump wasn't pressed all the way but beat off Mike Dunn 4-0. John Higgins swept past TV debutant Gareth Allen 4-1, home hope Mark Williams showed signs of a return to form to beat Liu Chuang by the same scoreline and Dominic Dale brushed past fellow Welshman Daniel Wells.

The quality so far in Newport can hardly be questioned but it's clear that that the drama will have to wait. There was a good turnout of fans at the venue. They'll have to hang fire for the real gripping action...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Welcome the Welsh Open

Wales is blessed with a fantastic snooker heritage - and that's where we are heading to for the next ranking event.

The Welsh Open is the third longest running ranking tournament on the circuit and has a fine history.

But with the sport focused on the future and generating many new exciting tournaments, it doesn't quite have the standing it used to. Matches until the quarter-finals are now played to a reduced best-of-seven-frame format, which hasn't helped its position in many people's eyes.

Try telling this to the Welsh fans. It is only right and proper that a nation which has produced players with legendary status remains a stopping point on the calendar.

This proud snooker nataion has to go back as far as 1999 to find the last time a Welshman won the Welsh Open. It was Mark Williams. In fact, he is a two-time winner of the event and the only Welsh player to win the competition since it began in 1992.

Williams arrives in Newport drastically out of form but leading the hopes of a nation who would dearly love to see a home winner again.

Any tournament carries an extra buzz when a player from the host nation remains in the hat, and here is no different. The Welsh are well represented in the draw this year.

As well as Williams, we have Matthew Stevens, Ryan Day, Dominic Dale, Daniel Wells and, most remarkably, amateur player Gareth Allen.

He was awarded a place in the qualifying stages because not every professional player decided to enter the event. He beat Rory McLeod 4-2 and has seen his final qualifying match against John Higgins fast-tracked to Newport. This means he will make his ranking venue debut in his home country against one of the greatest players of all time. It is a real fairytale story.

A restructure of the qualifying format for this event means less wins were needed for many lower-ranked players and some of the top 16 players were required to play a tie in the cubicles in Sheffield before being assured a spot. This means Allen isn't the only new or newish face set to star in the tournament.

Gloucester's Michael Wasley has made it through to his second consecutive venue in a debut season on tour that has seen his hardworking attitude shine through. Fellow impressive rookie Ian Burns will make the trip, as will Craig Steadman.

The Welsh Open still gets superb BBC and Eurosport coverage, so it's great to see new faces earning a chance to shine. You can expect to see this happening more and more into next season as many events switch to a flatter 128-draw structure.

This also means big names could miss out. Recent German Masters winner Ali Carter was one of those unlucky ones losing in qualifying.

But who elseis through? Legend Steve Davis, popular Alfie Burden, former finalist Andrew Higginson, promising youngster Sam Baird and emerging Indian star Pankaj Advani are a few.

These provide the vital smaller plots of the tournament - but who is in the running to go all the way?

Ding Junhui is the defending champion. He beat Mark Selby in the final a year ago, who is in the habit of winning lately.

Judd Trump on the other hand is struggling but is perhaps waiting to burst back into life.

John Higgins is always in the mix. Stephen Maguire could be as sharp as anyone with his hefty practice regime through his mammoth Championship League participation.

Shaun Murphy has been a finalist and semi-finalist at the two recent BBC finals and looks to be getting closer. Mark Allen looks a whisker away from a trophy and Neil Robertson will as usual come into the event up for the battle.

Personally, I'm backing Higgins.

Sit back and enjoy another great snooker show.

First round line-up:

Ding Junhui or Dechewat Poomjaeng v Mark King
Marco Fu v Mark Allen
Gerard Greene v Sam Baird
Robert Milkins v Mark Williams or Liu Chuang
Neil Robertson v  Ian Burns
Craig Streadman v Stuart Bingham
Ricky Walden v Tom Ford
Ken Doherty v John Higgins or Gareth Allen
Judd Trump or Mike Dunn v Dominic Dale or Daniel Wells
Andrew Higginson v Michael Wasley
Graeme Dott v Fergal O'Brien
Pankaj Advani v Shaun Murphy
Stephen Maguire v Anthony Hamilton
Ryan Day or Liang Wenbo v Matthew Stevens or Alfie Burden
Barry Hawkins v Alan McManus
Joe Perry v Mark Selby or S Davis

The whistlestop week

It's been a busy week on the old green baize.

There have been no shortage of talking points. Here's my whistlestop tour of the goings on to keep you right up to date.


It was announced that the World Open will be broadcast by ITV4 in the UK later this month.

I'm reliably informed that this is the first ranking event they've hosted in 20 years, when they broadcast the British Open way back in 1993.

This is a great addition to the coverage already provided by Eurosport and helps bring snooker to the masses, because it is a free channel.

ITV4 already shows many sports and this addition shows they take it seriously. Clive Everton will be leading the way in the commentary box and who's to say this won't be the first of many tournaments on the channel.


Stephen Lee's suspension seems to be lingering on.

It was announced that his place in the upcoming PTC Grand Finals in Galway will be filled by Xiao Guodong with no conclusion of his disciplinary proceedings.

This is frustrating for the player who has served suspension since October - but an announcement is surely not far away.


This month's edition of Snooker Scene magazine saw editor Clive Everton write a detailed feature about out-of-form world number two Judd Trump.

He speculated about his recent poor results and also took issue with the comments he made published in an article published in the Telegraph where he bemoaned the lack of money in snooker.

Everton said: "With as yet only three ranking titles to his name, he may be starting to get just a little too big for his designer boots."

He also questioned the motivations and research put into the article by journalist Jonathan Liew and then told Trump some more home truths. He added: "He should be careful not to come across as driven by money rather than titles or ungrateful to those who, after decades in which snooker was mismanaged, are trying with some success to develop the game to the kind of level which will allow Trump and his contemporaries to flourish to a degree previous generations of players never knew."

Everton rarely pulls any punches. This was easily the stand-out feature of the magazine.     


Action in this year's Championship League continued in earnest this week with Barry Hawkins and Martin Gould becoming the latest names to qualify through for the winner's group.

They join John Higgins, Ali Carter, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen and one other in the winner's group.

A place in next season's Premier League is up for grabs for the winner of the final winner's group.


The Welsh Open is due to start tomorrow in Newport.

The qualifying matches for the event took place in the week just gone by with the world's top players back in the cubicles with their places at the event not guaranteed.

Many of the sport's stellar names came through the test, but not all.

Ali Carter - winner of the recent German Masters - will not appear at the event after losing out to Gerard Greene.

There are many fresh faces set for the TV cameras. Gloucester's Michael Wasley has qualified for his second consecutive venue after beating Mark Davis. Pankaj Advani qualified with victory against Peter Ebdon.

Ian Burns is having a great rookie season and continued his form by beating Jack Lisowski and Jamie Cope to make it through.

Craig Stedman downed Jamie Burnett. Sam Baird came past Martin Gould and Gareth Allen has been fast-tracked to the venue for his final qualifier against John Higgins.

The draw for the main event has lots of new faces and gives an insight into what life could be like next season with the wider introduction of flat draws in events.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Captain flying high

Brave Ali Carter was crowned German Master champion last night and has proved again that he is the ultimate battler in our game.

As far as comebacks go, this one must rank up there with the very best.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Last season the physical and mental debilitating effects of his Crohn's disease got so bad that he threatened to retire; walking away from the game he loved.

Instead, he has continued to fight his way on and has now been rewarded with winning his third ranking title; probably the most satisfying of his career.

This is Carter's first major trophy since victory at the 2010 Shanghai Masters and will prove to him, and everyone else, that he is strong enough to beat an illness that has restricted him for so long.

Carter has always had great spirit. He needed that at the Tempodrom. He found himself 5-3 down to Marco Fu after the first session of this final in Berlin but saved his best until last to run out a 9-6 winner after the evening's play.

Fu didn't get going but Ali was ultra determined. It was the kind of performance from a man who looked as if he had decided to go for broke in search of victory.

No-one will begrudge Ali his win here. It's a victory for a man against all odds, but it has been coming.

He reached the World Championship final back in May and cruelly lost 9-8 to Shaun Murphy in the UK Championship semi-finals in December from 8-4 ahead. That defeat was crushing. Ali broke down in tears at the press conference after the match when asked about his illness.

But in Berlin there was no near miss or no brave defeat. Instead, it was an emotional win.

Carter has had a tough couple of years but is proving he is still capable of fighting for the top prizes.

He deserves a lot of respect for his hard-earned win. It was a fitting end to a tournament which was made special by the enthusiastic German crowd.

Carter isn't always in the first set of names mentioned to contend for titles at the start of a tournament, but he will always be their trying and has showed on numerous occasions that he isn't short of ability.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Carter or Fu?

Ali Carter takes on Marco Fu today in Berlin to become German Masters champion.

This is hardly the final anyone predicted but they've both worked hard to get here and are the two final men standing.

Carter beat favourite Neil Robertson 6-2 without hitting top gear, but instead took advantage of the Australian's poor performance.

Robertson's great strength is his all-round game but some people were suggesting he bogged himself down yesterday. It's great to be able to win ugly but these kinds of performances are draining. It's better to attempt to get straight on the front foot.

Ali looks in determined mood. He is aiming to win his third ranking title and his first since the Shanghai Masters in 2010.

Marco Fu played well enough but wasn't at his best in his semi-final either, despite two centuries.

He got the job done beating Barry Hawkins 6-4 but will be looking to improve a little more to win his second ranking event after triumphing at the 2007 Grand Prix.

Both players are capable of scoring heavily and putting a show on for the crowd if they can get flowing. They have a tough act to follow after the two previous German Masters finals but having both not won a big title for a while, it could be a tense one.

Either way, the terrific German crowd will be out in full force again.

**Pictures by Monique Limbos**

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The final four

Only four players remain in the German Masters and their eyes on the prize.

The Tempodrom has everything a fan could want. It appears to have a lively but respectful atmosphere that could be unrivalled on the circuit.

Packed with tables and busy with action, fans can really feast on their snooker here.

It's been an insight into what life might be like next season when ranking tournaments are played in a last 128 knockout structure. This is exciting times but, unfortunately, not all the players have been pleased with the conditions.

This will need to be carefully looked at ahead of other events because although the fans, broadcasters and sponsors are important, the players will always be the stars of the show.

Having all four quarter-finals playing at once was excellent. This really felt like the level-playing field Barry Hearn has always talked about and had an immediacy that was gripping to follow.

No tournament can stay like this forever. We're down to the grand one-table set-up now ready for the semi-finals, when the heat really steps up a level.

From here, the matches really become big occasions.

For the four that remain, motivation shouldn't be a problem. All eyes of an enthusiastic and packed crowd will be on them and glory at the German Masters, now one of the big titles to win, is within touching distance.

Here's a quick look ahead to the matches...

Neil Robertson v Ali Carter

The Australian is the favourite to lift the title from here and can be confident that he doesn't have to face Mark Selby who has been his undoing at both the previous UK Championship and Masters tournaments.

Picture by Monique Limbos
There are no easy games and his match against Ali Carter is interesting because it puts together two players who can mix it well.

Robertson has an unshakable detemination. Even after disappointing defeats he always comes back into the tournament flowing with confidence and keen to have another crack.

He is a complete player and proved again, when he beat Shaun Muphy 5-4 in the last round, that this gives him an edge against many other top players.

Carter has a big task ahead of him but is never afraid of a good old scrap. Ali has been around long enough and fears no-one. He's played some classy stuff this week and looks like he will take his chances should he get them against Robertson.

Barry Hawkins v Marco Fu

Picture by Monique Limbos
This wouldn't have been the semi-final many people banked on but both have played well to get here.

Hawkins was superb against Mark Allen and booked his place in the last four with a 5-1 win against man-of-the-moment Selby.

The world number one looked a little sluggish and Hawkins swooped in to take full advantage.

Barry can sometimes be wildly under-rated. He's very attacking and has had success this week as a result of really going for his shots.

I think he is slight favourite against Marco Fu here but I hear the Hong Kong man is playing very well, especially against Matthew Stevens in the quarter-final.

Fu has always been a bit of an enigma. Sometimes he looks like he could lose to anyone and at ohers he can beat anyone himself. He is clearly having one of his better weeks.

Hawkins won the Australian Open earlier this season. Some people decided to devalue this triumph before of some big name absentees. If he lifts the trophy in Berlin, he would have done it the hard way.