Snooker goes to Palace: Masters Alert!

16:28:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

The most prestigious invitation event in snooker's book, The Masters is due to start this Sunday with its location changed from the traditional Wembley to Alexandra Palace.

It was back in 1975 when the madness we all call "The Masters" started. Then, John Spencer was beating Ray Reardon 9-8 to lift the trophy for the very first time.

The time has passed, snooker has evolved but the fascination has stayed the same regarding this tournament. One very close to people's heart, one that's practically hold only for the elite of snooker (aka. The Top 16 players), one that guarantees you a whole week of good old snooker.

This year the Masters' location has been changed from Wembley to Alexandra Palace,  the name itself suggesting how important and prestigious this event is. For only the best, only the greatest and only those who have worked real hard can get a ride to the Palace, right?

Taking a closer look at the draw I can definitely say that we are in for some very delicious snooker treats. If last year we witness all the main favourite players losing their first round matches (excepting Neil Robertson), I'm guessing this year we shall see some pretty intense battles of cues from the very first beginning. 

Sadly, this edition is seeing no Stephen Hendry taking part in it as the Scotsman slipped out the Top 16 in October last year, which without any doubt is a bit weird, taking into account that Hendry holds the record for winning the Masters six times.

But let's focus on the first round matches and see who's playing who, shall we?

Ding Junhui v. Ronnie O'Sullivan

Ding and his 2011 Masters trophy
What a better way to start the Masters than with the defending champion taking on one of the biggest players in the circuit?
However, it's a tough call. A tough call because last time these two met, O'Sullivan beat Ding 7-1 to win his 10th Premier League trophy. 
But that’s just one tiny aspect. The major one is that both Ding and O'Sullivan, if they set their mind to it, can trash any opponents; in this case each other. 

O'Sullivan has two PTC titles under his belt this season and a Premier League one, his state of mind improving in the last months due to therapy, as the man himself admits it. However, he did make that it's-so-Ronnie-announcement after losing 5-6 to Judd Trump in the 2011 UK Championship, that he's considering retiring and right now he's on the edge of the Top 16 (aka. last place).

Ronnie has a hard starting match
As always controversy is the name of the game in O'Sullivan's case, but regardless of everything he's one hell of a player who can still win big tournaments ... if he really wants to.

On the other hand Ding is the posture of defending his crown. He'll do anything for it and I'm sure the Chinese with the most unreadable Poker Face ever is targeting a victory here.
He's had a pretty good run until this point and after reaching last year's World Championship semi-final (his biggest achievement in this tournament), his style has definitely improved, he's a more mature player and, one hell of a comebacker, if I may say so.

Mark Williams v. Stephen Maguire

The Welsh Potting Machine in action
Considering Maguire's latest form (winning the PTC 12 and having a pretty great run during the UK Championship) and Williams' cool way of playing the game, this might go all the way through.

Williams' mind is set for snooker. He's just the perfect player. Doesn't celebrate too much when he wins and he doesn't let it go to his head, but he doesn't kick himself too hard when he loses either. Your rarely see him losing his grip and when he's in "the zone" he's potting like a genuine "potting machine", as his nickname says it so well.

Maguire on fire
He hasn't stunned us with his PTC performance this season, but he did manage to get into two finals, the 2011 Shanghai Masters and the 2011 Australian Open, so I'm guessing this time he'll target the last frontier, which is the victory.

Maguire seems to have taken some anger management classes, otherwise how can you explain he's more calm than ever and he doesn't smash his cue to the floor when he misses a pot? I’m sure that there's still anger deep inside him, but he's really improved his view towards the game and that improved his game as a whole. 
He was practically flying during the PTC 12 and that's what brought him the win in the end. If he keeps up the good work, he might put Williams into trouble.

Judd Trump v. Stuart Bingham

Judd and his UK trophy
Well, what can we say about young Judd here? He's just winning everything and I'm guessing a Masters title would look great in his Bristol home. He'll be going for the victory no doubt about that and as one of Chris Norman's song says it he'll "Stop at Nothing", especially if he starts all that "naughty snooker" thing again.

2011 was Bingham's year of glory, the Essex lad winning his first ranking event, the Australian Open. That clearly gave him a lot of confidence in himself and in his game and although he hasn't won any recent tournaments, he might just try and get this one. 

His snooker journey had some ups and downs, but he's a very valuable player and although Trump starts as a favourite here, Bingham has also a chance if he doesn't let Trump's-clearing-the-table-from-one-visit get to him. A good breakout shot and Bingham can do wonders on the green baize.

Shaun Murphy v. Martin Gould

Murphy after winnig his Brazil Masters
Murphy's one of the most conscientious players on the Main Tour, always taking part in every tournament. He actually won one this season, the Brazil Masters, which trophy seems a lot like the Masters one, so maybe the Smurf will try and get the real one this time? 

He played some pretty cool stuff during the recently Championship League matches and if he maintains that cue action in this tournaments also, he's got a genuine chance to get as far as possible.

Gouldie capturing his Power Snooker crown
Gouldie is  probably one of the players that has made the most of his Top 16 place. The lad has guts, has talent, has energy, he's a dear, dear person and he's the reigning champion of the Power Snooker event. He has improved his snooker and he proved he's well worthy of getting a place in this year's Masters.

This snooker encounter might be a close one.

John Higgins v. Matthew Stevens

The current world champion, John Higgins
Higgins hasn't been too fond of this tournament although he has won it two times. Somehow the Wembley Arena made him anxious and his cue style was affected by it. But now, with the tournament being moved to Alexandra Palace maybe the spell is broken and Higgins can make a difference.

Still, this isn't his biggest problem. His biggest problem is that after winning the 2010 UK Championship, the 2011 Welsh Open, the 2011 Hainan Classic, the 2011 Scottish Championship and the 2011 World Championship, he's form hasn't been the same.

Matt "The Dragon" Stevens
He declared he put too much into snooker and after the Worlds he was just dried out of energy, but by all means, considering that until this point his performance haven't been great, I'm guessing he's pretty stuffed with energy, so let's play some snooker, okay?

You know that Dragon that seems to be asleep but in reality he's just faking it so he can take you by surprise? That's Stevens. Although some times the results he gets seem like he's sleeping from real, when he gets to breath fire he's a natural born killer. And this is a perfect opportunity to do so.

Neil Robertson v. Mark Allen

Australia's Robbo
God, this is a hard one! Both of them are attacking players, both of them have an I-want-to-win-so-badly attitude and none of them have a Masters trophy under their belt.

Robbo is one of the golden boys of the moment. He's just won two PTC events and he reached the semi-final of the UK Championship. He’s a former world champion with a great CV regarding how many finals he reached and also won, so he'll be going for the title here. His collection is missing a Masters trophy.

Allen's targeting a victory
Allen's recent mini-scandal with Barry Hearn has drawn media's attention. Like always, if it's a scandal, the yellow press appears. However, he did manage to draw attention with something positive as well. He reached the final of the UK Championship and he did a splendid job by doing so.

He proved he's to be taken into consideration and that he'll win a ranking event in the near future. When, is just a matter of time. Maybe the following week?

Mark Selby v. Stephen Lee

Selby and his Shanghai Masters trophy
Selby has a Wuxi Classic title, a Shanghai Masters one and a PTC. He started this season in the best possible way and although many look at his playing style as being boring, he's one hell of a player that can keep on hitting one century break after another (a thing that not many players can do).

Lee is a bit frustrated
When he's in the zone and he doesn't break his own game, he's more fluent than a native speaker, so the key here is: avoid scrappiness!

Lee had a very prolific last season, but during the current one he doesn't seem to feel as conformable as before. He got a Twitter account to communicate what's on his mind, but he better communicate with his cue during the next days for he needs to improve his game.
Selby starts as a favourite here, but if "Bulldog" Lee puts his mind and cue to work, he can case an easy upset.

Ali Carter v. Graeme Dott

Carter needs to keep an open mind about his game
Following O'Sullivan's I'm-considering-to-retire-from-snooker announcement from the UK Championship, Carter did the same. The one we all call "The Captain" has been struggling for some time with his game, the last ranking event he won being the 2010 Shanghai Masters and his health has stopped him from playing at his best when the situation required it.

However, he's not a man who feels sorry for himself and he has tried to win back his status. Sadly, this is a very hard process and if you don’t keep your mind in a positive spot, you have no chance. He needs to work on that and a bit on his game and the success is guaranteed.

The Scot Dott
Dott on the other hand has moments of geniality when he starts potting like a king. Then, all of the sudden he stops. Something happens, his game is fragmented, he loses his grip, he's angry, he's all over the place, he gives up.

But all things aside, no one can deny this man has been though a lot and that he's a great player. I personally admire his ambition. He can still cause upsets, he did manage to reach a PTC final, so go on and do your thing, ey mate?

So this are the first round matches (which are being played udner the "best of 11" rule), the first two taking place tomorrow, as it follows:

Ding Junhui v. Ronnie O'Sullivan

Mark Williams v. Stephen Maguire
*all hours are UK time

TV coverage:
13:20 - 17:00 BBC Two

14:15 - 16:30 British EuroSport 2
19:00 - 22:00 British EuroSport 2
00:00 - 02:50 BBC Two (the highlights)