German Masters 2012: Tournament Preview

Tomorrow sees the start of the season’s fourth full-ranking event, the 2012 German Masters as Welshman Mark Williams looks to defend his title. Click below to view my tournament preview…

Click here to view the draw for the tournament.

The winner of my ‘New Tournament of the Year’ award in my 2011 Awards, the German Masters returns this February for its second staging at the Tempodrom in Berlin and if the crowd are half as enthusiastic as last time then we are in for a treat.

So then, to the draw…

The Top Quarter

Heading up the draw is defending champion Mark Williams who looks set to begin his campaign with a classic contest against 1997 world champion Ken Doherty, the two having met previously on several high profile encounters. Their first clash since Doherty’s comments about Mark in his recent book, you can be sure that both will be trying their hardest to win, though on form Williams has to start as favourite.

The winner will face either Stuart Bingham or Peter Ebdon in the last 16, those two meeting for the first time since their Crucible clash last April, from which Stuart emerged a 10-8 winner. In the months that have followed, Bingham has of course gone from strength to strength with his victory at the Australian Goldfields Open and rise into the top 16. Ebdon on the other hand has struggled for wins of any sort, though encouragingly perhaps did show improved form in the Championship League recently, as well as having defeated Jimmy White to qualify for this event.

Elsewhere in the section, Stephen Lee awaits the winner of the wildcard round clash between Adrian Gunnell and Peter Bullen. Back among the top 16, Lee will be hoping for a run in the tournament having fallen at the first hurdle in both the UK Championship and Masters tournaments, while Gunnell will be hoping to reach the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time since the 2008 Grand Prix.

Whoever wins will progress to a meeting in all likelihood with Ding Junhui, though Yu Delu and Chris Norbury who meet in the wildcard round will have something to say about that. Yu in particular recorded strong wins against Barry Pinches, Alfie Burden and Jamie Cope to reach this stage, while Norbury is a former professional. Ding meanwhile has had a quiet start to the season, though he did reach the quarter-finals of the UK Championship in December and as evidenced by his two 147 breaks in three days later that month, remains a class act.

The Second Quarter

The lowest ranked seed in the quarter he may be, but this section is all about Ronnie O’Sullivan as the three-time world champion looks for the run that he craves in order to avoid the unthinkable – having to qualify for the Crucible. His fate will not be decided at this event, the Welsh Open soon to follow, but his opening round match against Andrew Higginson remains crucial nonetheless.

Higginson meanwhile qualified for the tournament with a 5-2 victory against Jamie Jones and has generally been consistent in qualifying for venues in addition to his victory at the PTC5 events. With defeats to former world champions in Australia and Shanghai already however, will Ronnie complete a hat-trick here?

The winner will face either Ali Carter or Joe Perry who meet in a repeat of their 2008 World Championship semi-final, won eventually by Carter. Four years on however and Carter’s form is not currently at the same level, Ali even hinting at retirement on Twitter following his recent defeat to Mark Allen the UK Championship. While that was said in the heat of the moment, he has not looked at ease around the table for a while now and Joe, in good form having reached the final of PTC12 last month, will be hoping to take advantage.

Rounding off the quarter is recent Masters champion Neil Robertson, though there are question marks over the Australian given the fact that he was forced to miss last week’s Shoot Out event due to a chest infection that had previously bothered him during the Championship League. That said, he was still able to win the group at Crondon Park and given his competitive nature I would still not be surprised to see him go far. Hoping that is not the case however will be opponent Marcus Campbell, the Scot an increasingly familiar face at this stage of events recently and hoping to go a step further on this occasion.

The Third Quarter

Headlining the third section of the draw are former world champions Graeme Dott and Shaun Murphy, who could meet at the quarter-final stage in Berlin. With the level of quality elsewhere in the section however, this is far from a certainty, Graeme with a match against James Wattana to negotiate before in all likelihood facing world number one Mark Selby at the last 16 stage.

It will be interesting to see how Selby, a runner-up at this tournament back in 2011 and a winner in Germany already this season at the PTC event staged in Furth, will acquit himself following what has been a relatively barren run for the world number one of late. Will this tournament mark a return to form for the Jester from Leicester?

Murphy meanwhile faces a tough opener against Barry Hawkins who will come into the match riding the crest of a wave following his victory in the recent Snooker Shoot Out. That said, Shaun looked to be playing as well as he has for some time on his way to the Masters final last month and has a formidable record overseas which will stand him in good stead.

One of the more eye-catching ties of the first round however is that between Martin Gould and Ricky Walden, two of the tour’s form players at the moment who for me are impossible to split.

The Bottom Quarter

The best however has perhaps been saved until last with a quarter which houses John Higgins, Mark Allen, Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire amongst others.

Despite his defeat to Neil Robertson at the Masters last month, Judd Trump remains one of the men to beat these days and will be hoping to ease his way into the tournament with victory against qualifier Paul Davison or wildcard Krzysztof Wrobel. If he can, a tie against either Mark Allen or Tom Ford will await, Leicester’s Ford hoping to reverse a trend against Allen who has defeated him at the same stage of the Welsh Open, UK and World Championship in recent seasons.

Further down the draw, Stephen Maguire and Ryan Day meet at the last 32 stage, with the winner facing a possible clash against John Higgins if the Scot can come through against Mark Davis. Having narrowly missed out on a top 16 place at the last seedings revision, Mark will be hoping to secure as many points as possible so as to give himself a chance of making the jump following the Welsh Open.

Higgins meanwhile has shown signs recently of a return to form, if perhaps not the intensity that he so obviously had a year ago…