Premier League Snooker 2008: Tournament Preview

Tomorrow night marks the start of the 2008 Premier League and what promises to be another hotly contested series of matches culminating in the semi-finals and final in early December.

The Players

The field this year is headed by world number one and reigning World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has won the Premier League for the last four years. With his quick, aggressive game being perfectly suited to the shot clock conditions he will be favourite to win the title again and at this point it is hard to see anyone stopping him.

Leading the chasing pack however will be both finalists from the 2007 World Championship final, John Higgins and Premier League debutant Mark Selby. Despite a disappointing end to last season losing to Mark King at the Crucible, Selby had a memorable year, capturing his first ranking event title in Wales as well as winning the Wembley Masters in January. It will be interesting to see how a player who in the past hasn’t been the quickest out there, adapts to the 25 second shot clock in the League. He has said that he has made some changes to his cue action in an effort to improve his game, and no doubt his chances during this event so we will have to wait and see. John Higgins meanwhile is a player who at times last season appeared to struggle with the quick pace, but still did enough to reach the final. Now he will be used to the rule from the off he will be hoping to hit the ground running and go one step further this year.

Also back again for another year are the duo with 13 world titles between them, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis. Hendry, a six-time winner of the event, will be looking to reach the play-offs once again and show the form that enabled him to beat O’Sullivan in the league phase last year. Davis meanwhile will be sure to entertain the crowd with his quips and having spent the summer working on his cue action it will be interesting to see how competitive he is. Either way he will enjoy every minute of it.

Finally the league is completed by Chinese star Ding Junhui and last season’s World semi-finalist, Joe Perry. Ding will be hoping for a better season this time around having seen his career stall somewhat following his 2007 Masters defeat to O’Sullivan. He certainly knows how to cope with the shot clock, having scored a record-breaking 495 points without reply against Stephen Hendry in last season’s competition, so it would be no surprise to see him make the play-offs for the second season in a row.

Perry meanwhile is another debutant in the Premier League and he certainly made it the hard way, qualifying by winning the inaugural Championship League final in May. Also reaching the semi-finals of the World Championship that month, Perry finished the season in the best form of his life and started well this time round, narrowly losing to O’Sullivan in the first ranking event of the season. It will be interesting to see therefore whether he can carry this form over to the conditions posed by the Premier League or whether he will take some time to adapt.

Overall it should be a close league with virtually every player having a realistic shot at qualifying for the semi-finals. Again though, O’Sullivan is undoubtedly the man to beat in the end and in these conditions it is hard to see anybody doing so.

Venue and ticket information

For a full schedule of the matches please click here to visit view my ticket information page. More information on the tournament can also be found via the Matchroom sport website.

If you get a chance to attend an evening at a Premier League event then be sure to take it, I have attended the Grimsby round for the past two years and have found it to be great fun. The atmosphere is relaxed, the live TV action is broadcast on the monitors in the arena and MC John McDonald does a great job during the intervals. I will be going to the Sheffield leg this time around and hopefully it will be just as good.

A preview of tomorrow night’s matches will be posted tomorrow.

Roewe Shanghai Masters Qualifying – Day Four (updated)

Today marked the final day of the Shanghai Masters Qualifiers and other than the match involving Liang Wenbo and Atthasit Mahitthi which has been held over until the venue, all of the matches have now been completed. Click here for the full draw.

Afternoon Matches

Day to remember for legends

With 14 world championship finals and six world titles between them both Steve Davis and Jimmy White are undoubtedly snooker legends, but success in recent years has been somewhat harder to achieve. Today however, both showed that they still have the talent and they still have to hunger for the game by winning their final qualifying matches this week and qualifying for the TV stages of the Roewe Shanghai Masters later this month.

First to win was Jimmy White who recorded a stunning 5-1 win over 1997 world champion Ken Doherty. Again as in many of his matches this season White’s performance wasn’t one full of high breaks, but his determination and ability to fight this week was enough to beat an opponent playing his first ever match at Prestatyn. With the venue being as small and as intimate as it is, Ken can be forgiven for being a bit lost away from the TV venues that he has become accustomed to, but he will nevertheless be disappointed with this latest setback. Hopefully he will be back though, Ken is one of the nicest guys on the tour and is still classy enough to fight with the best.

White was then joined in the TV stages by six times world champion Steve Davis who recorded a very impressive 5-3 win over the dangerous Gerard Greene. Greene on the back of a good win yesterday against Steve’s namesake Mark was always going to be a tough but to crack but breaks of 64, 50 and 54 were enough to see him home. Davis will meet defending champion Dominic Dale in Shanghai in what is bound to be another close match.

Fellow veterans follow suit

Northern Ireland Trophy finalist Dave Harold kept up his brilliant form today with an excellent 5-1 win over Rod Lawer. The most impressive aspect of Dave’s performance today was his scoring which with breaks of 62, 84, 44, 83 and 41 ensured that Lawler was always on the back foot.

Similarly impressive was Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien who won 5-3 in what was a high quality encounter with Ian Preece, highlighted by a break of 137 in the penultimate frame. Preece who yesterday recorded the highest break of the week and of his career fought well to level the match at 3-3 but Fergal moved up a gear when he had to and sealed the win.

Also progressing were Anthony Hamilton who won 5-1 against livewire Michael Holt and interestingly the 1995 World semi-finalist Andy Hicks who won his third match of the week in beating Michael Judge 5-2. In a match where nearly every frame seemed to go the distance, Hicks managed to follow White’s example and keep his nerve in these situations

Youth hits back

The veterans didn’t have it all their own way today however as Joe Swail slipped to a 5-3 defeat against teenager Judd Trump. In a performance highlighted by a tremendous break of 135 Trump showed some of the promise that has put him up to a career high position of 41 in the rankings to earn a match with Mark Selby in the last 32

Evening Matches

Welsh Wins

Two of the most comfortable wins tonight belonged to Welsh pair Matthew Stevens and twice world champion Mark Williams who both recorded 5-1 wins tonight. Stevens overcame Alan McManus, gaining some measure of revenge following defeat to the Scot in last week’s Northern Ireland trophy. Williams meanwhile beat Mark Joyce by the same scoreline as his quest to regain a place in the top 16 goes on.

Big Breaks

The match of the day however was that between Stephen Lee and Leicester’s Tom Ford. Ford started brilliantly with a run of 106 which set him on the way to a 4-1 lead and seemingly a comfortable win. Lee showed his class however and fought back well taking the next three frames. With the scores level though, Ford finished off the match as he started it with his second century of the match to seal an excellent win.

Similarly Stuart Pettman secured a place in Shanghai by winning the last two frames in his match against Nigel Bond to win 5-4. The match got off to a flying start with first Bond making a break of 119 before Pettman went one better with a 120 and then 114 to move into the lead. Bond then fought back to go 4-3 ahead following a lengthy seventh frame but it was Pettman who was to prevail and earn a shot at world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan in Shanghai.

Five star performances

Less close however were the matches involving Jamie Cope and Stuart Bingham. Cope, looking to break into the top 16 for the first time this season managed to see off Welshman Jamie Burnett without losing a frame whilst Bingham did likewise against 36 year old Mike Dunn.

Today’s results in full:

Round Four

Steve Davis 5-3 Gerard Greene 19-65(50), 80(64)-34, 74(50)-0, 68-18, 65(54)-25, 40(30)-70(40), 60-68, 57-34

Dave Harold 5-1 Rod Lawler 92(62)-0, 84(84)-0, 71(44)-38, 83(83)-4, 36-61, 53(41)-6

Fergal O’Brien 5-3 Ian Preece 80(50)-53(39), 57(57)-66(48), 66(39)-12, 74(50)-0, 37-74, 0-90(82), 137(137)-0, 63(36)-18

Ian McCulloch 2-5 Ricky Walden 66-44, 70(40)-13, 8-46, 46-63, 50-73(42), 0-69(40), 14-73(35,38)

Joe Swail 3-5 Judd Trump 0-135(135), 69-22, 38-54, 42-64, 77(66)-16, 73-63, 0-92(92), 52-65(38)

Ken Doherty 1-5 Jimmy White 37-92(44), 28-73, 0-82(82), 24-80(42), 88(50, 38)-0, 8-70(37)

Anthony Hamilton 5-1 Michael Holt 62(32)-39, 66(52)-54, 76(76)-32(32), 61(43)-14, 48(44)-83(72), 71(67)-28

Michael Judge 2-5 Andy Hicks 66-67(38), 67(40)-54(54), 79-6, 25-69(39), 0-71(59), 23-86(82), 43-73(64)

Barry Hawkins 5-2 David Morris 73(56)-12, 66-54(54), 6-85(70), 67(47)-21, 49(44)-70(38), 87(49)-4, 103(103)-0

Stuart Bingham 5-0 Mike Dunn 70-34, 71(38)-36, 94(68)-52, 74(74)-10, 70-42

Stephen Lee 4-5 Tom Ford 0-106(106), 9-71(71), 87-25, 14-81(45,35), 13-69(56), 64(36)-14, 71(56)-64, 65(40)-1, 0-138(100)

Mark Williams 5-1 Mark Joyce 97(38,37)-4, 53(41)-54(37), 101(77)-4, 68(67)-43, 76(38)-28, 63(39)-60(35)

Matthew Stevens 5-1 Alan McManus 67-37, 70(46)-43, 81(80)-0, 74(73)-28, 1-83(69), 69(36)-28

Jamie Cope 5-0 Jamie Burnett 69-48, 71(42)-45, 67(33)-55(55), 81(48)-1, 62(45)-17

Nigel Bond 4-5 Stuart Pettman 119(119)-18, 0-120(120), 1-115(114), 74-49, 70-1, 0-88(88), 66-13, 47-72, 13-72

Roewe Shanghai Masters – Draw Overview (updated)

With the draw out last week for the Roewe Shanghai Masters and all but one of the final qualifiers decided, it is time to examine the paths ahead for the top players and see who might have a shot at a deep run into the tournament.

The top quarter

Defending champion Dominic Dale enters the tournament in the unusual position of being top seed and faces six times world champion Steve Davis. This promises to be a very close match, Davis playing very well to beat Gerard Greene 5-3 in what was his first win of the season while Dale pushed rising star Mark Allen all the way in Northern Ireland. In round two the winner will face either Ding Junhui or surprise Northern Ireland finalist Dave Harold who maintained his strong run of form with an impressive win in qualifying against Rod Lawler. Harold made a series of high breaks in that match and will fancy his chances of causing an upset in front of Ding’s home crowd.

In the next section are Neil Robertson and Stephen Hendry though having both lost their opening matches of the season, it is by no means certain that they will meet again. Robertson faces the experienced Fergal O’Brien while Hendry has a tie against Ricky Walden who surprisingly overcame Preston’s Ian McCulloch in the final qualifying round. If Hendry can get off to a good start I fancy him to have a good run here to kickstart his season.

The second quarter

The big story here is that owing to the seeding quirks resulting from Dale’s win here last year, both Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby have been paired together in this section, scheduled to meet in the quarter finals. As well as Mark King and Marco Fu who are no mugs and there are also some potentially tricky qualifiers floating in the section too. Jimmy White who has won all of his qualifying matches this season, including a superb 5-1 win over Ken Doherty, will push Mark King hard as well as Anthony Hamilton who is up against Marco Fu.

The third quarter

Stephen Maguire and John Higgins headline this section and are poised to meet in the quarter finals, though Ryan Day and Peter Ebdon will have something to say about that. Looking at Ryan Day’s draw however, he looks like he will face either the attacking Liang Wenbo or the talented Mark Allen in the first round and that will be a tricky one either way. We will have to wait to find out who though as their qualifying matches have been held over to Shanghai. If Allen could safely make it through his first few matches then I would fancy him to at least make the last 16 and possibly go further. The other dangermen in this section are Barry Hawkins who has started the season well and Tom Ford who beat Stephen Lee in a tremendous match in Prestatyn.

Last but not least

Fresh from the back of his victory in the Northern Ireland Trophy, world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan could potentially face a few familiar opponents if he wants to make it three titles in a row. Seeded second due to Dominic Dale’s victory here last year, he faces Stuart Pettman in his opening match before possibly coming up against Joe Perry and then Ali Carter once again. In what is arguably the toughest quarter of the draw however this is by no means a formality with twice world champion Mark Williams, the highly talented Jamie Cope and Matthew Stevens possible opponents should they win their matches.