Shanghai Masters 2011: Tournament Preview

So then tomorrow sees the start of the season’s biggest tournament so far as Ali Carter begins the defence of his Shanghai Masters title. Click below for my tournament preview and check out the sidebar to the right for all of the links that you will need for this week…

  • Click here to view the tournament draw

The Top Quarter

As ever, heading the draw this week will be the reigning Shanghai Master and in 2011 that will be Ali Carter who begins his tournament with a tricky tie against former top 16 player Mark King. Following a slight dip in form however Mark now finds himself in a scrap to hang on to a place inside the top 32 and despite a hard-fought victory over Liu Song to qualify for this event comes into the match as the underdog.

Of their recent meetings Ali has come out on top in three of them, most notably at the 2010 China Open when he won 5-1 in the quarter-finals. On the other hand though it must also be pointed out that Carter was forced to miss out on the recent Paul Hunter Classic due to problems related to the fact that he suffers from Crohn’s disease and there has to be a question mark as to whether he has fully recovered for this event.

Whoever comes through will meet either Peter Ebdon or the winner of the clash between Fergal O’Brien and wildcard Hossein Vafaei. For the increasingly inconsistent Ebdon the season has been something of a non-event so far with opening round defeats in the first four PTC events, three against amateur players, while he also fell at the first hurdle in Australia to Rory McLeod.

Peter said at the recent PTC2 event that he had not really started to practice properly yet which is understandable for someone at his stage of his career but the result is that he comes into Shanghai needing a strong run if he is to retain his place inside the top 16 at the next seedings revision as he currently sits in 19th place.

Fergal O’Brien

That being the case he would not have wanted to potentially come up against Fergal O’Brien who if he can overcome Hossein Vafaei in his wildcard match will have the added advantage of having got a match under his belt. More significantly than that however Fergal has enjoyed a tremendous start to the new campaign with runs to the semi-finals of PTC2 and the quarters of PTC3 meaning that he has a real chance of regaining a place inside the top 32 come the first cut-off.

Given the form of the two right now I think that Fergal despite being the qualifier would have to be the favourite to come through here but you never know with Peter, who would have foreseen his run in Beijing a couple of seasons ago when faced with losing his top 16 place?

Elsewhere in the quarter come Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Maguire, both former ranking event winners out in China and wildcards permitting they are poised to meet James Wattana and Anthony Hamilton respectively out in Shanghai. That said, the qualifiers here both have difficult openers as Wattana’s opponent Jin Long is a player with several years of main tour experience and capable of causing an upset on home soil while Hamilton is by no means a clear favourite to come through against Li Hang who defeated Ken Doherty and Graeme Dott en route to the last 16 in Beijing earlier this year.

With both wildcard matches tough to call, what do I make of Ronnie and Stephen’s chances? Starting with Ronnie while I do not believe that he is quite back to his very best at the moment, he is clearly in a much better place mentally than he was for much of last season and if he can retain his focus out there in Shanghai will prove difficult to stop.

Ronnie O’Sullivan

I feel that another important factor for O’Sullivan is that having already declined to enter the PTC6 event in Poland, he comes into this tournament knowing that he needs a good run if he is to make sure of his place at the Masters in January and that can only help him. Again he is over there with the likes of fellow Grove players Jack Lisowski and Judd Trump which I believe is something that is also a positive factor at the moment and perhaps their presence will also help to keep him focused out there.

As for Stephen he has blown hot and cold since his run to the final of the Welsh Open earlier this year but like Ronnie is too good a player not to turn that around sooner rather than later. I would not be shocked to see him slip up early again here but I would be surprised.

Semi-finalist: Funnily enough I have a nagging suspicion that Fergal O’Brien could spring a surprise and progress from this quarter but regular readers will know that I would never be so bold as to make that prediction. While it is easy to doubt Ronnie O’Sullivan when playing overseas, I think that he will be on his game this week and will make it through to the semi-finals.

The Second Quarter

While our first semi-finalist I feel will come from two or three names, the second could come from just about anywhere as here we have a quarter that for me is absolutely wide open.

The biggest names here are Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy, while for those of you who wish to be pedantic we also have Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon for good measure! Mark and Shaun however do come into the event having experienced contrasting starts to the season as Mark boosted his chances of moving up to world number one at the first cut-off by winning the PTC4 event last week while Shaun has won just one match in the competition, though he did reach the semi-finals out in Australia before falling to eventual winner Stuart Bingham.

Mark Selby to win again?

This week they begin with ties against Dominic Dale and Nigel Bond, though again those two qualifiers both have to come through wildcard matches first against Cao Xinlong and the aforementioned Thanawat respectively. Assuming that they can, both could push their seeded opponents hard, Dominic having picked up where he left off last season with a run of form that has helped him to his highest ranking position in years while Nigel made it to the venue without losing a frame in qualifying against Jimmy White and Marcus Campbell. Can they continue this form at a venue though?

Elsewhere Mark Allen and Ryan meet in a repeat of their 2009 World Championship quarter-final which narrowly went the way of the man from Antrim while Jamie Cope could come up against PSB blogger Jack Lisowski who makes his début at the televised stages of a ranking event out in China. Jamie will understandably be the favourite for this one but having breezed past Marco Fu (click here to read how from the man himself), in qualifying Jack will be hoping to cause another upset.

Semi-finalist: Wide open this section might be but given how he played last week and his overall consistency during the past couple of seasons, I have to plump for Mark Selby as my predicted semi-finalist here.

 The Third Quarter

Our third quarter-final could potentially see a repeat of the 2010 China Open final as both Mark Williams and Ding Junhui can be found in this section of the draw. For Williams, always a force to be reckoned with at the overseas events, he will begin with a tie against Andrew Higginson who is a player now well-established inside the world’s top 32.

Since his run to the Welsh Open final back in 2007 however Andrew has struggled to replicate that sort of form in front of the TV cameras and it will be a tough ask to do so against the world number one. All I would say about Mark is that his performances at some of the recent PTC events have been decidedly patchy, though he did of course reach the final of the Australian Open last month.

Mark Williams

Ding meanwhile begins his campaign against Martin Gould, a player needing every last ranking point at the moment as he bids to claim a place inside the top 16 and importantly a place at the Masters come January. The stronger all-round player of the two, Ding will be favourite to progress but with the weight of a nation on his shoulders at this event as ever, there are always likely to be a question mark over him when playing on home soil. Furthermore if the long pots are going in for Martin then he has an attacking game to rival the very best of them and is more than capable of coming through here.

Elsewhere, Stephen Hendry is another big name in this section and wildcard round permitting he opens his campaign against Robert Milkins, a talented player but one who Hendry has enjoyed a lot of success against in the past. In fact Stephen has won all five of their previous meetings, four of which came at the last 32 of events and the most recent over in China back in 2009.

Hendry however is a player not in the best of form right now and following his decision not to enter the PTC6 event, in need of a run at least to the quarter-finals of this event if he is to retain his place inside the top 16 at the time of the next seedings revision. Without an appearance at the last eight of a ranking event since the 2010 China Open, I would find it hard to see him coming through against potentially Mark Williams if the two were to meet in the last 16 stage but despite his poor form he does continue to win the majority of his opening round matches at the venues.

Ding Junhui

The other match in this section sees two players chasing top 16 spots collide, namely Stephen Lee and Matthew Stevens. As you would expect these two have met a few times down the years, Stevens winning three of their four clashes including their most recent at last season’s PTC4 event in Sheffield. In truth however I think that this is effectively a 50/50 call, if pushed I would probably side with Lee but certainly not by much.

Semi-finalist: Another obvious choice but I have to go for world number one Mark Williams to make it to yet another ranking event semi-final, though Ding could have something to say about that.

The Bottom Quarter

Headlining the bottom quarter of this draw is reigning world champion John Higgins but like Peter Ebdon before him he too has faltered so far this season, himself putting his patch form down to a lack of practice so far this campaign as he has elected to enjoy some time off following his fourth Crucible triumph back in May.

There are then some questions surrounding the Scot, but on the other hand I would certainly not write him off and would be far from surprised to see him kickstart his campaign over in Shanghai. He begins his campaign with a tie against Mark Davis, the qualifier who at the age of 39 finds himself up inside the top 16 for the first time in his career and now hopes to be there come the first cut-off in early October.

Can he topple Higgins to boost his cause further? Quite possibly, after all he comes into the event on the back of a run to the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany and presumably with as much self-belief as he has had at any point in his career. That said, if pushed I would still have to side with the Scot.

Judd Trump

In the last 16 he could potentially face either Judd Trump or Stuart Bingham who meet in a clash between the winners of the past two full ranking events to be staged outside of the UK. While Stuart is the more recent winner of the two however (PTCs apart anyway), you have to wonder how much of his attention will have been on his snooker during the last week or so following the birth of his first son Shae Terry Bingham last week. We shall see on that one, but if Judd can play like he did when I last saw him win the PTC2 title in Gloucester then I think that we could see him go deep at this tournament.

Elsewhere we also have Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott in this quarter who could meet in a repeat of their 2010 world final if they can come through opening ties against Liang Wenbo and possibly Michael Holt respectively.

Graeme Dott

Of the four I would probably back Graeme to make it through as Neil has never been the strongest of performers out in China while Graeme is a former winner in Beijing, but Liang could be a dark horse as there are signs that he has now made it through the worst of his poor run of form experienced during 2010.

Semi-finalist: I have a feeling that we might see a repeat of the World Championship quarter-final between Graeme Dott and Judd Trump, though I would be surprised if it were to be quite as one-sided as it was on that occasion at the Crucible. I’ll still go for Judd Trump though.

Semi-finals: Mark Selby def Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams def Judd Trump

Final: Mark Williams def Mark Selby