SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2019 Shanghai Masters, picking out his favourite fancies.
Shanghai Masters | 9th-15th September 2019 | Eurosport
With 26.3 million people living there, Shanghai is one of the most populous cities in the world – containing more than 1,500 snooker clubs.
The first-ever snooker event played in China was in 1986, an invitational event at the Indoor Stadium in Shanghai featuring 1980s stalwarts Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths and Dennis Taylor.
Now, 33 years on, snooker-mad Shanghai hosts the Masters event for its 13th year, but only the second time as an invitational.
For prestige, it doesn’t rival the number one UK invitational, the Masters in January, but there is more prize money on offer here in Shanghai and the event is ramped up with eight wildcard extras, as well as the top 16, unlike the London extravaganza.
The irrepressible genius Ronnie O’Sullivan makes his long-awaited season debut here, in an event that has been very kind to him down the years – a three-time winner (2009, 2017 and 2018) and once a runner-up (2008).
Ronnie has 68 ranking and non-ranking titles to his name, but surprisingly only five of those have come in China. The China Open titles came in 1999 and 2000 – some 20 years ago. So there must be something he likes about Shanghai as last season this was his only trip to China.
He said last year, after his final victory over Barry Hawkins, that he treats these events like exhibitions. Maybe that’s why his record in non-rankers is so incredible. He’s played in 86 non-ranking events in his career and only 15 times has he failed to make the quarter-final. In 49 of the 86 he has made the final, winning 32 of them – a lethal record in this type of event.
In the past four seasons, Ronnie’s first event has yielded two wins and a runner-up finish. It will be fascinating to see if he will hit the ground running, like he usually does. He will have to be back to his thrilling best to record a third Shanghai Masters triumph on the spin, let alone beat the current best ‘pound for pound’ player on the planet…
Trump a major challenger
Judd Trump, the possible heir to Ronnie’s throne as the people’s champion, has been nothing short of scintillating in his last two events. He ended last season by lifting his first world crown at the Crucible. And his first tournament as world champion this season he won the International Championship in Daqing.
Since losing to Robbie Williams at the China Open on 2nd April, he’s won 12 matches on the spin at a frames aggregate of 120-65, including 26 centuries and 63 half-centuries. Absolutely savage snooker.
At the minute, ‘undefeated’ Judd is playing snooker from the gods, a type of game not seen by many before. Mark Selby said after a 9-4 pummelling at the hands of Trump in the semi-final in Daqing; “When you are playing guys like John Higgins or Ronnie O’Sullivan you can play safe knowing they aren’t going to go for a certain shot. Nothing is safe when you are playing Judd.”
Trump has been blossoming in his play ever since choosing to take his brother, Jack, with him to each tournament nearly a year ago – a budding partnership, so to speak. He spent his break after Daqing celebrating his 30th birthday in Ibiza.
Back to business, his career earnings now eclipse £4 million, and it will be no surprise if that total increases in Shanghai, at a tournament he’s yet to conquer (lost in three finals here). A Trump v O’Sullivan match-up can only happen this week in the final – what a match that would be if both fly their way through the event.
I won’t (and will never) dismiss Trump and O’Sullivan, but at 3/1 and 4/1 I think there’s better value to be had in Eastern China.
Murphy may feature
Shaun Murphy did tempt me at 33/1, I must admit.
Murphy was excellent in Daqing, making the final before losing to a rampant Trump. Previously, he had made the semi-final winning every match either 6-5 or 6-4. It was his fighting spirit that really came to the party, something you rarely see in him.
However, his consistency in the past few seasons is rather erratic and it’s a complete guess whether a real or wrong Murphy will stand up. Furthermore he pulled out of the Paul Hunter Classic at the end of August with an unexplained ‘serious injury’. I don’t want to risk him in any staking plan with that over his head.
Robertson can come good in China
Someone with a fairly mediocre record in Shanghai is Neil Robertson. This will be cricket fanatic Robertson’s 13th visit, and he’s only made a semi-final and two quarter-finals. It’s surprising because his record elsewhere in China is terrific. He’s made seven ranking finals here, winning four times.
He didn’t do a great deal wrong in a 6-5 defeat to Murphy in the last 16 in Daqing. Robertson will re-group and concentrate on his last-16 tie, next Wednesday, likely to be against Ding Junhui, who has a wildcard in round one. These pair haven’t played in three years – I firmly believe Robertson isn’t far off his very best since then while Ding has declined.
Since their last meeting, Robertson has made eight ranking finals, winning five. Ding has reached five finals in that time, winning twice (one was this event in 2016) but his last final was the Welsh Open in February 2018, more than 18 months ago.
They have played three best-of-11s before, with Robertson winning all of them. I fancy Robertson to make it four from four again versus Ding. A quarter-final clash against either John Higgins, Barry Hawkins or Yan Bingtao would be next for the Aussie.
Even though two have won an event this season (Hawkins and Bingtao), it's an uninspiring trio. Robertson leads Higgins and Hawkins combined in China match-ups 4-1. It’s only O’Sullivan that looks a big threat in Neil’s top half and he comes here as an ‘unknown’ quantity as we know nothing about his current form.
All in all, Robertson looks the ultra reliable option. He’s over twice the price of Ronnie at 9/1 and I can’t have that for someone who has a better overall China record than him. The name ‘O’Sullivan’ generally scares the bookies.
Robertson, who has been spending the last few weeks back ‘home’ in Australia, always has himself in fine fettle ready for battle. An outstanding all-rounder, I think 9/1 is very good value on the ‘Thunder from Down Under’, who can do what his fellow countrymen failed to do at Headingley in the Ashes and win.
Allen can excel at a nice price
My other outright resides in the bottom half of the draw, Mark Allen. After a bit of ‘practice’ at the World Cup, teaming with best mate Jordan Brown for Northern Ireland, Allen performed with plenty of credit, like he usually does in China, at the International Championship as defending champion, making the semi-final before losing to Murphy.
Allen hasn’t been a slim chicken for a long time but he has recently plugged on Instagram he’s having a health kick (whether he has kept up with it is anyone’s guess!). I’m always concerned he won’t last the distance in events but this is more up Allen’s street. He only has four matches to win the title in Shanghai. A year ago he claimed his first Triple Crown title by winning the Masters which is a similar set-up to this.
I mentioned his China record and it’s a huge positive. Six of his 10 career ranking finals have been here, winning three. He’s also lost in seven semi-finals. Conditions here are usually at their finest, and Allen, who is usually first to criticise when they are poor, plays his best in such situations when he can just solely concentrate on his snooker.
Allen regularly puts up on his Instagram the practice routines he does on his own. They are extremely tricky, even for top pros, which require accurate touch and no cannons. Let’s say it’s no surprise he’s one of the best break builders in the sport.
Allen might open up in the last 16 (also next Wednesday like Robertson) with old arch-enemy Stuart Bingham (if the latter beats Liang Wenbo), who he lost to here in the final in 2014. Since then, Allen has beaten Bingham in four of their last five meetings.
Trump might be his quarter-final opponent but Allen leads their head-to-heads 12-10, winning six of their last seven meetings. He could play Selby in the semi-final and, excluding best-of-five matches, Allen leads ‘The Jester' 5-4 in head-to-heads.
Head-to-heads can be slightly irrelevant as it’s all on the day, and everyone here can beat each other but Allen has a definite psychological edge on the players in his way.
Allen has made a final in seven of the past nine seasons and it’s clear as day he’s at his best when he plays in China. If he hits the ground running, he’s an immensely tough player to beat. I struggle to get his outstanding performances at last year's Masters or the International Championship (hit 14 centuries) out of my head.
Both outrights aren’t in Thailand for the 6 Reds World Championship which has to be a positive. I can’t ignore Allen this upcoming week in Shanghai. For a China specialist, 14/1 with Betfair is too big.
A Robertson v Allen final is 25/1 with Bet365. They have met in two previous finals, one in last years International Championship. I’m hopeful at least one can go close in Shanghai.