SNOOKER expert George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) takes a detailed look at the first round matches in the 2019 Dafabet Masters tournament.
The Dafabet Masters | 13th January – 20th January 2019 | BBC
In case you missed George's pre-tournament ante-post selections you can read his insightful views here.
Mark Allen v Luca Brecel
- (Allen leads 4-0 in H2Hs)
This is the fifth meeting between the pair and Allen is as yet undefeated against the Belgian Bullet. They faced each other in the opening round here last year (Brecel's Masters debut) and Allen came through 6-3. I sense a similar result this year. In fact, it might be a bit more comfortable.
Since winning the China Championship in August 2017, 23 year old Brecel hasn't made a quarter-final in a ranking event (in 21 attempts). Allen has made at least a quarter-final seven times in that period.
Brecel hasn't been whitewashed in a match since March 2018, and only twice this season (two best-of-sevens) has he failed to win two frames. Excluding best-of-sevens, he's won three frames in each of his ten contests.
In just best of 7s, 9s and 11s, Allen has conceded two frames or more in 21 of his 32 wins. So the stats say two or three frames for Luca. I think the Northern Irishman will prove much too strong for Brecel, and my pin has landed on two frames for Luca rather than three.
- Prediction: Allen 6-2
Ding Junhui v Jack Lisowski
- (Ding leads 1-0 in H2Hs)
Lisowski ended the 2014/15 season, ranked 53 in the world. Three years on, he's broken into the top 16 for the first time and now debuts at the Masters.
This is his first meeting with Ding since 2014. He lost that encounter 5-1 but he's a different animal now – a prestigious talent. Last season, and this current campaign, Lisowski has a better win percentage than Ding. This is a stage I think Lisowski will be relishing. Since winning it in 2011, Ding has far from relished this event. He's had six first-round defeats in the last seven years.
Since the turn of the decade, there have been seven Masters debutants. Only one (Jamie Cope) has won his first-round match. The last six have all lost. I think Lisowski can buck that trend against Ding.
It's likely to be close. Of Ding's seven defeats this season, six were by one or two frame margins. I think 6-4 and 6-5 victories for Lisowski, at 15/2 for both, look tidier value than just backing him outright (6/5).
It might not mean a great deal but Lisowski has been competing in the Championship League since the start of the new year and has won 12 times from 16 matches against quality opposition. We know he's in good nick for this whereas Ding has avoided the Championship League.
John Higgins v Ryan Day
- (Higgins leads 16-9 in H2Hs)
These pair faced off four times in 2018 including this time last year, in the quarter-final – Higgins won that 6-1. Day got his revenge in Romania in March, then beat him again in Shanghai in September before Higgins ousted the Welshman in Coventry at the Champion of Champions in early November. So something has got to give in London.
I mentioned in my quarter preview that Higgins is having a hard time of it on the circuit and has threatened retirement at the end of the season. I don't see that happening. He's fallen out of love with snooker at the moment maybe but it happens from time to time. It's a full-time job, at the end of the day. This event will relieve him of pressure but it's not a tournament he's won or made the final in since 2006. He's had six first-round defeats in 12 years.
Ryan has the game and the scoring power to really put it up to the Wizard of Wishaw. Day has played 16 more matches and 96 more frames this season than Higgins and hit 13 more tons. Considering they played virtually the same number of matches last season and Higgins hit 20 more tons than Day, that's where lies the problem in the Scotsman's game currently. At one point this season, he went nine matches without a century.
I expect this to be very close. Day will have his takers at 29/20 for sure. If pushed against a wall for a winner, my hunch would be to side with odds-against on Day over odds-on with Higgins. I do like the price of 10/3 on there being a deciding frame here. They have met 18 times in ranking and invitationals – five have gone to a final frame, including the last two meetings. Five other battles were a frame off a decider.
- Prediction: Day 6-5
- Tip: Match to go to a deciding frame 10/3 William Hill.
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Stuart Bingham
- (O'Sullivan leads 14-3 in H2Hs)
I went over this contest in my quarter preview. To relay those sentiments again, I fancy Ronnie to win but not easily. Of Ronnie's 14 wins over Stuart, only twice has the Rocket whitewashed Ball-Run.
Bingham has won 68 frames in the 17 contests. Take into account just best of 7s, 9s and 11s, Ronnie leads those 59-29 in frames. So it equates to Bingham averaging three frames in those type of matches. Considering how well Bingham has played this season, I think he can conjure up three again but, ultimately, that's as far as it will go for him.
Ronnie has only lost three openers in 24 Masters appearances and the last of those was in 2011. Bingham's record in the Masters is ghastly. In eight appearances in the event, he's lost his first match seven times. Make that eight after this!
I've found a nice betting angle. Even though he's won every match bar two this season, Ronnie has been susceptible to losing the first frame. In 28 matches, 14 times he's lost the first frame. In 12 of them, he won the match after losing the opener.
If you just include top-16 players, Ronnie has lost the first frame in nine of his 12 matches but still gone on to win 11 of those clashes.
He's played Bingham twice this season, in Shanghai and Coventry and, on both occasions, Bingham won the opening frame and O'Sullivan came back to win the match.
Considering he's lost the first frame to Luke Simmonds, Tom Ford, Ken Doherty, Zhou Yuelong, Mark Davis and Kurt Maflin this season, it's one area where Ronnie is slightly vulnerable. But then he settles into the match and, ultimately, wins. It could well happen for a third time time this season between Stuart and Ronnie.
- Prediction: O'Sullivan 6-3.
- Tip: O'Sullivan to lose first frame and win match 5/2 Betfair.
Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire
- (Selby leads 13-12 in H2Hs)
It's very surprising to see Selby so closely matched with Maguire in overall head-to-heads. In what I call meaningful matches (not the Championship League where they have faced each other 10 times), Selby leads 8-6. They have played each other twice at the Masters (2008 and 2010) and The Jester triumphed in both.
Selby has not won this title for six years. He won on debut in 2008, then repeated the trick in 2010 and 2013. He made the final in 2014 but since then has suffered two quarter-final defeats and two first-round ones. Selby's form this season is a bit worrying. He won the China Championship but has made just one semi-final in five further ranking events.
Maguire has never made the final here (four times a losing semi-finalist). Maguire's form this season is very erratic. He's made two ranking semi-finals, a quarter-final then lost in either the first or second round in the other five events. The end result here depends on what Maguire turns up in London. Probably the mediocre one.
I can see Selby strangling Maguire with his much better safety play. However, in 14 ‘competitive' matches, there's been three deciders. Only twice out of the 14, would the ‘unders' on frames have won. I think Selby will pull through, by a couple.
- Prediction: Selby 6-4
Judd Trump v Kyren Wilson
- (6-6 in H2Hs)
The match of the first round for me. Contrasting styles. A bit of needle. Can only mean Wilson v Trump.
They played as recently as January 6 and 7 at the Championship League. Trump won both but they are seen as just practice matches. In competitive affairs, Kyren has won six of the last seven meetings. The first of this run came in Kyren's first ranking title win in Shanghai in 2015.
Judd's only win recently over Kyren came at the 2016 Scottish Open. Since then, Kyren has won the next three, all in invitational events, which bodes well for here. He's pummelled him in the last two, this season, 6-2 and 6-1.
It's quite clear they don't particularly like each other. It has an air of Alex Higgins and Steve Davis about it. Respect on the table, but deep down there's no love lost. They will inevitably face off a lot in the next 15 years.
As Kyren has got the better of Judd a lot in the last four years and clearly gets under Judd's skin more than vice versa, you have to favour Kyren in this ‘grudge' match. I think Trump has a mental block and doesn't play his natural game against Wilson.
Wilson is not as talented as Trump, but he is a lot stronger mentally, and that's where the match can sway in favour of the Kettering man. Plus, there's no way I'm going against my outright pick. Expect the Warrior to grind it out for a seventh win in eight against his new ‘best mate'.
- Prediction: Wilson 6-4.
Barry Hawkins v Shaun Murphy
- (Murphy leads 11-6 in H2Hs)
New Dublin resident Shaun Murphy faces Kent's own Barry Hawkins on Tuesday evening in what looks a very intriguing match-up.
Apart from the 2016 edition, where Hawkins got to the final (losing 10-1 to O'Sullivan) he's had a torrid time in this event. He's had six first-round defeats overall. Before this tournament last year, he hadn't made a ranking quarter-final but has reached one last-eight and one semi-final in nine events this term. In general, though, it's not been the consistent Hawkins we have known for years previously.
Overall, the form this season of Murphy and Hawkins is quite similar. Murphy took until mid-December at the Scottish Open to finally wake up following the move from South Yorkshire to southern Ireland after the Worlds in May. Prior to that, he was playing like the proverbial club player, losing in six opening matches. He said at the Champion of Champions that many hours practicing with Fergal O'Brien has helped his safety game no end. He will need it against someone of Hawkins' calibre.
If Murphy plays like he did pre-Christmas, Hawkins is in a world of trouble here. However, it's a hard match to predict due to both players' inconsistency. We all know what a savage scorer Murphy is and if he gets his tail up, Hawkins will have to show all his renowned battling qualities to stay with him. I like Murphy a lot in these one-table events, it brings the best out of him. I'd favour him in a match very likely to go over 9.5 frames.
- Prediction: Murphy 6-4.
Neil Robertson v Mark Williams
- (Robertson leads 14-5 in H2Hs)
The ‘Thunder from Down Under' is in a really good place right now, on and off the table. He missed last year's tournament due to personal problems centred around his partner Mille battling depression and anxiety. Thankfully, she's now in a good place also and over Christmas they got engaged.
On the table, Robertson won the opening title of the season in July in Riga and made the International Championship final in November. He's only lost once in the first round of a ranking tournament. It's great to see Neil playing well, currently top of the ton charts with 47, not bad in 49 matches.
Mark Williams has thoroughly enjoyed his seven months as world champion with an agenda of plenty of booze, kebabs and lavish trips abroad and seemingly less time on the practice table. He's never been a big practice man, if truth be told, but apart from winning the World Open in August, he's had a mediocre season. He did at least show some form at the UK, making the last 16, falling to Maguire 6-5.
Of their 22 previous matches against one another, Robertson has triumphed 14 times (three draws) but 13 of those contests were in the Championship or Premier League which are less of a concern to both parties. In the bigger events, Robertson leads 6-3 and 2-0 at the Masters (6-0 in 2007 and 6-4 in 2012).
I quite fancy another win for the Aussie here. Form is the main factor. He geared up for this by winning his Championship League group on January 2, compiling his 600th competitive century on the way. Williams, at that time, was on a cruise!
Instead of backing the respectable 11/10 with Ladbrokes, I'm going to advise Robertson -1.5, which is 17/10 with Unibet. Of his four matches against fellow top-16 players this season, three would have landed -1.5.
- Prediction: Robertson 6-4
- Tip: Robertson -1.5 17/10 Unibet.
Lisowski 6-4 15/2 Betfair
Lisowski 6-5 15/2 Betfair
Higgins/Day Match to go to a deciding frame 10/3 William Hill
O'Sullivan lose the first frame and win the match 5/2 Betfair
Robertson -1.5 17/10 Unibet