SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2020 Tour Championship from Milton Keynes.
Tour Championship | 20th-26th June 2020 | ITV4
There is light at the end of the dark, gloomy tunnel. Sport is slowly coming back…Not to complete normality with a crowd just yet but at least it’s on the mend, out of the treatment room, and we are moving forward.
Snooker became one of the first sports to be back broadcasting live sport last week at the Championship League, which was a raving success on the baize, and off it, with every player competing getting paid and complimenting the set up. Barry Hearn and his Matchroom team deserve all the credit in the world.
Luca Brecel walked away with the title in Milton Keynes and pocketed £30,000 plus entry into November’s Champion of Champions to guarantee another £12,000 on top. Not bad for a week's work as the usual amount of frames you require to win an event is over 30. He won 21 frames in nine matches, winning only three times!
Every competitor this week bags a guaranteed £20,000 for rocking up and four of the eight competitors at the long delayed Tour Championship return to the Marshall Arena from the Championship League; Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and current World champion Judd Trump.
None of those four tore up any trees in Buckinghamshire with only one (Trump) making it past his group and I’m happy to overlook them, especially as Trump, Robertson and Selby are the top three in the betting.
If Trump beats John Higgins first up and the inaugural finalist last season Robertson beats late entrant into this after Ding Junhui’s withdrawal, Stephen Maguire, then the top two in the world rankings will face off in the semi-final. That makes their prices a little short in my head at best prices 15/8 and 3/1.
Selby in focus
You do have to wonder which side of the bed Selby will fall out of in Milton Keynes. All his best form this season have been in the shorter formats, with victories at the English and Scottish Opens. That’s underlined with a mightily impressive 86% win rate in best-of-sevens. That drops to 62% in best-of-11 or 17.
Selby's only won 41% of his deciders this season too which is way down on his career statistics. He’s also only won 43% of his matches this season against fellow top 16 players – another concern.
His match up with Yan Bingtao will be very intriguing and I’m sure Yan will have his takers too at 2/1. He’s blossomed this season into a real force and in my eyes, will be China’s first world champion one day.
The winner of that, will face Mark Allen or Shaun Murphy in the semi-final and I’m quite sweet on the latter for the title.
Murphy in the frame
Murphy, who now resides in Dublin, has been one of the players of season, for me. He made the final of the International Championship in August (losing to Trump), the Shanghai Masters final a month later (losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan), then two weeks later beat Mark Williams in the final (his third straight final) of the China Championship.
In mid-February, Murphy won his second ranking title of the season at the Welsh Open, pummelling Kyren Wilson, 9-1. He’s won a mean 77% of his matches this season.
It’s a far cry from last season where he won 53%, made just one final and was mediocre for the majority. I watched him live a few times in his plight and he looked disinterested. Even retirement crossed his mind. He called it the ‘worst season of his career’ with some ‘very dark moments.’
So why the drastic change of form?
He told MC Rob Walker at the Welsh Open that he’s now practising more hours of the day, every day of the week, including weekends, which he never used to. He reluctantly resigned as a board member of the WPBSA and the players commission so gives him more time to put the hours in and less pressure on his shoulders.
His good friend from Dublin who he practises with daily, Fergal O’Brien, gave him a ‘stern dressing down’ about what’s ‘wrong’ in his life. “Whatever you are practising, double it”, the veteran Irishman told him.
Shaun also has one of the best coaches in snooker, Chris Henry, in his corner, who has tweaked a few bad habits that have crept into his game. A trip to Bruges in close season with Henry helped his cause no end he mentioned.
So it’s not a mountain of things on the face of it, but an odd change here and there can be a catalyst to finding some much needed form, that breeds confidence, belief and momentum, to make you into a title contender again.
He’s played Tuesday’s opponent and good mate on tour, Allen, on three occasions this season, winning all of them fairly convincingly so that bodes well. Murphy leads their head-to-head record 15-7.
Allen was in very good form at the start of the season winning 32 of his 41 matches until mid December. Up until last week, he has only won five from 11 in 2020, so perhaps the break for lockdown came at a good stage for the Pistol.
Allen has a few things in his favour to oust Murphy in that he’s had match practise here at the venue, and knows the conditions but I predict this match will go to form from over the season and the borderline fresher man in “Murf” will prevail.
One thing you know with Shaun, if this season is anything to go by, his preparation will be right on the money. Obviously you have to do a bit of guess work in regards to how much practise he has done during the break and how sharp he is but with the Worlds just round the corner, I’m sure he’s been ‘doing his bit’ to keep himself sane!
Will no crowd be a factor? He is one type of player that breeds off a crowd it has to be said. He has struggled a lot in recent years when only the proverbial man and his dog are in attendance. This season, his qualifying efforts with less of a crowd have been excellent though.
End of the day, all the players are in the same boat and I think 15/2 (SkyBet) in the outrights, Murphy is well worth a shot and is overpriced. Selby is as short as 9/2 this week coming, and going by consistent form of the season that’s gone, their prices should be a lot closer together, if not the same at 5/1.
Murphy could make a complete mockery of that 15/2 if he brings his season form to the baize and hopefully he’ll be lifting the trophy to no one on Friday week.
Tour Championship – Shaun Murphy to win outright (15/2 SkyBet)