2007-01-21

Masters Final in Snooker

I've just finished watching the final of the Masters tournament featuring the rising star Ding Junhui from China and my favorite snooker player Ronnie "The Rocket" O'Sullivan. And what a match it was.

Ding Junhui is only 19 years old but is already ranked as number 5 in the Provisional World Ranking and has already won 3 titles (being the youngest player, together with John Higgins, to have won so many titles). In the semifinal he beat Steven Hendry with a brilliant and offensive play. After that match Hendry, who seldom gives any praise to other players, applauded Ding and said that there are only two or three players in the world from whom you can't expect a second chance in a frame. He said Ding was one of them (the other two being John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan. Hendry also belongs to that list but naturally he didn't count himself.) Ding seemed to be in a very good shape before the final, he even said he hoped to improve his game from the semifinal where he beat Hendry. Earlier in the week he also made a 147 frame, the highest possible score in snooker (not counting fouls) and became the youngest player ever to have achieved that on live TV. The previous record holder was Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Ronnie, as I said, is my favorite snooker player. He has his ups and downs but when he plays his best snooker there is simply no one that can match him. It's like he ceases to be a snooker player and becomes a magician, using the cue as wand to cast spells on the white ball, demanding it to go where he wants. It's absolute magic and looks so effortlessly that it must be embarrassing for the other players. On top of that he is also more or less double handed. He can play as good with his left hand as with his right hand.

Given that Ronnie O'Sullivan is so good, why doesn't he win everything? I think the problem for Ronnie is that he is himself his biggest opponent. He's having trouble with motivation and his mental stability seems to be lacking. Last month he simply walked out from a game against Steven Hendry and that is a very unusual thing to do in snooker where every player is expected to behave like a gentleman. He also seems to have a problem with longer tournaments and to keep up his concentration during a whole week or so of play.

Ronnie O'Sullivan's way to final was very good example of his mood swings. He started out very strongly beating Ali Carter with 6-1. Then he just barely beat Ken Doherty currently ranked no. 1 but wasn't showing his best game. In the semifinal he was up against Stephen Maguire and that was the worst game of snooker I have ever seen. Even I could have beaten Maguire as he played in that game. It was obvious that he was just pumped with adrenalin for this match and he didn't manage to cool down, missing just about every ball. It's a miracle that he actually won a couple of frames. O'Sullivan also played really poorly and didn't really deserve to win either.

Given the two players previous performance during the tournament I held Ding as a favorite in the final. But just barely, as I'm well aware of O'Sullivan's qualities. And it turned out to be quite a drama. Ding won the two first frames showing some superb snooker, much like in the semifinal. That seemed to wake up O'Sullivan who after that took four frames in a row including two centuries. Ding then responded, making the score 4-3. After that it was all O'Sullivan. It just seemed impossible for him to miss. Ding didn't play badly, on the contrary. But no matter what he did O'Sullivan would still find balls to play with and once he started there was no looking back.

In the tenth frame though, it seemed like Ding might have a chance to get into the match again. He had scored 65 points when he finally missed a ball, leaving only 67 points possible on the table for O'Sullivan. "The Rocket" stole the frame with 66 points against Ding's 65. I think that frame was the nail in the coffin for the Chinese.

The pressure seemed to take it's toll on Ding Junhui. During the latter half of the game it seemed like he was almost weeping, sitting in his chair and watching O'Sullivan beating him. It didn't help that the audience was very much in favor of Ronnie O'Sullivan and could be quite loud and disturbing at times. Ronnie even asked that one particularly loud spectator be thrown out of the arena, and indeed, he got so see the end of the game on a TV.

After the twelfth frame, making the score 9-3, it seemed that Ding wanted to concede the game. He went to shake O'Sullivan's hand but Ronnie wouldn't accept it. Instead he put his arm around Ding to try and comfort him and led him out of the arena. It was very warming to see such a friendly gesture from O'Sullivan when his younger opponent was so obviously upset. Later Ding Junhui said that he thought that the game was over, being best of 17 frames. That might be true but I'm somewhat skeptical to that explanation. It seemed that Ding was almost crying and he had essentially given up the frame before with a very poor, and not even half-hearted defensive shot. So having Ronnie O'Sullivan as an opponent turned out to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand Ding got a very tough lesson in snooker and in how bad the pressure can be in a final. On the other hand O'Sullivan turned out to be a very supportive friend who wanted to help him when he was almost caving in for the pressure. After the match, O'Sullivan made sure Ding Junhui didn't have to give an interview, which is otherwise customary. He could leave right after he received his second prize.

So it was a very good match to watch. Both a bit of drama and some of the best snooker I've ever seen, especially from Ronnie O'Sullivan. I hope he can pull himself together for some more stunning snooker later this spring. As for Ding I'm sure he will win many more titles and become one of the great names in snooker.

PS. For the record, the final ended 10-3 for O'Sullivan.

4 comments:

Saranya said...

thanks for the post. I watched half of it and couldn't watch the second half. Its sad but Ding in a way was the creator of his own demise. By playing so well, he forced Ronnie to play better and Ronnie played like only he can!

hash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hash said...

wow, are u sure u were not a sports
journalist in a past life;)

absolutely entertaining stuff!

Josef said...

hash,

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed my post.

I must say that the more passionate I am about something, the easier it is to write about it. This blog post almost wrote itself which shows just how passionate I am about snooker.