Rarely has a tournament lived up to its name as this one has. From the very first match of this year’s Dafabet Masters, it seemed as though it would be more difficult than ever to win it. Liang Wenbo, in only his second Masters appearance, was one black away from defeating defending champion (and eventual champion this year) Ronnie O’Sullivan. The crowd went deathly silent, the black wobbled in the jaws, and Ronnie stole the frame before claiming a quarter final place with an almost inevitable 121.
That match was a precursor of things to come, as snooker’s finest converged at Alexandra Palace in north London. Match after match, the standard seemed to rise. Of the fifteen matches played at the tournament, five went to a deciding frame, a stat which highlights the sheer quality on display at this years tournament.
Going into this tournament, Ronnie O’Sullivan had lost all three finals he had reached this season. O’Sullivan has said that he now sees snooker as his ‘bit on the side’, and that his real job is punditry and other TV ventures. He says that winning is just a secondary, that he goes out just to enjoy himself. Naturally, it was questionable whether this mentality could yield further success for ‘The Rocket’.
But yet again, O’Sullivan proved his doubters wrong, claiming a record-breaking seventh Masters title by seeing of Joe Perry in the final. O’Sullivan’s joy upon winning that final was plain to see. Whether he would admit it or not, Ronnie would have been left reeling had he lost a fourth major final in a row. The sheer relief on his face after his 10-7 victory shows that the 41 year-old still values success, despite his claims to the contrary.
Of course, it could have been so much different had Liang potted the aforementioned black in the first round. However, O’Sullivan’s ability to grind out victories in this tournament was admirable, a quality rarely associated with his game. Ronnie was far from his best at this tournament, but showed the kind of Selby-esque resilience required to win titles as the margins in snooker lessen and lessen.
PERRY COMES INTO HIS OWN
They say that for every winner, there has to be a loser, but that is not necessarily true in this instance. Yes, Joe Perry will be devastated that he let a 4-1 lead in the final slip but the reality is that he has made a major statement at this tournament.
Perry was the best performer at Ally Pally, obliterating Stuart Bingham and Ding Junhui before masterminding an incredible comeback win against an in-form Barry Hawkins in the semis. Perhaps he let the occasion get the better of him in the final, allowing a 4-1 lead to turn into a 4-8 deficit. That said, the 10-7 result is the closest Masters final in seven years, and Perry can certainly take heart from that.
‘The Gentleman’, as he’s known, is an immensely popular figure on the tour, but has not yet broken through the barrier to enter snooker’s elite. Perhaps now, at the age of 42, is the time that Joe Perry establishes himself as not just a nice guy, but a force to be reckoned with at major tournaments.
AND THE REST
There were so many players in such scintillating form at this tournament that, naturally, some would be left with a sense of underachievement. Marco Fu and Barry Hawkins, the two other semi-finalists, would each have been equally deserving finalists as O’Sullivan and Perry.
Fu’s victory over Judd Trump in the first round was one of the best matches ever seen at the Masters, and he was unlucky to just fall short to Ronnie in the semi-final. Barry Hawkins was even more impressive, sweeping aside Shaun Murphy with ease before knocking out world no.1 Mark Selby in emphatic fashion. It seemed destined for Hawkins to return to the final and avenge his 10-1 defeat to O’Sullivan in last year’s Masters final, but unfortunately Barry’s steely grit deserted him in the semi-final when he needed it most.
Mark Selby will be thoroughly disappointed with his efforts. The world no.1 was aiming to become only the fifth player to hold all three triple crown titles at the same time, but Selby was nothing like his usual self. The Jester from Leicester was lucky to sneak past Mark Williams in round one, and then his form completely deserted him against Hawkins in a game that could just have easily finished 6-0 as 6-3. It’s imperative that Selby recovers his form in upcoming tournaments if he is to add a third world title in April.
Overall, this was a tournament of immense quality and skill, one where each player looked capable of beating each other, such is the incredibly high standard at which these professionals perform. Of course, there is no time to rest for these players, as the bread and butter of the ranking events come thick and fast over the coming months. However, the Masters provides a platform on which a player can prove himself against the very best, and can prove a springboard for players such as Joe Perry to realise their ability.