THE BANK OF COMMUNICATIONS Shanghai Masters comes to a climax this weekend with four big-hitters eyeing the title and £85,000 first prize.
Friday’s quarter-finals produced little in the way of shock results but the semi-finals and final could be much closer.
Mark Allen rather fell over the line against Michael White, who made a slow start but was superb in rallying from 4-1 down to force a decider. This final frame was a nervy affair in which both players made mistakes as the tension rose, but Allen scrambled home on the blue.
Mark Selby’s 5-0 victory over Fergal O’Brien was somewhat flattering. A number of the frames were closely contested but Selby was more than up to the scrappy exchanges and finished off well in the last frame.
Ding Junhui’s struggles on home soil are clearly now a thing of the past as the defending champion fought past Graeme Dott 5-2.
Stuart Bingham has played well all week and did so again to end the challenge of Alan McManus, 5-1.
A Ding-Selby final is doubtless favourite with bookmakers but Bingham and Allen have been regulars at the business end of tournaments in the last couple of seasons.
Bingham seems to come good at certain times of the season. Last November/December he reached the Champion of Champions final and came within a frame of advancing to the same stage of the UK Championship. The Essex man has scored heavily this week and will surely need to do so again against Ding, who seems to have rediscovered the serenity present for so much of last season.
Ding’s star power in China makes him a genuine snooker superstar. Indeed, with the current Shanghai Masters contract ending after the tournament, his continued success in China and elsewhere is vital if the investment is to continue from this important market.
Selby beat Allen in the Riga Open final before Allen won the Paul Hunter Classic, so they are both winners already this season.
The world champion won at the Grand Stage three years ago and hasn’t yet shown any signs of extra expectation being a burden because of his Crucible triumph.
Allen is on a purple patch, although I think he would admit his performances have not all been stellar. This is actually a good thing because if he is winning while not at his best then any improvements could carry him to more silverware.
It’s another familiar line-up. All four semi-finalists have already qualified for November’s Champion of Champions and, with the Indian Open being moved from October to March, there are now five places to be filled and only three tournaments left, so a contingency plan is required.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.