A LOOK AHEAD to Sunday’s matches at the Dafabet Masters, snooker’s most prestigious invitation tournament…
MARK SELBY v SHAUN MURPHY (1pm)
This could easily have been the final had the draw worked out differently and these two fine match players could well serve up a classic.
Murphy, runner-up at Alexandra Palace in 2012, has played well this season, winning two titles on the European Tour. However, he has not fared quite as well in the bigger tournaments and had to pull out of last week’s Championship League with a chest infection, frustrating for one of the circuit’s most loyal supporters.
Selby is also a Championship League absentee but this is not so he can spend more time at home. He is among those going to China for a big 8-ball pool event later this month, which clashes with later Crondon Park groups.
First time world champions often have quiet seasons. So do first time fathers. Selby is both. But he is also tough as old boots with a remarkable capacity to come good at the Masters.
He won it at his first attempt in 2008 and has appeared in five finals in seven appearances, with three titles to his name. This season, aside from a European Tour victory, he has not really challenged for titles. There is still much time for that to change and an event where he is something of a form horse is as good a place to start as any.
Last year at the Ally Pally he beat Murphy 6-1 in the semi-finals, a result which caused a dark cloud to form on Murphy’s usually sunny horizon. He even spoke rashly of retirement, though this was all heat of the moment stuff.
Selby and Murphy are good friends. They grew up together on the then thriving British junior circuit and have played many times in tournaments big and small, with honours shared at 10-10 in previous meetings.
Selby deserves to start as slight favourite given his record in the tournament but it’s hard to see there being much in it at the end.
STUART BINGHAM v MARCO FU (7pm)
Fu beat Bingham in the 1997 world amateur final in Zimbabwe and has won the majority of their meetings since but these two remain evenly matched.
Bingham has started to come good in big tournaments. He had Ronnie O’Sullivan on the ropes in their UK Championship semi-final last month but could not land the knockout blow. Even so, he is competing at the very highest level now after years as a member of the game’s supporting cast.
Bingham’s Masters record is not stellar: he has won just one match in five previous appearances. In contrast, Fu is a former finalist, losing 10-4 to Ding Junhui in 2011.
The only predictable thing about Fu is that he will be unpredictable. Often superb, he sometimes has an off day where he is a long way from his best. But a tournament like the Masters will surely bring out the best in him.
Like Bingham, he blew off the post-Christmas cobwebs with four hard days at the Championship League. His trump card is his scoring. When he gets in that nice break-building rhythm he has it’s hard to see him missing.
Bingham was once happy just to be in the Masters but his mind-set has altered now. Anything but a good run to the semi-finals at least would be disappointing. That reflects the level he has reached and events such as this provide an opportunity to test his game against the very best.
He has a tough first round opponent in Fu, who on previous meetings and Masters experience starts as marginal favourite for me.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.