THE KREATIV DENTAL German Masters is one of the annual highlights of the snooker season as the Tempodrom in Berlin plays host not just to the best players in the world but to one of the most enthusiastic audiences on the circuit.
Last year, 64 players made the trip but it proved too many for a five day event so, sensibly, it’s back to the last 32, but almost all of snooker’s star names have made it through the qualifiers to contest the first ranking title of 2015.
The top seed is Ding Junhui and the second seed is Mark Selby but these two modern greats have done little all season to suggest they will meet in the final.
Ding had a remarkable campaign during 2013/14. His triumph in Berlin 12 months ago was the fourth of five ranking events he would win. This season, though, he has not come close in any of the major tournaments. There is of course still time but Ding’s many fans must be wondering when his season is going to click into life.
In the first round, he faces Ryan Day, who took him to a decider in the semi-finals at the Tempodrom last year, so a tough starter for China’s no.1, who has also returned to the top of the world rankings.
Selby, at the time of writing, was competing in an eight-ball pool final in China, worth a lot of money but hardly great preparation for a snooker tournament in Germany two days later (Selby plays on the opening afternoon session on Wednesday).
Of course, Selby wasn’t to know he would reach the final but a long day’s travelling prior to a match against UK Championship quarter-finalist Anthony McGill is not ideal.
Selby, though, is tough, as he demonstrated in turning around the world final last year. Since then, like Ding, he has not really challenged for the circuit’s biggest titles. The happy complication of becoming a father for the first time must have affected his daily routine.
Form comes and goes during a long season. Judd Trump was playing beautifully at times before Christmas but was a first fence faller at the Masters. He starts against Michael Holt in the second TV match on Wednesday evening.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has landed the Champion of Champions and UK Championship titles this season. He was beaten in the semi-finals of the Masters by Neil Robertson, who took the game to him with great effect.
In the opening round, O’Sullivan is up against Mark Davis, an experienced campaigner who beat him at Crondon Park last week in the group 5 final of the Championship League. But the Tempodrom atmosphere will be very different and O’Sullivan will be expected to come through.
Shaun Murphy completed the ‘Triple Crown’ by winning the Masters last month, a brilliant performance which confirms him as an authentic great. The titles are coming more regularly for Murphy these days but he knows he cannot afford any relaxation in attitude or application. We are, after all, now just two months away from the World Championship.
Robertson, beaten 10-2 by Murphy at Ally Pally, was also in China until a couple of days ago and has a tough starter in the shape of Dubliner Fergal O’Brien, who toughened himself up with four days of competitive play at Crondon Park.
One of the ties of the first round is Mark Allen against Mark Williams, who won this title in 2011, in a repeat of their eye-catching, high quality International Championship semi-final from earlier in the season.
Matt Selt, the Lisbon Open runner-up, who won two deciders to qualify, could well prove a handful for Shanghai Masters champion Stuart Bingham.
John Higgins, seeking results after falling to 14th in the world rankings, has a tough draw against his fellow former world champion, Peter Ebdon.
And then there’s Ashley Carty, a 19 year-old amateur taking part as a ‘top-up’ due to the event not having a full field of professionals. Carty beat Robert Milkins and James Cahill to qualify and experience the unique German Masters atmosphere.
Germany is not a huge participation country for snooker but on television and at tournaments fans tune in and turn out in huge numbers and are sure to be rewarded with another fascinating event.
Eurosport has daily live coverage starting on Wednesday afternoon. Viewers in the UK can enjoy analysis and insight from Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.