These summer months afford time to ponder the great concerns of our time: will Gordon Brown cut it as prime minister? Is global warming going to cause much of Britain to disappear under water? Why is Vernon Kay on the TV every time you turn it on?

It also allows time for cultural enrichment: reading the latest book by William Boyd, listening to the Calvin Harris album, watching The Wire on DVD. All very pleasant indeed and the sun has even come out today.

I’m sure, though, there’s something else happening soon. I can’t put my finger on it just now. No hang on I remember – there’s a snooker tournament next week.

Sadly, our sport isn’t like golf or tennis where there’s action somewhere in the world pretty much every week of the year. Hence, snooker tournaments tend to creep up on you without warning.

The magnificent Grand Place is the venue for the Shanghai Masters, the first ranking event of the new season which, like the China Open in Beijing, is guaranteed for at least five years under a deal with the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association.

Nobody’s in much form as few have lifted a cue since the 888.com World Championship three months ago but John Higgins, the Crucible champion, has been kept busy, playing in a small event in Warsaw, winning the invitation Euro-Asia Challenge in Hong Kong and playing various exhibitions.

However, Higgins faces for my money the toughest of all the qualifiers in the first round, Jamie Cope, runner-up last season in Beijing and also in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix at Aberdeen.

It’s a vicious quarter of the draw that includes Mark Selby, who Higgins beat in their Sheffield final, and former world champions Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, who have both won ranking titles in Shanghai.

Ding Junhui, who played in the last ranking tournament staged in Shanghai in 2002 as a 14 year-old wildcard, is in the other half of the draw, which includes Stephen Hendry, winner of the first ranking event staged in China in 1990, Shaun Murphy, the 2005 world champion, and Neil Robertson, winner of two ranking crowns last term.

Picking a winner is, as usual, impossible. Stick a pin in the draw – it’s quicker than trying to work out what will happen.

Looking at the season as a whole I’m going to predict one player in particular to watch: Stephen Maguire.

You’ll recall the manner of his semi-final defeat to Higgins at the Crucible. Entering the final session leading 14-10 – having played superbly – he was beaten 17-15, missing the pink in losing a crucial 30th frame which would have put him 16-14 up.

I well remember Maguire turning pro in 1999. I interviewed him after his very first match. He seemed far too polite and reserved for this game but they breed them pretty tough in Glasgow and his personality soon came to the fore.

He’ll have been gutted by his Sheffield exit with the sure knowledge that he let a gilt-edged chance to become world champion slip.

And he’ll be back fighting harder than ever to prove himself as one of the game’s best, which he is, as proved by the manner in which he won the 2004 UK Championship.

I suspect he feels like a wounded animal at the moment and will want to get stuck into the new season to cast off the disappointments of the last campaign.

Shanghai would be a good place to start.

- The Shanghai Masters is live on British Eurosport, Eurosport International and the Great Sports Channel in China from August 6-12


Anonymous said...

You're right it is impossible to pick a winner!
As for Maguire-it will depend on how he reacts to his crucible defeat.I have a feeling he isn't as mentally strong as he needs to be but I'd be quite happy to be proved wrong.
Will Eurosport also be showing the live action online?

Dave H said...

As far as I know they are

Anonymous said...

OK Thanks.

Anonymous said...


I thought Maguire really struggled last season and has done since the end of the 2003/04 season and then the 04/05 season.

But, his ability was there to show in the final session against Hamilton in the quarter-finals in Sheffield. Fantastic snooker.

Am not too sure whether he will do anything next week. I have a feeling a lot of the top players will be 'hungover,' and would look again at a Cope or another unseeded player to pick up the trophy.

By the way, Calvin Harris' album is pretty good. Far better live, though!

Thanks, Joe

Anonymous said...

neil robertson -------gunna rule the snooker world this year and next....he's the thunder from down under.