Pumped up for the Palace

Jan 6
The nation was gripped by the action inside Alexandra Palace over the festive season thanks to the darts – and now it’s time for snooker to take centre stage.

Sixteen of the most talented cueists in the world are ready to step into the limelight with the dartboard being replaced by the old green baize. One of them is Robert Milkins who is returning to the Masters for the first time in nine years.

He believes snooker can create its own sense of excitement when the cameras roll and couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation when he was watching the arrows being thrown from the comfort of his sofa.

“I was watching Luke Littler in the final and I said to my kids ‘I’ll be playing there next week’ and that sounded mental,” he told Snooker System. “The atmosphere was something else (at the darts). They’re obviously totally different sports. Darts is just a drinking game and it always has been. They’re all loud and snooker is just a quiet game but has quietly got its own drama.

“When you get to the deciding frame and everyone is missing everything, that’s where I like watching it.”

Just like the darts, snooker has become synonymous with the magnificent Alexandra Palace venue in London. It’s now been the home of the Masters for more than a decade and it seems like year on year the atmosphere cranks up a notch.

Around 2,000 spectators will be packed in for the action and, outside of the World Championship’s Crucible home, it is widely regarded as the best venue in the sport.

Milkins is looking forward to playing there again after a lengthy absence although says it’ll feel like the first time.

“I can’t actually remember too much about what it’s like there,” he said. “I watch lots of snooker on TV and you can tell how great it looks; it’s a massive tournament.

“It’s changed a lot since I’ve been there though, and they’ve added the VIP areas, so it’ll be a new experience for me.”

One to watch?

The Milkman – as he is lovingly known on the snooker is tour – is back in the big time as a member of the top 16 on merit having won two ranking events in the past two years.

But by his own admission, his recent form has not been up to scratch. A series of humbling results at the Championship League in the run-up to this event could though strangely play to his advantage.

“I was like a punchbag for two days (at the Championship League),” he said candidly. “I was miles away from being anywhere near my best but it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It’s forced me to have four days knuckling down.

“Nobody expects me to do anything and that’s probably when I’m at my most dangerous.

“I just need to find some inspiration – and that can happen in snooker. For the past two years, just after Christmas has been the time I’ve played my best snooker.”

Milkins also says he can play free from pressure too and so perhaps he is one to watch this week.

“It’s just another tournament to me; nothing special. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. I’d rather do well in a ranking event. Ask all the top players and they’d say the Masters but give me a ranking event win over the Masters probably.

“There’s no pressure on ranking points and I’ve done OK in the invitational events this season. I beat (Shaun) Murphy in Shanghai and beat Mark Williams in the Champion of Champions and was struggling before both of those as well.”

The small matter of Selby

Before we all get too excited though, it must be pointed out that Milkins has never won a match at this tournament. In his previous two appearances, he’s lost to Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan – and this time another all-time great is waiting for him in the shape of Mark Selby.

This string of horror draws is in part thanks to the format of the tournament which ensures the top eight players in the world are drawn against players in the bottom half of the 16, so Milkins was always guaranteed a difficult starter.

“It could have been better and could have been worse – but I guess it couldn’t have been much worse,” he said. “I’m not saying he’s worse, but I’d probably rather play Mark than somebody like Ronnie because there’s a bit of a mental block for me against Ronnie. I obviously rate Mark so highly; I’ll go into this in a better frame of mind because I know I’ve got to play at the top of my game to beat him.”

You can watch Milkins play Selby at 7pm on Wednesday evening.
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