Tour Championship: Tournament Preview

The last one before the World Championship – it’s all getting a bit real now as the Crucible countdown continues.

And next week’s Tour Championship is the perfect aperitif ahead of the big one. Not only will it be contested by the top eight players of the season but all the matches are played across a best of 19 frames in a much-loved format which we now seldom see on the calendar.

It is for all these reasons that this event has become the unofficial fourth major of the season because it is both difficult to qualify for and mightily hard to then go and win.

Let’s go and see who is firing on all cylinders before Sheffield and to get you in the mood our resident blogger Gary Moss previews the first four matches for you.

Mark Allen v Ding Junhui

Opening the event is the player of the season Mark Allen who sets out in pursuit of his fourth ranking title of the campaign while occupying top spot on the one-year ranking list.
His opponent here in Hull is Ding Junhui in what will be a re-run of the thrilling UK Championship final just a few miles up the motorway in York.

In that epic clash, Allen fought back from a 6-2 deficit in the first session to secure a 10-7 win and he will rightly be favourite again enjoying his best ever season as a professional. Ding on the other hand is the only player in the field not to have a won a ranking title this season and, while he finds himself among the top eight players of the campaign, has still shown quite inconsistent form.

The added pressure for Ding is that he needs to win this match to secure his place at the Crucible as an automatic qualifier. Allen has no such worries and can use this event as match practice for the all-important World Championship knowing his place is secured and he will be one of the favourites.

Prediction: Allen 10-6

Ali Carter v Kyren Wilson

This is a clash between two of the fiercest competitors at the top of the game who both tend to thrive over the longer format.

The resemblance between them doesn’t stop there either as there are some noticeable similarities when comparing their overall careers on the baize too. Both are five-time ranking event winners, neither have won a Triple Crown event and while they’ve both finished as a runner up in the Masters, they’ve also both lost World Championship finals to Ronnie O’Sullivan (Kyren once and Ali twice).

With almost symmetrical records, it could be equally tricky to separate them in this contest.

Ali perhaps has the edge in recent form having reached the Players Championship, the semi-finals of the WST Classic and won the German Masters all within the past seven weeks while Kyren did most of the heavy lifting to qualify for this event at the start of the season including winning the title at the European Masters back in August.

This is the first time these players have ever met in a multi-session match and you have the feeling it could go close.

Prediction: Carter 10-8

Shaun Murphy v Robert Milkins

A battle of arguably two of the most talked about players of the season.

At times, Murphy has been playing some of the best snooker of his life and is enjoying something of a renaissance which culminated in him winning his first ranking title in three years at the Players Championship.
He will brimming with confidence but so too will Milkins who beat Murphy in the final of the Welsh Open not only to win his second ranking title in as many campaigns but also claim this season’s £150,000 BetVictor bonus to seal his greatest ever payday in the sport.

These are two players who have probably exceeded their expectations this season and both love to play open and attacking snooker – so it should a match that is easy on the eye.
Prediction: Murphy 10-5

Mark Selby v Ryan Day

Man of the moment Selby comes into this contest fresh from his victory in his home city of Leicester at the WST Classic – and all the talk of his form coming nicely to the boil ahead of the World Championship.

It’s a mark of the man that he has managed to win two big titles this season amidst his continued struggles away from table with mental health. But if his career can be defined in any way, it is his tenacity to fight until the very end.

For this reason, you always fancy him to do the business in these longer matches and with Sheffield just around the corner, it feels like the perfect storm for the Jester.

Day won’t mind being the underdog as he proved when he reached the final of the British Open. He upset the odds to beat Allen and is here this week on the merit of that massive win. 

Prediction: Selby 10-7

Tournament prediction:
On merit of his best being the best I’ve seen all season, Shaun Murphy to lift the title.

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