Hong Kong Masters 2017
In celebration of the 20th year anniversary when sovereignty was passed to China, Hong Kong looks forward to hosting a very special and unique invitational snooker event this week at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium.
The Hong Kong government allegedly put aside HK$650 million for the celebrations, of which HK$194 million will be spent on cultural and sports events. These also include the Volvo Ocean Race, UCI Track Cycling World Championships and the Premier League Asia Trophy. Certainly all the stops have been pulled out for the snooker. There is a star cast which boasts 7 of the World's current Top 8 players being joined by 5 times World Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan. Only Ding Junhui is missing out.
World Number 1 Mark Selby will be back in competitive action for the first time since securing a hat-trick of Crucible titles. A broken toe forced him to withdraw from the Riga Masters and World Cup, but he should be refreshed having just been on holiday to Las Vegas. Selby's opening round opponent is 2010 World Champion Neil Robertson. Surprisingly, the pair have not met in a major event for over 18 months. On that occasion the Australian recorded a shocking 6-0 win in the Semi-Finals of the 2015 UK Championship – a tournament he went on to claim.
National hero Marco Fu is almost single-handedly responsible for the interest in snooker throughout the country. The 3 time major ranking event winner has introduced and inspired people to the sport - all of the sessions in this tournament are reportedly sold out. Fu takes on the consistent Barry Hawkins in Round One – two of the most in-form cueists from last season. Hawkins has yet to reach a singles final in Asia (he got to the World Cup final in China a few weeks ago) something he will be looking to put right.
In the bottom half of the draw, the crossing of cues between Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy is likely to be a close one. Looking at their head-to-head record in big events there is hardly anything to split them, although Murphy defeated Trump in their last clash in the Gibraltar Open final in March. The final fixture is a real nostalgic - and dare I say it romantic meeting between career long rivals O'Sullivan and John Higgins, who will play each other for the 61st time on the professional circuit.
Higgins won here previously in 2007 when he beat James Wattana 5-4 in the final of the Euro-Asia Challenge - a festival of snooker celebrating the 10th year hand-over anniversary. If Higgins reaches the Semi-Finals, he'll have recorded the 921st match win of his professional career and claim the overall all-time record.
O'Sullivan was also here a decade ago. Given The Rocket's fondness of a big event, one table set up, this tournament should be right up his street, although he has not tasted success on this continent in any form since the 2009 Shanghai Masters. The Best of 9 Quarter-Finals will be played across Thursday and Friday, whilst the Semi-Finals (Saturday) and Final (Sunday) are the Best of 11 frames.
It's great to see new tournaments in different countries, albeit this looking like a special one-off. With the success of last year's China Championship invitational too, I feel as if there should be a regular 'Masters style' tournament held overseas. If this proves popular, surely something similar should be a permanent fixture.
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