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Thursday at the Tempodrom, Whispers of a Tom Ford Triumph?

By Frank B. Halfar
In Berlin

Rolf Kalb has done a lot for German snooker. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

The Thursday is the only day in the tournament with a morning session. Now yours truly is no morning person at all, and begs extenuating circumstances for having written yesterday’s piece well into the wee hours of the night.

So I admit I’ve seen nothing of the early three matches myself, and took full advantage of my fellow stewards giving me the gist, and of emcee Rolf Kalb recounting the morning results when he introduced the afternoon session.

Stuart Bingham was not at his best consistently through his match against Zhang Yong, but could rely on his experience well enough to leave the central table a winner, by 5-3. Barry Hawkins made a strong impression against Michael White, he was easily the best player of the six early birds, and needed only six frames to make it to five wins. Dominic Dale can’t consider 2017 a good year at Berlin, as he had to succumb to Yan Bingtao, 2-5.

Incidentally, ask a German fan who the biggest star of the sport is for his or her home country, and almost always the answer will not be, alas, the name of a player. Neither will it be that of a referee’s, although of those Germany has an impressive squad. It will be Rolf Kalb, the German lead commentator for snooker on Eurosport, and serial host at the Tempodrom. The man has done wonders to first get the sport known and understood here, and then loved by considerable crowds.

The main attraction of the afternoon was Mark Selby’s encounter against Thepchaya Un-Nooh at the TV table, whose 147 at the last Paul Hunter Classic in Fürth is still very much talked about, likely because he had missed a maximum twice on the last black before. Our most junior steward colleague challenged us for a bet – the Thai would topple the world champion. Pity I’m no betting man, as Selby delivered a masterclass and made easy work of reaching the next round in a whitewash. The match was officiated by Germany’s Luise Kraatz, who has made a lightning-speed career as a referee in the last few years.

Her Bulgarian colleague Desislava Bozhilova, who worked at one of the side tables, is another example of World Snooker developing young women referees with great determination. Desislava had found a better solution for her abundant hair on this second day, after some persistent front strains had kept falling right in front of her bespectacled face on day one. And before I’m accused of being so macho dwelling on such outwardnesses, she’s a very effective and assured ref, as she demonstrated today by calling Neil Robertson on a clothing foul, his waistcoat having made contact with the black. He looked rather annoyed, whether with himself or with the decision was not quite clear.

Robertson somehow never seems to look a very happy camper at the Tempodrom. Today he played Ben Woollaston in a hard fought match that went the distance. The pressure and depth of his ambition showed for a brief, but very telling, second when he managed to win two frames to come from 2-4 behind and force a decider. He showed a fist, and directed it right at his opponent, his face looking rather less than congenial. Little did it help him, as the Englishman took the final frame very clearly.

The neighbouring table was a very different affair atmospherically, showcasing the gentlemanly atmosphere that always has been an element that so attracted me to snooker. Michael Holt and Stuart Carrington chatted with each other amiably right until the first frame started, and kept exchanging small remarks throughout their match. Holt went into mid-session interval leading 4-0, but Carrington increased his resistance. He took the fifth frame and didn’t leave his opponent off the hook for quite some time until it was 5-1.

At the other side of the arena, Mark Williams did battle with Anthony Hamilton. Before things could start, his old rival and mate Mark Selby surprised him with a friendly little poke while he was on his way to his own match at the TV table. The touch of the reigning world champion was not the best omen for the former one, Williams lost 3-5 and yet another big name must be ticked off the list as early as round one. The organisers appear less than happy about losing O’Sullivan, Robertson, and Williams so early on. This is understandable, big names sell tickets big time. From a sportive viewpoint it seems to me an attraction of the German Masters that the tournaments are so unforeseeable and have produced a different winner every year.

To complete the afternoon, David Gilbert defeated Marco Fu 5-3, another surprise since Fu had arrived in Berlin as one of the in-form contenders.

After a quick dinner it was back to the hall for the evening session, and the first matches of round two, the last sixteen hopefuls and survivors of their first match at the Tempodrom. Ali Carter and Zhao Xintong got to play at the TV table, and their referee came from Belgium, Jan Scheers. Being a rookie ref myself, I watch the referees very closely because it can’t do any harm to try and learn from the best. Scheers is a marvel to watch. He exudes a cool and relaxed attitude like few others of his trade, sometimes almost sashaying around the table. Yet there also is a strong sense of authority, like a lion luring behind the easy noiseless steps. I had the chance to speak to him over dinner, and he explained how he prefers to abstain from admonishments, rather expressing a warning solely with a facial expression than with words, be it towards a player or an unruly member of the audience. The man has mastered the art of the raised eyebrow!

But back to our game. Many players have been called the future of snooker, and Zhao Xintong has recently been among those attracting such a cachet. No wonder when he is two months short of being 20 and defeats John Higgins in qualifying for Berlin. Xintong made it clear from the outset that he was an even match for someone like Ali Carter, making a 58 break and taking the first frame. It was a match very worthy of the central table, the opponents never leading by more than one frame. A 2-2 mid-session scoreline, a century by Carter in the fifth frame, but the Chinese taking the next two and thus the ‘Captain’ looking into the abyss. But tonight the experience and composure of Carter prevailed, he allowed his opponent a total of just nine points in the final two frames and left the hall a quarter-finalist.

Ford was runner-up to Mark Selby in this season’s Paul Hunter Classic in Germany. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

Tom Ford against Mark King was the offering at table four, the maximum man versus the winner over Ronnie. Clearly who would win here is a name to watch, quite possibly even for the title on Sunday. It went back and forth at first, King starting with a 96 break, Ford responding with a 73 in the second frame. When King won the third by a mere one point, it might have been an ominous sign. Yet, it was Ford who became stronger as the match progressed, winning it 5-2 after some more hard fought frames. The referee style here was markedly different from Jan Scheers, with Ingo Schmidt officiating. Ingo is among the most experienced German referees and acts also as a referee examiner. His stage persona is rather stern, and his main gesture towards the audience the raised hand, a bit like a policeman halting the traffic.

And for the two remaining matches of the evening. Martin Gould seemed to be in prime form at first, storming away to a 4-0 lead over Ricky Walden. I had to think of what the pundits said about Boris Becker back then, referring to Wimbledon as his living room. Martin Gould, with his calm composure, rather seemed to have found his snooker living room in the Tempodrom. Might we even think of a successful defence of his title, unheard of at the German Masters, and so unlikely when so many players seem capable of winning of late? Walden came back a different player from the break and put up a real fight until at last Gould prevailed, 5-3 and winning the last frame to nil.

Ryan Day and Robin Hull battled it out at the neighbouring table and, when theirs was the last match still in play, I winced a little in memory of the very late-nighter from yesterday at the very same table. Day had endured a poor start into the match and found himself in arrears, 0-3, before gaining strength and finding his game against the man from Finland. The end came rather quick then, with the decider unexpectedly turning out to be totally one sided. Day fluked a red, apologised and never looked back, ending it with a century. Robin Hull started pocketing his belongings and loosening his bow tie when Day’s score was in the seventies.

So we now have our first four among the last eight, with the second round to be completed in the afternoon tomorrow. One of my stewarding colleagues expressed his certainty that Tom Ford is going to be the champion this year. It would be an unexpected result, at least looking at it from before his maximum perhaps, and thus fitting for this tournament. Being ever cautious, I would not go quite this far yet, but Ford surely is a name to watch this time. Stay tuned for tomorrow!

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