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Final Four in German Masters

By Frank B. Halfar
In Berlin

The plot thickens as the cast of pretenders thins – day three at the Tempodrom.

Stuart Bingham
Bingham looked down and out but maintained a 100% winning record against Gilbert. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

The third day of the German Masters saw eight matches, a growing audience, and rising sleep deprivation on some of the staff…

The afternoon session concluded the second round with David Gilbert having a real shot at toppling yet another big name of the sport in Stuart Bingham at the central table. He won frames three to six in a row, looking remarkably relaxed the entire time, and many thought of the assured way in which he had defeated Marco Fu here in the round before. But Gilbert did not manage to close the deal, and Bingham seemed to trigger some afterburner that he had the good sense to bring. He won the last three frames, the decider with a break of 67 after leaving his opponent a mere four points.

Barry Hawkins looked very assured in his match against Ben Woollaston, whose high hopes having defeated Neil Robertson the day before where ended rather clearly, the “Hawk” winning it 5-2.

Mark Selby and Anthony Hamilton had to interrupt their encounter due to a medical incident in their section of the audience. The medics arrived quickly and the tournament organisation thus could demonstrate some good and fast crisis management. Happily, the concerned audience member was well again soon. Mark Selby was not to be saved, though. He had a weak day and, in the “Sheriff of Pottingham”, an opponent who rose to the occasion. His attempt in true Selby style to fight back when snookers were already required was derailed soon when he committed a foul of his own. Exit Selby. The “Jester” gave one final example of his exemplary character and attitude when he could be seen backstage discussing some match situations with his victorious opponent, and wishing him well before parting.

Michael Holt once again felt like amusing the audience. It’s a great knack he has for this, but perhaps today he would have been better advised to keep it dry and business like, playing Yan Bingtao. The young Chinese seemed to feel very much at ease and unwrapped some great strokes. There was a very amusing phase where, for no fewer than three times, Holt would manage to produce a touching ball, sending the white from the baulk line, Yan playing the ball right back, then repeat. On the third occasion, referee Jan Scheers grinned and even commented, as did the two players. The light interlude did not reverse any fortunes though, a clear 5-1 win for Yan.

In case you ever wondered about the tent style architecture of the Tempodrom, there is, of course, a story to it, reaching back to the subsidised West Berlin long before the Wall came down. A woman from the house squatting scene made a sizeable inheritance and decided to spend it all on a life dream. She purchased an old circus tent and ran an “alternative circus and cabaret” joint in it, at first at Potsdamer Platz, then a deserted area right next to the Wall. This was the original Tempodrom. It moved location, and then had to shut down entirely when, near the final site, the Chancellery of reunified Germany was built.

It had made a name for itself by then, and so the rather grand concept of a new building, in the shape of a tent, came about. Plenty of public money went into a venue of private entertainment. There was a scandal, costs several times the estimate, political resignations, a law suit against the woman who had founded and run it – she was acquitted – and a bankruptcy only one year after the opening of what we today know as the Tempodrom. So you see, the venue we love so much as the site of the German Masters has quite a history.

This tumultuous past was imperceptible when the (in)famous Friday evening began, the quarter-finals, all played simultaneously. Stuart Bingham was assigned the TV table a second time on the same day, as unusual as two referees, Luise Kraatz and Milosz Olborski, working two sessions in direct succession, which is normally avoided.

The central attraction begged to be called the “Battle of the Bings”. Stuart Bingham met Yan Bingtao, a veteran of the game against another very young Chinese, although Bingtao does look much more mature than his mere 16 years and eleven months. Such a force at this age, it really is incredible. He was announced as the first big player born in the 21st century. When the pundits discussed this match for British Eurosport, both Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan opined that playing on the TV table might intimidate him, and that he should have been given a half hour of special training time there. But the amateur world champion portrayed no nerves in his match against the former Crucible world champion. On the contrary, he won the first frame and at the mid-session interval it was 2-2. Only Bingham ate just the right snack during the break, dominating the remainder of the game by winning the next three frames to secure his participation in the single table set-up.

Backstage there was an occasion worthy of note, although observed by only a few: Ronnie O’Sullivan gave a private lesson to Zhao Xintong on one of the practice tables. Who passed by may have felt a little uncomfortable, as if prying. But it seemed so fascinating, touching, and memorable, that all who did pass by couldn’t resist from stopping and gazing from a polite distance for a while. The giant passes on something to the future.

Back in the arena, Martin Gould continued his mission to prove the theory wrong that the German Masters is a title not to be defended. He did not have too much trouble against Ryan Day, winning 5-2. The Welshman often appears as one of the players who really likes this tournament, but the grand success escaped him once more.

Ali Carter ended all whispers about a possible Tom Ford victory after the latter’s very impressive showing here so far. Theirs was the third match to end on a 5-2 score tonight, with the “Captain” the well deserving winner.

Hamilton gained revenge for his agonising 6-5 loss to Hawkins in the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

The fourth match was the exception and provided midnight drama, going to a decider and conjuring cliffhangers galore. Picture it: central and three side tables empty, the majority of the audience still present, all eyes on that one other side table, where Barry Hawkins and Anthony Hamilton fought for the last spot among the final four. There were many moments so quiet that the almost ghostly humming of the Tempodrom’s ventilation system was the dominant sound. Hamilton had the briefest pause between his second round and quarter-final encounter, hardly more than 90 minutes. He looked a bit Dickensian, with his frizzy hair, an oversized waistcoat with two open buttons, and armbands he actually uses to keep the sleeves of his shirt up. A real character. And one who just would not allow Barry Hawkins the victory.

That victory looked so close for the “Hawk” several times. The penultimate frame was decided on a re-spotted black. Hawkins led in the final frame, only to allow Hamilton to catch up once more, ensuing a tactical battle for the brown in the endgame. Even a second re-spotted black looked possible from the score for a moment, but Hamilton had the better end for himself.

It was already the first hour of Saturday when the well-known spiel of us stewards was called for: convincing the most die hard members of the audience to leave, in spite of the spectacle of general dismantling that starts immediately when the last players have left the arena.

So the line-up for the semis is clear. Martin Gould against Ali Carter, the reigning against the former Berlin champion. One of them will bid to become the very first player to have his name etched on the German Masters trophy twice on Sunday. Then Stuart Bingham against Anthony Hamilton, two veterans of the game who both would prefer for sure to add a seventh new name to the winners’ list.

The “tradition” of unexpected, hard to guess results can already be considered kept up, it appears. No guessing from this writer. But gladly a promise to come back tomorrow, describing this marvellous event’s continuation with a view from inside.

Click here to view the draw.

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