By Frank B. Halfar
Hello from Berlin!
It’s day one at the German Masters, and some things are reassuringly familiar. The weather is lousy, the jokes by emcee Rolf Kalb have not gained much hilarity, the few hundred strong audience on Wednesday afternoon appears rather scant in the vast arena, and yet, nothing can threaten the magic that is the German Masters in Berlin’s Tempodrom.
Colin Murray, the Northern Irish TV presenter who again opens each session on Eurosport with a chat alongside Jimmy White and Neal Foulds, even felt inspired to speak in verses about Berlin and this very popular snooker tournament in the taped intro, and somehow manages for it to come across as genuinely enthusiastic.
For the snooker family of all those officials, technicians, table fitters, referees (of which several make their Berlin debut this time), caterers and whatnots – including us humble stewards – the beginning inevitably is a grand hullo and an exchanging of news and stories. Among those, there’s a sad and worrying one, as World Snooker director Brandon Parker misses the German Masters this year due to severe illness. The good wishes are countless.
Then the first clicks of the balls under the tent-style roof are eventually heard, as Yu De Lu plays the very first ball of this year’s tournament. The organisers have tweaked the schedule a bit and the afternoon session this time consists of only three matches, saving five for the better attended evening one. Anthony Hamilton, for the first time in his life, walks on as the defending champion of a major tournament and manages stunningly to look totally, exactly, completely like last year. The facial expression, the walk, the whole body language, every hair seems in place as if he just stepped back into the Tempodrom anno 2017. His game isn’t the same at all though, as Jimmy Robertson ends all dreams of a successful title defense rather clearly, 5-1.
The two side table matches are harder fights, as “Gentleman” Joe Perry and Ding Junhui win their first matches, both having to contend with stubborn opponents in Yu De Lu and Michael Georgiou, respectively.
The early evening, in between sessions, unexpectedly brings me a very special moment. I wander into the arena and find myself absolutely alone there. It’s never happened before, as there is always someone around. But not this time. I have the whole thing to myself for a minute, surrounded by 2,500 empty seats and five snooker tables. A bit unsettling perhaps, but I’m awed and savour it. It’s very unlikely ever to happen again…
The evening session turns up the volume after the slightly sluggish start, one can feel it already in the anticipatory mood before the doors open to let in a noticeably more sizeable audience. Judd Trump and Ben Woollaston get to play on the TV table, and many feel this could be an even match, with the favourite perhaps tripping up. The play is interrupted in the first frame: Trump is irritated by the match being shown on the large wall screen, complete with camera changes. The display is quickly changed to the usual, a summary of all scoreboards. One of several first-day technical glitches, none really bad, but still creating a hope for improvement.
Mark Williams clearly has the loudest fan in the audience, who keeps hollering encouragement so thunderous that he has to be cautioned. Williams keeps his signature cool and even chats with the other Mark, Masters champion Allen, who plays on the neighbouring table. Their fortunes are mixed this evening as Williams walks off the winner against a solid Fergal O’Brien, while Allen loses to Matt Selt, whose dominance early on proved too strong for the comeback that Allen attempts.
Jack Lisowski and Ricky Walden play a rather even match, that produces the occasional groan from the audience when a ball just barely fails to fall. Though Walden does not look happy with his game, he has the better end for himself.
And 2016 champion Martin Gould has a terrible evening, it’s really not a good day for recent past champions. His play is just that tad less than perfect to prevent presenting his opponent Gary Wilson chances, and Wilson calmly and coolly cashes in on them nearly every time. He leads 4-0 at midsession. Gould bravely fights on, and an ardent fan of his in the second row keeps counting for him as he does win frames after the break: only four more, and then only three, Martin, only three. The countdown is stopped there, as Wilson prevails in the fight for the final colours in frame seven that proves to be the last.
So day one ends before midnight, something we supporting workers are not too unhappy about. In spite of the hall being not even half full yet, and the odd technical mishap, that famous Tempodrom feeling is blooming again. With two ex-champions out, the curse of the Tempodrom has good odds to carry on: no one wins this title more than once. Yet. I already long to commute back to the venue for tomorrow’s action.