The third and thus the last day with the full five-table setup in the German Masters provided a nice dramaturgy, right to a late night climax finish on Friday in Berlin.
The afternoon session with the second half of the last 16 saw Shaun Murphy taking pride of place at the TV table. Nobody beams quite as joyfully as he does when walking on – clearly he is pleased as punch to be here. His opponent Mark Joyce had not much input into the one-sided affair that brought Murphy his quarter-final slot, 5-1.
At the all-Chinese table, Xiao Guodong dominated Liang Wenbo early on, the latter attempting some fighting back after the intermission, but to no avail as a very determined looking Xiao walked off the winner by 5-2.
Mark Davis seemed to storm away with a quick century right in his first frame against Ryan Day, who did not score a single point until frame three. But Day, who seemed to have some shoulder trouble, remained unperturbed and made it 2-2 by the mid-session interval. Day duly took the lead after the break with a century of his own, only to allow Davis back in to force a decider, which the Welshman then clearly won to much relief.
Despite leading 4-1, Graeme Dott also went the distance against Mei Xiwen. His fist shot up when he potted the frame ball in the decider, betraying the emotion of the Scot, who so often comes across as utterly controlled and serious.
The four winners only had a short break as they all had to play their quarter-finals later on the same evening. This session provided a packed house and, for the first time, more than a hint of the famous electric atmosphere of the Tempodrom. At first, it appeared that we would have a short evening, as all matches seemed to progress in a high speed mode.
Judd Trump led Ding Junhui 3-1 and then also took the fifth frame after the break, but Ding fought back with a vengeance and managed to reduce his arrears to 3-4. When after a missed opportunity he rested his head in despair on the baize, as if expressing a yearning to bury it right there, the moment demonstrated how much he wanted this win.
Yet, it was not to be as Trump had the better end to himself after eight frames played. It’s the first time that Judd Trump reaches the semi-finals here in Berlin since his 2014 loss in the final against none other than Ding.
Jimmy Robertson may have been the strongest outsider of the eight players left, but he sold his skin dearly against Mark Williams. He looked at ease and kept things level until 3-3, when the experience of the “Welsh Potting Machine” carried the evening by taking the next two frames after quite some back and forth. In the intermission, Williams helped himself to my – yes, my very own – cheese sandwich that I had carelessly just put into the fridge for the late night munchies. It happened right before my eyes. But naturally a steward overlooks this (and gets himself another one from our tireless caterers) and since it seemed to do the trick with Williams going on to win… all’s well that ends well.
The two quarter-final encounters that went to the decider produced the late night high drama that we have come accustomed to at this stage of proceedings in recent years. Xiao Guodong squandered his golden opportunity of a 4-0 lead over Graeme Dott, who prevailed in his second full length match of the day. In frame six, there was only the black between Xiao and the win, and Dott had only got so far in the frame after having received a free ball on the yellow.
The prolonged fight for that black, which seemed just to refuse to leave the table, produced serial gasps from the audience. Referee Monika Sulkowska had quite a job calling the excited crowd to order. Losing this frame seemed to break Xiao somewhat but, while Dott did win the next three frames, the former world champion had to work hard for it.
Xiao Guodong had been a name heavily discussed as the possible surprise package of the 2018 German Masters. There was his defeat of Mark Selby, of course. But there was also an attitude, a degree of maturity, a certain glance, and a killer instinct in him that he hadn’t shown before. It will be interesting to see if and how he manages to cope with his loss, whether he can build on the potential he showed during the three days here in Berlin, or whether it may turn out as some Tempodrom version of hay fever. Graeme Dott, on the other hand, made it very clear that he who aspires to lift the trophy must first contend with his tenacity. What iron will power, what stamina, what determination!
Shaun Murphy and Ryan Day gave us the longest of the four matches, and very likely most of the audience would have loved to somehow see both of them advance. Their match was even most of the time, with only the third frame for Murphy, and the seventh for Day, where he exploded with a break of 130, the exception. The decider went to the colours, and the tension could not have been much higher, as became clear when Murphy engaged in a long discussion with referee Marcel Eckhardt about the placement of the white after two fouls and misses. Day walked far away from the table at moments, his way of dealing with all the drama. The Magician, who had sported a full tuxedo complete with jacket backstage, had the better nerves and took the final frame 80-60 to triumphantly walk off as the fourth semi-finalist.
So we have three former world champions and the current number three of the world rankings competing for glory in the single table set-up. The organizers will be happy, and whatever may be left in terms of tickets for the last two days will surely be flying off the booking places. I beg to differ just a bit, as the surprise winners in the last two years gave us such unforgettable moments.
But whoever takes the 2018 German Masters crown home with him come Sunday evening, we now know for sure it will be one of the really big names in the game.