The German Masters is a tournament loved by players and fans alike, and although it is taking place in far from ideal circumstances this week, opportunity knocks for some unlikely names in Berlin.
Just 28 players are heading to the Tempodrom with the event starting on Wednesday, it is meant to be 32 but four of those who qualified have since been suspended amid the sport’s match-fixing scandal. Last year’s champion Zhao Xintong and runner-up Yan Bingtao are among those suspended.
It was only meant to be 32 players going to Germany because there are two rounds of qualifying before the event, with everyone coming in at round one, which leaves the top players vulnerable to an early exit.
That is exactly what happened to a string of the biggest names in the sport, as the likes of Judd Trump, Mark Allen, Mark Selby, Mark Williams, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins all lost in the qualifiers.
Given that Ronnie O’Sullivan withdrew from the event before a ball was struck and we are a bit light on star power in Berlin, although not completely devoid of it.
Neil Robertson goes in as favourite as he looks for his first German Masters title, former champions Kyren Wilson and Ali Carter are involved, while Jack Lisowski, Anthony McGill, Luca Brecel and Ricky Walden are now among the favourites.
Clearly Robertson and Wilson are serious contenders, as they are for most events, especially Wilson in Germany, where he has won three of his five ranking titles.
However, Shaun Murphy points out that even in the past, this tournament has been capable of throwing up surprise winners and now looks like the perfect time for it to do so again.
‘It’s a weakened field in Berlin, there’s a lot of players who should have been there are suspended,’ Murphy said on his OneFourSeven Podcast. ‘A lot of players who would have been favouirtes didn’t make it.
‘You’d have to make Neil Robertson favourite for the tournament, he’s one of the favourites for every event he plays in, but especially in an event that’s in a weakened state. Kyren Wilson is in with a big shout, big player, former winner.
‘All to play for in Berlin. You wouldn’t be surprised to see someone come out of the pack and win something for the first time. It’s often been an event when players have come from…obscurity is probably too harsh a word, but somebody like Anthony Hamilton won his first ranking event out there in Berlin.
‘It is an event a bit like that and you wouldn’t be surprised if history repeated itself.’
Hamilton won the title in 2017, his first and only ranking event win so far after turning pro in 1991.
That was a year after Martin Gould lifted the trophy, which is also his only major ranking title to date, so while the likes of Trump, O’Sullivan and Selby have also won the event, Germany can attract surprise champions.
£80,000 is on offer for the winner and that could change careers, potentially catapulting a player into the upcoming Players Championship and Tour Championship, while booking a place in next season’s Champion of Champions.
A player just outside the top 16, such as McGill, Carter or Walden, could jump into that elite group with a win and may well go to the Crucible as a seed for the World Championship, which would be huge for them.
Even real long-shots like amateur players Daniel Wells and Ross Muir who have qualified will see this as a great chance for glory, as will the most recent ranking title winner, Chris Wakelin.
Having won the Shoot Out on Saturday night, the 30-year-old heads to Germany to face Si Jiahui in the last 32 full of confidence and aiming to become the most unlikely back-to-back title winner ever.
Also fancying his chances of success will be a man twice Wakelin’s age, Jimmy White, who beat Mark Joyce and former champion Gould to reach the final stages.
German Masters Last 32 schedule
Wednesday 1 February
14:00 Tian Pengfei v Anthony McGill
14:00 Jack Lisowski v Zhang Anda
14:00 Elliot Slessor v Joe O’Connor
19:00 Sam Craigie v Kyren Wilson
19:00 Peng Yisong v Jimmy White
19:00 Xiao Guodong v Fan Zhengyi
Thursday 2 February
09:00 Chris Wakelin v Si Jiahui
09:00 Matthew Stevens v Luca Brecel
09:00 Louis Heathcote v Cao Yupeng
14:00 Neil Robertson v Joe Perry
14:00 Robert Milkins v Daniel Wells
14:00 Pang Junxu v Ross Muir
After his fine run to the UK Championship main stages earlier this season, the Whirlwind is feeling as good as he has done for years and is not ruling out an 11th ranking title in his seventh decade.
‘I actually know I can be a tournament winner,’ White told the World Snooker Tour podcast.
‘I have got new practice routines, I have added different things to my game and I am playing really good stuff. At my age I shouldn’t be playing, I should be going around like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry playing golf. But I have chosen to give it a go.
‘I still believe that my top game wins. It’s obviously a big ask for me to win the World Championship, but if I can keep my game and my mental strength improving then I can do some real damage.’
The German fans may have been deprived of their heroes this week, but they may well see an incredible story develop in front of them and a life-changing moment when the trophy is lifted on Sunday night.
The event is shown live on Eurosport in the UK.
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