Hello and Guten Tag from Berlin.
It’s that time of the year again as snooker descends on the Tempodrom for the ever popular German Masters. Since it also means being back at stewarding for yours truly, I am very happy to follow the invitation by SnookerHQ and provide a few insider views as I experienced them.
After the inevitable “big meet” that occurs before the first session of the tournament, with many people outside the elite circle of referees and officials only seeing each other this one time a year, it’s time for emcee Rolf Kalb to make his entrance and do the honneurs.
He remarks on this being the tenth tournament…how time flies. A roll of honour is on display everywhere, with the nine winners so far, and the less than fortunate fact that so many big names are absent this year becomes too obvious when one takes a glance. No defending champion present, as Kyren Wilson didn’t qualify. Only two ex-champions are participating at all – Mark Williams, the only person so far to win twice at the Tempodrom, and Ding Junhui, who most certainly would love to achieve the same feat.
With BetVictor as the new sponsor, the divider around the TV table has gained some elegance. The German Masters now being part of the new European Series is promoted a lot as well, with £150,000 looming for whoever is most successful in the series of four. Dornbirn winner Neil Robertson hasn’t been much in love with the Tempodrom so far in the past, whether he fares better in 2020 with this added motivation will be interesting to see.
Then, the moment when instantly a very concentrated atmosphere takes over the vast arena as the first ball is played. Things start modestly, with merely three tables played on in the afternoon. At the TV table, Yuan Sijun looks possibly younger still than he always does, child-like when paired with the relaxed veteran from Wales that is Mark Williams. The vast experience of Williams proves too much for the Chinese talent, as Williams wins it 5-2.
Matthew Selt has less mercy still with Berlin debutant Jamie Clarke, whose Tempodrom experience is a quick whitewash loss. The big battle of the first session occurs between Graeme Dott and Tian Pengfei, the latter having the far better start. Dott looks a bit edgy, scanning the audience each time he has to return to his seat, visibly annoyed with himself after some missed shots. Hours later, when the match has gone to the decider, he looks an altogether different person. The confidence of the former world champion is back, there is a flow now, and he deservedly wins it 5-4. Only our dinner break is rather cut short due to the long match…
British Eurosport has considerably slimmed down its presence in Berlin. Commentators and pundits all cover the event from back in the UK, only on-site interviewer Rachel Casey is actually in Berlin with a very small team in tow. This isn’t what Brexit means for snooker now, is it?
German Eurosport jumped at the occasion and emcee Rolf Kalb now does a kind of pep talk with one of the stars before play begins, right in the arena and duly translating everything into German. Shaun Murphy was the inaugural interviewee, an optimal choice since his joy of being here oozes from him at every moment.
The evening session boasts all five tables in play, and of course world number one Judd Trump gets pride of place at the TV table, where his opponent Noppon Saengkam scores the very first point of the session… and none other in the first frame. The Thai manages to win one frame but, with little surprise, it ends 5-1 for Trump.
The other Thai in the arena, Sunny Akani, fares far better, as his opponent David Grace shows his capability in some good shots, but never manages consistency. A single break of 50 in the first frame is his best result, not good enough to avoid a whitewash loss. Akani’s very own way of accepting the applause with folded hands endears him to many.
At the other side of the arena, Joe Perry has a very bad day at the office, the evening’s other whitewash loss for him against Luca Brecel. At the neighbouring table, Gerard Greene and Michael Georgiou seem bound for a more even match at first, but then Georgiou gains dominance and wins it 5-1.
The longest match of this session is Nigel Bond’s against Kishan Hirani. Bond plays with a very relaxed demeanor, sometimes bordering on aloofness. While his snooker really can’t be called spectacular, nearly always preferring a safety over a risky long pot, it surely is effective, as he leads 4-0 at the mid-session break. The third frame sees his only century, seemingly missed when the pink refuses to fall at first, only to then be fluked into a centre pocket, bringing the break from 99 to 105.
Hirani, though, has better luck after the break, taking the next two frames. In the late phase, their match proves rather entertaining, with a bitter battle for the colours in the eighth frame. First, Hirani looks like squandering his chance for a comeback with potting the white twice, only then achieving a very wicked snooker behind the brown that provokes serial fouls and misses by Bond. But when Bond does pot the green at last, a quick end ensues and the first evening at the Tempodrom is over with a 5-2 win for the cool veteran.
Two moments to share with you at the close. One of the referees seemed to me rather visibly nervous. The person in question has my full understanding, being an amateur ref myself. Naturally, the pros here know their business very well indeed, and do an excellent job of it. But nobody should underestimate the pressure they can be under, perhaps especially so when appearing at a big tournament for the first few times. Kudos to all, and in particular to the one who I, perhaps mistakenly, judged to be a little on edge at the outset.
Additionally, I had the chance to approach Tom Ford in a relaxed moment backstage (a no-no normally for us humble stewards, we’re not supposed to address the mighty…) and ask him when we might expect his Tempodrom maximum this time around. He didn’t miss a beat and replied: “tomorrow.” Stay tuned to see whether his optimism was justified.