Usually we see the defending The Masters champion opening up the tournament at the Alexandra Palace, but this year the first big snooker match of a new decade sees the winner of the UK Championship getting that honour when Ding Junhui takes on Joe Perry.
Both these men have made it to the final at Alexandra Palace and that will be the aim for the pair of them starting out in this tournament, but only one of them can go through to the quarter final, with the Chinese star a warm favourite.
You have to say that Ding Junhui doesn’t have the greatest record in this tournament for a man with the undoubted ability that he has, particularly here at Alexandra Palace. He has been to this venue eight times and only twice has he come past the first round. He did make the semi-final last year though when his form wasn’t so good, so it might be that he is finally settled in what is arguably the best atmosphere in the game.
The form of the Chinese ace had been a big question mark for a while, which made his victory at the UK Championship, and the dominant way in which it came about all the more surprising. It was good for the game though because everyone knows that Ding is a class act and he’s great to watch when he is going well. It will be interesting to see if that win in York has launched some consistent quality or whether it was a flash in the pan.
It is to the credit of Joe Perry that he has made it back here. It can be so hard when you drop out of the top 16 to find the motivation and strength of mind to improve and return to the elite of the game, so he deserves a lot of plaudits for doing so. Having strived so hard to make it back here, the last thing ‘the Gentleman’ will want is to let the occasion pass him by without making any sort of impact on the tournament.
Perry has made a couple of semi-finals this season and he’ll be looking to push on now with some extremely lucrative events coming up in the next month or two, beginning with here. If his safety can be in tune then you would wager he has every chance of coming through in this one because he generally scores nicely when the chances arrive. This is a real primetime slot to play in and I’m sure he’ll be relishing the opportunity.
Head to Head
These two men have met on 22 previous occasions and it is Ding Junhui who has very much had the better of their previous meetings with 16 wins to the six of Joe Perry. When you consider that the Chinese ace has 10 more wins than his opponent, you could be forgiven for thinking his frame advantage would be greater than 81-62. That suggests that Ding wins a lot of close matches. This will be the fourth time they have met at The Masters. Ding won their opening clash in the Wembley Conference Centre but it is Perry who has won both matches at this venue, including a 6-1 win in 2017.
I’ll go with a couple of bets for this opening match, with the first of them being a punt on the English player Joe Perry. It is impossible to ignore the record of Ding Junhui in this event, especially at this venue. There is clearly something he doesn’t like about it, whether it is the different atmosphere or what I’m not sure but there is an issue. Perry seems to relish it and thrive in the surroundings and that is also a big thing. Perry has seen off some decent players in his time here. Ding might be in the better touch after his UK win but form in this event tends to be genuine. I’ll play Perry.
Another trend that seems unbreakable is that the first match of the tournament goes pretty deep and all too often a deciding frame. I’m not convinced this one will be any different to that even though Ding doesn’t seem to like the place. Whether it is the anticipation of the event getting underway or the primetime slot on BBC that inspires the players to deliver, we nearly always get a close opening to the tournament. At 6/5 I’ll play over 9.5 frames in this tournament opener.
Back J.Perry to beat D.Junhui for a 3/10 stake at 2.75 with William Hill
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Back Over 9.5 frames for a 4/10 stake at 2.20 with Betfair
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