The second semi-final forms the schedule at the Shanghai Masters on Saturday when we determine who will meet Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final on Sunday as Neil Robertson takes on Luca Brecel in a tasty looking match.
These two men have both won the biggest title in the game so neither of them are going to fear the challenge of either reaching the final of this competition or laying down a challenge should they get there, which should make for a good match.
It isn’t very often that Neil Robertson is unpopular but having dismissed two Chinese players on his way to this semi-final he might not be on the Christmas card list of everyone in the crowd for this semi-final. Robertson saw off the challenge of Ding Junhui from 5-3 down in his opening match and then cruised past an outmatched Fan Zhengyi in the quarter final. That bodes well for a player who doesn’t have the best record in this tournament.
Robertson has become one of those players who is only interested in peaking in the big tournaments though. When you do that then you need to put up a real challenge in these events, which brings its own pressure. After a poor campaign last term, if the Australian can win a big competition like this early in the season it would set him up nicely for what is to come over the remainder of the year. He might need to improve a touch for that to happen though.
You get the feeling that this is going to be a big season for Luca Brecel because he already seems to be enjoying carrying the tag of being the world champion and is beginning to live up to the billing. He has been a little quiet in the early stages of both of his matches so far but when the time has come to step up and prove his worth, just like he did in Sheffield he has been able to do it and now he gets a crack at a great of the game over two sessions of action.
The one thing we know about Brecel is that he can score with the best of them and that might be significant here. What will be more important is his safety play. While it is the flair and scoring ability of the Belgian which gets all of the headlines, you don’t win a world title if you can’t play safe when required and that is very interesting here because if he can get into some safety battles and come out on top he might find the route to the final a lot easier than expected.
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These two men have met on three occasions away from the Shootout and the Championship League and it is Neil Robertson who has won all three matches. That will give the Australian a fair bit of confidence, as will the fact that he leads 20-9 in the frame count. This will be the second time they have met in a semi-final. Robertson won their previous one in the 2019 China Open 10-7. That was the only time they have met in a two-session match and the only time they have played each other in China. The caveat to all that comes in the fact that their last meeting was in 2019 and Brecel has kicked on significantly since then.
The eye test tells me that Luca Brecel looks in the better form of the two heading into this semi-final. That probably isn’t too much of a surprise because Neil Robertson only had two matches this season before this event so he is still getting the rust off and getting his campaign into full swing in reality. That isn’t the case with Brecel. He had a good run in the European Masters and has looked a lot better for it this week.
I’m also not convinced by what Neil Robertson has beaten this week. Ding Junhui should have beaten the Aussie but even then he looked surprisingly disinterested at times this week while Fan Zhengyi was just outmatched. Brecel has definitely beaten the better players in Mark Williams and Robert Milkins and in both matches he got better the longer they went on. That feels significant to me so I’ll take the Belgian to make the final here.
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