Dave Hendon wrote:John Higgins has had his fair share of problems over the last year but since his return he's been as focussed, committed and ruthless as ever. David Hendon pays tribute to the great man and selects the other best bets from the German Masters.
John Higgins won the first ranking event staged in Germany 16 years ago. His hair is now a little greyer, he has a wife and three children and has had a potentially career-ending scandal to deal with but is still every bit as good a player as when he won the German Open in 1995.
Higgins has been guilty in the past of coasting a little and not treating every tournament with the respect it deserves but since returning from suspension has very clearly tried to win every frame of every match of every event, big or small. He reached the final of his first three tournaments back, winning two of them, most notably the UK Championship. Don't be fooled by his first round exit at the Masters - he hates Wembley Arena. That slip up aside, the Scot is fully focussed on landing every piece of silverware around and Berlin marks another opportunity to continue his rehabilitation.
The German Masters sees him at the bottom of the draw in a quarter that includes Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen, Marco Fu and Mark King - good players all but none as good as Higgins at his best. Heavily motivated, he remains a fearsome prospect when at the top of his game. The experienced snooker writer and commentator Clive Everton, who has witnessed more snooker than most, wrote recently that Higgins is: "the nearest thing to a perfect textbook player in technique and shot selection there has ever been."
What he means is that Higgins always knows the right shot and almost always plays it. When he first broke through it was clear he was mature beyond his years, combining Steve Davis's considerable tactical know-how with Stephen Hendry's heavy scoring. Higgins may lack Ronnie O'Sullivan's flair but has a better temperament and sits at the top of the ranking list while O'Sullivan languishes in ninth place.
His practise partner Graeme Dott is in the opposite half of the Berlin draw and has a reasonable chance of making progress through to the latter stages despite a possible meeting with Neil Robertson (who beat him in last season's World Championship final) in the second round. Dott invariably plays well against the very top players, as he proved in beating Higgins in the first round of the Masters last month. Words like 'tenacious' and 'dogged' are normally applied to him but Dott doesn't just win through being tough, he's a heavy scorer too and brilliant under pressure.
The truth is, there isn't much between the top players right now, hence the major titles tend to be shared around, but there is money to be made on individual match betting. Wednesday's wildcard round provides such a chance. In the China ranking tournaments, the invited players are often capable of beating the qualifiers but the European wildcards in Berlin are not yet of that standard, with one exception. Amateur Daniel Wells, a Welshman, spent two years on the pro circuit and in 2009 came within a frame of qualifying for the Crucible, losing 10-9 to Barry Hawkins. He stands the best chance of the eight wildcards of progressing when he tackles Chinese qualifier Liu Song.
In the first round, Judd Trump, who looks like he belongs on X-Factor as a member of One Direction, must fancy his chances of beating an out of sorts Hendry. Trump, 21, can clear the table quicker than it takes him to do his hair. He's ultra attacking, which is not always the best strategy, but Hendry hasn't played well for a whole match since he beat Dave Harold in the first round of the Welsh Open a year ago.
Andrew Higginson beat Peter Ebdon in the corresponding stage of the UK Championship a few weeks ago over 17 frames. Ebdon is not a huge fan of best of nines so logic suggests Higginson, a player with a good, positive attitude, can beat him again. From eight previous meetings Dominic Dale has never beaten O'Sullivan but the Rocket has given the impression in recent times that his interest in proper tournaments has seriously waned so a Dale victory can't be discounted. Stephen Lee has returned to something approaching his old fluency this season and is due another decent run in a big tournament. His first round opponent, Ali Carter, has struggled for form since winning the Shanghai Masters last September and could be vulnerable against the four time ranking event winner.
Back John Higgins to win the German Masters at 7.6
Back Daniel Wells to beat Liu Song at 2.06
Back Judd Trump to beat Stephen Hendry at 1.7
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