The final of the Players Championship will take place inside the Aldersley Arena in Wolverhampton on Sunday and it will be a repeat of the concluding match of The Masters last month as Barry Hawkins takes on Neil Robertson.
Robertson eased to victory inside Alexandra Palace last month and will be looking for a quick double over Hawkins. The Englishman will be out for revenge and to win a title which would near enough secure his inclusion in the Tour Championship next month.
I think there is a genuine claim that Barry Hawkins has been the best player in this tournament so far. He has beaten three decent enough opponents and while Zhao Xintong, Yan Bingtao and Ricky Walden may not be the highest ranked opposition in the world, all three made the last four of the German Masters at the end of last month and two of them competed in the final of that event so they were in good form coming into this week.
Hawkins has scored pretty well in the main this week and has pounced on the errors of his opposition which is probably more important than anything. If there is a concern over him it would be that he hasn’t really performed in the major finals he has been to so the first box he will want to tick is to show up with his best game. If he does that we know he is good enough to win this final as long as he isn’t carrying any baggage from his loss to Robertson last month.
The Masters champion Neil Robertson has seen off some elite opponents this week having taken care of Kyren Wilson and Ronnie O’Sullivan before he got the better of his namesake Jimmy Robertson in the semi-final. His win over Robertson was a pretty tame one with his opponent shackled by the occasion in a clash in which neither man played all that well. Robertson will need to play better than that here but you sense that will happen automatically.
The big thing Robertson has going for him in this final is his record in them. In the main when he goes deep in a tournament he will win it as evidenced by his two wins this season already. He is someone who embraces the pressure of big matches like this one and allows his best snooker to come out. Had it not been for four frames of brilliance in the World Grand Prix final by Ronnie O’Sullivan, Robertson would be going for a fourth title on the season here.
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Head to head
There have been 15 previous meetings between these two and it probably comes as no surprise that it is Robertson who has had the better of them. He leads 11-4 in match wins and he’s well ahead in the frame count with a 90-61 advantage. This is their third match over the best of 19 frames. Hawkins won their first one but Robertson levelled up that ledger at Alexandra Palace. This will be their second final and it comes so soon after their first one which Robertson won last month. The Australian has now won their last five meetings.
I think the defeat in the final of The Masters last month will have prepared and benefitted Barry Hawkins in this match. In that final, Hawkins had to back up a tense and tough semi-final the night before and looked throughout the match like he had given all he had in getting to the last day and had nothing left in the tank. That won’t be a problem here as he had Saturday off so he should be in a much better place to give this final a much better shot.
I wouldn’t necessarily say Robertson is going to be inconvenienced by the Saturday semi-final because he was never in any danger of losing but I do think it balances this one out a little bit. That then should mean we can attack this final on the form of the week and I think Hawkins has the edge on Robertson in that department. Robertson hasn’t been terrible by any means but opponents have had chances against him and not taken advantage of that. Hawkins has scored well enough to suggest he will and I think taking him with the 2.5 frame start is the way to play this final.
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