Thousands of fans from all over Europe will descend upon the Tempodrom in Germany's capital of Berlin over the next few days, most never having been to a major event before, to watch their hero's fight for Snooker's newest ranking title. Like with the Shanghai Masters, the matches up to and including the quarter-finals are best of 9 (11 for semi's and 17 for the final) and will have a wildcard round featuring local talent.
Easily the biggest tie of the Wildcard round is the ranking tournament television debuts of Jack Lisowski and Belgium prodigy Luca Brecel. Jack qualified for the main tour this year for the first time and impressed almost straight away by reaching the final of PTC2. He faces one of the toughest wildcards in the shape of Luca who has been tipped for the top since the age of 12 and looks certain to recieve a wildcard for the main tour next season as he is 16 now. Luca played in a few PTC events this season but failed to win many matches, so I slightly favour Jack Lisowski to win this match, but Luca will be a force to reckon with in a year or two. (5-3 to Jack).
The wildcard round also features the television return of former professional Daniel Wells who was the top ranking amateur in the PTC events this season, he faces Chinese player Liu Song who managed to reach the last 16 of the World Open earlier in the season. This one is hard to call as Liu can play as well as Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo when he is in form and Daniel beat several top 32 players on route to becoming the top ranking amateur in the PTC. I slightly favour Liu Song to win this match as he has more experience with pro matches recently but it could be close. (5-4 to Liu).
Two other young players making their television ranking event debuts are Scotland's Anthony McGil and Thailand's Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon. Anthony recently appeared at the Sky Shootout and even though he lost his match he performed strongly and seemed at home in front of a audience. Thanawat reached the last round of qualifying for the Shanghai Masters at the start of the season and looks ready to make his breakthrough. Anthony faces Mario Wehrmann and Thanawat faces Tomasz Skalski, two local players that shouldn't give them too much trouble, but they have both won a couple matches in EPTC events this season so you can't write them off. (5-2 to both Anthony and Thanawat).
Recent Snooker Shoot-out champion Nigel Bond also makes an apperance against another local, Stefan Kasper. Nigel Bond will be riding the crest of a wave at the moment and I doubt that Stefan will give him too much trouble, but stranger things have happend. (5-2 to Nigel).
My top tie of the first round has to be between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Dominic Dale. Ronnie will be looking to impress his many German fans by winning this match and to redeem himself after falling at the first hurdle in the UK Championship and the Masters. He played well in the Snooker Shoot-out, reaching the semi-finals but seems to come unstuck in the longer formats recently. Dominic has had a great season so far, winning PTC6 and several over matches in the PTC. He lives in nearby Vienna, Austria so his friends will be coming to the match to cheer him on, so the crowd won't be completely one sided! Dominic has been playing well also, but I favour Ronnie O'Sullivan slightly to win this match, he looks to be back playing well again after demonstrating his talents in the Shoot-out but it could be close. (5-3 to Ronnie).
The other big tie puts two UK Champion's against each other for the second ranking tournament in a row, Ding Junhui v Matthew Stevens. Ding performed brilliantly at the Masters, completely shutting Marco Fu out in the final and he will be looking for his first major ranking title since the 2009 UK Championship. Matthew has had a decent season, winning quite a few PTC matches, but lost to Ding in the first round in the UK in December. He will be looking for revenge here but I believe Ding Junhui will be too strong for him once again. (5-3 to Ding).
Quite an interesting tie, Ali Carter v Stephen Lee. Since winning the Shanghai Masters right at the start of the season, Ali has gone downhill a bit, not winning enough matches in the PTC to qualify for the finals and loosing in the first rounds of the UK and the Masters. Stephen seems to be playing his best Snooker for years at the moment and this showed when he won EPTC4 and narrowly loosing to tournament winner, John Higgins in the first round of the UK. I fancy Stephen Lee to cause an upset here, he seems to be back to his winning ways and Ali looks to be stalling a bit at the moment. (5-4 to Stephen).
The last big match we will be looking at is the tie between Stephen Hendry and Judd Trump. Stephen has had the season from hell so far by not qualifying for the PTC finals and loosing in the first rounds of Shanghai and the Masters. Judd has had an up and down season himself. After winning EPTC1 he hasn't had much to show for exept an apperance in the quarter finals of the shoot-out. I could see Judd Trump winning this one as he seems to like playing in Germany and has a good record here, but Stephen will have something to say about that. (5-4 to Judd).
Tournament Schedule (most matches will be broadcast on EuroSport, full listings here):
Wednesday February 2
Jack Lisowski v Luca Brecel
Anthony Hamilton v Pavel Leyk
Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon v Tomasz Skalski
Nigel Bond v Stefan Kasper
Joe Swail v Hans Blanckaert
Thursday February 3
Ding Junhui v Matthew Stevens
Stephen Hendry v Judd Trump
Liu Song v Daniel Wells
Anthony McGill v Mario Wehrmann
Robert Milkins v Lasse Munstermann
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Dominic Dale
Mark Selby v Bond/Kasper
Graeme Dott v Thanawat / Skalski
Mark Allen v Swail / Blanckaert
Peter Ebdon v Andrew Higginson
Neil Robertson v Hamilton / Leyk
Shaun Murphy v Ryan Day
Ricky Walden v Lisowski / Brecel
Ali Carter v Stephen Lee
Jamie Cope v Joe Perry
Friday February 4
John Higgins v Milkins / Munstermann
Mark Williams v McGill / Wehrmann
Mark King v Marco Fu
Stephen Maguire v Liu / Wells
17, 19, 20, 23
18, 21, 22, 24
Saturday February 5
QF1, QF2, QF3, QF4
Sunday February 6
2pm and 8pm