It was only back in 2016 that the Riga Masters was awarded official ranking status in snooker. So it’s one of the newest tournaments on the schedule and it has become the event that ushers in the start of a new season.
The 2019 Riga Masters starts on July 26th and will conclude on the 28th. So it’s a short blast of snooker action from Latvia over just three days.
It’s the first chance at ranking points in the 2019/20 season with it being a 64-man field lining up for the first round of the main draw. Who will claim the first ranking title of the season? It’s a cold start for everyone since May’s World Championships drew to a conclusion. It’s going to be a case of who will settle into their game the quickest.
The Melbourne Machines heads the market
The front runner is pretty clear looking at the 2019 Riga Masters market. It’s Australia’s Neil Robertson who the bookies perceive as being the one to catch. There’s good enough reason for that as well. Robertson has won two of the three editions of the ranking event and will be back for a title defence this season.
So he has a proven track record at this event and of starting the season strongly. Robertson, aka the ‘Melbourne Machine’, had a very good 2018/19 season. He notched up three titles, earning the Welsh Open and China Open along with his success in Riga. The Australian also reached three other finals in major tournaments across the course of the season.
Englishmen could make a big impact
The field is not at its absolute strongest. Some top players including Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and this year’s World Championship winner Judd Trump are not attending. So that does narrow the field a little bit in terms of top players to pick from. That’s an important factor to consider.
There are three notable Englishmen in contention who could easily make a run at the title. The first of those being Mark Selby who is the second-favourite behind Roberston. While Selby had a difficult 2018/19 season, not reaching his peak of form at any point at all, this is a tournament which the ‘Jester from Leicester’ has won before.
Selby won the first-ever Riga Open (minor ranking) back in 2014. Successes there since the tournament received it’s higher status, have avoided Selby in Latvia though. He has had one first-round exit and two non-appearances in the three years it has offered up major ranking points.
Wilson and Lisowski
Right behind Selby in the outright winner market for the 2019 Riga Masters, there is England’s Kyren Wilson. ‘The Warrior’, had a great run to the quarterfinals in Riga last year. Overall there was a lot to enjoy about Wilson’s 2018/19 season as he claimed three big titles. So that was his breakout year and a strong start to the new season will put his confidence and stock through the roof.
Rounding off the leading English contenders is Jack Lisowski. He has only to look back twelve months for inspiration. He made a run to the Riga Final where he couldn’t get the better of Neil Robertson. Lisowski has improved his finish at the Riga Masters in each of the last two seasons, culminating in that place in the final.
Going back to the importance of this being the first ranking tournament of the season and players coming back into action from summer breaks, Lisowski started last season superbly. He got his runners up spot at the Riga Masters and quarter-final places at the Paul Hunter Classic and the Players Championship within the first two months. Will this be the one where he makes his breakthrough in winning a ranking tournament?
Who will win in Riga?
It’s an interesting tournament is Riga, because there’s no current form to size up. The field in terms of top high-ranking players isn’t that deep though, so it should narrow down the betting options a little bit into a small cluster of players. Robertson on paper is the one to beat as he rounded off last season in style. He only failed to reach at least the quarter-finals in one of his last nine events played.
The one behind Robertson who could have a big few days is Kyren Wilson. It was a huge season for the Englishman last term. Three major titles for him and he hit the quarters of the Riga Masters twelve months ago. Wilson is also in a section of the draw (second quarter) where he is going to avoid any top-ranked players until the semi-finals.
But while this is a short tournament, it’s not an easy one. Players have to get through six matches to land the title. The first four rounds are the best of seven frames, while the semi finals and final are the best of nine. It’s a tournament that calls for quick, heavy scoring. Who has the touch in 2019?