The qualifying rounds for the German Masters 2017 were completed yesterday evening; the players had to win two matches to book their place in the television stages, in Berlin, early February. Least I can say is that it did throw a good few surprise results. Only 9 players from the top 16 will make the trip to the Tempodrom, and, among them, we have only 3 players in the top 8. How come?
To start with Ding Junhui didn’t enter and Liang Wenbo withdrew. I can only put that down to the fact that the Chinese New Year festival starts on January 28, 2017 and it’s probably the most important holiday in China. So they wouldn’d miss it. In past years Ding had voiced his displeasure that, although there is a break in snooker for Xmas and New Year in Europe, nothing was done to allow the numerous Chinese players to enjoy family time when it came to the Chinese New Year festival.
Then we had a few surprise results. John Higgins and Shaun Murphy fell to the Chinese teenagers, Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao respectively. This prompted another “anti wilcard” spree on twitter but I’ll come to that later. Anyway, John Higgins was sent packing with a 5-1 score, that’s rather severe!
Also, Judd Trump, Kyren Wilson and Joe Perry were sent home. Judd lost by 5-1 to Tom Ford, who, of course, can play and is always dangerous especially when he’s not in the spotlights. More surprising is the demise of Kyren Wilson by John Astley. John is actually performing quite well since he came back to the main tour after a break into the theatrical world. Finally, and surely to the delight of many, Jimmy White got the better of Joe Perry, who, it’s fair to say, hasn’t been at his best of late.
So there we go. Mark Allen complained that the table conditions were the worst he played on as a professional. Something that echoed Ronnie’s reflections after the last 128 round. Ronnie reflected that the sponsors won’t be too happy that John Higgins will not be in Berlin; that was before the last day of play, and they won’t be happier now that they have lost Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy as well. But the World Champion and the Defending Champion, Martin Gould, will be there. Ronnie was pleading for having the whole 128 field at the actual venue, which of course is a bit of a logistic challenge, but nevertheless is how it should be in my opinion.
And finally my two cents on the wildcard rants on twitter. Some people suggested that having the opportunity to play as wildcards in the Chinese events is what is at the root of the Chinese teenagers recent success. Well that’s nonsense and here is why: the top-up system is used in every tournament, including the Chinese ones, and offer the opportunity to amateurs, who didn’t succeed in Q-school, to play in events. Because the Q-school is held in UK and because all qualifying rounds as well as all first rounds for the UK tournaments are played in UK, this mainly benefits to UK amateurs. They have the opportunity to play in 20+ tournaments, and their number is only limited by the number of pros who didn’t enter the events. So they have a lot MORE opportunities than the Chinese younsters to pitch themselves against top opposition and yet, they are not coming though … Why is that? Well, in my opinion, it’s about the lack of structure and the lack proper management of the amateur game, more than anything else.
In China, snooker is part of the schools curriculum. When I was at an APTC in Yixing in 2012, I saw how the CBSA takes care of the grassroots as well as of the pro game. They have excellent academies over there. And whenever a promising young player was at the table, there was a coach videocasting the match for the purpose of debriefing later. That, and not the occasional wildcard match, is what built the foundations for the current success of the likes of Zhao, Yan and Zhou.
And now, with Vic Snooker Academy in Sheffield, run by Victoria, who was Ding’s manager for a while, and Nigel Bond, they have a hub and a supporting structure in the UK itself and that’s extremely important. When I saw Lyu Haotian in China in 2012, he was a cheerful kid, full of promises. After two years in the UK, he was depressed, demotivated and, I’m afraid, drinking too. He’s gone and it’s a waste of a huge talent. Neil Robertson talked about how hard it was for him to come to the UK, as a teenager, away from his family, and yet, Neil didn’t have the barrier of language to overcome, and Australia is a lot closer to the UK culturally than is China. So one can imagine how it is for those young Chinese lads. Having now an anchor point certainly helps.