There is no play this morning at The Crucible as the tables are re-clothed, and, in the afternoon and evening, the last 32 round concludes and the last 16 round begins.
The two remaining last 32 matches are mid-way and pretty one-sided. Neil Robertson leads a totally overwhelmed Noppen Saengkham by 8-1, whilst Barry Hawkins is 7-2 up on Tom Ford. I don’t expect any shocks here today, as both Neil and Barry have solid temperaments and a vast experience at the Crucible.
Should they win, it would mean that only 4 qualifiers came through the opening round at the “theatre of dream”: Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott, Xiao Guodong and … Rory McLeod.
Both Maguire and Dott of course have been in the top 16 for long periods of time, have played many matches here before, and, we shouldn’t forget it, Graeme has been in three finals and is a World Champion. So no shocks by any means. I had witnessed Maguire coming through the qualifiers the previous week and I totally expected him to beat McGill; I don’t think that winning the shoot-out is a reliable indication of form. Ali’s defeat at the hands of “Dotty” was less expected, but no shock either. Graeme is a quality player, one who is unfairly branded slow and boring, when, in fact he’s an attacking player. This was what made the difference in the end actually: he attacked when he saw his chances, Ali didn’t. And, for some reason, Graeme Dott always performs at the Crucible: the long format and the place suit him. Xiao also is a quality player, he’s been runner-up to Ding Junhui in the Shanghai Masters in 2013, and although he has gone a bit under the radar since, his results improved this season and he looked very sharp in Ponds Forge.
And then we have Rory McLeod sending the tournament favourite home … something, bizarrely, that Maguire had called in this first round press conference. So, what went wrong, other that Rory playing really well? Judd it appears was suffering from a shoulder injury, but, as McLeod observed, he went 4-0 up in no time and his manager on twitter had mentioned that he was injured but was nevertheless OK. I don’t think this was the key factor. What was key though is something Ronnie had pointed at in his “Rocket files” and mentioned in this interview: Judd tends to be over-confident and can’t always cope when things take a turn for the unexpected and don’t go his way. That was clear for all to see in the first session: after the MSI, Rory completely derailed Judd’s game and thinking process. Another huge factor, in my opinion, is the amount of pressure Judd had put on himself by claiming that this was his year, that he was the best and going to win it. Confidence is a good thing, but this goes well beyond confidence. And when you do that, and go out to a player who, at 46, a pro since 1991, has never really achieved much in the sport, it hurts … and it hurts your image too. Judd refused to do his press conference after the match and will probably be disciplined. His manager claimed that he was unwell, which is probably true, although I would think the issue was more his emotional state than his shoulder. Should he be disciplined? I’m not sure. Of course, it’s part of the players contract, and of course this is a big story and something the members of the press, who have to work really hard to make a living, want to cover in extenso. But, on the other hand, press conferences for the losers happen only minutes after the match and I have seen players coming there clearly not emotionally fit to cope with it. I remember Ali Carter breaking down to tears in Berlin and it was, really, really awkward for everyone involved. Players are human beings, not machines, and Judd must have been in an awful state emotionally at the end of this match. I feel that common sense should apply in all situations, and that rules should not come above human decency and understanding.
Now a short word about some of the seeds and how they went through.
Marco Fu had a stinker of a first session but managed to win from 7-2 down, without playing really well in the second session either. His opponent, Luca Brecel lost this match, more than Marco won it. Luca has a huge, huge talent, but, in my opinion, not the temperament, or the mindset, that should go with it. He is, of course, only 22, and I hope, for the sake of his future, that there will be a serious debriefing of this match with his coach.
Shaun Murphy was really pushed by young Yan Bingtao, and it’s experience that got him through IMO. Yan, only 17, climbed to n° 56 in his first season. Some achievement! He will be back and will be a danger!
Zhou Yuelong, Stuart Carrington and David Grace were other debutants who did give a very good account of themselves. Zhou was facing a daunting task: playing his hero and role model, Ding, a national icon, on the biggest scene of all under the scrutiny of Chinese media. He did well. He’s only 19, in his third season and reached the top 32. He should be proud.