So it all kicked off in Belfast yesterday and it was quite eventful indeed.
Luca Brecel’s presence was in doubt, following an article in the Belgian press stating that he was suffering from a right arm injury and he did actually withdraw.
Two more top players who are due to play today have cast doubts about their presence as well. Mark Williams’ wife, Jo, has been worryingly unwell in recent weeks, she is back in hospital, and, of course, Mark is deeply concerned and she will be his priority. Judd Trump’s cue got lost on the way back from Shanghai and the last we know is that Judd might withdraw if his cue hasn’t arrived in time for his match.
There were also a number of surprises at the table … but first here is the event intro by Colin Murray, a Belfast boy himself.
Now onto the results:
The two guys, other than Ronnie, were in action yesterday evening and it wasn’t easy for either of them.
Mark Allen emerged the winner of a terrible match against Sanderson Lam, by 4-2. The standard of this match was absolutely horrible. Mark had spoken before how the pressure of playing in front of his home crowd had got to him last season and vowed to handle it better this time. Not sure he did that yesterday at all. He was lucky to face someone who played really badly. The other two Northern Irish players involved in the tournament, lost their opening match, both beaten in a deciding frame: Joe Swail lost to Lyu Haotian, whilst Gerard Greene was beaten by Joe Perry.
Mark King was clearly tense when coming to defend a title for the very first time of his long career. He had never been there, he’s an emotional person, and it was clear for all to see that he was feeling it. In Mat thew Bolton he was facing a player who is still to win a match since he turned pro. It wasn’t pretty and Bolton sure had chances, but . eventually King did enough. He wasn’t helped by the fact that his match started very late, after Allen’s one, and the crowd largely deserted the venue or turned to the next table where another Northern Irish, Gerard Greene, was playing. I can understand why the defending champion wasn’t put up in the opening match of the event – it was not on television – but that he wasn’t offered the first in the evening session is beyond my understanding.
Veterans Jimmy White and Ken Doherty both won their last 128 matches, getting the better of Dominic Dale and Peter Lines respectively.
There were also two “shock” results. Kyren Wilson was beaten by 4-1 by Sam Craigie in a very high quality match that had a break over 80 in each frame, including 3 centuries. This for me isn’t a “proper” shock. Sam is a very, very good prospect, and now, fitted with new glasses, giving him a vintage 60th fashion touch, he looks even more dangerous than before. Shaun Murphy, who won the Champion of Champions in Coventry only ten days ago, went out to Chen Zifan, a rookie, by a damning 4-1 scoreline. THAT is a shock. I watched the match and Chen played well, no question, but Shaun was absolutely nowhere near the form he showed in Coventry. Shaun doesn’t seem to have anything to fall back on when is A game isn’t there.