On Sunday morning, the possibility that the tournament could lose three more seeds, after the Defending Champion exit, looked very real and Worldsnooker had published this article, quoting Joe Perry, explaining why having to qualify my be a blessing in disguise.
The prevailing school of thought at the time was that this new format would leave the players who made it through three best-of-19 matches too drained to go deep in the final stages. Peter Ebdon’s view was that it would be “virtually impossible” for any player coming through the qualifiers to go on to the latter stages at Sheffield’s Theatre of Dreams.
The following year, Ding Junhui disproved that theory when, having dropped out of the top 16, he blitzed through the qualifiers and went all the way to the final before losing 18-14 to Mark Selby. In the semi-finals, Ding had beaten another unseeded player: 45-year-old Alan McManus who reached the last four at the Crucible for the first time since 1993.
To balance the argument, in 2015 only three of the top 16 seeds lost in the first round, and only one of the qualifiers (Anthony McGill) made the quarter-finals. Similarly in 2017, four of the qualifiers made it to round two, and only one of those (Stephen Maguire) went on to the last eight.
But on the first day of this year’s Championship, it was plain to see that those making the short journey from the English Institute of Sport, where the final qualifying round finished on Wednesday, to the Crucible were sharp, confident and eager to keep their winning streaks going.
Joe Perry made a century and seven more breaks over 50 in a 10-4 win over defending champion Mark Selby. Maguire surged 6-3 ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan, while Lyu Haotian and Graeme Dott built 6-3 leads over Marco Fu and Ali Carter respectively. Of the seeded players, only Kyren Wilson bucked the trend, going 7-2 up on Matthew Stevens.
After one of his best career wins, Perry said: “I don’t think fatigue is such a big thing in snooker. The fact that you’ve won three matches means you’re always high on confidence, and that overrides a little bit of fatigue. Maybe if you progress deep into the competition it might play a part. That’s a problem I’d love to have. It’s very tough to get through those three matches, but once you get here you have a better chance.”
Selby concurred: “If the qualifiers finished two weeks before the main event it would be different. But with only a two day gap, they are bringing that sharpness with them.”
The record for the most seeds losing in the first round is eight, set in 1980 and equalled in 1992 and 2012. As snooker’s strength in depth continues to grow, that record will surely be broken – possibly in the coming days.
As we enter day 3, the prospect of beating the record eight seeds losing looks less likely.
In the afternoon, Ali Carter did the same against Graeme Dott, coming out a 10-8 winner after an extremely hard-fought quality match.
Carter showed trademark grit and determination as he won eight of the last ten frames, punching the air in celebration at the end of one of his best Crucible fight backs.
His reward is a showpiece clash with Ronnie O’Sullivan in the second round on Friday and Saturday; a repeat of the 2008 and 2012 finals, both won by O’Sullivan. World number 15 Carter has had a disappointing season by his standards, reaching just one ranking event semi-final, but he has the chance to finish on a high at his favourite venue.
Chelmsford’s Carter began today’s session 6-3 behind and took the first two frames with runs of 62 and 108, then got the better of a scrappy frame to make it 6-6. The next two were shared then 2006 World Champion Dott made a 75 to lead 8-7.
Back came Carter with runs of 69 and 56 to lead 9-8, and he looked to be cruising over the winning line in frame 18 until he ran out of position on 63. Dott had a chance to clear but missed a short range red on 22, and when the Scot failed to escape from a snooker his chance was gone.
“Yesterday Graeme thought the job was done, but it wasn’t done,” said 38-year-old Carter. “You can never think you’ve got a match in the bag and that will be a lesson for him. I just wanted to win. I want to be here. I saw what Stephen Maguire said today about feeling left behind a bit. I felt a bit the same and I knew I needed to do something about it.
“I have been through a lot in my life. I have been very ill and overcome it and I wouldn’t have got over that if I didn’t have that personality and fight in me. I used that today.
“It’s great to be involved in a match with Ronnie. I’m very much looking forward to it. He’s red hot favourite but I’m going to turn up and have a little go and see what happens.
“He knows how good I am because we practise with each other. He has a lot of respect for me as a person. He likes my style of play, the way I hit the ball and the way I go out and play snooker. I am a good match for him.”
Dott said: “I was rubbish all the way through the game to be honest. The only time I started to feel normal was at 6-6, when I changed a couple of things and I started being able to hit the white.
“I would rather lose here playing really badly than losing in the qualifiers. But I’m bitterly disappointed with the way I played. Lots of people will criticise me, but nobody will criticise me harder than myself. I only had one break over 50 and I managed to lose 10-8 which is testament to my match play and determination and all the other rubbish that everybody talks about.”
On the other table, 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy finished 5-4 ahead of Jamie Jones. From 1-0 down, Murphy took four frames in a row with top breaks of 75 and 137. Jones – who beat Murphy on his Crucible debut in 2012 – stopped the rot in frame six with a 27 clearance which included an excellent pot on the final black.
Murphy then made it 5-2 but it was Welshman Jones who finished the session strongly, firing runs of 94 and 114 to trail by just one overnight. They resume on Monday at 2.30pm.
When I wrote my predictions, I tipped Dott, in part because I had seen how well he played last week, in part because he had the upper hand on Ali in previous matches at the Crucible, and in part because I had witnessed Ali getting frustrated to the point of playing silly shots in this very arena. But there was absolutely nothing of that yesterday: Ali fought with the heart of a lion and all credits to him for the way he ruined my predictions.
In the evening, Kyren Wilson coasted through, beating an ailing Matthew Stevens by 10-3, whilst young Lyu HaoTian was a 10-5 winner over Marco Fu. It’s great to see such a young player do well, and this one in particular, because, when Lyu first came on the tour, at 15, he wasn’t ready, and it looked like he had lost control of his life, being all lost in an alien country, barely more than a child. But he’s come back, looking very mature for his years. As for Marco, he deserves every credit for giving it a good go, despite his eye issues. He denied that his eyes issue were a problem, but then he’s never been one to make excuses,even when the problem is very real. In an interview before the tournament he admitted still seeing “floaters”I wish him the best, I really hope he can recover fully and come back, because it would be very sad if his career was to end this way.
Here is the reports on Worldsnooker
Kyren Wilson produced a blistering display to dispatch 2003 UK Champion Matthew Stevens 10-3 in their first round match at the Betfred World Championship.
Stevens (world finalist in 2000 and 2005) hadn’t appeared at the Theatre of Dreams since 2015 and admitted after qualifying that there were times he’d wondered if he would ever make the final stages of the World Championship again.
In contrast, 26-year-old Wilson reached his maiden Triple Crown final at the Masters in January, where he lost out to Mark Allen and it seems that the peak of the Warrior’s Crucible career could well be ahead of him.
Wilson has also appeared in two ranking finals so far this season, but losses to Ding Junhui at the Yushan World Open and Ronnie O’Sullivan at the English Open have seen him fall short of silverware. He will be hoping to contest at the latter stages this week after runs to the World Championship quarter-finals in 2016 and 2017.
The 2015 Shanghai Masters champion came into this evening’s session with a healthy 7-2 advantage and he compounded that lead immediately with a fine century run of 121. Stevens did pull a frame back, but a further two on the bounce for Wilson including a break of 54 saw him comfortably over the line.
Wilson said: “It’s a very satisfying win. Matthew is a classy opponent, he’s been there and done it before, so a 10-3 scoreline is flattering. I feel like I did most of the damage in the first session. I’m pleased to get the victory, and I’m going to go home and come back refreshed for the second round.
“It was a very tough draw in the first round to get Matthew Stevens. It wasn’t long ago that he was a seed here and I could have been drawing him. I would like to say what a classy guy he is to call his fouls on himself, not once but twice. There was one in the 12th frame where he could have got back to 8-4 and then he would have been back in the game.
“I do need to improve in certain aspects, but it was quite a pleasing performance. I felt like I played well, I didn’t miss anything too simple which is nice. If you’re not missing the easy balls you’re going to be there or thereabouts. It’s just about getting my preparation right now for the second round and coming back refreshed.”
Afterwards Stevens reflected on a disappointing defeat and admitted that picking up a virus ahead of yesterday’s first session had a big impact on his performance.
“I hate going into matches having not slept and feeling ill. I don’t like making excuses, but yesterday afternoon I didn’t want to play. I felt like death warmed up, it was horrible and gutting, but that’s life and worse things happen,” said the 40-year-old. “I felt a million times better today and even at 7-2 I fancied my chances. Kyren would have had to miss a few balls, he is a good player and it didn’t happen so that’s the end of it.”
Lyu Haotian, one of a growing army of talented young Chinese players on the World Snooker Tour, enjoyed a superb 10-5 victory over Marco Fu in his first appearance at the final stages of the Betfred World Championship.
It was a tough return to action for Fu, who has missed the last three months after undergoing laser eye surgery for retinal degeneration. The three-time ranking event winner was clearly rusty, but that’s to take nothing away from his 20-year-old opponent who showcased his break-building skills.
Sheffield-based Lyu has had his best season as a pro so far, notably reaching the semi-finals of the Northern Ireland Open. He now faces Barry Hawkins or Stuart Carrington in the last 16 at the Crucible and will be confident of another deep run.
Breaks of 122, 127 and 87 helped Lyu build a 6-3 lead in the first session on Saturday. Fu, a former Crucible semi-finalist, failed to score a point in the first two frames tonight as Lyu extended his advantage to 8-3. A run of 49 gave Fu frame 12 and he then found some rhythm with a 120 in the next to close to 8-5 at the interval.
But there was to be no fight back as Lyu compiled breaks of 79 and 61 to win the last two frames.
“I’m very happy to win, it was a really enjoyable match,” said Lyu in his press conference, via an interpreter. “I’m happy to have been able to perform well. I was expecting to be nervous on my debut, but it turned out to be very enjoyable. I know Marco was not feeling well about his eyes so maybe that affected his performance and contributed to the result.
“I just hope to continue to give this kind of performance in the next round. I never think about winning the tournament, I just want to play well, especially at this venue.
“Living in Sheffield is very convenient, it gives me a certain kind of advantage because it’s very easy to get to my practice tables, so I can go there whenever I want.”
Fu said: “Overall, between the two sessions, Lyu was by far the stronger player so 10-5 is a fair score. Lyu was superb. I’ve played at the Crucible as a 20-year-old myself and I know how difficult it is, but for him it was just like practice. He rose to the occasion, and I think he played even better here at the Crucible than he did in the qualifiers.
“My eyes are good, it didn’t really affect my game. I just lost to a better player, simple as that. I’ve got a few months off now so I’ll probably take a rest and have a few checkups. I will be back next season. This tournament came a bit too soon for me because I really lack match practice. I would have loved to have had one more tournament before coming here but the timing just wasn’t right.”
And, finally, two matches started yesterday, due to finish today: Mark Allen leads Liam Highfield by 6-3, and I would be very surprised if he didnt finish the job this morning, and Shaun Murphy leads Jamie Jones by 5-4. That one is far from over. Jamie Jones had a great run here in 2012, he’s up for this and he looked very sharp in the qualifiers. Shaun has been suffering from neck and shoulders injuries and it’s hard to tell whether he’s fully fit or not.