The first event of the season, the Riga Masters Qualifiers, came to a conclusion this afternoon. Here are the results that drew my attention and why, bearing this post in mind
Stuart Bingham was beaten by 4-0 by Niu Zhang. He’s the only participating top 16 player who go beat. Most frames were close, but it is still a surprising defeat, especially given the severe score. Stuart and Ali Carter are the two members of the top 16 who really need to get results from the start this season to stay in that bracket come the Crucible. Ali duly beat Billy Joe Castle by 4-0.
In total contrast, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen looked in great form from the start. Both won comfortably. Kyren Wilson hadn’t it that easy against Dominic Dale, never an easy opponent; the match went the distance. I didn’t watch Shaun Murphy, nor Barry Hawkins so I can’t comment on their form.
From the ones looking to regain a top 16 spot, Stephen Maguire and Liang Wenbo both won by 4-0 with some high scoring. Liang is back with the Grove team this season, with renewed motivation.
I wrote that Rod Lawler, Anthony Hamilton , Nigel Bond and Joe Swail are in an almost desperate position when it comes to their future as professionals. Well, they seem to be determined to put up a fight: all four of them won their matches and will be in Riga!
Main Tour debutants Joe O’Connor and Ashley Carty won their first ever match as professionals. Very well done to them. Luo Honghao and Adam Stefanow both lost but nevertheless gave a good account of themselves. Luo was up against Neil Robertson, who played really well, and Luo managed to battle back from 3-0 down to 3-2, but eventually lost by 4-2. Adam played the always hard to beat Rory McLeod and made him work very hard: the match went to a decider.
The young ones, already established on the tour, who I expected to climb this season had mixed results with Elliott Slessor, Lyu Haotian and Sunny Akani losing whilst Yan Bingtao, Zhou Yuelong and Jack Lisowski won. That said Sunny Akani lost to Oliver Lines who is of course a very talented young player himself and the match went to a decider. Elliott Slessor lost 4-1 to Marco Fu and this is Marco’s first win since his eye surgery. Marco has it all to do this season and this is a very positive sign. Also, Marco joined the Sightright team, like Mark Williams did a year ago and we know what happened!
Speaking of players returning to form after injury, Ricky Walden had a convincing 4-1 win over John Astley.