After two days in Lommel it’s time to take stock of what happened!
None of the “Class if 92” is playing: Ronnie withdrew before the qualifying round, John Higgins and Mark Williams withdrew last week. I’s understandable given how much they have played recently, but it’s a shame for the tournament of course.
The first thing I’d like to say is that the setup is quite nice. There are only four tables and all in the main arena, so that the fans can really follow whichever match they like. There are currently no less than seven practice tables, which is great. This will be reduced to three from tomorrow on, but by then there will only be sixteen players remaining, so it should be comfortable. The four other tables will be used for the Challenge Tour.
Watching on television afterwards, I realised that it seems that the crowd is poor. This isn’t the case at all. The crowds have been really good from the start. The thing is that if someone wants to be able to follow more than one match, they need to sit higher up in the arena and it’s what most fans actually do, myself included. So the two or three first rows look empty unfortunately.
So… what did I see?
With Mark Williams withdrawal, there were only two.
Luca Brecel defeated Daniel Wells by 4-2 and on paper his win looks comfortable, but it wasn’t really. Luca was far from his best and I think there is a mixtures of factors here: he’s the local man and has a lot of pressure and his confidence isn’t high because his form hasn’t been great lately. It’s only towards the end of the match that he started playing better.
Judd Trump, the defending champion, raced to a savage 47 minutes win over Martin O’Donnell. Judd was very intimidating, but the truth is that if he plays like this against a top player, who won’t be phased by his pace, he might well be found out … again. Indeed he played very aggressive shots, I’d even say reckless ones at times, and on a couple of occasions he did split the pack so violently that he was very fortunate that nothing went in a pocket other than the ball he played!
Again Luca and Judd went through, but in very different fashions.
Luca played young Luo Honghao and won 4-2 but the standard of this match was atrocious really, until the last frame and a half, when Luca found a bit of form. Luo hasn’t settled on the main tour for now and doesn’t seem to be able the way he did in Malta last season. Shame really.
Judd on the other hand played better and in a more composed way than he had in the held-over, which was good to see. The result was the same: a quick 4-0, over Liam Highfield this time.
Liang Wenbo beat Alfie Burden in a deciding frame again, and, again, the feeling I had is that Alfie should have won this match. But snooker is played in the head as well as on the table: Alfie was 3-1 up but as soon as Liang pegged one back, the atmosphere changed and the writing was on the wall.
Andrew Higginson beat Neil Robertson fair and square, by 4-2. It’s not so much that Neil played badly, it’s Andrew who played very well. It’s been a long time since I saw him play this well. In fact his form reminded me of the way he played in the Welsh Open 2007, when he made a 147 in the QF against Ali Carter, and reached the final where he lost 9-8 to … Neil Robertson!
The Kyren Wilson v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh was very good to watch, and a high scoring affair: they had 6 breaks over 50 in only 5 frames! With Kyren 2-1 up, it looked for all the world that Theppy was going to make it 2-2: he was on 72, all reds and blacks, but missed the 10th red which was effectively frame ball. Kyren came back at the table, with 75 on, and won the frame by one point. That pretty sealed the match as well as Theppy looked dejected after that.
Jack Lisowski finished with two centuries in beating Duane Jones by 4-1. It was very fast and entertaining, except for Duane of course.
Yan Bingtao vs Alan McManus was anything but fast. It went to the deciding frame. Every frame was long, scrappy and devoid of any telling break. Both players deserve credit in this match. The old fox Alan for his sheer will to win, and his incredible tactical nous. Yan for staying with him: not many players that young would have done that. Yan battled, and battled … and battled. Hopefully, despite the disapointment of losing, he might have learnt a thing of two out there. This match must have been draining for both.
Another one who deserves huge credit is Mark Selby. Less than 48 hours after winning a long match in China, here he is, beating Sam Craigie by 4-1 … and taking short naps in his seat when not at the table. Between the naps Mark played well. Now the question of course is whether tiredness will catch up later during the week. Anyway, hats off.
Elliott Slessor v David Gilbert was a very high quality match and it’s a shame it happened so early in the tournament and wasn’t on the stream. Both scored heavily. Elliott won 4-3, after David made a 62 in the deciding frame, but missed match ball. With 75 on the table, Elliott cleared with 68.
Mark Allen was in fine form and played beautifully to beat Ashel Hugill. To me Mark is a serious contender for the title this week if he keeps this standard.
Ali Carter was made to work incredibly hard to beat Peter Ebdon by 4-1. Peter put him in all sorts of trouble, but wasn’t able to score heavily when in. Hence the score…