The first two days of the International Championship brought some surprising results, with a number of big names being beaten. Probably the biggest “shock” was Kyren Wilson’s defeat by 6-2 to Yuan Sijun. Yuan is a good player, but to be honest, Kyren hasn’t been at his best by any means since his defeat to Ronnie in the Shanghai Masters semi-finals. At the time he said that he was feeling tired and he probably still is because he hasn’t really had a proper break after a very busy and succesful start of the season.
The two English Open finalists, Stuart Bingham and Mark Davis also were beaten. And so was Mark Williams who was poor against Sunny Akani. Williams, it has to be said, has been celebrating and not been really practicing since he won the World title last May. It was always going to catch up at some point. Anthony McGill, Liang Wenbo and Ben Woollaston are also out. With John Higgins and Shaun Murphy failing to qualify, this tournament starts to look fairly open.
For some of those who did win, it was far from plain sailing.
Mark Selby really struggled against Li Yuan who definitely should have won their held-over match. The shots he took on the last blue and pink were baffling and can only be explained by the pressure he was under. Mark however appeared to have been really affected by the tragedy that hit his favourite football team Leicester FC. Today he played much better although, TBF, Ken Doherty, just back from Hull, offered little resistance.
Ding played terrible against Robin Hull and was only good in patches against Zhang Anda. He looked unhappy out there all along. Robin Hull already made it clear that this season will be his last as he’s suffering from a condition that causes tremors in his body and arms and it badly affects his ability to play. Yesterday he missed all sorts and it was really sad to watch.
Judd Trump won very easily against an out of sorts McManus, who was suffering from a small hand injury, but one that clearly made him uneasy on the shots. But the fact remains that Judd repetitively left him an open table, one that a sharper player would have probably cleared the way the balls were situated. If Judd wants to win this title, as he claimed he does, he will need to keep it tighter.
Defending champion Mark Selby won a 42-minute deciding frame to beat Li Yuan 6-5 in the first round of the International Championship.
World number one Selby needed four hours and 17 minutes in total to shrug off a determined opponent in Daqing.
China’s Li, ranked 81, came from 4-3 down to lead 5-4 but Selby took frame ten with a break of 58 then won the decider by potting the final blue. He now meets Ken Doherty in the last 64.
World Champion Mark Williams and home favourite Ding Junhui both scored first round wins at the £775,000 world ranking event.
Ding had a tough test against Finland’s Robin Hull, winning 6-4. Breaks of 82 and 71 helped Ding build a 4-2 lead, before Hull fought back to 4-4. A superb 128 saw Ding regain the lead, and he finished the match in frame ten, earning a last 64 meeting with Zhang Anda.
Williams eased to a 6-1 win over Zhang Jiankang, knocking in runs of 92, 81 and 106. He now meets Sunny Akani.
Chinese teenager Yuan Sijun beat Kyren Wilson 6-2, making breaks of 62 and 70. English Open champion Stuart Bingham suffered a surprise 6-3 reverse against Eden Sharav, whose top run was 85.
Yan Bingtao top scored with 104 in a 6-0 win over Jimmy White while Ali Carter saw off Kurt Maflin 6-0 with a top run of 90.
World Champion Mark Williams suffered a surprise 6-3 defeat against Sunny Akani in the last 64 of the International Championship in Daqing.
World number two Williams was outplayed by his Thai opponent who goes through to the last 32 to face Zhou Yuelong. Akani, ranked 65th, has scored some fine results over the past year, notably reaching the last 16 of the 2017 UK Championship, but this is perhaps his best result yet.
Welshman Williams led 3-2 but 23-year-old Akani reeled off the last four frames with top breaks of 108, 101 and 62.
“I was poor all the way through, I don’t know if I can play much worse than that,” said Williams. “Sunny deserved to win. He made some good breaks but he is very slow and methodical.
“Snooker is a tough game and you get what you deserve. I have put nothing into it so I’m getting nothing out. I know I should be practising, but whether I will or not, I don’t know.”
There was no such trouble for Mark Selby as he beat Ken Doherty 6-0 and he will now gain ground on Williams in the race to retain his world number one position. Selby, aiming to win this title for the third year in a row, fired breaks of 100, 55, 124, 117 and 52 as he set up a meeting with Robert Milkins.
Fight-back of the day came from Mark Allen as he recovered deficits of 4-0 and 5-2 to beat Liam Highfield 6-5. In a high-quality match, Allen knocked in breaks of 120, 127, 125 and 85. He now plays Iran’s Hossein Vafaei, who beat Graeme Dott 6-3 with a top run of 136.
Allen, who was runner-up in this event last year, said: “If I had lost 6-1 I would have had no complaints, Liam was awesome at the start. He completely froze me out. At 4-0 I was just trying to be patient because I didn’t even know how I was playing, it wasn’t as if I had missed chances.
“Intervals can change matches and I scored really well to get back into the match. I have reached two finals in this event and lost them both so it’s good and bad memories. It would be nice to go one better this week.”
Ding Junhui was pushed hard in a Chinese derby with Zhang Anda but crucially came from 60 points down to win the ninth frame on a respotted black to lead 5-4, then sealed a 6-4 victory in the next. Ding now plays Zhao Xintong, who fired breaks of 104, 137 and 116 to beat James Wattana 6-5.
Neil Robertson was in fine form in a 6-1 thrashing of Matthew Selt, compiling runs of 55, 65, 82, 73, 113 and 55. Marco Fu came from 2-0 and 4-3 down to edge out Andrew Higginson 6-5.
Michael Holt also showed his break-building skills as he made 107, 140 and 106 in a 6-4 win over Luo Honghao. Judd Trump top scored with 123 in a 6-0 whitewash over Alan McManus.
As for Ronnie, he was on twitter and, apparently, watching the snooker. Once again he stated that he’s not ready to play in poor conditions in qualifiers, neither to live on the road. His feeling clearly is that Worldsnooker is sacrificing quality to quantity, and “cutting the corners”. He believes that the players deserve better. He also said that he will probably not play in the German Masters, but will be there as a pundit.
Regarding quality, there was a record number of centuries during those two days. Joe Perry reflected that the conditions are good, the tables are playing well – it’s cold and dry in Daqing – but that the pockets are “massive” which is a “leveller” (sic). To me, a lot of what Barry Hearn does, including “levellers” like favouring the shorter formats, forcing players to play faster, making the Shootout a ranking event, or having an event like the Championship League Snooker, are aimed at one thing: to please his main source of sponsoring, the gambling/betting industry. Levellers tend to make match outcomes less predictable and that suits them to the core.