Rigging is underway at the English Institute of Sports
and tomorrow I will try to travel to Sheffield, hoping that some hard Brexiters won’t tie themselves on the tracks to prevent the Eurostar to reach London and to stop it bringing it’s load of those terrible foreigners on UK soil … you know.
I’ll be there primarily for two events: the WSS ROKiT Masters 2019, on April 11, which I’ll cover photographically – and the World Championship 2019 Qualifiers of which I will just be a spectator. If it can be arranged I might go to Ronnie’s exhibition in Mansfield on April 12, and that would be with my camera.
The World Championship Qualifiers is a quite unique event. Players have to win three best of 19 matches to make it to the television stages of the World Championship at the Crucible. There is a lot of money at stakes. This is the place where careers end … or dreams come true. And this year there are quite a number of older pros – men we he seen on our screens for many many years – for whom this could be the last event. Amongst them, Jimmy White, Peter Ebdon, Robin Hull, Joe Swail, Rory McLeod, Nigel Bond, Peter Lines and Anthony Hamilton.
There are 128 players at the event, arranged in 16 groups of 8, each group producing just one happy guy or gal who will play at the “Theatre of Dreams” in less than two weeks time.
Ryan Day v Oliver Lines
Tian Pengfei v Soheil Vahedi
Matthew Stevens v Thor Chuan Leong
Chris Wakelin v Fan Zhengyi
From this group, I expect the winner to be Ryan Day, Tian Pengfei or Matthew Stevens, although Chris Wakelin can’t be dismissed completely. Ryan Day is the unlucky bloke who finished ranked 17 at the end of last week. He will be desperate to get through. He has the game to do it. His temperament is far better than it used to be too. For me he’s the group favourite. Tian however is a very dangerous player; on a good day he can beat anyone. Matthew Stevens always had the talent and form has also improved recently. They both could spoil Day’s … day.
Gary Wilson v Sanderson Lam
Dominic Dale v Chris Totten
Liang Wenbo v Basem Eltahhan
Rory McLeod v David Grace
Liang Wenbo has been under the radars for a while, but last week he reached the last 16 in Beijing and was playing well. Gary Wilson is always dangerous, but his form isn’t too great and Liang Wenbo is the man who beat him in round one last week in China. One man who could create a surprise is David Grace. He’s now an amateur, but was runner-up to the Challenge Tour, and, with it, got a new tour card. David is on form and one of the very few coming here with no pressure. That’s a dangerous combination. I still think that Liang Wenbo will emerge the winner of this group. However, I see David Grace as second favourite and he would be a very popular qualifier if he managed it!
Robbie Williams v Sam Baird
Marco Fu v Luo Honghao
Sam Craigie v Rhys Clark
Tom Ford v Ross Muir
Sam Craigie last week in Beijing beat Ryan Day, Ali Carter and Liang Wenbo before being whitewashed by the eventual champion Neil Robertson. For me he’s the man to beat in this group, if tiredness from his recent exploits in China doesn’t spoil it for him. Marco Fu has been very inconsistent since being affected by eyes problems, Tom Ford’s temperament is a bit suspect under pressure. Robbie Williams? Yes, he beat Judd Trump in China and he’s the only one I can see challenging Sam Craigie here. I’ll stick with Sam.
Akani Songsermsawad v Chen Zifan
Robert Milkins v Luke Simmonds
Duane Jones v Kishan Hirani
Anthony McGill v Ashley Hugill
I would love to see Sunny Akani at the Crucible but I can’t see it happening. This group, in my opinion will be between Anthony McGill and Robert Milkins and I can’t decide which one. Robert Milkins has all the talent in the world but at times you’d think he’s been created by Adam Douglas’ Finite Improbability device as he throws out the most unexpected mistakes … His current ranking is 41, but really it should be 42. I think that Anthony McGill will come out the winner of this group.
Graeme Dott v Hamza Akbar
Xu Si v Sean O’Sullivan
Stuart Carrington v Pang Junxu
Kurt Maflin v Mitchell Mann
Expect some hard-fought matches in this one with Graeme Dott, Stuart Carrington and Mitchell Mann. Mitchell last year forfeited his match against Ryan Day in round 2, feeling unable to continue due to mental health issues. This also meant that he lost his professional status there and then. He seems to be in a better place now, he comes here as an amateur and has done very well in the Challenge Tour. I see him as a serious contender. But over three best of 19 distance, IMO Graeme Dott will prevail in this group. Kurt Maflin has been far too inconsistent all season for me to take him in the picture.
Li Hang v Niu Zhuang
Ian Burns v Farakh Ajaib
Ben Woollaston v Elliot Slessor
Mike Dunn v Nigel Bond
I expect the winner of Ben Woollaston v Elliott Selessor to take on Li Hang in the final of this group and, on current form, Li Hang to prevail. That said, you never know what the stubborn, shrewd old-timers like Mike Dunn and Nigel Bond might do although Nigel’s potting has become really inconsistent over the last couple of years. Alas…
Daniel Wells v Jamie Clarke
Hossein Vafaei v Zhang Anda
Gerard Greene v Aaron Hill
Martin Gould v Mostafa Dorgham
There are two amateurs in this group: Aaron Hill, who is the under-18 European Champion and Mostafa Dorgham … who I had never heard of until a couple of days ago. I would be very surprised if any of them survived their first match, Aaron mainly because his inexperience in such environment. Jamie Clarke’s season has been dreadful, Zhang Anda’s too. So the highest ranked players should prevail easily in all four matches here. From there, I think that Hossein Vafaei is the one with the best form currently and I’ll go for him to win this group.
Michael Georgiou v Lee Walker
Peter Ebdon v Harvey Chandler
Mei Xiwen v Florian Nuessle
Yan Bingtao v Lukas Kleckers
I can see only one winner in this group, Yan Bingtao, despite a very quiet season. Mei Xiwen is a decent professional but without genius and vulnerable when matches reach the latter stages. As much as I’d like to see one of the “Europeans” – Lukas Kleckers and Florian Nuessle – win, somehow that looks highly improbable. Michael Georgiou has done nothing of note since winning the Shoot Out in 2018, Peter Ebdon is always hard to beat but isn’t winning much, Lee Walker could win his first match but will probably exhaust himself – and everyone else – doing so and Harvey Chandler always seems to come just short of victory – he ran Mark Williams very close in Beijing – but I DO hope he gets at least one win here.
Ali Carter v Paul S Davison
Jimmy White v Ross Bulman
Michael White v Andy Hicks
Yuan Sijun v John Astley
In this group as well we have two amateurs: the young Ross Bulman, the European under-21 runner-up and the veteran Andy Hicks. In the form Michael White is currently, I actually expect Andy Hicks to reach the second round. Jimmy White will probably have too much experience for young Ross. But the winner of this group should be either Ali Carter or Yuan Sijun. Ali has to be the favourite but I would absolutely love for Yuan Sijun to make it through to the Crucible.
Ricky Walden v Alfie Burden
Eden Sharav v David Lilley
Zhou Yuelong v Robin Hull
Liam Highfield v Hammad Miah
The only amateur in this group, David Lilley, who played in the WSS tour this season, as well as in the Challenge Tour and as a top up in the main tour could cause some problems to Eden Sharav, whose season hasn’t been great, although over best of 19 it remains to be seen if David can sustain the desired consistency. Robin Hull has some health issues and got almost no hope. Neither Liam Highfield, nor Hammad Miah have impressed this season. Alfie Burden hasn’t won a match in months. Ricky Walden is slowly improving but remains inconsistent. That leaves us with Zhou Yuelong … provided his temperament doesn’t let him down.
Fergal O’Brien v Jackson Page
Mark Davis v Rod Lawler
Alexander Ursenbacher v Jordan Brown
Lyu Haotian v Ashley Carty
Fergal O’Brien has all the attributes to frustrate young Jakson Page, and unless the latter outpots him, he will do just that. I expect Rod Lawler, who beat Kyren Wilson in Beijing, to beat Mark Davis who had an indifferent season. If my feelings materialise, we will have a Fergal O’Brien v Rod Lawler round two match. They better foresee two refrerees for that one: it could be an all day affair followed by an all nighter! I believe that Lyu Haotian is the more likely to come through the other half. And I think he can win the group too … given that he will probably be the freshest man standing in the last round.
Mark Joyce v Billy Joe Castle
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Jonathan Bagley
Joe O’Connor v Joe Swail
Jimmy Robertson v Chen Feilong
Jonathan Bagley, the only amateur in the group, is the WSS current n°1. He’s a very useful player but I doubt that he will have the scoring power to beat “Theppy”. Thepchaya Un-Nooh is the favourite to win this group in my eyes. I can’t see either Mark Joyce nor Billy Castle to cause him problems. I expect him to face Joe O’Connor in round 3. Jimmy Robertson has done very little since winning the European Masters in Lommel in autumn. Joe Swail is struggling.
Xiao Guodong v Jak Jones
Peter Lines v Michael Judge (replacing Zhang Jiankang)
Michael Holt v Brandon Sargeant
Andrew Higginson v James Cahill
This is a hard group to call. Neither Andrew Higginson, nor Xiao Guodong have been in great form, or consistent recently. Both Jak Jones and James Cahill – now an amateur – have played well in spells during the season and could well cause an early “upset”. Peter Lines is always hard to beat, despite not always scoring very heavily but Michael Judge is no push-over. This match is 50/50. The most likely winner in this section, for me, is Michael Holt. He’s first up against Brandon Sargeant, who won the Challenge Tour 2018/19. It could be close though.
Mark King v Igor Figueiredo
Lu Ning v Allan Taylor
Scott Donaldson v Craig Steadman
Ken Doherty v Andy Lee
Now this is an interesting group. It features two WSS players in Igor Figueiredo, the Pan American Champion and Ken Doherty. Igor is a very heavy scorer when on form. He will play Mark King, who isn’t that much of a scorer but a very hard match player. I’m not sure who will win this match, it will be very much on Igor’s form on the day. The winner will face Lu Ning or Alan Taylor. Lu Ning is unspectacular but has got a few good results this season. Again it’s hard to call. However, overall I think that Mark King will be the one to reach round 3. The other half features Ken Doherty who faces Andy Lee first. I would be shocked if Ken doesn’t win that one. Should he do that, he would almost certainly regain his professional status next season. The other match though is extremely difficult to predict: both Craig Steadman – who beat Mark Selby in Beijing – and Scott Donaldson – who reached the semi finals last week – are in good form. Scott is the better player in my opinion, but he’s likely to still be a bit tired from his run in China. Whoever goes through will offer Ken Doherty a strong opposition. But Ken is burning with desire to play at the Crucible one more time and I think he’ll prevail. Can he then beat Mark King? I’m not sure.
Anthony Hamilton v James Wattana
Matthew Selt v Dylan Emery
Zhao Xintong v Adam Lilley
Noppon Saengkham v Adam Stefanow
Anthony Hamilton is struggling and I’m not sure that James Wattana – who remains a beautifull player to watch – has the stamina for a best of 19. James though did beat Ding in China last week, and did beat him soundly!. Matthew Selt and Zhao Xintong both face amateurs and should win their first matches. Adam Stefanow has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, but Noppon Seangkham will probably have too much for him. The winner of this group should come from the trio: Zhao Xintong, Matthew Selt or Noppon Saengkham. Which one of them? I can’t decide.
Alan McManus v Ng On Yee
Martin O’Donnell v Adam Duffy
Zhang Yong v Reanne Evans
Joe Perry v Simon Lichtenberg
I can honestly see only one winner in this group and that’s Joe Perry. On Yee has been heavily defeated in her previous outings at the WC qualifiers and can’t see her beating Alan McManus over a best of 19. I could be close though and a very long match. Whoever wins will faced either the out-of-form Martin O’Donnell or the error prone Adam Duffy. Reanne Evans – provided she’s in good nick – could beat Zhang Yong, but I can’t see her get the better of Perry.