Crucible 2019 – Day 3

Well, well … I’ve had better days a fan.

It started right in the morning with Luo HongHao owning himself a whole host of unwanted records. I really like Luo, I watched him play in the qualifiers last week and he’s much, much better than he showed. I was really hoping that he would at least be able to get one frame, to show what he can do at the table. But it wasn’t to be.

Here is the report by Worldsnooker on yesterday’s morning session:

Shaun Murphy became only the second player in Crucible history to whitewash his opponent as he beat Luo Honghao 10-0 in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.

It’s the first whitewash since John Parrott beat Eddie Charlton 10-0 in 1992.

China’s 19-year-old Luo, making his debut at the Sheffield venue, set an unwanted record for the lowest number of points scored in a match at the Crucible. He amassed just 89 points, beating the previous record of 191 scored by part-time binman Danny Fowler when he lost 10-1 to Stephen Hendry in 1993.

The result is all the more remarkable given that Murphy has had a sequence of poor results in 2019; this is the first time he has reached the last 16 of a ranking event since December.

But the 36-year-old has looked back on form at the venue where he lifted the trophy in 2005. Breaks of 138, 102, 101, 76, 62 and 123 helped him build a 9-0 lead in Sunday’s opening session. And a run of 59 in the first frame today completed the emphatic shoreline.

World number 13 Murphy now meets Neil Robertson in what could be an epic second round clash.

“After the season I have had, never in my wildest dreams did I think I could come here and win 10-0,” said Murphy. “Going out this morning, it was tough to try to put that potential 10-0 to the back of my mind and try to play the right shots.

“Luo is a very talented player and to get to the Crucible in your first pro season is an amazing achievement. I’m sure he will use this as inspiration. The arena here can do funny things to the best of us so he should shrug it off and move on.

“This has been the worst season of my life, I have been in a daze. Yesterday I felt like Shaun Murphy again. In a way I’m looking forward to this season being over, but while I’m here I’ll give it my best.

“Neil Robertson has had a brilliant season and he’ll be the overwhelming favourite. I’ll just be trying to stay with him. No one is expecting me to win and that suits me fine.”

Luo said: “It’s my first time at the Crucible and it’s a really different feeling. I was very nervous. I’ve never felt like this before because the Crucible is the dream for every player. It is amazing to get here.

“I didn’t feel like I was playing a match. I was enjoying the place. After this time I want to improve myself, my technique and my skill. I’m still not good enough to play against the top players, they’re too strong.”

On the other table, three-time champion Mark Selby is in danger of a shock defeat as he trails another Crucible debutant from China, Zhao Xintong, 5-3 after their first session.

Selby was knocked out in the first round by Joe Perry last year and he needs to win seven of the last 11 frames tonight against 22-year-old Zhao to avoid another early exit.

The match started with three scrappy frames and Zhao more than matched his opponent in the safety exchanges, winning all three. Selby pulled one back with a break of 102 but Zhao replied with a run of 90 then added frame six to lead 5-1.

Then Ronnie had a nightmare session … which is quite ironic in its own way because he looked like someone who hasn’t slept for a month out there. He missed all sorts, and his shot selection was very bizarre, especially after the MSI. It was clear that he didn’t want the session to be a long one.

Here is the report by Worldsnooker about that match:

Ronnie O’Sullivan finished the opening session of his first round match at the Betfred World Championship 5-4 down against amateur James Cahill.

World number one O’Sullivan made numerous uncharacteristic errors, while Cahill stood up to the challenge of competing against an illustrious opponent and becoming the first amateur to play at the Crucible.

O’Sullivan has won five of the ten tournaments he has contested this season, reaching seven finals, but he may need to raise his game on Tuesday to avoid one of the all-time Sheffield shocks. He must win six of the last ten frames when they resume on Tuesday at 10am.

The opening frame came down to a safety battle on the final black, resolved when Blackpool’s 23-year Cahill slotted an excellent long pot to a top corner. O’Sullivan replied with breaks of 51 and 86 to go 2-1 up then Cahill’s 71 left them all square at the interval.

Five-time World Champion O’Sullivan made a 53 in winning frame five and he compiled a run of 54 in the sixth but later missed the final brown, allowing his opponent to clear for 3-3. Crucible debutant Cahill looked set to take the lead when he made 70 in frame seven, but O’Sullivan later got the snooker he needed on the green and cleared to regain the lead.

A break of 54 helped Cahill take the eighth for 4-4, and in the last of the session he took advantage of two surprising missed pots from O’Sullivan to go ahead at 5-4.

And here is my take on it.

That said everyone is going about James Cahill being an amateur, and he is, but it’s worth remembering that he has been a pro for four years, that he beat Michael Holt and Andrew Higginson to qualify for this, that this season only, as a top-up he beat Liang Wenbo, Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby (in York, at the UK Championship, no less). He’s not fazed by the big names. He’s actually more experienced than a good number of the actual young pros. He’s always been very talented and he’s now working with Chris Henry.

Meanwhile John Higgins managed to beat Dark Mavis. People who know me, know that’s not the result I wanted.

Here is the report by Worldsnooker on that one:

Four-time Crucible king John Higgins clinched his place in the second round of the Betfred World Championship with a 10-7 win over Mark Davis, despite spending seven hours in A&E yesterday.

His brother Jason suffered a fractured kneecap after falling down the Crucible stairs at the conclusion of yesterday’s opening session. Higgins accompanied him to hospital and they will now return home to Glasgow, with Jason due to have an operation tomorrow.

On the table Higgins faced a tough test against world number 38 Davis, who has been his bogey player in recent times. The Wizard of Wishaw had lost six out of his last seven meetings with Sussex cueman Davis coming into this week.

Scotland’s Higgins, who has 30 ranking titles to his name, has been the Crucible runner-up for the previous two seasons. He led Mark Selby 10-4 in the 2017 final, before losing out 18-15. Last year Higgins was defeated 18-16 in an all-time classic final against Mark Williams.

By his own admission Higgins has struggled to shake off those losses. He has failed to win a tournament this season and has suffered several surprising defeats. However, he recently set up a training unit with compatriots Anthony McGill and Stephen Maguire and appears to be reaping the rewards of the increased practice.

Higgins came into this afternoon with a 6-3 advantage following yesterday’s play. However, breaks of 57 and 64 helped Davis to immediately close the gap to 6-5. They then traded frames as they went into the mid-session with Higgins 7-6 in front.

The Scot moved to the verge of victory with two sublime breaks of 135 and 132. He clinched the tie in the 17th frame, to book a second round meeting with either Stuart Bingham or Graeme Dott.

Higgins said: “I’ve lost a few games to Mark in the past, he’s such a tough all round player. I think he let me off the hook a bit. I played well yesterday, but today I think he let me off the hook. He missed a few balls he wouldn’t normally miss against me and I managed to come through.

“My brother’s fall was a total freak accident. After he watched me play yesterday, I was going to go and get changed and then we were going to meet for a bit of lunch. Coming off the final step at the Crucible his trainer stuck and his full force went down on his knee, and he’s fractured his kneecap. He was in a bad way yesterday, we were at the hospital for about six or seven hours. Because it’s a bank holiday weekend it was really busy. They weren’t going to be able to give him an operation until Wednesday, so hopefully we can get him up the road back to Scotland and he can get an operation tomorrow.

“I’d like Graeme to win because he’s one of my mates on the tour and a fellow Scotsman, that would be a great occasion. Stuart has been one of the players of the season. People are saying our half of the draw is pretty easy, but there are four World Champions and that’s not counting Barry Hawkins and Kyren Wilson. There’s never an easy draw, and there’s always shocks aplenty here.”

Afterwards Davis was philosophical about the defeat and positive looking ahead to next season.

“I’ve played a lot worse than that and won plenty of matches, that’s for sure. I barely did anything wrong yesterday and was only 6-3 down,” said Davis. “I enjoyed every minute of it. My game’s as good as ever, but I’m 46 year’s old, so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to get here again. I brought my family up and just really wanted to enjoy it, and I did. My boy loves it. He came to Crawley, which was his first taste of it, and I think he’s got the bug”

“I’ve been working with Chris Henry as my coach this year and that’s given me a bit of enthusiasm to practice, which does get harder as you get older.”

That said I hope  that John’s brother Jason will be OK and will recover promptly and completely. Health is much more important than any game of snooker.

Finally, Mark Selby came back from 5-1 down to beat Zhao Xintong, who seemed to have forgotten completely how to build a break during the evening session. This comeback was not a story of Mark Selby’s proverbial grit getting him over the line, it was a story of his opponent ability to score vanishing. That said, Selby DID fight and battle despite not playing well at all by any top player standards and he deserves full credit for it.

This is the report by Worldsnooker on the evening session:

Mark Selby summoned some of his best snooker to overturn a first session deficit and beat Zhao Xintong 10-7 at the Betfred World Championship.

Three-time World Champion Selby has arrived in Sheffield this week with less of a media spotlight than he has become accustomed to. He recently lost his world number one spot, which he had occupied since February 2015, to Ronnie O’Sullivan. This is also the first time since 2016 that he hasn’t entered the event as defending champion.

China’s talented 22-year-old Zhao has turned his fledgling career around over the last 12 months. He dropped off the tour at the end of last season. However, he immediately regained professional status at Q School and has since reached a maiden ranking semi-final at the 2018 China Championship and clinched a Crucible place for the first time.

Debutant Zhao impressed in this morning’s session, taking a 5-1 lead. However, Selby did claim the last two frames to head into this evening’s play just two behind at 5-3.

15-time ranking event winner Selby then stamped his authority from the off in the concluding session. Breaks of 62 and 131 saw the Jester from Leicester take the opening two frames to restore parity at 5-5. They then traded frames and headed into the mid-session locked together at 6-6.

When the pair returned, Selby took the lead for the first time in the match thanks to a break of 83. Zhao levelled at 7-7, but three frames on the bounce saw Selby over the line to reach the second round, where he will face Gary Wilson.

Selby said: “I’m over the moon to get through. I knew it was going to be a tough game when the draw came out. I’ve played him a few times now and he’s such a laid back guy, nothing really fazes him. No matter what the occasion is, he’s going to play his attacking game. Some of the balls he potted out there were unbelievable.

“The first round is always a potential banana skin, no matter who you play. You’ve always got the nerves at the Crucible in the first match. You’ve just got to get that first match out of the way and you feel as though you’re part of the tournament then.”

David Gilbert dominating Joe Perry is a bit of a surprise. I did expect it to be closer because of Perry’s vast Crucible experience and the way he’s performed here in previous appearances. But Gilbert was always vastly talented, and now, with Sightright help, he’s doing his talent justice. That’s why he’s a seed for the first time. So maybe it isn’t a surprise after all.