Riga Masters 2019 qualifiers conclusion and aftermath

The Riga Masters 2019 qualifiers concluded yesterday evening and yielded a few surprising results, even considering that most top players are probably rusty.

Ian Preece 4-3 David Gilbert: Preece is an amateur, but of course he’s sharp from the Q_school. Still, it’s unexpected especially considering that Gilbert was 3-0 up!

Jamie O’Neill 4-1 Barry Hawkins: Jamie just requalified for the main tour via the Q-school, so he’s sharp, and Barry always seems to start his season slowly; all the same it’s a bit surprising, especially the score.

Li Hang 4-1 Stuart Bingham:  Li Hang played in the China national event in Xi’an last week, so he would be sharp, but also jet-lagged. Not jet-lagged enough for Stuart Bingham liking I guess…

Zhang Anda beat Zhao Jianbo 5-3 in the final to win his second China Billiards And Snooker Association ranking title in Xi’an.

Chinese professional players Xiao Guodong, Li Hang, Zhou Yuelong, Yuan Sijun, Zhao Xintong and Lu Ning were among the 64 competitors at the five-day main event. Zhao Jianbo, age just 15, showed his potential with a fine run to the final, after becoming Asian Under-21 champion last month.

Zhang Anda knocked out the likes of Zhang Jiankang and Li Hang to reach the final, then beat Zhao with top breaks of 74, 80 and 75.

“I’m happy with my performance today, I made a few decent breaks,” said 27-year-old Zhang. “My young opponent played really well this week. I expected a tough final.

‘I’m not happy with my results on the professional tour so far. There have been a lot of ups and downs. I’m flying to the UK tomorrow and the new season begins next week for me. There are more tournaments and higher prize money nowadays. I believe this title will give me confidence.”

Zhang announced on social media last week that he was recently married, and he dedicated this title to his wife.

He added: “Also thanks to my family. I thought about giving up snooker countless times because I’m still waiting for my breakthrough and I’m not young any more. But the ones close to me have always encouraged me.”

Zhang received a cheque for 50,000 RMB, while Zhao Jianbo won 20,000. Fan Zhengyi made the highest break of 143, earning him a 5,000 bonus.

Zhang Anda 4-3 Shaun Murphy: Zhang was the winner of the Xi’an event and it seems that he had too much for Shaun Murphy! Shan recently stepped down from his position on the board of Directors to concentrate on his career. After last season disaster that sounded reasonable. However it seems that shaun has other ambitions … 

2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy will temporarily swap the baize for the links later this month, as he launches an ambitious bid to qualify for golf’s 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

In his spare time, Murphy has managed to obtain a scratch golf handicap. That means he is eligible to enter qualifying for this year’s Open Championship as an amateur. The 36-year-old will tee it up in the regional event at County Louth on June 24th.

We caught up with Triple Crown winner Murphy, to look ahead to his debut in one of golf’s greatest tournaments…

Shaun, what is it that made you want to try your hand at Open Championship qualifying?

“I caddied for one of my friends, Graham Neville, a few years ago at Open qualifying. He got to the final stages and was playing in the group ahead of former US Open winner Michael Campbell. That was a fantastic experience. I thought it would be nice to have a go myself, just to say I had played in it. It is very hard to maintain a scratch handicap whilst having a full time snooker career, a young family and all the rest of it. I won’t be off scratch for much longer so I thought I should take my opportunity while I am still eligible.”

What do you think your chances of progressing are?

“It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that I could go out there and shoot level par and get through to the final stage of qualifying. That would be extremely unlikely, but I have done it before. My best round of golf is four under par.

“If I even managed to progress to the next stage it would be crazy really. There are some amazing players in those final qualifiers and I would feel like a bit of an imposter, but I’m only 18 holes away. It is all a bit tongue in cheek and a bit of a laugh, but this will be a fantastic experience. I think the one thing I do have going for me is that I already have a full time job. Golf isn’t my livelihood. Relative to the other players I will be playing against, it doesn’t really matter to me if I win or lose. I won’t be under the pressure they are under. Most of them are trying to win the Open Championship. I am just trying to have a good day out. I could knock it round in anything from 68 to 108!”

Do you think your experience of climbing the mountain in snooker and becoming a World Champion will help you out at all?

“My experiences on the snooker tour certainly give me a bit of an inside track of what goes on inside these player’s minds when they are walking down the final fairway of a major tournament. In some ways, I would say that the mental side of snooker is more difficult. We don’t have a caddy out there with us. When you are in a deciding frame at Alexandra Palace, you are out there on your own. There is nobody to whisper sweet nothings in your ear, snooker is truly a single person sport. I know that my mentality won’t be what lets me down, it will be my lack of ability!”

Was there ever any point where you had to make a decision between pursuing snooker or golf for your career?

“Well there was never a career crossover point as such, but once I turned 17 and started driving it did become all too easy for me to sneak off to the golf course. There was a bit of an emergency meeting called with my sponsors, friends and family. I was playing far too much golf and it definitely cost me a few results. I obviously managed to reel things in after that.”

Can you see many technical similarities between golf and snooker?

“There are some quite staggering similarities. Even to the point that when I was a young boy growing up there were some golf training techniques that I brought into my snooker, things like timing exercises and drills. The fact that it is a still ball game, you have to impart the spin and you have to move the ball. Those parts are identical. Most snooker players make good putters as well. We are used to looking at a perfectly flat six by 12 foot area of green baize. When it comes to a putting green, any breaks or variations tend to stick out like a sore thumb.”

How much are you looking forward to teeing off at County Louth in two weeks’ time?

“Well the Open Championship is one of those perennials. Much like the World Snooker Championship, when it is on that is it and you get totally consumed by it. I love everything about it, the fact that it is played on links courses make it even more special as well. Links golf is the original test and challenge. I can’t wait to get out there.”

I find this all a bit baffling, including the fact that Worldsnooker publishes this…

Kacper Filipiak 4-3 Zhao Xintong: not a big shock, but still not what I expected. Could Kacper finally be over the disappointment of his first experience of the tour? I hope so. He was far too young when he got his first tour card, and  it was a disaster that left him very dispirited.

The whole event was plagued with scoreboard issues, that seriously disrupted several matches. On at least one occasion the players had to move to another table mid-match. During the Wilson v Wakelin match, things were appearing on the screen that clearly put the players off but they had to continue to play through it. They were clearly annoyed, frustrated, missing things they never would miss normally and the match was a start-stop affair as, at times, they just had to wait for the scoreboard to “behave” before being able to play their shots.

The whole situation is totally unacceptable in a professional sport.

The above results mean that only three of the top 16 qualified for the main venue: Jack Lisowski, Kyren Wilson and Luca Brecel. To that trio one must add Neil Robertson, Mark Williams and Mark Selby whose matches have been held over. Not great for the tournament and the organisers.