After two days into the group stages in Wuxi, it’s time to assess the groups stituation.
Mathematically everything is still possible, but in reality a number of clear favourites are already emerging, whilst some other teams have very little actual hope.
China A – Ding Junhui and Yan Bingtao – are firmly in front with 8 frames won, despite Yan clearly not being back at his best form, the form he showed during the 2017/18 season. They are followed by a group of nations on 5 and 4 frames won: Austria, Poland, Thailand and Norway. All of them have won one match and lost one. On paper, of these four, Thailand – Noppon Saengkham and Thepchaiya Un-nooh – is the best team. But Noppon isn’t in great form – he has not been since he married last spring – and Theppy can’t do it all alone. I wasn’t expecting much of all-amateur Austria – Andreas Ploner and Florian Nüssle – but they have played quite well. Germany – Lukas Kleckers and Simon Lichtenberg – have been disappointing.
Northern Ireland – Mark Allen and Jordan Brown – and England – Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski – are in front with 7 and 6 points respectively. In this group however everything is still possible. On paper in this group, one would have expected England to dominate, with two top 16 professional players in the team. It isn’t the case, mainly because Jack Lisowski has been making far too many mistakes. The young Ka Wai Cheung who plays for Hong Kong has impressed so far. Also when watching Andy Lee playing there in Wuxi, you have to wonder how this guy has only won ONE match against a fellow pro last season.
Here we have twop teams on 8 points: Scotland – John Higgins and Stephen Maguire – and Belgium – Luca Brecel and Ben Mertens. Having Scotland there is no surprise, these are two top 16 professionals with loads of experience, including a man, John Higgins, who has been finalist in the last three World Championships. Belgium however is slighly more unexpected, considering that Ben Mertens is only 14, by far the youngest player in the competition and, given that the two “lost” frames were actually lost by Luca. Ben has shown a maturity well beyond his years. Israel comes third and Sachar Ruberg, the amateur in the team, is certainly doing his part of the job. I believe that Scotland will be safe, but Luca has to cut out mistakes if he wants to make sure of Belgium’s spot.
Here again we have two teams on 8 points: China B – Liang Wenbo and Zhou Yuelong – and Wales – Mark Williams and Ryan Day. It’s probably what most would expect in this group. However Switzerland Alexander UrsenBacher and Luis Vetter are on 6 points and that’s a good surprise. Luis Vetter might well celebrate his 17th birthday in Wuxi next Saturday. Australia appears to be the weakest team in this group, maybe even in the whole competition. I certainly don’t blame Neil Robertson for opting out of this: he has a long season ahead of him, and a young family. He usually takes advantage of the summer break to visit his family in Australia, and this year he has a recently born baby girl to introduce to them.