York Barbican a great place for those playing in the main arena, a bit less so for those playing the sports hall. There is though usually a decent crowd, right from day 1, even on the side tables. Going by what we could see on streaming, yesterday was no different.
The strict seeding often produces very one-sided first round television matches, and yesterday afternoon, we saw a complete demolition, a whitewash, of Alex Borg by Neil Robertson, despite the latter never really hitting top gear. The other streamed mach though was more interesting as the youngest player on the tour, Lei Peifan, gave Stuart Bingham a game. Lei ended up losing by 6-4 but things could have been different maybe if he had won the 9th frame: he was 61-1 up, he had just scored a 61 break, and lost 63-61 after Stuart himself scored a 62 break … When a 16 years old rookie gives a former World Champion, and current top 16 player, such opposition, this is not “mediocrity” and, to me, he should get something for his efforts.
The evening streamed matches were, on paper, more promising. John Higgins had not beaten Peter Lines since 1994. Yesterday, he whitewashed him. John played decent, but not outstanding by any means, and had the run as well. Peter was awful and it’s a worrying state of affairs for him as he has not won a match yet this season, other than in the Q-school. He had opportunities in every frame but his positional game was terrible, and his safety game, usually very solid, was weak. Peter requalified for the main tour via the Q-school event 1 … makes you wonder about the standard of the amateur game and the adequacy of the Q-school. In the other streamed match, James Cahill beat David Gilbert by 6-4. Last season, Cahill had sent Mark Selby home here at the same stage. In 2004, he had done it to Ding. At the Crucible he beat Ronnie … and yet he’s nowhere in his career. He seems to be able to find his game only on the big stages against top opponents. Is it because, somehow, he plays with more freedom, not being expected to win? Or is he fundamentally a show man who mainly draws his inspiration from the crowd and the big occasions?
Two more members of the last 64 lost yesterday. Sam Craigie lost to Tian Pengfei. Well that was n°64 v n°65, so not really a shock. Tian is always dangerous. He will be Ronnie’s last 64 opponent, provided the defending champion wins tomorrow. What is shocking though is Luca Brecel losing to Nigel Bond. It was a close match, it went to a decider, both players had a century. Luca had three more breaks over 50, Nigel had two. Still … Nigel is 54 years old, he turned pro in 1989, thirty years ago, six years before Luca was born. How come? Nigel is a shrewd player, very clever. He also loves the game and invests a lot of efforts into coaching and helping younger players. Is that the secret of his extraordinary longevity?
David Gilbert threatened to “smash my cue up” after losing 6-4 to James ‘Giant-Killer’ Cahill on the opening day of the Betway UK Championship in York.
Cahill is ranked 118th in the world but has developed a reputation for beating big names, including both Ding Junhui and Mark Selby at this tournament as well as Ronnie O’Sullivan at the World Championship earlier this year. And the 23-year-old from Blackpool knocked out another top 16 star as he got the better of 11th seed Gilbert to book a last 64 meeting with Anthony Hamilton or Sam Baird.
Breaks of 81 and 130 gave Cahill the first two frames, before Gilbert fought back to 4-4 with a top run of 105. But three-time ranking event finalist Gilbert missed crucial chances in the last two frames and his opponent took advantage.
A furious Gilbert said: “I’ve got no bottle so that’s why I haven’t won anything. I should have won today. I want to smash my cue up. I love this tournament but I can’t win a match in it.
“Every other top 16 player has been given a virtual walkover in the first round while I’ve been unlucky to draw someone who fancies winning. But he played well so fair play to him.”
Cahill said: “I’m happy with the way I dealt with the situation. I’ve had a bad season so far but I played good stuff today. I love playing out there against the best players, the table is so nice and responsive which suits my game.
“My aim is to be in the top 16, I’m not playing to be ranked 40 or 50. I have shown I can beat the top players.”
Wizard Ends 25 Years Of Hurt
John Higgins beat Peter Lines for the first time since 1994 and did it in style, winning 6-0 with top breaks of 78, 55, 52 and 54.
“I was very lucky, I had every piece of running going,” admitted three-time UK Champion Higgins. “Maybe that was the only way I could beat him. It was a tough draw and I’m delighted to get through. I haven’t had many good results at this venue so let’s see what happens.”
Ali Carter boosted his hopes of a place at the Dafabet Masters by thrashing Brandon Sargeant 6-0. Carter moves ahead of Ding Junhui, and level with Joe Perry in 14th place in the Race to the Masters. That race looks set to go to the wire in the coming days with at least four players in the mix for the last three spots at Alexandra Palace in January.
And Carter, who missed out on the Masters last season, improved his chances by white-washing Sargeant, firing breaks of 53, 100 and 71.
“I was really pleased with my performance,” said four-time ranking event winner Carter, who now meets Robert Milkins or Harvey Chandler in the last 64. “I’ve moved into a snooker room at home and it really helps. I can put a few hours worth of practice in, take a break and then do another few hours. It helps with the family life and being at home more.”
Robertson Hits Borg For Six
Neil Robertson was another 6-0 winner as he beat Malta’s Alex Borg with top runs of 81, 81, 107 and 51.
Australia’s Robertson won the recent Champion of Champions but has lacked consistency in ranking events so far this season and lies 36th on the one-year list.
“I’m really pleased to get through comfortably,” he said. “The table was really reactive. I should have had four centuries. I’m happy I played on the first day because I can head home and come back up at the weekend.
“There’s nothing worse than getting knocked out before the BBC coverage starts on Saturday. That happened to me when I was defending champion in 2016 and it was the worst feeling.”
China’s Zhao Xintong edged out Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher 6-5 in an exciting tussle. Ursenbacher made a 136 in the penultimate frame to make it 5-5 and had first chance in the decider but only made 37 and Zhao made a match-winning 92 clearance.
Stuart Bingham came through a tough match against 16-year-old Lei Peifan 6-4. The turning point came at 4-4 when Bingham came from 61-0 down to make a 62 clearance. He added the next frame to book his second round place. Michael Holt compiled runs of 101 and 111 in a 6-1 defeat of Adam Stefanow.
Noppon Saengkham beat Jackson Page 6-5 despite trailing 68-0 in the deciding frame. Saengkham made a break of 41, got the snooker he needed on the green, then cleared for victory.
The tournament runs until December 8th.
And – seriously – Zhao v Ursenbacher and Saengkham v Page should have been on stream. I know that going by seeding is the easiest way to avoid discussions and bad feelings, but it’s not providing the best matches for the viewing audience.