The Tour Championship 2020 starts tomorrow

The Tour Championship 2020 starts tomorrow in Milton Keynes, without a crowd, under social distancing rules, and with a shortened format. The prize money though has not been shortened, and, although the event will have no bearing on who will have to qualify for the World Championship, it can and probably will have an impact on the top 16 seedings.

Here is Matt Huart explaining what could possibly happen:

The Crucible Seeding Race 2020 – Tour Championship Preview

18th June 2020

Ranking event snooker will return to our screens this Saturday with the start of the Coral Tour Championship – an event which will also see the final seeding list set for the Betfred World Championship later this summer.

In the context of wider events this year’s snooker calendar of course takes an unusual shape, with the cancellation of the China Open and the postponement of the season’s final two tournaments until the summer. Below we outline the implications for the current seeding list and the importance of the next week of action at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

Top 16 Qualified

The final seeding list for the 2020 World Championship will be finalised following the conclusion of next week’s Tour Championship. At this cut-off points from the Tour Championship will be added to the current world rankings, with no points to be removed as this event was not staged in 2018 and points from that year’s China Open have already been deducted.

With each of the eight players competing in the tournament already within the provisional (and actual) top 16 therefore, we already know that the top 16 automatic qualifiers for the tournament cannot change (subject to all players entering the tournament).

The Crucible Draw

With a first prize of £150,000 to be won in Milton Keynes however, there is still much that can change in respect of the order of the top 16 players.

This is crucial because as always, the 16 seeded players at the World Championship are placed in the draw in a very specific manner, for example the top seed is always scheduled to meet the 16th seed in the second round, the second seed is always poised to meet the 15th seed and so on.

As it stands, the last 16 draw (if all first round matches in Sheffield were won by the seeded player) would currently look as follows:

Trump (1) v Yan (16)
Murphy (9) v Wilson (8)

Allen (5) v Lisowski (12)
Bingham (13) v Higgins (4)

Williams (3) v Maguire (14)
Gilbert (11) v O’Sullivan (6)

Selby (7) v Ding (10)
Hawkins (15) v Robertson (2)

Of these players, Judd Trump is of course cemented as top seed, not only as the sport’s runaway world number one on the official world ranking list, but also as defending champion. Neil Robertson too is already assured of second place, with closest challenger Mark Williams not having qualified for the Tour Championship.

However, every other position can still change next week, meaning that the final placement of the remaining 14 seeded players is likely to change depending on results over the coming days…

Themes to Follow

So what do we know heading into the season’s penultimate event?

Mark Williams looks well-placed to head to the Crucible as third seed this year despite not being involved next week, with only John Higgins able to displace him by going all the way to the title in Milton Keynes. With a significant gap between the £150,000 first prize and £60,000 cheque for finishing as runner-up, nothing less than victory would be sufficient for the Scot.

As for Higgins himself, if he were to lose his opening match then Mark Allen would overtake him with a run to the final, while Mark Selby would need to win the title to potentially vault three places up the list from seventh position.

Similarly, Allen can only be caught by Selby, with the three-time world champion actually being able to finish level with Allen if he were to reach the final with the Northern Irishman losing to Shaun Murphy first up. If this were to happen, Selby would take the position on countback. If Allen is able to win at least one match however, nothing less than the title would be sufficient for Selby.

One big name who won’t be in action next week is of course Ronnie O’Sullivan, who currently sits in sixth position heading to Sheffield. As it stands both Selby and Murphy can overtake the five-time world champion, but only one with the pair situated in the same half of the draw in Milton Keynes. A run to the final would be enough for Selby, while Murphy must win the title to rise to sixth position ahead of both players.

More immediately, Murphy can leapfrog the absent Kyren Wilson with a single win over Mark Allen next Tuesday and himself can only be overtaken by Stephen Maguire if the Scot were able to claim the title at the Marshall Arena. Entering the tournament in 14th place behind four players not competing next week, a single victory would be enough to see him rise two places above Stuart Bingham and Jack Lisowski, but beyond that he would need to go all the way to rise further.

Finally, the player currently ranked 16th and set to face Judd Trump at the last 16 stage in Sheffield Yan Bingtao can also move out of that position in the draw with a run in Milton Keynes. Victory against Mark Selby would potentially enough to see him rise two positions (subject to Maguire’s result), while the title would see him surge into the world’s top 10 for the first time.

So, specifically for Ronnie, the lowest he could be seeded is 7th, which would keep him in the same half of the draw and away from Judd Trump until the final. As it stands, he would then be on course for a second-round match against Ding. Ding’s participation however is no certainty. He already withdrew from the Tour Championship, citing concerns for his family health and safety, and Marco Fu officially withdrew from the WC qualifiers for the same reasons.

WST also interviewed Yan Bingtao, the youngest, lowest ranked, and only Chinese player in the draw.

Yan Bingtao has enjoyed a fine season, securing his place in the top eight of the one-year list and qualifying for next week’s elite Coral Tour Championship in Milton Keynes.

The 20-year-old Chinese star will face three-time World Champion Mark Selby in the first round on Monday. On his way to qualifying, he sealed a maiden ranking title in the season opening Riga Masters last July, beating Mark Joyce 5-2 in the final. Yan was also runner-up in the most recent Coral Series event, the Players Championship in Southport, losing out 10-4 to Judd Trump in the final.

We’ve caught up with Yan, who elected to remain in Sheffield during the coronavirus pandemic, to find out how he has been dealing with lockdown and to look ahead to his clash with Selby…

Yan, how have you been coping with lockdown and what have you been doing to keep yourself occupied?

“I haven’t done a lot during lockdown. I’ve been playing quite a lot computer games, watching a few films and sometimes watching videos of my own snooker matches!”

How pleased are you to have decided to stay in Sheffield, especially given the difficulties Ding has had returning from China, which have caused him to withdraw from this event?

“I feel quite lucky, if I went to China then I would not be able to play at the Tour Championship and possibly not even the World Championship. These are most important events, so I feel I made right decision not going back to China.”

How much did you learn from the experience of reaching the final at the Players Championship and facing Judd Trump?

“The final against Judd meant a lot for me. It was such a big event and I got to face the best player at the moment. I got to see the gap between myself and Judd. It was a good experience, because I’ve never played a match of that importance against someone like Judd. It is important to get used to being in finals, I am always learning from the best and hopefully I can improve myself in the near future.”

You didn’t play in the recent Championship League, which Mark Selby did, does that give him an advantage in your upcoming match?

“Mark is like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and John Higgins, these kind of players are always very difficult to beat in any match.  I’ve played against Mark before and he always controls the pace. His safety and attacking play are all really good and he has a good mindset. Having played in the Championship League, he will feel more used to the venue than me. It will be a difficult match, but I will just try to enjoy it. I just feel lucky to have a snooker event on during the pandemic. I’m not thinking win or lose, I just want to learn and improve.”

I sincerely hope that Yan can do well in the Tour Championship. The sport needs young players coming through, and, on results – which, at the end of the day, are the only things that matter, certainly at the early stages of a sporting career – he IS the best prospect snooker currently has. China is important for the survival of snooker – they have invested a lot in the sport – and, if Ding goes missing, they need another hero. Yan could be that hero. Granted, he doesn’t come across as the most flamboyant personality, but he’s grounded and mature beyond his years. BTW, anyone who knew Ding some 10-15 years ago, will remember how shy he was back then.

4 thoughts on “The Tour Championship 2020 starts tomorrow

  1. Ding is only seeded 10th, so it doesn’t make a huge difference to the top seed placements. Anyway, one tournament at a time!

    Finally they have interviewed Yan Bingtao. What he said is actually very surprising, and out-of-step. It does now put him under a lot more pressure to do well next week. The other Chinese players have been totally silent on social media, except for Luo Honghao who posted a sad picture and didn’t answer any of his fan’s questions.

    By chance, the TC quarter-finals each involve one player who played in the Covid Classic versus one who didn’t, so there is no form guide. None of the top players did particularly well, but at least they have had some competitive snooker and are familiar with the protocol. I would say a big advantage to them.

    • If Ding were to withdraw, it wouldn’t change anything for the top 8 seeds, but it would still have a significant impact on the potential second round. Joe Perry would not need to qualify. If Ding doesn’t withdraw before the draw is published but is eventually unable to make it, we would have a problematic situation: one of the qualifiers would get a bye to round two. I’m not sure if that ever happened before. And Joe Perry would be gutted, especially if he fails to qualify…

      • Oh I think there will almost certainly be an announcement about Ding and the other Chinese players before they finalise the draw for the qualifiers, i.e. sometime in the next couple of weeks. If 24 players are missing, then they could simplify the schedule significantly, as there would be only 72 matches to play in 6 days before the final best-of-19 round. In addition to 21 in mainland China, there are 2 in Hong Kong and 5 in Thailand. And then Steve Mifsud, Amine Amiri, Cody Turner?

        This kind of thing may be unprecedented in snooker (other than Gibraltar or Riga), but not unique in other sporting history. There were Olympic games where huge blocks of nations boycotted. I’m much more concerned about what happens to the global ambitions of WST in the future after Covid-19.

      • That’s why I think that they should have cancelled the World Championship and extended the season until April 2021. The tour is already far too UK centric, and this will only make it worse. The Q-school will probably also be almost exclusively for UK players. If they are serious about being a WORLD tour, they shouldn’t go ahead in the current circumstances. This is totally unfair and it is by no means similar to a boycott. Fears over health and safety are only a small part of the isssue. It’s also, and for some, mainly, about not getting the visas, not finding affordable flights, and having no time to prepare because of quarantine measures.

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