Tour Championship 2020 – Day 4 – QF

The last QF of this year’s Tour Championship was a bit of a strange one. Shaun Murphy made 6 centuries, equalling Stephen Maguire’s record only days after he made it, and still lost. Mark Allen looked at his sharpest best but won. What happened there?

Here is the report by WST:

ALLEN BEATS MURPHY IN CLASSIC

Mark Allen edged out close friend Shaun Murphy 9-8 in a thrilling clash at the Coral Tour Championship in Milton Keynes.

Despite losing, Murphy equalled the record for most centuries ever made in a best of 17 match, with six hundred breaks. That draws him level with Scotland’s Stephen Maguire, who had remarkably only set the record earlier this week in his 9-5 win over Neil Robertson.

Victory for 2018 Masters champion Allen sees him reach his seventh semi-final of the campaign, where he will face three-time World Champion Mark Selby. The Northern Irishman will be hoping he can go at least one better this week, having not yet made a final this season.

Allen’s victory sees him close the gap on Murphy in their head-to-head record. However, after losing the previous three meetings with the Englishman, he still trails 13-6.

Defeat for Murphy ends his hopes of winning the Coral Cup and claiming the £100,000 bonus, which goes to the player who accumulates the most prize money over the three-event series. Only Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire, who meet in tomorrow’s first semi-final, can top the standings. Maguire must win the event, whilst Trump just has to win tomorrow.

This afternoon’s action saw Murphy and Allen emerge locked together at 4-4, to set up what would prove to be a pulsating second session.

It was Murphy who was fastest out of the blocks this evening, a break of 100 saw him take the opener, before he added another to lead 6-4. Allen clawed one back, but a sublime break of 131 allowed Murphy to move 7-5 up at the mid-session interval.

Allen typically showed his steel on the resumption, contributions of 76 and 74 saw him draw level at 7-7.

Murphy then fired in his sixth century of the tie, a run of 100, to move one from victory at 8-7. However, Allen refused to wilt under a barrage of break building and forced a decider. Allen then fluked his opening red in the final frame and fully capitalised with a break of 62 to secure a stunning victory.

“It was just ultimate resolve today,” said 34-year-old Allen. “Shaun just kept making hundreds from long reds. My safety just wasn’t quite good enough all day. As the match went on, I started to score a bit better. It wasn’t as heavy as Shaun, that makes me look extremely average in that department. I made two very good breaks at 7-5 down to go 7-7.

“I’ve always been pretty good under pressure. Once I potted that brown in the last frame, I fancied myself to do a job. There was a lot of manoeuvring to be done, but I just took my time and didn’t miss anything simple. It was a nice way to get over the line.

“Personally, the crowd spurs me on. I like the crowd. The way Shaun played today, if the crowd were there, I would have been beat long ago. Everyone would have got behind him. It is our new norm, but it isn’t ideal. I don’t want to do that for too long.

“It is going to be very tough in the semi-finals. Considering how heavily Shaun scored today, I know I will have to play better than that against Mark. My safety wasn’t good enough today and I’ll need to be able to create a lot more chances on Thursday. If I can find a little bit extra, I don’t think I will be far away.”

I didn’t watch the first session, so I can’t comment on that one. It finished on a 4-4 scoreline, therefore the second session was basically a best of 9 match.

Shaun made three centuries in that session, out of four frames he won. He was good  – very good actually – in the balls but the other parts of his game weren’t where they should be to compete at the highest level. Since moving to Ireland, and practicing with Fergal O’Brien, Shaun’s safety has improved massively, but yesterday it went missing. I can only suppose that, due to the coronavirus, Fergal was unavailable for practice… and safety doesn’t come naturally to Shaun. Also, he missed a few routine blacks off the spot. Rustiness probably.

Mark didn’t play that well, but he stuck in there. You could see his determination on his face. The quote I put in bold in the WST report surprises me a bit. Mark suffered some of his more excruciating defeats, playing at home, with everyone in the crowd, their dog, their cat, and other pets, supporting him and wanting him to win. He didn’t cope well with that. He’s good under pressure when the pressure is generated by the situation in the match, I’m not convinced that he is that good under the pressure generated by the fans’ expectations. He got a few bashings on home soil.

The first semi-final is about to start. If both players play the way they did in the QF, Maguire should give Trump a proper beating. But this is another day, another match and I don’t really expect it to go this way. Maguire isn’t the most consistent player. On any given day, he can be awful or he can be wonderful. We will soon find out which Maguire turns up.

 

Tour Championship 2020 – Day 3 – QF

Day three at the Tour Championship 2020 delivered the most interesting match so far in my opinion. Yan Bingtao didn’t win, but he certainly didn’t disgrace himself. He gave Mark Selby a very stern test. Mark won by 9-6, which looks comfortable enough, but the match was extremely close.

Here are the reports by WST:

Afternoon session (4-4):

Mark Selby and Yan Bingtao emerged from a keenly contested opening session of their Coral Tour Championship clash locked together at 4-4 in Milton Keynes.

The pair met at the Champion of Champions earlier this season, where Selby emerged a 4-0 victor. This afternoon’s action was a far closer affair.

Riga Masters champion Yan, who was runner-up to Judd Trump at the Coral Players Championship in Southport, could still win the £100,000 Coral Cup bonus if he takes home the £150,000 top prize this week. The bonus is awarded to the player who accumulates the most prize money throughout the three-event series.

Yan got the better of a scrappy first four frames this afternoon, taking a 3-1 lead into the mid-session interval.

When the players returned, they ramped up the standard. Three-time World Champion Selby fired in breaks of 99, 119 and 61 to lead 4-3. However, Yan ensured parity heading into tonight with a run of 68 to make it 4-4.

They return at 7pm to play their best of 17 encounter to a conclusion.

During the first mini-session, that ended on a 3-1 score in favour of Yan, Mark Selby had an AST over 30 seconds. Himself will tell you that he plays better when he plays faster, but, for some reason can’t help slowing down when not feeling confident. During that mini-session, Yan “out-selbyied” him. By that I mean that Yan played the type of old-school, conservative game, that is usually expected from older players, and Mark Selby in “torturer” mode, rather than coming from a 20 years old. And Mark Selby had little answers. Yan showed a maturity well beyond his years, and a very strong tactical nous. This earned him praise from the commentators. Joe Perry, in particular, was impressed.

After the interval, Mark came out in a much more aggressive mood, played faster and it paid off. It also exposed what is, in my opinion, Yan’s only real weakness: he tends to be too conservative at times. The commentators reflected on the fact that he always seems to “exhaust” all the available loose reds before attempting to develop the pack. That cost him a few times in this match, because, either he failed to open the pack, or it didn’t yield any opportunity to continue the break. When your opponent is Mark Selby, allowing him back at the table is never a good idea. But again, having lost the first three frames after the interval, Yan showed remarkable composure and maturity in the way he managed to win the last of the session.

Evening session (9-6):

Mark Selby defeated Yan Bingtao 9-6 to reach the last four of the Coral Tour Championship in Milton Keynes.

World number seven Selby qualified as third seed for this elite event, having notched up titles this season at the English and Scottish Opens. That made the three-time World Champion the first ever player to win two Home Nations events in a single season.

Defeat for Yan, who was runner-up to Judd Trump at the Coral Players Championship, ends his hopes of winning the Coral Cup and scooping the £100,000 bonus which is awarded to the player who earns the most prize money over the series. Only front-runner Trump, Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy remain in the running.

This afternoon’s action saw Selby struggle in the early stages, trailing 3-1 after the first four frames. However, he improved after the mid-session to end level at 4-4.

Selby immediately established a cushion tonight, with breaks of 66 and 57 to move 6-4 ahead. Yan pulled a frame back, before a pivotal 12th. Selby was first in with a break of 64, but Yan rallied to force a re-spotted black. Leicester’s Selby eventually fluked the black to reach the mid-session 7-5 in front.

A superb century break of 105 helped Selby to the verge of victory when they returned. Yan pulled one back, but Selby won a 42-minute 15th frame to seal his 9-6 win. Next up, Selby faces either Shaun Murphy or Mark Allen for a place in the final.

“Overall, I’m happy with the way I played,” said 37-year-old Selby. “The first few frames were obviously quite ropey, but after that I felt I played alright considering we’ve not had that much match practice and aren’t that sharp.

“We are lucky that we have any snooker at all. I was looking at my calendar and thinking that we wouldn’t have any snooker until at least September. Barry and World Snooker Tour and even Matchroom for the Championship League, have done really well to get some events on.

“I’ve got two days off now, so I’ll get some practise in, watch a little bit of the game tomorrow and relax and look forward to Thursday.”

Mark Selby dominated the second session, scoring heavily. It could, however, have turned differently, had Yan won frame 12, and gone to the MSI at 6-6 instead of 7-5 behind. In that frame, and for the second time in a row, Mark had missed frame ball. Yan, however, hadn’t many points to play with, and at one stage, elected to play the brown, rather than to risk a more difficult pot on a higher value colour, knowing that, by doing this he could only tie. He managed to force the re-spotted black, and a lengthy, but excellent, safety battle followed. Yan lost it in the most heartbreaking way. Mark’s last two shots at the black were bad, but the last resulted in a fluke… The MSI came right after and this can’t have been easy for Yan. The difference between 7-5 and 6-6 was massive under the circumstances.

One thing this match definitely did for Yan is to gain him the respect of commentators and pundits. OK, Stephen Hendry still has his reservations – he doesn’t understand what kind of player Yan is – but others saw Yan’s versatility as a positive, something that could disturb his opponents as they would struggle to elaborate a “strategy” against someone they can’t “predict”. Neal Foulds, on the other hand, is now positive that Yan is the brightest young prospect the sport has at this moment in time.

 

Tour Championship 2020 – Day 2 – QF

The second quarter-final at the 2020 Tour Championship could not have been more different from the first one! On Saturday, we saw two fluent players; only one frame had been decided on the colours; yesterday, during the first session, both players were struggling badly. They only had one break over 60 each, they were missing all sorts. They needed over three and a half hours to complete the eight frames. Some will tell you that it was gripping, I call it awful.

Judd Trump improved in the second session, still not playing at his best (understatement!), if anything Higgins managed to get even worse. Some feat. Next time Ronnie goes about lower-ranked players not knowing how to play, he should be forced to watch this one! There was a break over 60 in every frame that session, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. When it comes to Judd Trump, the main difference between this match, and most recent matches, is that he had to rely a lot more on his opponent’s mistakes to get in.

John Higgins, speaking to Eurosport, said that we could see the best standard ever at the World Championship. Well, if he’s to contribute to that, he better gets his head down and his cue out for practice!

Anyway, here is the report by WST:

Judd Trump pulled clear in the evening session to defeat John Higgins 9-4 and reach the semi-finals of the Coral Tour Championship.

Victory means Trump has now won his last five meetings with Higgins, including his 18-9 win over the Scot in the 2019 World Championship final. However, Higgins still leads 13-12 in head-to-head meetings.

Trump is now assured of reaching £1 million of prize money this season. He’s already picked up a record six ranking titles this term, the most anyone has ever won in a single campaign.

Trump will take home a minimum of £40,000 this week, with a top prize of £150,000 on offer. He remains in pole position to claim the Coral Cup and secure the £100,000 bonus, which is awarded to the player that accumulates the most money over the three-event series.

Today’s match was a record breaking 124th ranking event quarter-final appearance for Higgins, who leaves Milton Keynes with the consolation of £20,000.

World number one Trump came into this evening with a 5-3 advantage, after a fiercely contested afternoon session. Tonight’s action was more one-sided, as Trump took a stranglehold on proceedings. Breaks of 67, 53 and 135 moved him to the verge of victory at 8-3.

Higgins provided some resistance by winning the 11th frame, to take the match to a mid-session interval. However, when they returned Trump quickly clinched the tie with a break of 68. The Ace in the Pack now faces Stephen Maguire, who fired in six centuries on his way to beating Neil Robertson in their first round clash.

“I can’t imagine there are many people that have beaten John five times in a row,” said 30-year-old Trump. “It’s pleasing that I now have the confidence against him that I always fancy it and to be honest I’ve always enjoyed playing him. The difference is that in the last couple of years, he doesn’t quite make those clearances that he used to.

“If I was to win another tournament, seven ranking titles would certainly be very difficult to beat for the foreseeable future. I think maybe only Ronnie could beat that if he really dedicated himself. It is nice to be putting these records out there and it is going to be tough for anyone to match them.

“Stephen is probably happy with his form and is confident. I am also confident as well, with how I finished off the match. I am more than happy to play my way into the tournaments. I don’t want to go out firing from the very start, it is tricky to do that three games in a row. I am always comfortable playing him. He is a great player. Hopefully I can get off to a quicker start than I did against John.”

Today, Yan Bingtao will face Mark Selby and I really hope that the young Chinese will do well. I would dearly love to see him win. Now, before anyone comes up with “Ronnie fan – Selby hater”, that’s NOT what motivates me. I actually have come to appreciate Mark Selby’s game a lot. So, no.

There are a number of reasons why I would love to see Yan win today:

  • he’s a very young player. They are the future.
  • he’s the only Chinese player in the tournament, one of the few Chinese players currently in the UK. Keeping China interested in snooker may prove critical in the next season. They put a lot of money in snooker; they won’t do it anymore if there is no national interest in the main tour. Despite WPBSA best efforts, there might be next to no Chinese player at the EIS next month, and even maybe only Yan playing for most of next season.
  • he’s been the target of harsh critics by the pundits, especially on ITV. I think that he doesn’t deserve them. He’s not in the flamboyant mould, right, but he’s getting results, something others who may be easier to the eye aren’t doing. I’d like to see him silence them.

Tour Championship 2020 – Day 1 – QF

The opening match of the tournament was a treat. Stephen Maguire, the man who should not have been there, won it, by 9-5, and won it in some style. Here is the score “sheet”:

TourChamps2020RobboMagsScores

Six centuries by Maguire sets a new record in a best of 17 match. The record in a two-session match is still 7 centuries. It belongs to Stephen Hendry and it was made in a best of 19 match.

Here are the reports by WST:

Afternoon session:

Neil Robertson and Stephen Maguire shared the frames in a pulsating opening session to end level at 4-4 at the Coral Tour Championship in Milton Keynes.

The pair will return at 7pm to play their quarter-final tie to a finish, with the first to reach nine frames progressing to the semi-finals.

In snooker’s first ranking tournament since the coronavirus pandemic halted global sport in March, an elite eight player field has assembled to contest this finale to the three-event Coral Series behind closed doors.

The winner will pick up £150,000 and all eight competitors are in contention for the Coral Cup, which sees the player who accumulates the most prize money across the series bagging a £100,000 bonus.

The lack of a crowd and match practise did little to deter the players this afternoon, who set a blistering standard. They traded centuries in the opening two frames, Maguire was first off the mark with a run of 108, before 2010 World Champion Robertson levelled at 1-1 thanks to a break of 100.

Scotland’s five-time ranking event winner Maguire then took the following two frames to head into the mid-session with a 3-1 advantage.

Robertson came storming out of the traps when they returned, firing in runs of 103, 72 and 79 to move ahead at 4-3. However, Maguire ensured they finished all square, with a sublime break of 117 to close out the session.

Evening session:

Stephen Maguire produced a sensational display to beat Neil Robertson 9-5 and book his place in the semi-finals of the Coral Tour Championship in Milton Keynes.

Scotland’s Maguire fired in a remarkable six century breaks throughout today’s encounter. That saw him fall just short of compatriot Stephen Hendry’s record of seven during a two-session match, which he recorded in a 10-5 win over Ken Doherty in the 1994 UK Championship final.

Maguire was a late entrant to this week’s elite eight-player event, which is being played behind closed doors and under strict Covid-19 testing regulations. He replaced Ding Junhui, who was forced to pull out due to travel difficulties.

It’s a second win over Robertson this season for Maguire, after he battled back from 5-1 down to seal a thrilling 6-5 win over the Australian at the Masters in January.

The players came into this evening’s action all-square, following a sparkling afternoon session which saw them finish level at 4-4. However, it was Maguire who emphatically took a stranglehold on proceedings.

Robertson edged ahead with the first frame, but a blistering run of four consecutive centuries from Maguire saw him move a frame from victory. Runs of 103, 135, 111 and 115 made it 8-5. A break of 59 then saw him come from behind to pinch the 14th frame on the colours and book a semi-final meeting with Judd Trump or John Higgins.

“I’ll never play like that again,” said five-time ranking event winner Maguire. “If I can play half of that, I would take it. Centuries don’t do anything for me, but if I could play half of that standard and make 60s and 70s, I’ll take that.

“I don’t mind that out there, when it is just me. It feels like a practice match and you are just trying your hardest. It was different, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it because I played great.

“I loved getting the call up to tell me I was part of the tournament. It made me hit the practice table and get out of the garden. I was thinking we might not be playing snooker until September or October and that there would be no World Championship. I was thinking the worst. It is phenomenal that we are out there playing again.”

It was an enjoyable match to watch, especially the first session, that was close. The second session was impressive scoring – especially considering that Maguire is playing with a new cue – but there was little suspense or tension.

I watched the second session on the Matchroom.live platform and the quality of the streaming was excellent. They had technical issues during the first session, which is disappointing. You would expect that thorough testing would have been done beforehand. But, credit where due, they answered the fans who were complaining and fixed it in time for the next session.

Neil Robertson did put this on twitter afterwards:

I said the same thing in an interview regarding no crowds. It’s a paid practice session with no pressure. Combine that with the biggest pockets I’ve ever played on and all sorts of records will tumble this week. Very lucky to be back playing tho and I’m sure it was great to watch

Paid practice? No pressure? Given the amount of money at stake, and ranking points as well, I’m not sure about that. The pressure that is probably eased is the one generated by the fans’ expectations and that weights more on some players than others. The two players who are the most under that type of “expectations generated pressure” are Ronnie and Ding. No crowd could definitely help those two at the Crucible, provided they enter the World Championship.

Regarding ranking points, Maguire’s victory already had an impact on the (provisional) Crucible seeding, as stated by Matt Huart on twitter:

Maguire’s win also moves him out of the third quarter of the provisional Crucible draw, away from Ronnie O’Sullivan and into John Higgins’ section…

This is how the theoretical last 16 looks after yesterday’s match:

Judd Trump (1) / Qualifier
Yan Bingtao (16) / Qualifier
Shaun Murphy (9) / Qualifier
Kyren Wilson (8) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Allen (5) / Qualifier
Stephen Maguire (12) / Qualifier
Jack Lisowski (13) / Qualifier
John Higgins (4) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Williams (3) / Qualifier
Stuart Bingham (14) / Qualifier
David Gilbert (11) / Qualifier
Ronnie O’Sullivan (6) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Selby (7) / Qualifier
Ding Junhui (10) / Qualifier
Barry Hawkins (15) / Qualifier
Neil Robertson (2) / Qualifier

Judd and Neil, in bold, can’t move in that draw, but everyone else still can. And if Ding were to withdraw from the World, Joe Perry would come into the picture. If that happened, as it stands, Ronnie could face Maguire in the second round in Sheffield.

Joe Perry, meanwhile, is commentating this week, and he’s very good at it.

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.

Stephen and Ronnie about Willie Thorne, the CLS 2020, the World Championship under social distancing and more …

Stephen Hendry and Ronnie had another instagram chat yesterday evening, and it was again enjoyable although the first thing they talked about was, quite naturally, Willie Thorne’s passing away. Neither of them had played Willie at his best, but both knew him fairly well, and are saddened at his untimely death. Stephen of course works as a commentator and pundit for the BBC just like Willie did. Ronnie has done quite a number of exhibitions with the Snooker Legends, with Willie as a host, compère and commentator.

I met Willie quite often over the last five years, and he was always very friendly and quite funny. This is my personal tribute to Willie on my WWS blog.

The next subject they discussed was the CLS, won by Luca Brecel last week. They both enjoyed the final and were full of praise for both Luca and Ben. Ronnie enjoyed playing in the event, but struggled with being locked-up. Both Stephen and Ronnie enjoyed the format, but would have preferred to have it with only 32 players. Ronnie was again rather harsh on some lower ranked players, who, in his opinion, are not at the level they should be as professionals. They can pot, he said, and they can make 147s, but there is a whole aspect of the professional game that they don’t master. He’s right about that; anyone who watches both professional and amateur events will notice how differently the players approach their matches. Young players are often excellent potters, but have no answer when older, hard match players tie them in all kind of knots. The situation is even worse nowadays than it was when Ronnie was a rookie himself, as the amateur game has gone backwards, in the UK certainly, and young players really aren’t ready when they turn pro. So, Ronnie is right in his assessment, but at the same time, he’s harsh on those young pros, because it’s not their fault that they are less ready when turning pro than Ronnie’s generation was.

They then discussed the prospect of the World Championship being played in similar conditions and Ronnie reckoned that he would probably struggle. He seems determined to try is best but is not sure that he can handle those lockdown conditions for 17 days. Hendry, who used to keep himself to himself when competing, admitted that even he would probably struggle as well. Ronnie explained that he was tested twice. The first test went ok, but the second one left him with a minor injury, resulting in a very runny nose for almost two days, which was very uncomfortable.

Ronnie then answered fans’ questions.

Here is the chat: