Ben Mertens, the 15 years old from Belgium, made history yesterday by becoming the youngest ever player to win a match at the World Championship. It’s all the more remarkable because his opponent was James Cahill, who qualified for the Crucible last year, and went on to beat Ronnie in the last 32 at the CRucible, before pushing Stephen Maguire to a decider in the last 16. James Cahill was tipped by Phil Yates and Snookerbacker to qualify again, despite winning only four matches all season and never progressing past the the last 64. That said, James seems to be one of those players who find something against top opponents: one of his wins this season came against David Gilbert, and he pushed both Judd Trump and Mark Williams to a decider. I did not tip him but I still expected him to progress past Ben. Instead he was beaten by 6-2; the match wasn’t even close.
Belgian 15-year-old Ben Mertens became the youngest ever winner of a match at the Betfred World Championship, beating James Cahill 6-2 in qualifying at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
Mertens isn’t the only teenage Belgian to achieve a World Championship landmark, his compatriot Luca Brecel became the youngest player to qualify for the Crucible in 2012, at the age of 17.
Last year, it was Cahill who made history with a World Championship shock, when he became the first amateur to qualify for the Crucible and went on to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the opening round. Today the Blackpool cueman experienced the other side of an unexpected defeat.
Mertens, who won the world under-16 title in 2018, is one of continental Europe’s most promising prospects. He joins Polish 16-year-old Antoni Kowalski in round two, who defeated David Lilley 6-4 yesterday.
Despite only being 15 years of age, Mertens is already used to playing in front of the TV cameras, having represented Belgium in the World Cup alongside Brecel. He also beat Thai legend James Wattana to reach the last 64 of the Shoot Out in 2019.
Cahill did start brightly this evening with a fine break of 82. However, Mertens responded by crafting a run of 63 to help edge an exciting second frame on the pink.
The young Belgian then notched up four frames on the bounce to move a frame from victory at 5-1. Cahill kept in the tie by reducing his arrears with a contribution of 90, but Mertens wasn’t to be denied and he wrapped up the 6-2 win in the eighth frame.
“It is amazing, I am over the moon and I really can’t believe it,” said Mertens. “I was happy that I even got one frame on the board, but to win the match 6-2 is unbelievable.
“The World Cup was also on television so that helped me to handle the cameras and things. I was always watching Luca when I was young, the fact I can now do it on television by myself is amazing.”
Malaysia’s Thor Chuan Leong kept his hopes of tour survival alive with a 6-3 defeat of another exciting youngster in Ukraine’s Iulian Boiko.
Despite suffering defeat, 14-year-old Boiko still made history as the youngest player ever to compete in the World Championship.
This afternoon’s match did hang in the balance at 3-3, but Thor then took control of proceedings. Consecutive breaks of 68, 83 and 69 saw him surge to the 6-3 win. Next up for Thor is world number 81 Ian Burns.
Thor said: “I’d seen him play in Facebook videos, making 140, 147, and I was thinking, oh my God, I’ve drawn him! He can be a very good player. He just needs some experience.
Rory McLeod came out on top 6-5 in a marathon battle with Billy Castle, which lasted four hours and 30 minutes. The former Ruhr Open champion now faces Northern Ireland’s Jordan Brown
Barry Pinches recorded the first whitewash win of the week so far, defeating Dean Young 6-0. Pinches top scored with a break of 111. Next up for the Canary is Craig Steadman.
Looking back at round 1 results, and at my predictions, I realise that I underestimated the European juniors and overestimated the UK/Irish ones. One reason for that is that I expected the UK/Irish to have more experience with the tournament conditions, and to have had more playing opportunities in general. The thing is that most European young players probably practice a lot with older sparring partners, hard match players, simply because there isn’t much of a junior circuit in their country. I also underestimated older, very experienced players, notably Patrick Fraser, Alex Borg and Ian Preece. They had done next to nothing all season, but this is the World Championship, and slightly longer matches. Extra motivation and loads of experience were telling factors I guess.
I didn’t expect Kaçper Filipiak to win, but I’m very happy he did. Kaçper was given a tour card in 2011, at the age of 15, at the time the youngest ever player to turn pro. He wasn’t ready. He could play, but everything else was way too much for him: living in a foreign country, the language barrier, the pressure of the professional circuit. It is NOT true that if you are “good” enough, you are “old” enough. There is much more to being professional than the technical ability. I remember Kaçper at the time, training at SWSA, and Janie Watkins telling me “He’s a lamb for the slaughter.” I remain convinced that this was a disastrous experience that left him with a lot of scars. And he’s not the only one. Lyu Haotian is another one who was thrown into the professional life way too soon, had a traumatic experience, and might never fulfill his true potential. I know that Shaun Murphy would disagree here, citing his own experience. What he forgets is that, contrary to Kaçper and Lyu, he wasn’t a 15 years old expat, he didn’t have to cope with additional hurdles – a different language, a different culture, loneliness – and he had his whole family around to support him.
Iulian Boiko from Ukraine will play on the professional tour next year; he’s only 14. He might look older, but he is’nt. I really hope that he will have the right people around him, and will not be another victim of the – in my opinion – disastrous decision by WST (Worldsnooker back then) to remove the age restriction that prevented under-16 players to turn pro.