Zhao Xintong and David Gilbert progressed to the second round yesterday. The first knew he had qualified after only four matches were played, the second needed the very last frame of the day to go through.
David Gilbert won the final frame of his group decider against Lu Ning to advance to Stage Two of BetVictor Championship League Snooker at Stadium MK on Thursday.
The world number 11 had earlier beaten Aaron Hill 3-1 and drawn 2-2 with Xu Si. China’s Lu matched those results, which meant their end-of-day clash was a straight shootout to top the group. Gilbert had the highest break of the pair, meaning he would advance in the event of a draw, unless his 98 was beaten by Lu.
The Chinese star fell 1-0 behind but responded with a 70 break to level before taking the lead in the third. He then had a golden opportunity to advance, but a missed blue left the door open for Gilbert, who closed with a 77 to progress.
“I’m very lucky to get through, I didn’t play very well,” admitted Gilbert. “We had so long off and then I put a lot of effort into the World Championship so to go out first round, I was devastated.
“I had a bit of time off and it took me a while to get back into it but I’ve practised hard the last couple of weeks and have been looking forward to getting my cue out. My attitude was terrible today so I really need to have a word with myself.”
On table two, Zhao Xintong had Group 10 wrapped up after just four matches had been played. He defeated amateur Oliver Brown 3-0 in the group opener and later beat Nigel Bond 3-1. An earlier 2-2 draw between Bond and Liam Highfield meant that when Brown and Highfield also shared the spoils, Zhao was confirmed as the group winner.
BetVictor Championship League Snooker continues on Friday with former event winner Stuart Bingham among those in action. Coverage of both tables is available at Matchroom.Live.
FINAL GROUP STANDINGS
P W D L FW FL +/- PTS Zhao Xintong 3 2 0 1 6 4 2 6 Liam Highfield 3 1 2 0 7 4 3 5 Nigel Bond 3 0 2 1 5 7 -2 2 Oliver Brown 3 0 2 1 4 7 -3 2
P W D L FW FL +/- PTS David Gilbert 3 1 2 0 7 5 2 5 Lu Ning 3 1 2 0 7 5 2 5 Aaron Hill 3 1 0 2 5 7 -2 3 Xu Si 3 0 2 1 5 7 -2 2
I watched group 21.
David Gilbert was favourite but didn’t have an easy passage, and at times, sitting in his chaor, he looked bored and somehow upset. I wasn’t surprised by the fact that Lu Ning gave him a very strong challenge. Lu Ning is extremely resilient, and anyone who was there will remember his battle with Scott Donaldson in the last round of the 2019 World Qualifiers. He ended up losing that match by 10-9, but he had trailed by 7-2 and 9-4. That tells you something about the guy. Lu seems to have been around for ages, but he’s only 26.
That group featured two young players: Xu Si, 22, and new professional Aaron Hill, 18.
Xu Si has a lot of qualities, but he seems vulnerable under pressure and, although it’s only the first event of the season, he seems already stressed by the fact that he is in his second year of his two years tour card and needs really good results to stay on the Tour. He didn’t get that yesterday and his game deteriorated as the day progressed. Ahead of his last match yesterday, he was still in with a chance to win the group. A win in his last match would have given him 5 points. Had Gilbert and Lu ended on a draw – which they eventually did – all three would have got 5 points, with Xu going through thanks to a great 121 break, the highest of the group. A draw with Aaron would still have guaranteed him 1000 points, and possibly 2000, depending on the Gilbert-Lu match. But he lost, despite getting some good opportunities.
For Aaron Hill, playing as a professional for the first time, it was the opposite. He got better with every match, and eventually got his first win as a pro. The commentators were praising his tactical nous and maturity, and rightly so. I wasn’t that surprised though. Whenever I’m watching Irish players, I always have that feeling that they are a bit “old school” and not that obsessed with centuries. Aaron is in that mould and it could serve him very well now that he’s a professional and bound to face some hard match playing “oldies” …