Today is “moving day” at the Northern Ireland Open, when 32 become just 8 and two rounds are played. I’m behind with my reporting on the event as some private sorrowful concerns kept me away from the snooker over the last two days. But now it’s time to catch up. I watched nothing from Tuesday late afternoon on, except for the Ronnie v Slessor match that I watched on replay this morning, as well as Judd Trump’s maximum. So this will be basically about gathering the reports from various sources, albeit mainly from WST, about what happened since the tournament started.
On Monday (last 128)
Trump Up and Running
Defending champion Judd Trump eased through the first round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open, beating Gerard Greene 4-1.
Trump is aiming to become the first player to win the same ranking event in three consecutive years, since Stephen Hendry achieved the feat at the 1996 UK Championship.
World number one Trump has defeated World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in both of the previous two Northern Ireland Open finals to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy.
It was Northern Irishman Greene who started fastest this afternoon, making a break of 75 to go 1-0 up. However, from there Trump moved into top gear and burst for the line. Breaks of 105, 55 and 88 helped him on his way to four on the bounce to wrap up the win.
Trump said: “I’m pretty happy with how I played. In a best of seven, if you go behind it is always tough. Losing the first frame you are always under a bit of pressure. I got back into the match quickly and potted a lot of good balls.
“The finals against Ronnie are two of the best I’ve played in. The standard was incredible and the atmosphere over there, in Belfast, was incredible as well. It is up there with the final of the German Masters and the Masters. It is disappointing not to be there this year. Hopefully I can maintain my record, get a third in a row and take it back and defend it in Northern Ireland.”
World number 67 David Grace recorded a shock 4-1 defeat of world number 12 David Gilbert.
Grace raced into a 3-0 lead this morning, composing breaks of 60 and 71 along the way. Tamworth’s Gilbert clawed one back and looked set to pull within a frame, when Grace required snookers in the fifth. However, Gilbert went in off and allowed Yorkshireman Grace to get over the line on the black.
Grace said: “It is an absolutely massive win. If you look back over my career, I haven’t had that many wins over top 16 players and opponents as good as Dave. I’m delighted to nail one today.”
Mark Williams booked his progression with a 4-2 defeat of compatriot Jamie Jones. The three-time World Champion top scored with a sublime 133 in the final frame of the match.
Crucible runner-up Kyren Wilson eased through with a 4-0 win over David Lilley, while Shoot Out winner Michael Holt defeated Iran’s Soheil Vahedi 4-1.
Rocket Too Strong For O’Neill
World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan booked his place in the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open with a 4-1 defeat of Jamie O’Neill.
O’Sullivan has reached the previous two Northern Ireland Open finals. On each occasion he faced world number one Judd Trump and lost both times by a 9-7 scoreline.
Today’s match was a repeat of O’Sullivan and O’Neill’s first round clash at last season’s English Open, when the Rocket battled back from 3-2 down to win 4-3. Matters were far more straightforward for the six-time Crucible King this evening, who will face either Elliot Slessor or Li Hang next.
O’Sullivan averaged just 14.8 seconds per shot on his way to victory. He secured an early 2-0 advantage, before O’Neill got his solitary frame on the board thanks to a break of 66. However, O’Sullivan was undeterred and finished his opponent off with runs of 57 and 125.
O’Sullivan said: “For me, that is as good as any win. Any players outside of the world’s top 64 are harder than beating top players these days. They go out there, no pressure, come out swinging and invariably they get the rub of the green.
“You have to fight for everything out there as you are on a hiding to nothing. I can’t even win tonight, I just had to avoid getting cake sploshed in my face.”
Ryan Day recorded an impressive 4-0 whitewash win against world number six Shaun Murphy to book his place in round two.
Day, winner of two ranking titles and a former world number six, has struggled to find his best in recent years and slid the rankings to currently occupy 40thposition. However, he looked to be in fine form today, composing breaks of 84, 107 and 79 on his way to victory.
Day said: “When the draw came out and I saw I was playing Shaun, I knew it was going to be a very difficult first round match. However, it is difficult for both of us and after getting through German Masters qualifying last week, I was feeling confident. I got off to a great start and finished it off.
“I got a couple of easy chances at the start of the match. If you get that opportunity it can really settle you down going forward. I was pleased with that and held myself together in a close final frame.”
Jack Lisowski was another big name to fall by the wayside this evening. The three-time ranking event finalist was beaten 4-1 by world number 113 Ashley Carty.
There was a clash between two promising teenage prospects, as Irishman Aaron Hill took on Welshman Jackson Page. It was Page who prevailed in a 4-3 thriller.
Tour Champion Stephen Maguire beat Malta’s Alex Borg 4-2 to progress, while Kurt Maflin came through 4-1 against Fraser Patrick.
On Tuesday (last 128)
Tuesday 17 Nov 2020 12:49PM
Declan Lavery has tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival at the Northern Ireland Open in Milton Keynes and has been withdrawn from the event.
Lavery was due to play Neil Robertson on Tuesday afternoon, so Robertson receives a bye to the second round of the world ranking event.
All other players and officials tested on site at the event so far have had negative results. Riley Parsons tested positive before travelling to Milton Keynes and was withdrawn from the event.
Lavery and Parsons will undergo a period of self isolation and will receive the support of WST and the WPBSA.
Since WST events restarted in June, strict Covid-19 regulations have been and continue to be followed, under UK Government guidance.
Ding Through With Whitewash Win
Ding Junhui surged to a 4-0 whitewash defeat of Eden Sharav to progress to the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.
The Chinese number one has a busy fortnight ahead, with the defence of his Betway UK Championship title taking place next week. He was victorious 12 months ago, beating Stephen Maguire 10-6 in the final to win a third UK crown.
However, Ding’s immediate attention is on capturing a maiden Home Nations title this week, by claiming the Alex Higgins Trophy.
Ding, who has recently opened his own snooker academy in Sheffield, required just over an hour to see off Sharav this afternoon. The world number 10 composed breaks of 72, 62 and 100 on his way to a routine victory. Next up he faces compatriot Lu Ning.
Ding said: “I played very well. I made three breaks over 50, including a century. Best of seven is a short match. Anyone who knows me will know I am not that quick at warming up in the short games. I am very happy to see the performance I brought today.
“I don’t know about my chances at the UK Championship. At the moment my level isn’t too high. I am just trying to bring myself to another level, be stronger and if I do that maybe I will have more of a chance to win it. I am just enjoying playing now, so I’m not putting myself under too much pressure.”
World number four Mark Selby sealed his progression with a 4-0 defeat of Andrew Higginson.
Last season, three time World Champion Selby became the first player ever to win two Home Nations titles in a single campaign. The Jester from Leicester defeated David Gilbert in the final of the 2019 English Open, and beat Jack Lisowski to claim the Scottish Open title.
Selby top scored with a run of 93 in today’s match and will face Germany’s Lukas Kleckers in the next round.
Selby said: “I felt alright out there. The first frame was scrappy and then I felt fine. Andrew normally plays really well against me, but today he just didn’t perform. It was difficult, I felt that my concentration was in and out.
“From now until I end my career, Triple Crown titles are my targets. You obviously want to win other tournaments, but if I was to say the ones I wanted, it would be the UK Championship, the Masters and the World Championship. I have one eye on the UK next week, but I feel I have a chance in any tournament I play in at the moment, so I am focussed on this week.”
Scotland’s 2006 Crucible king Graeme Dott lost out 4-2 against Brazilian Igor Figueiredo. It’s only Figueiredo’s second match win of the season and he faces Sunny Akani up next.
Barry Hawkins recorded a 4-2 defeat of Alan McManus, while Thepchaiya Un-Nooh beat Peter Devlin 4-2.
Superb Higgins Whitewashes Wells
John Higgins thrashed Daniel Wells 4-0 to reach the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.
Higgins has showed signs of finding his best form so far this season, most notably with a run to the semi-finals of the English Open, where he was narrowly beaten by Judd Trump.
Scotland’s four-time Crucible king took a hard fought opening frame, before a stunning break of 144 saw him double his advantage and lead 2-0.
Further contributions of 51 and 54 helped Higgins to wrap up the 4-0 victory. Next up he’ll face Northern Irish amateur Patrick Wallace.
After the match Higgins talked of his delight in both his performance and Scotland Football Team’s victory over Serbia last Thursday night, which saw them qualify for the postponed Euro 2020.
Higgins said: “I’m really happy to beat Daniel, he is a top player and has been to the semi-finals of one of these events before. It was a big first frame, Daniel could have nicked it but I managed to win it. I had the 144 in the next frame and that put him on the back foot.
“That was the best feeling ever on Thursday night. What a boost for the whole nation. The boys were incredible, especially picking themselves up off the floor when Serbia equalised in the 90th minute. For them to get through has lifted the whole nation. All of the Scottish boys down here have smiles on their faces.”
Northern Ireland’s number one Mark Allen produced a superb display to defeat former German Masters winner Anthony Hamilton 4-0.
Allen is riding high following victory at the recent Champion of Champions. The Pistol defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson on his way to lifting the prestigious invitational title.
This evening Allen continued his rich vein of form with breaks of 94, 111 and 125 on his way to victory. Allen faces Robert Milkins up next.
Stuart Bingham came through with a 4-1 defeat of Oliver Lines. The 2015 World Champion composed runs of 72 and 74 during the tie. The Basildon cueman now plays China’s Zhao Jianbo.
Elliot Slessor defeated Li Hang 4-1 to set up a second round clash with World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Slessor currently enjoys a 2-0 head-to-head lead over the Rocket.
World number 18 Joe Perry saw off Robbie Williams 4-0, while Allan Taylor defeated Iran’s Hossein Vafaei 4-2.
On Wednesday (last 64)
Judd Trump fired in the fifth 147 break of his career en route to a 4-0 demolition of Gao Yang at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.
The Ace in the Pack has enjoyed a sparkling 2020/21 Home Nations series thus far. Trump defeated Neil Robertson 9-8 in the final of the English Open last month. The world number one has kept up the fireworks with today’s magnificent maximum.
Trump is also aiming for a third consecutive Northern Ireland Open title this week. He’s beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in both of the previous two finals to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy.
Trump got off to a quick start this afternoon, firing in a fine run of 127 to take the opener. He then moved 2-0 up, before making his 147 to go a frame from victory. A closing century run of 108 wrapped up the win, which took just 53 minutes. Next up Trump faces a tough test against Luca Brecel.
Trump said: “It is always special to make a 147, even with no crowd. I was very nervous and it is exciting to make one. You know that everyone at home is willing you on. When other players are going for one against me I’m always wanting them to get it and it is nice to watch on TV.
“For me it was the same as making any of my 147s, it was just as special and the nerves were exactly the same. It didn’t make any difference not having a crowd, it is just you against the table when you are on a 147. It was nice because I made a couple of good pots to keep the break going. It was a good 147 in the end.”
World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Elliot Slessor 4-1 to end the world number 58’s undefeated streak against the Rocket.
Slessor came into the match having won both of their two meetings to date, at the 2017 Northern Ireland Open and the 2018 China Open.
It was Slessor who made the best start this afternoon, taking the opener with a break of 71. However, from there O’Sullivan wrested control of the tie. Runs of 76, 78 and 97 helped him to four on the bounce as he progressed.
O’Sullivan said: “That is one of my best victories for a long, long time. He beat me twice before, convincingly. He just always plays well against me and I felt like I was getting outplayed again. For me that is as good a victory than anyone I’ve played in my career, so I’m over the moon.
“It is the cake in the face scenario. Everyone expects me to win. If I don’t win, then I look like I’m not the player I was. I’ve got nothing to gain by winning. Nobody is going to be writing about what a great win by Ronnie O’Sullivan, into the last 32 by beating Elliot Slessor. They are going to expect that. Everybody on the circuit knows what a fantastic player he is. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion.”
Kyren Wilson held off a steely Ken Doherty fightback to win 4-3 and book his place in the last 32.
Wilson charged into a 3-0 lead early on. However, 1997 Crucible king Doherty fought back with breaks of 90 and 71 on his way to levelling at 3-3. Just when required, Wilson produced a sublime run of 135 to wrap up the tie in the deciding frame.
Kleckers Soars To Shock Win Over Selby
Germany’s Lukas Kleckers scored the biggest win of his career so far, beating three-time Crucible king Mark Selby 4-0 at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.
Kleckers, 24, is one of two Germans currently on the World Snooker Tour, alongside Simon Lichtenberg. He was relegated from the circuit after his first spell of two years, but regained his professional status for this season by virtue of his performances on the Challenge Tour.
World number 117 Kleckers will now face China’s Zhao Xintong in the last 32, while Selby will turn his attentions to next week’s UK Championship.
It was Selby who appeared to have control in the opener, but after he broke down on a break of 50, Kleckers clawed his way back and pinched it on the black to lead 1-0.
From there Kleckers grew in confidence and ruthlessly fired in runs of 63, 88 and 79 to finish off the tie.
“I played so well. The first was a little bit scrappy, I was lucky to win it. Then I didn’t miss in the next three frames so I am very happy with the way I played,” said Kleckers. “I think that was my best ever performance on the professional tour, so I’m very delighted.
“After my first season, I feel like I learned so much and benefitted from it. Having two years on tour was very good preparation for all of the tournaments. I feel like I have good experience now and I am now trying to bring my practice game to the match table.
“The people in Germany love watching snooker. I’ve been to the Tempodrom once for the German Masters, it is such an amazing atmosphere. It is a shame that there aren’t too many German players yet, but I hope there will be in the future.”
World number 35 Ben Woollaston put on a fine performance to defeat Triple Crown winner Neil Robertson 4-2.
It’s Leicester cueman Woollaston’s second win over Robertson in the space of a week, after he defeated the Australian 5-4 in German Masters qualifying.
World number three Robertson took the opening frame. However, Woollaston then claimed three on the bounce, including breaks of 61 and 101, to lead 3-1. Robertson pulled one back, but Woollaston got over the line in style with a fine contribution of 134.
Woollaston said: “I was confident, because I beat him last week. I was a bit edgy at the start. There were a few tough long balls that I didn’t get anywhere near. Once I got to 1-1, I definitely felt that I could win.
“Neil was in Leicester when I was just a kid. I used to play with him when he was 17 or 18. Even though he is world number three, I just see him as another player, because I know him so well.”
Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins defeated Northern Irish amateur Patrick Wallace 4-2, while Northern Ireland’s number one and Champion of Champions winner Mark Allen beat Robert Milkins 4-2
Trump Makes Magical Maximum
Wednesday 18 Nov 2020 02:02PM
Judd Trump made the fifth maximum 147 break of his career during his second round clash with Gao Yang at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.
The perfect run came in the third frame of his 4-0 defeat of Gao. It is the 161st official maximum in professional snooker history and the fourth on the circuit this season. The others were made by Ryan Day, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy.
The 147 break was Trump’s first since the 2018 German Masters and puts him in line for the £5,000 high break prize on offer this week.
From the top 16, only 8 remain: Judd Trump, Ronnie, Mark Allen , John Higgins, Kyren Wilson, Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire and Yan Bingtao.
Mark Selby won the first event of the season, the 2020 European Masters, but lost last week to Fergal O’Brien in the 2021 German Masters qualifiers, and was now outplayed by Lukas Kleckers in the last 64. I’m very happy for Lukas. I’m always happy when a young player from Mainland Europe does well. It’s much harder for them to succeed on the main tour: they have to expatriate because of the UK centric organisation of the sport, they have to learn English and to face a different culture. Most fans underestimate those aspects.
Neil Robertson made the final of the 2020 English Open, and the 2020 Champion of Champions but has now lost wice to Ben Woollaston: last week in the 2021 German Masters qualifiers first round and now in the last 64. It’s good to see Ben Woollaston coming back to form, although he’s not at his 2015 best just yet.
Two other players who have rediscovered their form in recent moths are Martin Gould and Ryan Day. Both are through to the last 32.
Rookie Zhao Jianbo is certainly one to watch. He beat the reigning Masters Champion Stuart Bingham very convincingly in the last 64, and from 2-0 down as well.
Another relatively young player who is doing well is Michael White, now playing as an amateur. He beat Iulian Boiko, who is only 15 of course, in the first round, but then got the better of the vastly experienced, former World finalist, Barry Hawkins. Hopefully Michael has turned the corner and will be back on tour soon.
David Gilbert and Gary Wilson both lost in the first round and had a pretty miserable season so far. At the 2019 World Championship they were the main talking point until the very latests stages.
David Grace, a lovely chap, and returning professinal, was responsible for the demise of David Gilbert in the first round. He confirmed his good form by beating Sam Craigie in the next.
Igor Figeiredo had a very good win over Graeme Dott in the first round, and another excellent one over Sunny Akani in the second round. He has struugled so far on the main tour, but he’s very entertaining to watch when on form.
Dominic Dale sent Mark Williams out of the tournament (and likely back on the golf courses). Willo is very unhappy about short supply in practice tables at the venue. With everything needing to be sanitized after every session, it’s not that easy.
Barry Pinches is another “senior” player who did very well after struggling badly last season. He beat Liam Highfield in the first round, and Anthony McGill in the second round. No mean feat.
Veteran Ken Doherty is playing well, but fell short He took Kyren Wilson to a deciding frame in the last 64, and had two breaks over 50 in the process.
The short formats probably help the older player. They have the experience, but, often, they lack the stamina needed in the longer matches.