Group K, played yesterday, was the first really tight group since the WST Pro Series.
Zhao Xintong topped the group and somehow, Dominic Dale snatchecd the second spot.
Dominic Dale made a brilliant clearance in the last frame of the day to finish second in Group K and earn a place in the second phase of the WST Pro Series.
Andy Hicks could have taken second spot by beating Lee Walker, but lost 2-1. That left Dale needing to beat Si to qualify, and after losing the first frame the Welshman came from 44-1 down to take the second for 1-1. Dale then came from 41 points behind in the decider to make a superb break of 73.
Both Dale and Hicks finished the group with four wins out of seven and a frame difference of +2, but it was Dale who went through having won the head-to-head match with Hicks 2-1 at the start of the day. He joins Zhao in advancing to the second group stage in March in the new £420,500 world ranking event.
“The group was incredibly tight, every frame was so important. I was very lucky to get a chance to win in the last frame and I’ve no idea how I did it,” said two-time ranking event winner Dale. “I only had a couple of days practice before coming here. I started quite well today but then for my last four matches I couldn’t cue straight. I lost all my confidence, but just grafted away and used my experience to win frames. I made a lot of rudimentary mistakes. I don’t know how I finished second, I must be Dynamo the magician.”
This was the tightest group so far and after five of the seven rounds of matches, all eight players had either three or two wins. China’s Zhao rose to the occasion; he lost two of his first three games but then scored four wins in a row to top the group. The world number 28 made five centuries over the day including a 143.
NAME P W L FW FL P Zhao Xintong 7 5 2 12 5 15 Dominic Dale 7 4 3 10 8 12 Andy Hicks 7 4 3 10 8 12 Si Jiahui 7 3 4 8 8 9 Lee Walker 7 3 4 8 10 9 Peter Devlin 7 3 4 7 9 9 Anthony McGill 7 3 4 7 10 9 Mark King 7 3 4 6 10 9
The matches involving Lee Walker were unduly slow, unsurprisingly. At one point during the afternoon, I was marking the scores for snooker.org, and, because of his match, that “session” finished one full hour later than scheduled. How he can manage that in a best of three event is truly amazing, but not necessarily amusing. Against Zhao Xintong his AST was over 40 seconds… Now Mark Williams came out on twitter, saying that Lee has barely been able to walk for months, suffering from back issues and sciatica. So that explains it, and, all credit to Lee for trying. It must have been very hard.
Dominc Dale reminded us that at the table he’s dead serious and hard as nails.
Watching Andy Hicks reminded me what a capable player he is. Like many, he turned pro in 1991 when the game was opened, at the same time as Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon, He reached the semi-finals at the 1995 World Championship, beating Steve Davis, Willie Thorne and Peter Ebdon along the way.He was then beaten by Nigel Bond, 11–16. He also reached the semi-finals of the four “BBC events” in the span of 2 seasons: the 1994 Grand Prix, the 1995 UK Championship and the 1996 Masters (he was invited in that one as a wild card). His only profressional title came at the !997 Benson & Hedge Championship, back then a qualifying event for the Masters. And basically, that was it. He reached two other semi-finals since: at the 2001 Masters and at the 2017 Shoot-0ut. It’s hard to explain really…