Is it time to rescucitate the Belgian Open?

The 2021 EBSA Championships, played in Portugal, concluded yesterday.

I’m Belgian, as most of you already know, and as such I followed the fate of my fellow citizens in those competitions. It ain’t too bad …

The under-18 championship had an all Begian final, with Ben Mertens (16) beating Julien Leclercq (18) in the final.

EBSA U-18 2021 - Finalist Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq

Both lads played in the World qualifiers before and both did beat their professional opponent in the first round. Ben became, and remains, the youngest player to win a match in that competition.

Julien Leclercq

 

Julien Leclercq managed to reach the final of the under-21 competition as well. He lost to the more experienced Dylan Emery, narrowly missing out on a tour card.

 

Wendy Jans won the women competition. She beat Jamie Hunter by 4-1 in the final to win the European Women’s Snooker Championship for a record 13th time!

Dean Young, Wendy Jans, Challenge Tour at the Max Belgium

Wendy presenting Dean Young with the trophy after he won a challenge tour event at her club

And finally … Julien got his hands on a trophy when, with his partner Kevin Hanssens, he won the Men’s Team event. They beat the experienced Wales 1 team – Darren Morgan and Elfed Evans – by 5-2 in the final.

Yes, there is good snooker played outside the UK, even in tiny Belgium. Looking at the results above, maybe now is the time to rescucitate the Belgian Open? I think there is a case for it. And not in the form of an event where local wildcards / invited players need to go to the UK to win two qualifying matches in an uninspiring venue for a chance to play in front of their home fans. NO! Such event should be played from round 1, at the final venue, as the Home Nations used to be, and should “return” to be. 

 

2021 Northern Ireland Open – Mark Allen is your Champion

Congratulations Mark Allen

2021 Northern Ireland Open Winner!

Mark Allen beat John Higgins in a deciding frame yesterday evening to win his “home” tournament for the first time. The final was a very high quality affair. The Belfast crowd of course supported their man, but they were also fair and clearly appreciated the excellent standard of snooker offered by both finalists.

Here are the reports by WST:

Afternoon session 

Higgins And Allen Locked Level

John Higgins produced a sensational clearance to draw level with Mark Allen at 4-4 after the first session of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open final at the Waterfront Hall.

Scotland’s four-time World Champion Higgins and Northern Ireland’s former Masters champion Allen entered the arena to a raucous reception this afternoon and produced a captivating session of snooker for the Belfast crowd.

This is the 19th meeting between the pair, who stand at 9-9 in the head-to-head record. The winner this evening will receive £70,000 and claim the Alex Higgins Trophy for the first time.

It was Antrim’s home hero Allen who seized the early initiative this afternoon. He claimed the first frame, before a break of 82 saw him move 2-0 ahead. Higgins responded with a century run of 123. However, Allen won the fourth to head into the mid-session 3-1 ahead.

When play resumed a break of 68 saw Higgins pull within one. Allen then edged a 24-minute sixth frame to regain his two frame cushion and lead 4-2.

A run of 55 saw Higgins make it 4-3, before a dramatic climax to the session. Trailing 63-16, the Wizard of Wishaw conjured a stunning clearance of 48 to steal on the black and end the afternoon level at 4-4.

Play resumes at 7pm with the first to nine frames taking home the title.

Evening session

Allen Lands Belfast Glory

Allen and daughter Harleigh.

Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen conquered four-time World Champion John Higgins 9-8 in an epic BetVictor Northern Ireland Open final at the Waterfront Hall, sending his adoring home fans into raptures.

It’s the sixth ranking title of 2018 Masters champion Allen’s career and it is the first time he has lifted silverware in his home event. Allen’s previous best in the Northern Ireland Open was a run to the quarter-finals in 2016.

An emotional Allen lifted the Alex Higgins Trophy amid a typically passionate atmosphere in Belfast. It is a first ranking title in three years, since the 2018 Scottish Open. He earns £70,000 for his victory, in addition to the £5,000 he will receive for his magical 147 break in the opening round against Si Jiahui.

This evening’s final was the 19th meeting between Allen and Scotland’s 31-time ranking event winner Higgins. They first crossed cues here at the Waterfront Hall in 2005 at the Northern Ireland Trophy, Allen won 4-1 on that occasion. He now leads the head-to-head standings with Higgins 10-9.

The afternoon action saw Allen and Higgins share the opening eight frames, to end 4-4 and leave the match on a knife edge. A cauldron-like atmosphere greeted the players as they entered the Waterfront Hall for tonight’s concluding session.

The pair produced a superb standard of play in the opening stages. Allen took to the front with a break of 70 to move him 5-4 up. Higgins responded immediately with 63 to take the tenth and draw level at 5-5. Allen regained the lead with a run of 85, before Higgins claimed the 12th to head into the mid-session all-square at 6-6.

From there Higgins made the first move with the finishing line coming into sight. Breaks of 64 and 136 saw him get within one of victory at 8-6. However, Allen displayed his considerable resolve to wrest back momentum and keep his title dream alive, by controlling the 15th to make it 8-7.

Higgins then had an opportunity to clinch victory, but missed a tricky black on 31 to allow Allen back to the table. He made 58 and went on to take the frame and force a decider.

With the match in the balance and Higgins leading 31-27, the Scot missed a difficult red to the top left corner and allowed Allen his opportunity for glory. The Pistol fired in a nerveless break of 38 under the utmost pressure to claim the title and send the Waterfront Hall crowd wild.

“I can’t believe it has actually happened, especially given my record here in recent years. I didn’t quite have my best stuff this week but what I did have was unbelievable resilience and determination. I never gave up. At 8-6 down I was getting completely outplayed,” said 35-year-old Allen.

“You are just hoping for a chance in the last frame. I needed two to finally get over the line. The buzz towards the end there on the last few balls, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to stand up and pot them. The roar from the crowd on every shot of that clearance was something I’ve never ever experienced in my life and maybe never will again. It spurred me on.

“That is why you play the sport. You want to play the very best on the biggest occasions. John is one of the very best. I pride myself on believing that my best game is as good as their best game is.

“Can I just say I’ve now won a tournament more recently than Jordan Brown (Welsh Open champion)? I was getting a bit of stick in the club about that! It is just amazing, two guys from Antrim who have won the last two Home Nations tournaments. The trophies are in the same club, on the same shelf. If we can do anything to get more young people playing the game in Northern Ireland we are doing our job.”

Higgins said: “Right now it is pretty disappointing. This game is all about making memories. I think Mark will probably have one of the best memories of his life having it here with his friends, family and his daughter.

“Every credit to him, at 8-6 he could have folded, but he played a brilliant frame to go 8-7 and put the pressure back on. He is a great ambassador for Irish snooker, so brilliant and well done.”

I’m genuinely happy for Mark Allen. Mark isn’t “Mr Perfect” and he isn’t pretending to be that faultless person either. When he was younger, for a while, he tried to be the “next Alex Higgins”. He’s much better just being Mark Allen.

Alex Higgins brought a lot to snooker, he changed the game forever, on form he was a top, top player and an entertainer. As a human being and a person however, he was a disaster: he was selfish, obnoxious, nasty and dishonest. Don’t anyone make excuses for that: yes, he had his problems, but other players had theirs too and never behaved like Alex did for it. Many tried to help him, he sabotaged their efforts.

Mark Allen does A LOT for his community through various charities and he actively supports young aspiring players in his area.

 

 

 

2021 Northern Ireland Open – SFs

Here are the WST reports on the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals

Mark Allen 6-3 Ricky Walden

Allen Reaches Home Final

Northern Irish number one Mark Allen delighted a passionate Waterfront Hall crowd by beating Ricky Walden 6-3 and reach the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open final.

It’s the first time that 2018 Masters winner Allen has made the title match in his home event on the World Snooker Tour. The Antrim cueman had previously struggled in the Northern Ireland Open, having only reached the quarter-finals on one other occasion back in 2016. Allen has openly admitted to suffering from extra nerves due to competing in Belfast.

Allen now faces either four-time World Champion John Higgins or current Masters champion Yan Bingtao in tomorrow’s final. The will battle it out over the best of 17 frames, with the Alex Higgins Trophy and a top prize of £70,000 on the line. The Pistol is aiming to secure his first ranking event silverware since the 2018 Scottish Open.

Walden can take comfort from having reached his first ranking event semi-final since the 2016 China Open. The Chester cueman takes home £20,000 for this week’s run to the last four.

A vocal Belfast fanbase welcomed the two players at the start of the match and they were delighted to see their home player establish an early 2-0 advantage. However, two frames in a row for Walden, including a break of 80, saw him head into the mid-session level at 2-2.

Allen regained the lead when play resumed, before winning a marathon 51-minute frame to move 4-2 ahead. In contrast, he then made short work of the seventh frame by firing in a superb break of 133 to go 5-2 up.

Walden took a tense eighth frame on the blue, but Allen closed out the match with a break of 73 which saw him run out a 6-3 victor.

“I’m buzzing. I am trying to keep as calm as possible though, as the job is not done yet. I’ll take a lot of positives out of the way I played today,” said 35-year-old Allen.

“I try not to think about my opponents too much, no matter who it is and no matter what the match is. However, to be honest, in a weird way I’d love it to be John tomorrow. He is one of the all-time greats, to face him in front of my home fans would be an amazing atmosphere. He’s got a very tough match against Yan Bingtao, who is Masters champion. The twisted part of me wants it to be John tomorrow.

“I thought the atmosphere was amazing today, but what I find in Belfast is that they are so respectful. They never shout on your shot, at the wrong times or try to put my opponent off. It is never like that. My dad is probably the one that does it the most, he always applauds my opponent’s shots, I hate him for it! That approach adds to the atmosphere.”

Mark Allen played well, but Ricky struggled a bit.

John Higgins 6-2 Yan Bingtao

Higgins Ready For ‘Best Ever’ Atmosphere

Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins believes Sunday’s BetVictor Northern Ireland Open final against home favourite Mark Allen will be the best atmosphere he has ever played in. The Glaswegian booked his place in the title match with a 6-2 defeat of Masters champion Yan Bingtao.

Tomorrow’s mouth watering encounter will see Northern Ireland’s number one Allen and Higgins battle it out over the best of 17 frames for the Alex Higgins Trophy and a £70,000 top prize in Belfast.

Higgins and Allen have met 18 times previously, with the head-to-head standing at 9-9. Their first ever match with each other was played here at the Waterfront Hall at the Northern Ireland Trophy back in 2005, Allen won 4-1.

This evening’s semi-final contest was a repeat of this year’s Masters final, when Yan came out on top 10-8 in an epic clash. The Chinese 21-year-old had won their previous three meetings in total. Higgins avenged that defeat with a superb performance.

It was Yan who started fastest tonight. A break of 66 saw him come from behind to take the first and he added the second frame to establish an early 2-0 lead.

From there 31-time ranking event winner Higgins produced his very best and stormed to an inspired victory.  Breaks of 52, 83, 61, 78, 75 and 90 in consecutive frames saw him claim six on the bounce and run out a 6-2 victor.

“Atmosphere-wise I think tomorrow will be the best I have ever played in. We’ve played at the Wembley Conference Centre, we’ve played over in Hong Kong in a 3000 seater stadium and that was amazing. The atmosphere tomorrow evening will be off the chart,” said 46-year-old Higgins.

“I think the two of us will have a great support tomorrow. Mark will have the lion’s share of it and rightly so. He is a great ambassador for Irish snooker. He deserves to be in the final in front of all of his adoring fans, friends and family. I have to go in there and be 100% focussed and not let the crowd get in my thinking.

“I don’t think I will ever play in front of an atmosphere as hostile as what tomorrow will be. It will be enjoyable and a great match. I have so much respect for Mark Allen as a player, so I can’t wait.

“I’m delighted with that tonight after being 2-0 down to Yan, who has beat me the last few matches. I was loving it out there with the crowd and what they were generating. I just said to myself that I was in the semi-finals and to give it everything after so long playing behind closed doors.”

Ronnie was in the ES studio, assessed John’s performance and previewed the final (as reported by Phil Haigh)

Ronnie O’Sullivan previews John Higgins vs Mark Allen Northern Ireland Open final

Mark Allen and John Higgins
Mark Allen and John Higgins are set for a blockbuster Northern Ireland Open final (Pictures: Getty)

Mark Allen will only have a chance to beat John Higgins in the Northern Ireland Open final if the Scot dips in his level of performance from the semi-final, believes Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The Wizard of Wishaw found himself two frames behind in his semi-final clash with Yan Bingtao on Saturday, before reeling off six straight frames with a half-century in each to pick up a superb 6-2 win.

O’Sullivan was blown away by the performance of his old rival, telling Eurosport: ‘John is very clinical, but as a snooker player you cannot play snooker any better than that. It was unbelievable snooker.’

The fine victory set up a meeting in the final with local hero Allen, who beat Ricky Walden 6-3 in his own semi-final.

The Rocket was full of praise for the Northern Irishman as he looked ahead to Sunday’s final, but says that no one can deal with Higgins if he performs as he did against Yan.

‘I’ve always said Mark Allen should be a world champion because of his temperament, his belief and he genuinely does believe,’ O’Sullivan told Eurosport. ‘He isn’t scared of playing anyone, that’s a massive, massive asset.

‘He’s a great break-builder, he’s a very good all-round player, but we talk about levels, that level we’ve seen tonight from John Higgins, I’m not sure Mark Allen has that level.

‘But it only takes a little bit of a dip, if John dips and Mark hits his high level, then it’s a 50-50, even Mark Allen could be a slight favourite.

‘He’s cueing well, playing well at the start of the season, made the final of that tournament [Championship League], made a bagful of centuries, played well in Leicester [British Open], he’s on good touch.

‘I think it’s going to be a fascinating game. I’m a big fan of Mark Allen’s game, he’s a top, top player.

2019 Betway UK Championship - Day 11
Higgins made breaks of 52, 83, 61, 78, 75 and 90 against Yan (Picture: Getty Images)

‘But when you watch someone like John tonight [Saturday], if he brings that to the table, I don’t think there’s another snooker player in the history of the game over the distance – first to 9 – we have a saying: “You wouldn’t want to be locked in a room with John Higgins for a week.”

‘If you was in there for a week with him you’d need rehab.’

The six-time world champion didn’t quite go as far as predicting a result in Belfast, saying: ‘Let’s let the snooker do the talking.’

The crowd will be firmly on Allen’s side at the Waterfront Hall, but Higgins is unlikely to be intimidated, in fact he is looking forward to the challenge.

‘I was buzzing there, the atmosphere was brilliant,’ the Scot said after beating Yan. ‘It’ll be 10-fold, 100-fold tomorrow, so I can’t wait.’

The final is played over two sessions in a race to nine frames, at 1pm and 7pm on Sunday.

Ronnie’s praise means a lot to John Higgins:

Ronnie O’Sullivan praise ‘means more than all your titles and 147s,’ says John Higgins

John Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan
Higgins and O’Sullivan have the most respectful of rivalries (Picture: Getty)

Ronnie O’Sullivan was full of praise for John Higgins on Saturday night at the Northern Ireland Open and the Wizard says that the Rocket’s comments mean more to him than titles, hundred breaks of 147s.

Higgins was in superb form in his 6-2 win over Yan Bingtao in the Belfast semi-final, winning six frames on the spin with a half-century in each.

The Scot has booked himself a place in Sunday’s final against Mark Allen and he will be full of confidence after some incredible praise from his old rival.

O’Sullivan told Eurosport: ‘John is very clinical, but as a snooker player you cannot play snooker any better than that. It was unbelievable snooker.

‘I am baffled when people say they want to play John Higgins. You don’t want to play John Higgins.

‘It’s like playing [Lionel] Messi, I don’t want to play against Lionel Messi. I don’t want to play against Roger Federer. If he’s playing well like tonight, I’m going to be a spectator.

‘If I’m in Bingtao’s corner, don’t worry about it. No-one else can play snooker like that so it’s never going to happen again, unless you play John again.

‘It is something you can’t really teach. He has been like that since he was a kid, so most players on the circuit would say he’s the pros’ pro.

‘If you want to be another snooker player, I would choose to be John Higgins.’

It was the highest praise from O’Sullivan and it clearly touched Higgins, who was thrilled to receive it.

Asked whether comments like that mean more when they come from the Rocket, Higgins told Metro newspaper: ‘Yeah, without a doubt it does.

Welsh Open 2020 - Day 2
Higgins is looking for his first Northern Ireland Open title on Sunday (Picture: Getty Images)

‘If the greatest player, in my eyes, that’s ever held a cue can say those nice things about you it means more than all your titles, your hundred breaks, 147s, whatever.

‘If one of your peers…it’s like something akin to the Player of the Year in football, the Player’s Player of the Year, voted for by the rest of the players, I’m sure that probably means more to them because it’s the rest of the players voting.

‘When you’ve got someone like Ronnie speaking like that about you…we’ve been great rivals over the years, but that means everything.’

O’Sullivan continued on Eurosport, with a bashful Higgins beside him, saying: ‘He’s not very good at taking compliments but we all know that he is the guvnor, on the circuit, all the boys know that he’s the pro’s pro.

‘I might be a bit potty, go for my shots, Judd does this and that, but this geezer is unbelievable. He’s a legend of this game.’

Higgins plays Allen on Sunday’s final in two sessions at 1pm and 7pm in a best of 17.

Now then… what do we make of this? Both are great, great players. Both are in awe of the other because each of them possesses qualities that the other doesn’t have to the same level. Higgins’ all round game and temperament were remarkable already when he was a 13-14 years old junior. The same is true when it comes to Ronnie’s break building skills, creativity and flair. It’s just same the old story about the grass always looking greener in the neighbour’s garden…  Now, if the records count for anything … OK nuffing said!

 

2021 Northern Ireland Open – QFs

At last,  yesterday brought something to cheer up Csilla …

Here are the WST reports about what happened at the tables

Afternoon session

Pistol Fires To Reach Semis

Northern Ireland’s number one Mark Allen battled from 3-0 down to beat defending champion Judd Trump 5-3 and reach the semi-finals of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.

It’s the first time 2018 Masters champion Allen has reached the semi-finals in his home event here in Belfast. Apart from a trip to the quarters in 2016, the Pistol has failed to go beyond the last 16 in this tournament. The Antrim cueman, who has won five ranking titles, has openly admitted to suffering from the pressure of a home crowd previously.

This afternoon’s result ends a run of nearly four years without losing a match in this event for 2019 World Champion Trump. He racked up 25 consecutive match wins in the Northern Ireland Open and picked up the title three years on the bounce, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in the final each time.

It had looked as if Trump was set to make it 26 match wins in a row this afternoon. He charged to a 3-0 lead, making breaks of 100 and 91 along the way.

Trump then had a chance to make it 4-0, but failed to convert the frame and Allen summoned a crucial clearance of 41 to take it on the black and establish a foothold at 3-1.

When play resumed Trump composed a break of 61 in the fifth. However, Allen worked his way back into the frame and a clearance from the green saw him steal a second consecutive frame on the black to make it 3-2.

Allen then restored parity, before moving one from the win with a fine break of 128, which made it 4-3. The eighth frame came down to a battle on the colours. Allen eventually got Trump in a decisive snooker on the brown and cleared from a resultant free ball to seal a significant win. He’ll face Ricky Walden in the last four tomorrow over the best of 11 frames.

“From 3-0 down and out of the game to 3-2, all of a sudden I started feeling really calm and good in my game,” said 35-year-old Allen.

“Everyone is susceptible to nerves, whether you are Ronnie who has won six world titles or Judd who is a winning machine at the moment. I don’t care what anyone says, when it comes to closing out a match you are nervous. I felt there were mistakes from Judd that don’t normally happen. I don’t know whether that was me, the atmosphere, the table or how he was feeling. It is up to the other person to capitalise and I felt like I did that towards the end.

“With only four players remaining tomorrow it is a big opportunity, but I don’t want to put any more pressure on myself than is already there. I do enough of that. I am just going to try to enjoy the experience. Normally I am watching on TV come the weekend and everyone is telling me how good the Waterfront atmosphere is. It will be nice to be a part of it.”

Walden is through to his first ranking event semi-final in five years after coming from behind to beat 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy 5-4.

Walden last graced the semis of a ranking event in 2016 at the China Open. In the years that followed he suffered from severe back problems. However, cortisone injections and physiotherapy since then have led him back to full fitness.

Murphy had established a 3-1 lead this afternoon. However, a sparkling run of snooker from Walden saw him turn the match on its head. Breaks of 98, 84, 70 and 91 helped him to take four of the next five frames and run out the victor.

The Allen v Trump match really turned on one shot: Judd Trump missed a straightforward frame ball red in frame four allowing Mark Allen to step in and win the frame by 58-53. That miss surprised everyone. When they resumed after the MSI, you could sense that the atmosphere had changed, and despite scoring a break of 61 in frame five, Judd lost that frame as well and it was obvious that his confidence had been shaken.

I believe that the interval was a key factor here. Both players had 15 minutes to reflect on what had just happened. Mark knew that despite being behind, it was now only two frames, not four and that, if he could also win the next, he would well and truly be back in the match. Judd probably went into the MSI shocked and aggrieved to have missed that easy red, and fully aware that the job was far from done. If they had played the next frame right away, the psychological impact of that miss on both would probably have been minimal, but having a quarter of an hour to ponder on that miss and its consequences,  magnified it.

There was a funny moment in that match …

Evening session

Higgins Into Last Four

Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins came from behind to beat David Gilbert 5-3 and reach the semi-finals of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Tomorrow evening will be 31-time ranking event winner Higgins’ 76thappearance in a ranking event semi-final. He will be up against China’s Yan Bingtao in a repeat of this year’s Masters final, where he fell short 10-8 in an epic encounter.

The Northern Ireland Open title represents a rare gap in Higgins’ CV. However, he did make the semi-finals in 2019, when he was defeated 6-3 by eventual winner Judd Trump.

Today’s clash was the first meeting between Higgins and Gilbert in a ranking event since they contested a memorable 2019 World Championship semi-final. On that occasion Gilbert was on the end of a heart breaking 17-16 defeat. He suffered more disappointment at the hands of Higgins this evening.

However, Gilbert will leave Belfast with the consolation of £10,000 after another impressive run, which included knocking out World Champion Mark Selby yesterday evening. He picked up a maiden ranking title earlier this season at the recent BetVictor Championship League.

It was Gilbert who started strongest tonight, firing breaks of 79 and 69 to take an early 2-0 lead.

However, from that point Glasgow’s Higgins took charge of the tie. Breaks of 81, 64 and 67 helped him to four on the bounce and move a frame from the win at 4-2. Gilbert clawed back within a frame, before a dramatic eighth.

Higgins missed a match ball green with the rest and allowed an opportunity for Gilbert to force a decider. The Tamworth cueman narrowly missed the green himself, leaving it over the pocket with Higgins snookered. He came off the top cushion, potted it and wrapped up his 5-3 victory.

“I’m delighted in winning but it was embarrassing there,” said 46-year-old Higgins, who was visibly frustrated with his performance despite the result. “I was missing shots by feet. My action was all over the place and I think I brought Dave down, because his action started to go as well. It was pretty tough at the end there.

“I think when you are just coming off, you are thinking about the shots. Maybe in half an hour I will be buzzing about being in the semi-finals. I was missing shots with the rest as well.

“We’ve known about Yan since he was 12 or 13. He had the same game then as what he has now. He is a man beyond his years with his way around the table. He has obviously been watching players like Ronnie, Steve Davis and Mark Selby.”

Yan was in red hot form during a 5-0 quarter-final whitewash of Mitchell Mann.

The Chinese 21-year-old is a former Northern Ireland Open finalist, having reached the title match in 2017. He came within a frame of the Alex Higgins Trophy against Mark Williams in a gut wrenching 9-8 defeat.

However, since then he has picked up his maiden Triple Crown title at the 2021 Masters and a first ranking title at the 2019 Riga Masters.

Yan wrapped up this evening’s win in just two hours and nine minutes, signing off with a century run of exactly 100.

I must confess that I didn’t see anything from the evening action but Yan’s demolition of Mitchell Mann doesn’t surprise me at all. Mitchell is a good solid player, but not a top player, Yan definitely is a top player.

Ronnie was in the ES studio in the evening…

 

2021 Northern Ireland Open – last 32 and last 16

The last 32 and last 16 rounds were played to completion over the last two days, with 3 of the poster boys exiting the tournament: the World champion, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Ronnie all lost yesterday in the last 16.

Here are the reports by WST.

October 13 – Morning & Afternoon

Higgins And Williams Set Up Showdown

John Higgins and Mark Williams both won their third round ties at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open to set up a mouth watering last 16 clash at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Scotland’s four-time World Champion Higgins will be seeking revenge for defeats in their previous two meetings, which both came at the Crucible. Williams scored a 13-7 win over his ‘Class of 92’ counterpart at this year’s World Championship and was victorious in an epic 2018 world final 18-16 to claim his third Crucible crown. However, it is Higgins who holds a slight edge in the head to head record, leading 20-19.

Higgins was the first of the two to get through this afternoon, beating Belgium’s Luca Brecel 4-2 with a magnificent performance. The Scot fired century breaks of 113, 105 and 121 on his way to victory. Williams, has been suffering with gout this week, but Higgins still expects a stern test.

“Playing Mark will be so tough whether he has got gout or not. He is such a great player. We will be renewing old rivalries I suppose,” said 46-year-old Higgins.

“I’m really happy with how I played. That was better than my first two matches. I felt better today. You hope you can build into the tournament.”

Williams secured his progression with a 4-2 defeat of Welsh compatriot Jak Jones. Williams played through a hefty pain barrier in the first two rounds and looked as if he would struggle to continue his run any further as he fell 2-0 behind this afternoon.

However, from there he blitzed to victory. Breaks of 102, 100, 53 and 72 in consecutive frames saw him come from behind to seal the win.

“The gout is much better now, I can almost walk like normal,” said 46-year-old Williams. “Every time me and John play it is great. I’m sure he will be trying to get one over on me, because I’ve beaten him the last couple of times.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan eased to a 4-1 win over Alfie Burden to earn his place in the last 16. The Rocket composed runs of 57, 54 and 70 during the tie and will now meet Masters champion Yan Bingtao, who defeated Oliver Lines 4-0.

An inspired Gary Wilson set up an evening clash with World Champion Mark Selby after a 4-0 whitewash win against Rory McLeod. During the victory Wilson made breaks of 64, 73, 101 and 128.

You can read more about Ronnie’s win here

October 13 – Evening

Selby Sees Off Wilson To Reach Last 16

World Champion Mark Selby scored a comprehensive 4-1 defeat of Gary Wilson to make the last 16 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

Selby defeated Shaun Murphy 18-15 in the Crucible final in May to secure a fourth World Championship title. As a result, he went on to dethrone Judd Trump and become world number one during the recent British Open.

However, whatever happens this week, Trump is guaranteed to reclaim top spot. That is because the prize money Selby earned by winning the 2019 English Open and reaching the 2019 China Championship semi-finals, comes off his ranking after the end of this event.

Leicester’s Selby faced a potentially stern test this evening, against an in-form Wilson. The Gateshead cueman won his first two matches by 4-0 scorelines, making six breaks over 50 in the process.

Selby quickly ended Wilson’s perfect frame record when the match got underway, taking an early 2-0 lead. Wilson hit back with a fine break of 111 to cut the deficit and had looked set to draw level when he led the fourth 69-8. However, after an uncharacteristic miss from Wilson, a typically gritty clearance of 62 from Selby saw him steal the frame by a single point.

World number one Selby then embarked on a 147 attempt, before breaking down on the 11th red to end his run at 80. The match victory was all but secured and Selby now faces David Gilbert in the last 16 tomorrow.

“I didn’t feel I switched on until Gary missed a simple red in the fourth frame. It had looked like going 2-2 and it was a big steal to clear up. I switched on after that,” said 20-time ranking event winner Selby. “I was sat in my chair expecting him to make it 2-2. He never misses that. He could pot 100 out of 100. I don’t know what he was thinking. You’d have to ask him.

“I felt calm all the way through the 147 attempt. I knew the red underneath the pink would be difficult. I went for it at the right time and the only kiss I don’t want is the one that I got.”

Defending champion Trump was made to work during an edgy 4-2 defeat of China’s Lu Ning.

The Ace in the Pack holds a remarkable record in this event, having won it for the last three years. However, he wasn’t at his brilliant best this evening.

Trump top scored with a break of 83 and got himself over the line by claiming a tense sixth frame on the pink. Next up he faces Jimmy Robertson.

Trump said: “I was missing easy balls that I’d never miss. The concentration wasn’t there from the get go. I was sat there feeling tired and I thought I just needed to battle through and not worry about how I did it.”

Stuart Bingham came from 3-2 down to edge out Ashley Carty 4-3. A steely break of 52 in the decider wrapped up the win. He now faces a mouth watering last 16 tie with Shaun Murphy, who defeated Tian Pengfei 4-3 in a late night contest.

October 14 – Morning and afternoon

Higgins Fightback Floors Williams

John Higgins summoned a superb fightback to come from 3-0 down to beat Mark Williams 4-3 at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

This was the 40th meeting between Higgins and Williams, who joined the circuit in the same year back in 1992. Today’s victory sees four-time Crucible king Higgins move 21-19 in front in the head to head, despite having lost the previous two meetings prior to this afternoon.

The illustrious pair have won no less than 55 ranking titles between them, with Higgins having won 31 to Williams’ 24 event wins.

This afternoon it was Williams who made the fastest start. The Welshman composed breaks of 69 and 53 on his way to establishing a 3-0 advantage, which left him a frame from victory.

Williams had looked set to wrap up the win when he led 54-21 in the fourth, but a missed red allowed Higgins a chance which he swallowed up. The Scot fired in a superb clearance of 42 to keep his chances alive.

Higgins punctuated that steal with a break of 110, which moved him within a frame at 3-2. He then forced a decider by clearing from green to pink to snatch the sixth and make it 3-3. Higgins controlled the final frame and took it to book a quarter-final clash with either Mark Selby or David Gilbert.

“I’m delighted. I was one ball away from losing at 3-0 behind. Mark will be kicking himself,” said 46-year-old Higgins. “I am delighted to come back and win. Mark has beaten me the last few times we have played so it was good to get a little one back on him.

“I think when we were younger we were more rivals. Now, in my eyes, I just enjoy playing those guys and I have so much respect for them. We don’t know how much longer we are going to be playing each other at the top of the game. It is great to be out there playing against someone as good as Mark.”

Masters champion Yan Bingtao edged out six-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-3 in an enthralling encounter.

Defeat denies O’Sullivan the chance to appear in the final for a fourth consecutive year. The Rocket was runner-up to Judd Trump in each of the last three years, losing all of the finals by a 9-7 scoreline.

Yan reached the final here back in 2017, when he was narrowly beaten 9-8 by Mark Williams. Since then he secured his first Triple Crown victory at the Masters and won a maiden ranking title at the Riga Masters.

Breaks of 89 and 51 helped Yan on his way to leading 3-2 this afternoon. He had looked set to get over the line when he led 71-0 in the fourth. However, 37-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan crafted a superb clearance of 74 to force a decider.

It was Yan who took the final frame on the colours and he will now face Mitchell Mann in the last eight. Mann booked his place in the quarters with a 4-1 defeat of Lyu Haotian.

Shaun Murphy put on a superb display to see off Stuart Bingham 4-1. The Magician conjured breaks of 50, 71, 63 and 110 on his way to the win. Next up the 2005 World Champion will face either Ricky Walden or Jackson Page.

You can read more about Yan’s victory over Ronnie here.

Phil Haigh reflected that Ronnie’s concentration seemed to dip after he got distracted by a spectator moving around whilst he was at the table. Bizarrely, something very similar happened to Mark Williams. Mark was 3-0 up and cruising when he got distracted either by someone in the crowd, or someone in the arena itself, despite the fact that nobody was playing on either of the adjacent tables. Whatever it was, Mark asked the referee, Olivier Marteel, to intervene, which Olivier did. But Mark’s concentration was gone, his next shot was a poor one, he went on to lose that frame and the next three as well…

October 14 – Evening

Trump And Allen To Meet In Belfast

Judd Trump and Mark Allen secured BetVictor Northern Ireland Open last 16 victories to set up a blockbuster quarter-final showdown at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Trump, a winner of 22 ranking titles, booked his passage to the last eight with a narrow 4-3 defeat of former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson.

The Ace in the Pack is looking for a fourth consecutive Northern Ireland Open title this week. He has beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in all of the previous three finals. Regardless of what happens over the weekend, Trump is guaranteed to overhaul Mark Selby and return to the world number one position at the end of the event.

In a tense encounter, it was Trump who hit the front first this evening. The 2019 World Champion took the opening two frames to lead 2-0. However, Robertson showed his steel to fire back into contention and level at 2-2. Trump then moved a frame from victory, before a run of 59 helped Robertson to force a decider at 3-3.

It was Trump who seized the initiative and led 49-0, before a missed red presented Bexhill’s Robertson with an opportunity. However, he potted just one red before missing a straightforward yellow and Trump crossed the line to secure the win.

Trump said: “It was another really tough one. I was 2-0 up and I kind of took my foot off the gas. The concentration isn’t quite there. I’m normally good that when I have my opponent on the ropes I put them away. I’m just not doing that at the moment. You get punished at this level and I nearly went out because of it.

“I felt a bit nervous out there because I’ve barely played in a tournament all season and you don’t want to go out at this stage. This is where it gets going. I knew this match was to play Mark Allen as well. This is a special event and it will be a special atmosphere tomorrow as well.

“I love it out there. That is the sort of atmosphere I enjoy and Mark Allen is very similar to me. He gets up for the real big events. This tournament is super special to him. He would love to have a great week here, he already has by making a 147. He will be trying to make it the perfect week in Belfast and win the tournament. I am there to try and stop him.”

Northern Ireland’s home hero Allen clinched his progression with an exciting 4-3 win over close friend Stephen Maguire.

Breaks of 101 and 62 helped Allen to establish a 3-1 advantage and move one away from the win. However, Scotland’s Maguire came from 45-0 behind to take the fifth and then ensured a decider with a fine clearance of 89 in the sixth.

Maguire had first chance and made 42 before a slice of misfortune as potted the black and split the reds, only for the cue ball to drop into a centre pocket. Former Masters champion Allen made sublime clearance of 69 which included several excellent pots, as he set up a showdown with Trump. They will take to the baize at 12pm on Friday.

World number 18 David Gilbert beat World Champion and world number one Mark Selby 4-2 to book a quarter-final meeting with John Higgins. Gilbert composed breaks of 115 and 71 on his way to this evening’s win.

Ricky Walden claimed his place in the last eight with a 4-3 defeat of Jackson Page. Next up Walden faces a quarter-final clash with 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy.

Winning the Championship League at the start of the season seems to have truly transformed David Gilbert. He was always a very good player, now, with this monkey off his back he’s become a top, top player.

I’m also very happy to see Ricky Walden playing well again. He’s champagne when on form. He beat Neil Robertson comprehensively… strange that this is nowhere in those reports.

 

 

2021 Northern Ireland – Yan Bingtao beats Ronnie in the last 16.

Yan Bingtao has beaten Ronnie in the last 16 of the 2021 Northern Ireland Open in a high quality and tense match that went the distance.

Here are the scores:

2021 NI Open - L16 - ROS vYan- Scores

And the report by WST:

Masters champion Yan Bingtao edged out six-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-3 in an enthralling encounter.

Defeat denies O’Sullivan the chance to appear in the final for a fourth consecutive year. The Rocket was runner-up to Judd Trump in each of the last three years, losing all of the finals by a 9-7 scoreline.

Yan reached the final here back in 2017, when he was narrowly beaten 9-8 by Mark Williams. Since then he secured his first Triple Crown victory at the Masters and won a maiden ranking title at the Riga Masters.

Breaks of 89 and 51 helped Yan on his way to leading 3-2 this afternoon. He had looked set to get over the line when he led 71-0 in the fourth. However, 37-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan crafted a superb clearance of 74 to force a decider.

It was Yan who took the final frame on the colours and he will now face Mitchell Mann in the last eight. Mann booked his place in the quarters with a 4-1 defeat of Lyu Haotian.

And a more detailed one by Phil Haigh right after the match:

Ronnie O’Sullivan dumped out of Northern Ireland Open by Yan Bingtao

Phil Haigh Thursday 14 Oct 2021 

Ronnie O’Sullivan is out of the Northern Ireland Open after an engrossing 4-3 defeat to Yan Bingtao at the last 16 stage in Belfast.

The Rocket twice took the lead early in the match, including a brilliant century break, and then a superb clearance of 73 levelled the game in the sixth frame, but it was the Masters champion who got over the line in a thrilling contest.

O’Sullivan reached the final in the last three editions of the tournament and Yan becomes the only player other than Judd Trump to beat the six-time world champion in the Northern Ireland Open since he lost to Elliot Slessor in 2017.

The 21-year-old moves on to face Mitchell Mann in the quarter-finals as he looks for the second ranking title of his young, but already amazing, career.

2020 Players Championship - Day 2
Yan Bingtao is comfortably the brightest young talent in snooker (Picture: Getty Images)

Things started well for O’Sullivan, pouncing on a couple of errors from Yan to take a tight first frame, although the Chinese quickly levelled things up with an 89 in the next.

The Rocket found his rhythm in the third, though, stroking in an absolutley sublime break of 129 which was really classic O’Sullivan.

He was being distracted by the crowd in Belfast, however, asking fans to sit down and for officials to stop letting supporters into the arena during frames, and thing did start to go downhill after that third frame.

The Masters champion again evened the score in the fourth, thanks to a break of 51 and then carved out a lead for the first time in the fifth.

Yan opened up a 71-0 lead in the sixth frame and looked set for victory, but missed a long red – which was match ball – to give the Englishman some hope of an unlikely reprieve, although little is unlikely for O’Sullivan.

The Rocket produced a monumental clearance of 73 to pinch the frame on the black and take the match to a decider in incredible fashion.

The deciding frame was brilliantly tense with both players have chances in the balls and breaking down, but it was O’Sullivan rather than the youngster who failed to deal with the situation, twice messing up good chances.

The Englishman missed a fairly routine pink with the score at 36-32 in Yan’s favour and the Chinese stepped in to get himself a 20 point lead with just one red left.

Yan got the better of the safety battle which ensued, eventually potting a fine long green to take the match.

Ronnie’s concentration indeed appeared to be broken after the incident with the spectator. I don’t undersand why people are allowed to enter the arena and wander around during play here in Belfast. Usually they are asked to wait until the frame in progress has ended before being allowed into the arena. Ronnie had already complained about that after his last 64 match.

Phil Haigh also reported about Ronnie’s reaction after the match:

Ronnie O’Sullivan dismisses ‘very minor’ Home Nations events after Yan Bingtao defeat

Ronnie NI Open 2021 GettyImages
Ronnie O’Sullivan didn’t have particularly kind words for the Northern Ireland Open (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan insisted he wasn’t fussed about defeat to Yan Bingtao at the Northern Ireland Open on Thursday, because he considers the tournament as ‘match practice’ and ‘like pro-ams we used to play as amateurs.’

The six-time world champion was edged out 4-3 by the Masters champion in the last 16 in a memorable match in Belfast.

The Rocket had twice held the lead then produced a superb 73 clearance to force a decider, but it was the 21-year-old Chinese star who held his nerves together best in the decider.

O’Sullivan had been to the final of the event for three years on the spin before this defeat to Yan, but insists he is far from bothered about this or any of the Home Nations tournaments.

These tournaments are very very minor, they’re like match practice really,’ O’Sullivan said after defeat. ‘The three big events that are important are the Worlds, the Masters, the UK.

These best of sevens are just like pro-ams, like we used to play when we were amateurs.

Obviously Sheffield is the place, York, the Masters. You could probably chuck a few of the Chinese events in there now as they’re quite prestigious tournaments. But otherwise, if you look at the calendar, they’re not the greatest tournaments.

While Judd Trump says he considers all tournaments to be of equal value and treats them all the same, O’Sullivan is in an entirely different camp.

‘If I had to choose between winning 10 of these, what are these tournaments called? Home Nations, and one world title, I’d take one world title,’ Ronnie said. ‘Obviously that’s a proper event. This is just a bit of match practice. No-one is going to remember you for winning a Home Nations, are they?

I’d rather have Tiger Woods career than Colin Montgomerie’s. Or even Brooks Koepka. I know he doesn’t win many of the other events, but you still want to have those four majors tucked away. That’s where the pressure is, that’s where it counts. They’re the Blue Riband events.

Speaking from everybody else I get why they’re excited about them events. If I was Yan Bingtao I’d be super excited about it. My heart has gone out of giving blood, sweat and tears on the tour. I’m happy just to come and hit a few balls.

The Rocket may not have sounded too chirpy after his loss to the impressive 21-year-old but he did claim to enjoy the match and still took some positives out of it.

I really enjoyed that today,’ he said. ‘I enjoyed pitting myself against a good youngster who played well, who probably outplayed me and deserved to win.

But at 45 I can take a lot of positives out of that. I’m not sure a 45-year-old Yan Bingtao would beat a 21-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan, so I kind of flip the coin sometimes. I’m not doing too bad for someone that’s getting on, you know.’

Now then… the very fact that Ronnie feels such a need to dismiss the importance of the defeat tells me that it actually hurts, and that’s a good thing. I amused me that he cites the World, Masters and UK … and then speaks about the four majors. Old boy! Indeed the Grand Prix used to be a major, shown by the BBC … more than 10 years ago!

I do believe Ronnie when he says that he enjoyed the match. It was a tremendous battle and he’s a very competitive animal. He would be genuinely pleased to see a hard working young player doing well because, no matter what he sometimes says, he loves his sport and wants a future for it.

Despite Ronnie’s defeat, I enjoyed the match as well. The commentators reflected that it was probably the best match of the season so far, despite the short format. Ronnie’s 73 clearance to force a decider was out of this world. Yan’s reaction after such a blow is testimony of an exceptional temperament.

One thing I didn’t like was Jimmy in the studio, before the match, dismissing Yan’s chances. OK, he’s Ronnie’s close friend, but a bit of ojectivity doesn’t hurt. Yes, on paper, Ronnie had bossed his previous matches, but, as I wrote after his last 32 win, he had also shonw weaknesses: his break-off only too often left an opportunity for his opponent, and his long potting had been very ordinary. Surely, as a snooker player himself, Jimmy must have seen that too? Yan on the other hand, had shown a steely will to win and I had made him favourite. I was right, and if I’m honest, I feel that Ronnie actually played much better in this match he lost than in the ones he won.

 

2021 NI Open – Ronnie wins his last 32 match

Ronnie beat Alfie Burden by 4-1 yesterday afternoon to book his place in the last 16 today: he will face Yan Bingtao in the afternoon.

Here are the scores:

2021 NI Open - L32 - ROS v Burden - Scores

And the very short report by WST:

2021 NI Open - L32 - ROS v Burden - 1Ronnie O’Sullivan eased to a 4-1 win over Alfie Burden to earn his place in the last 16. The Rocket composed runs of 57, 54 and 70 during the tie and will now meet Masters champion Yan Bingtao, who defeated Oliver Lines 4-0.

There is also a more comprehensive report by Eurosport:

Ronnie O’Sullivan dispatches Alfie Burden to power into last 16 of the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast

Ronnie O’Sullivan remains on course to go one better than the previous three renewals of the Northern Ireland Open. After losing to Judd Trump in the final in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Rocket eased to a comfortable win over Alfie Burden at the Waterfront Hall on Belfast. Up next is a clash with Yan Bingtao

2021 NI Open - L32 - ES - 2

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s impressive start to the Northern Ireland Open continued with a 4-1 win over Alfie Burden.

The world number three beat Stuart Carrington and Andy Hicks for the loss of one frame, and he was never in any danger against Burden.

O’Sullivan complained of a flat atmosphere in his win over Hicks. If he was feeling flat against Burden, he disguised it extremely well as he dominated the contest to ease into the last 16.

The Rocket settled quickly, and a couple of contributions secured the opening frame for the three-time beaten finalist.

Burden, who is back on the tour after coming out of retirement to emerge through Q School, had a chance in the second.

He knocked in an excellent break of 51, but broke down and the gulf in class between the two was demonstrated by a tale of two greens.

Burden got nowhere near his long pot, while one shot later O’Sullivan stroked his effort into the bottom right to set up a steal of the second.

There was disappointment etched on Burden’s face as O’Sullivan picked his pocket in the second, and a wild pot on a red in the third summed up his mood.

“I think the cameraman behind the pocket was in more danger than the pocket,” said Neal Foulds on Eurosport commentary.

O’Sullivan did not pass up the gift horse, as he rolled in a break of 54 to move within one frame of victory.

Burden is no mug, and he showed his quality by taking the fourth in a single visit with a fantastic break of 127 to stop the rot.

O’Sullivan looked unfazed by Burden’s show of quality, and he wrapped up victory in the following frame.

Burden potted an excellent red but missed a brown when attempting to get back to the reds. O’Sullivan pounced in ruthless fashion as he made a difficult table look simple with a break of 70.

Up next in the last 16 is a clash with Yan Bingtao who cruised to a 4-0 win over Oliver Lines.

Mark Williams, who is battling gout, appeared to be moving more freely on Wednesday and he rallied from two frames down to claim a 4-2 in over Jak Jones to set up a meeting with fellow Class of ’92 legend John Higgins.

2021 NI Open - L32 - ROS v Burden - 2

O’Sullivan completes comfortable win over Burden

Ronnie also clarified his previous comments about the atmosphere, insisting that it’s in no way because of the fans

Ronnie O’Sullivan sets ‘flat’ comment straight for Belfast snooker fans: ‘They’re like family to me’

2021 NI Open - L32 - ROS v Burden - 3

Ronnie O’Sullivan eased past Alfie Burden in the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open and then performed a turnaround by hailing the crowds that have been flocking to the iconic Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

O’Sullivan caused a stir earlier this week by labelling the atmosphere at the iconic venue as “flat”.

But the six-time World champion stressed after yesterday’s victory – which sets up a last 16 clash with China’s Yan Bingtao in the £405,000 showpiece – that he would “never criticise any snooker fan”.

“It’s never got anything to do with the crowd, the Belfast crowd,” he said.

“The set-up out there means you can’t get a good atmosphere because there is no-one sitting down the side, so you feel like you’re playing to an empty auditorium.

“When I said it was a flat atmosphere, it’s because you feel like you’re not playing to anyone, you can’t see a crowd.

“The way it was put across, it looked like I was saying it was the fans, but it’s not up to the fans – it’s the auditorium, it wasn’t set up right and that’s no fault of the fans.

“They’ve got three tables so it’s like you’re playing to a scoreboard. When you have fans down the side, they gee you up and keep you going, and it does create a different atmosphere.

“I’d just like to put that straight because every snooker fan, they’re like family to me so I wouldn’t criticise any snooker fan. They’ve helped me through many ups and downs over the years.

“It was never a slight at the crowd, it was more that I think the set-up doesn’t allow it to be a good atmosphere, so it’s difficult playing under those circumstances – that’s what I was trying to say.”

After beating Burden 4-1, O’Sullivan also highlighted the difficulties faced by professionals further down snooker’s food chain.

“I know Alfie well and I felt for him out there. Unless you are at the very top it’s difficult to make a living from snooker. I mean even the extra expense of coming to Belfast instead of playing in England makes it more difficult for some of the players,” said the 45-year-old World number three.

You can actually listen to that part of the postmatch here:

As always with the ES coverage, there are some interesting Q&As.

In this one, reported by Phil Haigh in the metro, Ronnie tells us about the players he sees as better than him in certain aspects of the game:

Ronnie O’Sullivan names players ‘better than him’ at certain aspects of snooker

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day One
Ronnie O’Sullivan is happy to admit that other players are stronger than him in certain areas (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan picked out the likes of John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Kyren Wilson as players better than him in some aspects of snooker, claiming that he is the absolute worst in a couple of departments of the game.

The Rocket was answering question’s in Eurosport’s entertaining ‘Who’s better?’ feature, where players are hit with areas of the sport and they must admit who – if anyone – is better than them.

Always extremely complimentary towards his old rival John Higgins’ game, it was no surprise to see O’Sullivan pick out the Wizard of Wishaw in three categories.

The Englishman reckons the Scot has the edge on him in safety play, temperament and clearing up.

O’Sullivan also gave Kyren Wilson the nod as a better rest-player than him and Neil Robertson as a superior long-potter.

 

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s ‘Who’s better’ answers

  • Rest-player – Kyren Wilson
  • Safety-player – John Higgins
  • Long-potting – Neil Robertson
  • Temperament – John Higgins
  • Break-building – Tough, but if I was to say someone, probably Judd [Trump]
  • Clearing up – John Higgins
  • Practicing – Everybody
  • Breaking-off – Everybody
  • Being ambidextrous- Nah, I’m taking that one, it’s the only thing I’m better than everybody else at
  • Polishing shoes – Everybody because I’ve never polished them
  • Ironing their shirt – Marco Fu
  • Enjoying themselves off the table – Maybe Mark Williams, he seems to enjoy his life off the table

O’Sullivan reluctantly suggested Judd Trump could be better than him at break-building, but really seemed like he wanted to choose himself, saying: ‘ Tough, but if I was to say someone, probably Judd.’

The Rocket was being humble, but one category he couldn’t deny his greatness in was being ambidextrous, saying: ‘Nah, I’m taking that one, it’s the only thing I’m better than everybody else at.

The 45-year-old was especially self-deprecating, though, when it came to breaking-off and practicing, at which he claimed that every single other professional is better than him.

I’m not so sure about the “practicing” bit. Ronnie always says that he doesn’t practice, but that claim has been challenged many times by fellow players who know him well.

Now onto my views on yesterday’s match… and today’s challenge

I certainly agree that Ronnie’s break-off is dire and it showed again in his match yesterday. He left at least one red for his opponent to go at from every break-off. Also, his long potting wasn’t great; it wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t good enough to compete with the best. Those two weaknesses in Ronnie’s game provided Alfie with a lot of opportunities. On the other hand Ronnie competed well, was very good in the balls as always and his attitude was excellent.

Today he will face Yan Bingtao, and, IMO, Ronnie will need to improve to have any chance to win. Yan has been very solid, and if he gets as many opportunities as Alfie got, there is only one winner.