The season started in earnest – hopefully – yesterday evening with three matches in front of a rather small crowd.
Robertson Sees Off Zhou
Former European Masters champion Jimmy Robertson sealed a fine 4-2 win over world number 17 Zhou Yuelong to clinch his place in the last 64 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
World number 48 Robertson came within a match of tour relegation at the end of last season, but defeated Zhao Jianbo 6-5 at World Championship qualifying to save his place on the circuit.
The Bexhill cueman’s preparations for this week’s event were far from ideal, having only been released from Covid-19 isolation on Thursday.
Robertson composed breaks of 50,70 and 59 on his way to victory this evening and will now face Sunny Akani in the last 64.
“I’m feeling really good about myself and my game. I still need to improve in areas on the table but my head, the way that I’m thinking and everything off the table is going well,” said 35-year-old Robertson.
“I’ve always struggled over the years with playing in certain situations, being on the main table with eyes on me and things like that. I know I won a tournament a few years ago, but I lost a lot of confidence and matches after that. I’m working with a mental coach called AP O’Neil now and it is going really well. If you think bad things then bad things will happen on the table. You just have to stay positive. It is helping me.”
WSF Junior Open winner Gao Yang recorded a straightforward 4-0 defeat of Northern Irish under-21 champion Christopher Clifford.
Gao composed breaks of 85, 81 and 58 on his way to a win which took just an hour and 15 minutes to complete. He will now face either defending champion Judd Trump or Andrew Pagett in round two.
Lee Walker snuffed out an Anthony McGill fightback to edge through with a fine 4-3 victory. Welshman Walker had charged to a 3-0 advantage, making breaks of 60 and 67 along the way.
However, McGill charged back into contention in a three-frame blitz which included a total clearance of 137. It all came down to a decider and Walker got over the line with a clinical run of 53. Next up he faces Louis Heathcote.
All three matches were on the Eurosport player, which is great, except for the terrible background noise on the Zhou v Robertson one.
With the top 16 seeds starved of actual matches for months, many are expecting upsets, and it’s exactly what we saw yesterday evening.
Gao Yang played really well, but, in fairness, his opponent didn’t give him any sort of challenge. I wasn’t surprised at all TBH. Christoffer Clifford, aged 19, may be under-21 champion in his country but he didn’t show anything even remotely convincing at the table. He was coming back from Portugal, where he had been competing in the EBSA under-21 Championship; he had played 5 matches there, won only two, against a 14 years old and a 13 years old… What’s the point really? It doesn’t do the lad any favour and won’t exactly put the local amateur snooker in the best of light.
On the other two tables, the top seeds, who come here completely “cold”, found themselves 3-0 down before eventually finding some form. But in both cases, it was too much to do, too late. That said, both Jimmy Robertson and Lee Walker played well, and both held it together when it mattered. Jimmy has been vulnerable to pressure in the past, but not this time. Lee is usually solid under pressure, but still had to do it after McGill’s three frames blitz.
Today we get a full day of snooker. For me, the most interesting match on the menu is Yan Bingtao v Hossein Vafaei. It’s part of the morning session and will only be on the player.
As already mentioned, Ronnie has’nt got an easy start, as he will face Stuart Carrington.
Stuart Carrington has beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan before and is relishing the chance to do it again
Stuart Carrington has been handed one of the toughest draws in the game as he faces Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round of the Northern Ireland Open on Sunday, but he has beaten the Rocket before and fancies doing it again.
The 31-year-old did not have a great deal of experience on tour when he met O’Sullivan for the first time ever at the 2016 German Masters qualifiers.
The Grimsby man turned in a fine performance to down the Rocket 5-3, despite O’Sullivan knocking in breaks of 126, 94, 64 and 51 along the way.
Tasked with beating the six-time world champion again this Sunday night in Belfast and he is relishing the prospect.
‘A million per cent. As soon as the draw came out it’s a massive buzz,’ Carrington told Metro.co.uk. ‘Live on TV, Sunday night in front of a packed crowd. If you can’t get up for that you shouldn’t be playing the game.
‘It was special,’ Carrington added on his first meeting with the Rocket. ‘A qualifier for Germany in Wigan. Even there, it was a leisure centre in Wigan and it was still a packed crowd.
‘I played really well and beat him fair and square, it gives you that bit of confidence. At the end of the day you’ve got to treat it as another match, but I know that if I play well I’ve got a chance and can beat him, so why not.
‘I’d only been on the tour a few years and the first proper big match I’d played. Obviously walking out there, 200-300 people there but they’re all shouting “Come on Ronnie!”
‘It’s pressure but it’s an extra incentive to show what you can do, I remember it spurring me on at the time. I played really well, and as the winning line approached I didn’t shy away from it, I was really proud of myself to get over the line in the way I did.
‘To know that you can do it under the pressure and against the game’s greatest ever player, it proves to me that I can do it if it comes to that point.’
O’Sullivan has since exacted revenge on Carrington, scoring wins at the 2019 Northern Ireland and 2020 Welsh Opens, but the world number 51 has competed with and beaten the best in the business in the past and knows he can do it again.
‘Yeah I do [know I can compete with elite players], that’s the frustrating part,’ he said. ‘I know what I can do in practice, I know what I can do against the top boys in tournaments, it’s just finding some kind of consistency, that’s the key for everyone.
‘There’s so many players including myself that know we can do what the top boys can do, it’s just trying to find the consistency.’
It has been difficult to find much consistency at this stage of the season with long gaps between matches, and short format matches being played at the Championship League and British Open.
Carrington has played even less than many other players having drawn top 16 players in the Northern Ireland and Scottish Opens, so his matches are held over to the main venues rather than playing qualifiers over the last month.
‘It’s been a disjointed start to the season and that’s how my game’s been, to be fair, stop-start,’ he said. ‘A couple of half decent performances amongst some that were non-existent.
‘The summer after the World Championship, a few weeks off and maybe enjoyed myself a bit much. I started the season a bit rusty and it knocks your confidence when you’re not winning matches. It’s been plenty of hard work on the practice table since then to turn things around.
‘You can be playing really well in practice, go to the Championship League [winning his first group], then it’s three or four weeks till the next comp so it felt like back to square one again. It was a good start at the Championship League but then you lose your match sharpness and I struggled at the next comp.
‘I’ve drawn Ronnie in the Irish and Jack Lisowski in the Scottish, so I’m going to the venue for those, weeks after the other qualifiers. I don’t think the players are keen on the way things are at the moment. No one really knows where they are regarding the game, everything’s so stop start. Fingers crossed that from now until Christmas it’s quite busy for most of us.’
While Carrington is excited by the prospect of facing O’Sullivan and Lisowski on the big stages of the Home Nations events, he also knows that facing top 16 players in the opening round could end up costing him a lot of money.
‘It’s a funny one,’ he said. ‘Going to Ireland we’re on no money unless we win. So rather than going to Barnsley for a qualifier it will cost me £50, but Ireland could be £700 and we get nothing at all which is just wrong.
‘I can see why the top 16 are held over, but would it hurt them to play the qualifier here? Probably not. It’s very poor. I’m sure the top 16 aren’t bothered about the money getting there, but for the lower-ranked players it’s a lot of money.
‘£250, or something daft, to cover your costs to get to the event would be good. 128 pros and unless we win a match we’re not guaranteed a wage, it’s wrong.’
Stuart’s assessment about the season so far, and the prize money is correct.
There is however something that he doesn’t say, something that doesn’t even cross his mind probably, when mentioning the cost of qualifiers vs the cost of having to play at the venue abroad: he is privileged to be a British player, with all qualifiers played in his own country. Mainland European players, and Asian players have to travel “abroad” for EVERY qualifier, even for their home tournaments, or they have to live “abroad” in the UK, as expats, currently facing a fair amount of hostility aswell. It costs them a lot more, financially and psychologically. He is right that not being guaranteed a wage is wrong, but having all qualifiers played in the UK is wrong as well and the fact that’s it’s always been this way doesn’t make it right.