2021 Northern Ireland Open – Last 64

The last 64 round was nearly completed over the last 2 days and all the guys in the poster are still in the competition.

Ronnie beat Andy Hicks by 4-1, and will play Alfie Burden today. Read about that here.

Other than that here are WST reports about the last two days:

Monday morning and afternoon

Selby Edges Cao In Thriller

World Champion Mark Selby narrowly held on to his place in the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, winning 4-3 after opponent Cao Yupeng missed the final black in the decisive frame at the Waterfront Hall.

Leicester cueman Selby had taken control of the decider with a break of 66, which left China’s Cao requiring a snooker. However, he got the penalty points he required by laying a tricky snooker on the green.

Eventually it was Cao who had the chance to win after clearing up to the final black, which was in the centre of the top cushion. He took it on, but left the black over the pocket for Selby to take his place in the last 32. Next he faces either Gary Wilson or Rory McLeod.

Selby said: “Once he landed straight on the pink, my mind would have been made up to try to play a decent safety shot and wait for another chance. I understand why he has gone for it, he probably thinks he might not get another chance. It was a tough shot to take on under the circumstances.

“I felt good out there. I thought Cao played well from start to finish. I have always rated him, even when he was on the tour a few years ago. I knew I was in for a tough match before it started. I really enjoyed it, from a neutral’s point of view I’m sure it was a good game to watch.”

Shaun Murphy defeated Bai Langning 4-2 to clinch a place in the last 64, where he will now face Allan Taylor.

Murphy has struggled in this event in previous years, today’s victory sees him progress beyond the last 128 for just the second time, having succumbed to four previous first round exits.

The Magician reached his fourth Crucible final in May, but missed out on a second world title after losing an epic contest with Selby 18-15. However, having not taken to the baize since a 3-2 loss to Selby at the British Open in August, there were signs of rust this afternoon.

Despite being unable to amass any breaks of note in the first four frames, Murphy managed to battle to a 3-1 advantage. Bai kept the tie alive with a fine run of 73 to pull within one at 3-2. However, it was Murphy who got over the line with a break of 59 in the sixth.

Murphy said: “This has not been somewhere I’ve had great success at over the years. I love coming to Belfast. It is one of those funny balancing acts. I love coming here, but I keep losing on the table. I’m thrilled to get through and be able to spend a few more days here.

“I think the gap has been too long to carry any momentum into this season. Had we been in non-covid times maybe I’d have been able to carry that on. That is my first win in a proper match since the semi-finals of the World Championship back in April.

“I am expecting a stern test from Allan Taylor. He is a good friend of mine off the table. I was thrilled for him when he got back on the tour. He spent the year as the MC for these events, a job which I know he loved. He is a real entertainer, known for his impressions. He is a bit of a modern day John Virgo.”

Masters champion Yan Bingtao survived a scare against world number 93 Duane Jones, coming from 3-1 down to pull through 4-3, while Luca Brecel came from 2-0 down to beat Liang Wenbo 4-2.

The shot Cao took on that last black was deemed the “wrong shot” by Alan McManus, and, inevitably, given Cao’s past history, there were suggestions of “match fixing” by the usual suspects. I don’t believe it. Cao had already lost that match, he needed penalty points. He could have conceeded, The truth is likely to be what Mark Selby suggested: he saw an opportunity to win and no matter how difficult the shot was,  he went for it because he didn’t fancy his own chances in a safety battle against the World Champion.

Yan Bingtao wasn’t the better player in his match against Duane Jones, but battled incredibly hard. Only sheer will to win got him through.

Monday evening

Wounded Williams Battles Through

Mark Williams fought past the pain to defeat Elliot Slessor 4-3, despite suffering from gout at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.

Tickets are still available for the remainder of the event, for details click here and for the match schedule click here

The Welshman was on the verge of withdrawing from the event prior to his first round game, but elected to fly over and managed to beat Mark Joyce 4-1 yesterday.

Williams, a winner of 24 ranking titles, has been given special medical dispensation to wear a slipper on his left foot this week, due to being unable to get his normal shoe on.

The three-time World Champion was visibly limping as he emerged for the start of the game. Despite that, he managed to produce a break of 90 to take the first frame.

Williams then added two of the next three frames to move one away from victory at 3-1. However, world number 43 Slessor clawed his way back into contention by claiming two on the bounce to force a decider.

Williams controlled it and breaks of 29 and 40 saw him emerge a 4-3 victor in three hours and 20 minutes. He will now face either Martin Gould or Jak Jones.

Williams said: “It must be difficult for my opponents as well. They can see me hopping around the table. I can’t get to easy shots. I can’t put any pressure on it. If I land wrong side on the black or the blue, I can’t play them.

“I tried my best, like I do every time. Even at 3-2 up though, I didn’t want to be out there. It started to throb again, that had stopped. I was on it for quite a few hours yesterday and nearly four hours there. I’d had enough.

“I was very close to not coming. I went to bed last Monday fine and I woke up on Tuesday screaming in pain. I couldn’t put my foot down. The first time my foot touched the ground was on Saturday night and that was when I booked my flight.”

World number three Ronnie O’Sullivan eased to a 4-1 defeat of former Crucible semi-finalist Andy Hicks.

It was six-time World Champion O’Sullivan who imposed himself on the tie from the off. He fired in a fine break of 76 to take the opener.

Devon’s Hicks responded by snatching the second frame on the black with a break of 55. However, from that moment the Rocket took charge. Runs of 54, 65 and 90 allowed O’Sullivan to take three on the trot and get over the line. Next up he faces Alfie Burden.

World number five Kyren Wilson produced a superb performance to sweep aside Robert Milkins by a  4-1 scoreline. The Warrior fired in breaks of 127, 73, 51 and 120 to book a last 32 meeting with Mitchell Mann.

Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins defeated Pakistan’s Farakh Ajaib 4-2. Higgins missed the 15th black in a fine 147 attempt, ending his run on 113 in the second frame. Further breaks of 85 and 54 helped him to the win. He faces Luca Brecel in the next round.

Oliver Lines continued his fine run of form with a 4-0 whitewash of Ben Woollaston. Breaks of 54, 115 and 71 helped lines to the comprehensive win. His reward is a last 32 clash with Masters champion Yan Bingtao.

I saw nothing from that session other than Ronnie’s match, so can’t comment really. I’m just slightly surprised that Farakh Ajaib took two frames off John Higgins. Farakh scores heavily when in, but he tends to go for absolutely everything. John is usually very adept at neutralising that type of opponent.

Tuesday morning and afternoon

Trump Storms Through With Ultimate Whitewash

Defending champion Judd Trump blitzed to the last 32 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, preventing WSF Junior Open winner Gao Yang from registering a single point during a 4-0 whitewash.

The Ace in the Pack is aiming for a remarkable fourth consecutive Northern Ireland Open title this week, having beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in each of the three previous finals. After today’s victory, Trump has now won 23 consecutive matches in this event.

World number two Trump is also currently engaged in a battle for summit of the world rankings with Mark Selby. Whatever happens this week, Trump will leapfrog current number one Selby to reclaim top spot.

Trump racked up 333 unanswered points during this afternoon’s encounter, compiling breaks of 54, 100, 60 and 52 to complete the whitewash. Next up he faces Gao’s Chinese compatriot Lu Ning.

Trump said: “He let me in quite easily in the first couple of frames. I know the top players aren’t going do that. It is still pleasing to score like I did and put pressure on him early on. I made a couple of good breaks and all-around my game was pretty good there. It was a bit of a stepping stone for the next round.

“You don’t want to lose in any tournament, especially one you’ve won the last three times. This tournament is special and there is always a good atmosphere in that one table situation, everyone wants to be there.

“He (Lu Ning) has had a few good results over the past couple of years. He is a dangerous player and is a little bit slower and it can be tough to play against. I know I will have to start similarly to how I did today and get on top of him early on.”

Northern Ireland’s number one Mark Allen secured his place in the last 32 with a hard fought 4-2 defeat of Peter Devlin.

Allen delighted the home fans in the opening round by making a 147 break in his 4-1 defeat of Si Jiahui. He couldn’t quite reproduce those fireworks today, with a solitary contribution of 55 being his only half century. However, he got the job done and will face either Simon Lichtenberg or Matthew Stevens next.

Recent BetVictor Championship League winner David Gilbert produced a superb display to whitewash David Grace 4-0. Gilbert fired in runs of 127, 62, 51, 66 and 66 on his way to victory.

Stuart Bingham defeated Sam Craigie 4-2, while Jimmy Robertson edged out Sunny Akani 4-3.

Judd Trump’s performance was both entertaining and painful to watch. Entertaining because he basically played exhibition stuff from start to finish, painful – for me at least – because it’s not nice to watch a young player getting completely crushed and disintegrate in front of a crowd. Judd, to his credit, admitted in the studio that it was “hard not to feel bad”. Gao Yang had faced Judd last year in this same tournament and had been completely outplayed. Judd had made a 147 in that match as well. Yesterday the young lad looked ovewhelmed right from the first ball and couldn’t score a point. I hope that he has good people around him. This could be seriously damaging.

Peter Devlin got off to a slow start. From 3-0 down, he battled back and actually produced the best snooker of the match for two frames. Speaking in the studio after his win, Mark Allen was full of praise and admitted that he was impressed. He was probably relieved as well that Peter didn’t find his form right from the start of the match…

Tuesday evening

Robertson Extends Perfect Start

Australia’s Neil Robertson is yet to lose a frame in this year’s BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, after recording a second whitewash win of the event by beating Xu Si 4-0 in Belfast.

The 39-year-old is making his first appearance on the circuit since bowing out of the World Championship at the hands of Kyren Wilson back in April. He missed the British Open in August due to getting married to long term partner Mille during the event.

World number four Robertson defeated Barry Pinches 4-0 in his opening round tie and it was another straightforward victory this evening. The win took just one hour and 17 minutes and he signed off with a fine century break of 102. Robertson now faces Ricky Walden in the last 32.

“Two clean sheets! It is nice to do that, because players are aware of what scores you are winning by as they are trying to get a gauge of how you are playing,” said 2010 World Champion Robertson.

“The fact that I’ve won two games 4-0 tells you I’m not giving my opponents too many chances. I’ll look to build on that and be stronger.

“The wedding was amazing and everything we hoped it would be. I was very nervous in the lead up, hoping everything would go well. I was probably more nervous going out to do the dance than anything in my life. That went really well. It was a surprise to me I managed to do the job well and Mille was fantastic throughout the day.”

Stephen Maguire held his nerve to edge out Hammad Miah 4-3 in a fiercely contested clash.

Miah had led 3-2, before 2004 UK Champion Maguire forced a decider. It looked as if it would be going the way of Miah when he led 53-0. However, Maguire pulled off a superb clearance of 63 to steal the tie. Next up he will face either Liam Highfield or Ryan Day.

Shaun Murphy came from 3-1 down to defeat Allan Taylor 4-3, while Jack Lisowski defeated Fan Zhengyi 4-2.

Neil Robertson played well indeed. The first frame was close, but after that Xu only scored 17 points as Neil completely controlled the game. The postmatch in the studio was lovely.

After that… I have to admit … it’s a blurr. No I didn’t drink 😉  – I have never been drunk in my life despite loving my glass of wine – but it was getting late here in Greece, and it had been a rather stressful day: another powerful earthquake, 6.4 richter, was felt on the island, the second within two weeks. I just hope that our volcano behaves …


This is him… in the 50th … when my husband was a toddler, and his family fled the disaster – lava, deadly fumes, earthquake and tsunami – after my mother-in-law’s best friend was killed in the collapse of her house.  Even to this day, there are collapsed houses everywhere here … some with broken furniture, old paintings, children toys and faded wedding photos still lying around.

Yeah… snooker is just a game.


3 thoughts on “2021 Northern Ireland Open – Last 64

  1. Indeed snooker is just a game, although the players do have to lead lives off the table. There have been a few mentions of problems faced last season by Neil Robertson (separated from his Australian family) and Shaun Murphy (in Ireland), and indeed it’s been hard for them. But players from further afield have had more extreme problems, and many of them are very young. Yesterday’s matches were mostly won by older British players (Robertson beat Xu), which supports my suspicion that most of the overseas players are feeling jaded. Yan Bingtao, for instance, hasn’t seen his parents for 2 years; Bai Langning returned to the UK in March, and will probably be here for at least another 9 months as he tries to re-qualify through Q School. The Thai players had tough defeats.

    Gao Yang clearly entered his match against Trump with memories of their previous encounter. He actually didn’t do much wrong: his one real chance of a pot was with the rest, his biggest weakness. He overhit a couple of safety shots which is quite understandable on an unfamiliar fast table. But he’ll probably get over this match against the world’s best player. More difficult for him will be to bounce back after relegation from the tour. He was always a competitive lad, and that might be dented a little if there are too many setbacks.

  2. Wow… Impressive. This is certainly volcano-season: you live on the island with the volcano? I have to admit I’m always impressed by abandoned empty houses, but yes, it is terrible that people have to flee leaving everything behind. Stay safe, Monique…

    • Yes, I live on the island with the volcano. The caldera is beautiful actually. My place is about 500m away from the caldera. The funny thing is that, every year in August, the locals organise a big “party”/celebration aiming at “softening” the volcano mood… and that includes shooting fireworks from the top of the volcano itself!

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