The schedule of the “ITV events” is always a bit peculiar and we had just one session, two matches, yesterday evening: Neil Robertson beat Kyren Wilson by 6-4 whilst Mark Williams beat Gary Wilson by 6-3 from 0-2 down.
Winning Start For Robertson And Williams
Neil Robertson came through a tough battle with Kyren Wilson by a 6-4 scoreline on day one of the Cazoo Players Championship in Wolverhampton, while Mark Williams beat Gary Wilson 6-3.
Robertson’s preparations for this week have been far from ideal, having tested positive for Covid-19 after travelling back from Berlin following the recent German Masters. He then underwent a period of isolation.
Despite still feeling under par, the Australian remains full of confidence having scored a landmark second Masters victory at Alexandra Palace last month. He defeated Barry Hawkins 10-4 in the final to capture the Paul Hunter Trophy.
Wilson came into today’s encounter having enjoyed a good record against Robertson of late. The Kettering cueman had won four of their previous five meetings, but it was 21-time ranking event Robertson who cranked up the heat early on this evening.
Breaks of 114 and 60 helped Robertson into a 2-1 lead. He then doubled his advantage heading into the mid-session, after claiming the fourth on the black to lead 3-1.
The Warrior battled his way back into the tie when play resumed, taking two on the bounce to restore parity at 3-3. Robertson responded with 94 to take the seventh, before Wilson fired in a tournament high run of 141 to make it 4-4.
A break of exactly 100 moved Robertson a frame from the win. He then unlocked the path to victory in the 10th frame with a superb shot on the green to develop the brown. From there the Melbourne cueist completed a clearance to the black with a break of 47 to win 6-4.
World number four Robertson now faces the mouth watering prospect of a quarter-final clash with either Judd Trump or Ronnie O’Sullivan.
“I thought I played really well. I had a couple of missed balls, but I felt overall the standard from myself was decent,” said 39-year-old Robertson.
“It was lucky that this tournament was a few days after I came out from isolation. The form is still there from the Masters, I feel great and confidence is high. You can clearly see I’m hitting the ball well. I got a few days practising and that put me in the form I needed to put in a decent performance.
“Even if I am still showing signs of any kind of tiredness, playing Ronnie or Judd is the perfect match. The frames will be over so quickly and I will get good chances with it being against attacking players. It is going to be a good crowd so there won’t be many flat moments in the match and that will also suit me. I am free rolling a little bit at the moment.”
Williams rallied from 2-0 down to secure his 6-3 defeat of Wilson and earn a quarter-final spot.
The Welshman has been in superb form so far this season. Today’s win was a repeat of the British Open final earlier in the campaign, where he defeated Wilson 6-4 to claim the 24th ranking crown of his career.
Williams was edged out 6-5 by Robertson in a thrilling Masters semi-final last month and followed that up with a run to the Shoot Out final, where he was beaten by Hossein Vafaei.
The three-time World Champion wasn’t at his fluent best this evening, failing to compose a break over 50, but three frames on the bounce from 3-3 were enough to seal the victory.
Next up Williams faces either Mark Allen or Ricky Walden in the quarter-finals.
Altough Neil feels that he is in good form, this actually didn’t show immediately at the table. There were lots of mistakes from both him and Kyren before the MSI.
The conditions looked very tricky to say the least and that was confirmed by this bit of conversation between the two winners on twitter:
Table 1 was also rolling off from left to right (as seen on our screens). This was very apparent on some “slow” safety shots Neil played: he ended up hitting his target on the wrong side a couple of times.
We have four matches today. Ronnie will play tonight and it’s fair to say that from all the “top seeds” he’s the one that has been handed the toughest task as he will face Judd Trump.
Ronnie O’Sullivan: New Sensation Zhao Xintong Has Snooker At His Mercy
“Of course, you have to say ‘Could be’ at the moment, it is still early, he has got quite a bit to learn and master to be the full article. He is super-good now, but could be an unplayable great if he were to brush up on certain things. And that is up to him, does he want to be open to that, and do the work.
“Because Zhao can be as good as he wants to be, he has got the game in his hands. As he develops he will handle the pressure situations even better than now. Even though he is a little bit one-dimensional now with all the potting and fantastic break-building, his defensive game can improve and that will make him better again.
“What is scary for the rest is what he is doing with only half a game – because I think that is what he has, half a game, compared to his potential. He still manages to brush other players aside, but that is only because he is so talented. But he can become even more difficult to play against and boss games from the start.
“There aren’t that many players that have a chance of threatening the important records – Hendry’s seven world titles, my seven Masters and UKs, the 20 majors. He is maybe the only one out there who could topple some of those. I watched his win at the German Masters, and was following what was going on. I have a real soft spot for Zhao.
“And in many wany he reminds me of my son – I look at him and it is like he is a reflection of my little Ronnie – a couple of handsome, good-looking boys! But of course the main thing is his talent, and the way he can play the game. It is exciting to watch, and exciting to see someone that emerges.”
Meanwhile, as far as O’Sullivan’s own first test in the tournament is concerned, it couldn’t be much tougher. Trump’s relatively poor campaign to date is responsible for this clash materialising as early in the tournament as it has, with O’Sullivan seeded third and the 32-year-old only 14th.
Since this tournament was rebranded in 2017 from the Players Tour Championship that preceded it and made for the top 16 on the one-year list, O’Sullivan and Trump have each won two of the five to have been staged – the Rocket also losing 10-3 in last year’s final to John Higgins.
Trump has beaten Marco Fu (10-8 in 2017) and Yan Bingtao (10-4 in 2020) in finals, while O’Sullivan has taken out Shaun Murphy (10-4 in 2018) and Neil Robertson (also 10-4 in 2019) in his other showpieces.
Trump is one of the few to hold a winning career head to head record against O’Sullivan, including eight of the 11 finals they have contested – and has also won five of their last six meetings.
O’Sullivan said: “Look, I am just happy to be in the draw the way I have been playing. My performances recently haven’t been great so I am looking forward to another road trip. It would be nice to get a few days out of it, rather than go up Monday and be heading home Tuesday night.
“So I would like to stay involved for a few days. I have got some nice running routes planned up there. Me against Judd in the first round…if the fans and the TV look forward to it, then that’s fantastic! For me I’ll be having some fun and hope to make a game of it.”
Ronnie is of course aware that his form hasn’t been the best in competitive matches so far this season, despite winning the 2021 World Grand Prix just before the Christmas break but the same is true for Judd as well.
PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP: EARLY RONNIE O’SULLIVAN MATCH HIGHLIGHTS JUDD TRUMP’S TRICKY ROAD TO RECLAIMING SNOOKER’S THRONE
The match could easily have been a final, but Judd Trump meets Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round of the Cazoo Players Championship because the former is 14th on the one-year list used to determine the 16-man field. Eurosport commentator Dave Hendon looks at the challenges facing Trump as he copes with multiple challengers, including the longevity of O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams.
By DAVE HENDON
When Judd Trump meets Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round of the Cazoo Players Championship on Tuesday night it marks the latest chapter of a rivalry between two authentic crowd-pleasers.
A match-up which could easily have been a final, they are clashing in the first round because Trump is 14th on the one-year list used to determine the 16-man field. This season he has so far failed to get past the quarter-finals of a ranking event, although he did win the prestigious Champion of Champions last November.
Trump and Mark Selby have been trading the world No 1 position this season but, with Selby absent from the field, O’Sullivan will return to top spot for the first time in three years if he wins the title.
When he was starting out, the forty-somethings were great players of their day on the slide – the likes of Dennis Taylor, Terry Griffiths and Cliff Thorburn. Trump may have reasonably expected that the players he idolised as a boy would have seriously declined by now, but there is no sign of that.
Trump is six months from his 33rd birthday and has won 22 ranking titles. At the same age, O’Sullivan had won 20, although there were fewer ranking events back in 2008.
The 20th was his third world title, and this is important to note because, like it or not, snooker careers are ultimately measured by the sport’s biggest event. The World Championship is an examination of skill, stamina and nerve like no other. It defines a snooker player in the public mind for good or bad.
Jimmy White was blessed with genius but is still inevitably introduced as the six times Crucible runner-up rather than by any of the many other titles he won.
Neil Robertson is a modern great but admits he needs to improve on his 2010 world title success to cement his place in the all-time pantheon.
Trump won the title three years ago but has not made it past the quarter-finals since. There is still time, but he faces challenges on three fronts – younger stars emerging, such as Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao, the established order represented by Robertson and Selby and the older legends who refuse to lie down, O’Sullivan in particular.
Trump is an extraordinary shot-maker who has instilled iron discipline in his game to become a consistent winner. He deserves more credit than he has generally received for winning the amount of tournaments he has in a relatively short space of time: 14 ranking titles in three seasons, plus the Masters, from 2018 to 2021.
These were not small events, as some detractors like to claim. Seven of them carried first prizes of at least £100,000. None of them were easy to win. His best characteristics – fantastic potting, heavy scoring, shrewd safety play and poise under pressure – came to the fore each time.
The focus and application required to churn out win after win, round after round, is considerable and Trump channelled the mindset of a Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry to go into every event determined to come away as its champion.
In three successive Northern Ireland Open finals, he defeated O’Sullivan. Trump has an overall winning record against him and has won five of their last six meetings. O’Sullivan’s last victory was a 10-9 success on the final black in the 2019 Tour Championship semi-finals. Trump had missed the yellow to win.
Trump’s problem is not beating O’Sullivan, it’s the inevitable career-wide comparisons with him.
The modern metric for success is the ‘triple crown’ of World Championship, UK Championship and Masters, although this is not the historic measure many would have us believe.
Steve Davis would not have recognised the ‘triple crown’. In his day, the new events which counted towards the world rankings were considered majors. At the 1987 Masters, Davis lost in the first round and, when asked why he thought he had only won the tournament once, replied that he possibly did not try as hard as in the ranking events.
The last player to actually complete the triple crown in the same season was Mark Williams in 2002/03, but not much was made of this at the time. However, when Williams also won the other BBC televised event – the LG Cup – at the start of the following season, he was said to have completed the ‘Grand Slam.’ Nothing more has been heard of this since the BBC dropped their fourth event in 2010.
Even so, we are where we are and Trump has so far won the world, UK and Masters titles on one occasion each. This makes him one of only 11 players to have completed the triple crown, but O’Sullivan has won 20 of these titles.
Time and again, O’Sullivan has come good on the big occasion. His very presence in a tournament creates a frisson of excitement. Trump is hugely popular with audiences, especially younger snooker fans, but is yet to develop this aura because O’Sullivan occupies so much of the bandwidth.
Every time it seems the baton has been passed, O’Sullivan wrenches it back. So much of the spotlight is on him that his rivals are often left in the shadows.
The Rocket is snooker’s biggest star, an endlessly fascinating force of nature who has dazzled audiences for 30 years. He can never be written off.
In 2019, Trump outplayed him in the Masters final, won the World Championship and became world No 1. O’Sullivan did little of note the following season while Trump won five ranking titles, but the campaign ended with O’Sullivan winning his sixth world title to great acclaim.
It was a bit like a much-loved actor turning up late on in a play, stealing the final scene and ending the night with a standing ovation.
O’Sullivan belongs to a golden generation, with Williams and John Higgins, born at the height of the UK snooker boom. They learned their trade amid the thriving junior and amateur circuits of Britain and are the game’s true survivors and among its greatest champions.
This holy snooker triumvirate known as the ‘Class of ’92’ are like red wine on a white rug. You can try to scrub them out all you want, but they aren’t shifting.
Since Trump reached his last ranking final 11 months ago, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams have between them appeared in seven. O’Sullivan won his 38th ranking title at the World Grand Prix just before Christmas.
Their longevity is remarkable. Higgins, a humble man, said last week he felt he is playing better then he ever has. His capture of the Players Championship last season for the loss of only four frames is exhibit A in the evidence that he may be right.
Whether O’Sullivan is quite the player he was is a matter of opinion, but what isn’t is that he remains the sport’s dominant character, attracting headlines and interest like no other. He is 46 but still plays a youthful game and remains the benchmark for those aspiring to be successful on the green baize.
Trump is in many ways the perfect talisman for snooker: young, talented and positive with a formidable work ethic and genuine desire to grow the game.
But the throne can only truly be his when snooker’s perennial king across the water has abdicated. And Ronnie O’Sullivan shows no signs of going anywhere just yet.
Judd Trump once got cross at me on twitter for saying that there were fewer events to play in when Ronnie was his age. I doubt that he will dare to respond angrily to Dave’s claims the way he did mine because, very simply, we both are stating facts. In 2008 Ronnie played in 8 events, out of the only 10 in the calendar. He won three of them, and got to the final of two others. In terms of percentages that’s as least as good as anything Judd ever did during any season. Judd Trump has won 33 titles – big and small – out of the 287 events he competed in. That’s 11.4%, which is actually remarkable but still very far from the 20.5% win rate by Ronnie (source: cuetracker)