The first round, last 16, of this season Players Championship concluded yesterday afternoon.
Here are all the reports by WST as well as my (short) take on what I watched.
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.
The main talking point on day 1 was about the conditions. Mark Williams, who played on table 2, was extremely unhappy with the table, claiming it was like playing through mud and that the cushions were “spongy”.
Table 1 appeared to play slightly better … but only slightly. Neil Robertson saying that he had to constantly “overhit” the balls and confirming the state of the cushions.
I watched the Robertson v Wilson match and, TBH, I don’t remember much of it other than both players struggling. Neil Robertson had a few good breaks despite not being at his best at all, Kyren Wilson never looked at ease and missed a lot, including with the rest which it totally uncharacteristic.
Hawk Flies Through Against The Cyclone
Barry Hawkins only narrowly earned a place in this year’s Cazoo Players Championship, qualifying in 16th position, but he scored a superb 6-3 defeat of top seed Zhao Xintong to reach the quarter-finals in Wolverhampton.
Hawkins failed to qualify for last month’s German Masters, meaning he was left to sweat on matches going his way, with only the top 16 players on this season’s one-year list earning a place this week.
A string of favourable results, including an early exit for world number one Mark Selby, saw Hawkins edge through. He finished just £1,500 in front of 17thplaced Selby.
The Hawk is aiming for a first ranking crown since the 2017 World Grand Prix. However, the three-time ranking event winner has been in great form so far this season.
Hawkins made the last four of the Cazoo UK Championship in December, where he was beaten by Zhao. The Londoner also went on a superb run to the Cazoo Masters final at Alexandra Palace. He won an epic semi-final with Judd Trump 6-5, before falling short against Neil Robertson in the title match.
China’s 24-year-old Zhao posed a stern test for Hawkins this afternoon. He has been the form player of recent months. Zhao landed a maiden Triple Crown title in December, after turning his semi-final win over Hawkins at the UK Championship into silverware, with a defeat of Luca Brecel in the final. He also beat compatriot Yan Bingtao 9-0 in the final of the recent German Masters.
Former Crucible finalist Hawkins stamped his authority early on this afternoon. Breaks of 63 and 91 saw him establish a 2-0 advantage. Zhao reduced his arrears, but a further contribution of 91 earned Hawkins a 3-1 lead at the mid-session.
When play resumed Zhao surged back into contention. Runs of 90 and 62 helped him to two of the next three to make it 4-3. From there Hawkins showed his class, by claiming the following two frames with breaks of 71 and 50 to run out a 6-3 victor.
“I knew it was going to be a really tough game. He is the man in form and must be super confident. He already beat me quite convincingly at the UK Championship in the semi-finals, so it was nice to play well and get a win over him,” said 42-year-old Hawkins.
“He is a top player now. We have all known about him for a while, but he has now proven what he is capable of. He is going to be at the top of the game for a long time now as he will be dedicated. He is very talented and makes it look effortless.
“I feel like I’ve been in good form over the last couple of seasons. To get to the final of the Masters was huge. I took a bit of confidence from that. If I can keep playing well and putting myself in these positions, then hopefully one day the door will open. It is such a difficult game and it is so hard to win any tournament.”
Hawkins now faces a quarter-final contest with Yan Bingtao, who held off a David Gilbert fightback to win an enthralling match 6-4 this afternoon.
Yan showed no signs of a hangover following his comprehensive 9-0 loss at the German Masters. The world number 13 summoned a break building barrage to blitz 5-1 ahead. Runs of 100, 80, 66, 135 and 123 moved him a solitary frame from the win.
Gilbert rallied to take three on the bounce and heap the pressure on a 5-4. Yan stood up to it and fired in a match winning break of 59 to reach the quarters.
Yan Bingtao played really well at the start of the match. He adapted well to the still difficult conditions. At 5-1 down Gilbert probably relaxed and started to play much better as well. It was overall an good match to watch. The way Yan bounced back from his crushing defeat at the German Masters is a testimony of his excellent temperament.
Zhao had no answer to Hawkins’s game. Ronnie, in his last interview with Hector Nunns, said that Zhao’s game is still “incomplete” and it showed against the solid and very astute all-rounder that is Hawkins.
Lift Off For The Rocket
Ronnie O’Sullivan scored his first win over Judd Trump in almost three years with a 6-3 victory in front of a capacity crowd at the Cazoo Players Championship in Wolverhampton.
The Rocket last defeated Trump at the 2019 Tour Championship, when he edged an epic semi-final 10-9. Since then he had succumbed to three consecutive losses at the hands of the Ace in the Pack. There wasn’t a spare seat in the house this evening as O’Sullivan put on a supreme showing to stop the rot.
Despite tonight’s victory, six-time World Champion O’Sullivan still trails 2019 Crucible king Trump in the head-to-head standings. His arrears have now been reduced to just one at 13-12.
O’Sullivan currently leads this season’s Cazoo Series, having defeated Neil Robertson in the final of the Cazoo World Grand Prix before Christmas. He now faces Robertson again in this week’s quarter-finals.
Trump’s search for a first ranking title of the season goes on. The Bristolian racked up 11 wins in ranking events over the previous two campaigns, but is yet to go beyond the quarter-finals in one this term. Although, Trump did win the invitational Champion of Champions back in November.
The pair shared the opening two frames this evening, with O’Sullivan crafting a contribution of 90 to take the first, before Trump restored parity to make it 1-1.
Trump had the first opportunity in the third, but his run broke down on 53. O’Sullivan ruthlessly pounced with 83 to hit the front once more. He then added a further break of 99 to head into the mid-session 3-1 ahead.
When play resumed Trump pulled back within a frame. However, from there O’Sullivan charged for the line. Breaks of 62, 127 and 52 helped him to three of the next four, which saw him emerge with the 6-3 win.
O’Sullivan said: “I’m just pleased to get through. This is a good tournament to play in and you don’t want to be out in the first round of these tournaments. I’m happy to be in the event and I’ve got a nice and easy match with Neil Robertson in the next round now!
“There were still a few mistakes in there. I suppose that just happens when you get older, you have lapses in concentration that don’t happen when you are younger. I try to make up for it with other areas of my game and that kind of offsets those lapses that tend to happen.
“It was a good atmosphere and a packed audience. They came out expecting some good stuff so we tried to put on a good match for them.”
Ricky Walden is through to the quarter-finals after a fine 6-2 defeat of former Masters champion Mark Allen.
Chester’s Walden is enjoying an impressive season so far as he continues his quest for a first piece of silverware since the 2014 International Championship.
Walden’s strong form has seen him reach two semi-finals so far this term, having made the last four at the Northern Ireland Open and the recent German Masters.
Standing in the way of the three-time ranking event winner reaching a third semi-final of the season is Mark Williams. The pair face off in the first quarter-final tie tomorrow evening.
I saw nothing of the other match… however, afterwards, on twitter, Mark Allen vowed to get his own table ready for the “right conditions” by watering it and putting a layer of sponges on the cushions…
Higgins Surge Downs Vafaei
John Higgins fired in three centuries after the mid-session interval to beat Hossein Vafaei 6-3 and reach the quarter-finals of the Cazoo Players Championship in Wolverhampton.
Higgins arrived in Wolverhampton as defending champion, following an astonishing showing which saw him win the elite 16-player event last year.
The Scot beat Jordan Brown 6-0, Mark Selby 6-0, Kyren Wilson 6-1 and Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-3 to capture the title. Afterwards he admitted it was one of the best overall tournament displays of his career.
Higgins, a winner of 31 career ranking crowns, has brought that form into the current campaign. The four-time World Champion has reached four major finals thus far, but is yet to convert that into silverware. However, he is currently full of confidence after winning the Championship League last week.
Vafaei will leave Wolverhampton disappointed to fall at the first hurdle, but he has plenty to be pleased about heading into the final stages of the season. The Iranian captured a breakthrough ranking event win last month at the Shoot Out, defeating Mark Williams in the final.
It was Vafaei who made the best start this afternoon, taking a fragmented first two frames to lead 2-0. However, Higgins hit back and took the won the following two to head into the mid-session locked level at 2-2.
The Glaswegian sprung into life upon the resumption. Century breaks of 134, 101 and 108 helped him into a 5-3 lead and moved him a frame from victory. After gaining control in the ninth, he fired in a match winning run of 49 to reach the quarters.
“It was good to come back. At 2-0 behind it could have been looking dodgy. Hossein was looking really good. It was a bonus being 2-2 because of the way he’s been playing,” said 46-year-old Higgins.
“Everybody was delighted for him winning the Shoot Out. It was brilliant for Iranian snooker and brilliant to have another overseas winner. We all know how special he is as a player. He hits the ball so well. This was obviously a big tournament for him. I was just thinking that he might be feeling the pressure a bit. A little bit of experience maybe helped me today.
“I’ll look back fondly on this tournament forever with how well I played last year. As I said at the time, I’ve never played as well as that. They are good memories and I’m trying to bring those here and replicate it somehow.”
Next up for Higgins is a quarter-final clash with former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson, who secured an impressive 6-1 win over Scottish Open champion Luca Brecel.
Robertson narrowly avoided relegation from the professional circuit last season. The Bexhill cueman survived a final frame decider with Zhao Jianbo at 2021 World Championship qualifying to win 6-5 and maintain his tour card.
However, this season he has shown signs of a return to his best form. That can be exemplified by runs to the semi-finals of the British Open and the quarter-finals of the Cazoo World Grand Prix.
Robertson lost the opener this afternoon, but went on to capture six consecutive frames to set up his quarter-final showdown with Higgins.
Robertson said: “He’s the number two seed and just beating him in general is a big win for me. This is a massive tournament. I’ve been pretty consistent so far this season, but that was a big result.”
The Higgins v Vafaei match basically turned on one shot. Hossein was dominating the match in the early stages and was on the verge to go 3-0 up when he missed a tricky red in a top corner. John Higgins made it 2-1 and then took the fragmented next as well. When they resumed after the MSI, John Higgins had found his scoring boots and Vafaei disintegrated as the match went on.
I saw nothing from the other match. However the score suggests that Luca, once again, has a dip of form after a couple of verygood performances. It’s been the story of him still young career so far.