The quarter-finals at the 2022 Players Championship threw some unexpected results as all members of the class of 92 exited the tournament.
One result that definitely isn’t a shock is Ronnie’s 6-3 defeat to Neil Robertson. Neil is currently World number 4, Ronnie is World number 2. It’s the third time they meet in the last 3 months only, Ronnie won the 2021 World Grand Prix beating Neil in the Final, Neil beat him in the QFs at the 2022 Masters and in this event. More about that match is available here.
Walden Fightback Stuns Williams
Ricky Walden came back from the brink, as he rallied from 5-2 down to beat Mark Williams 6-5, in a thrilling quarter-final at the Cazoo Players Championship in Wolverhampton.
The epic turnaround sees Walden through to his third semi-final of the season, having also made the last four at the Northern Ireland Open and the recent German Masters.
The Englishman has enjoyed a significant resurgence during this campaign. He suffered back problems between 2016 and 2017 and has admitted he feared his career was under threat.
Since fully recovering it has taken the three-time ranking event winner time to rebuild his form and is only now showing signs of a return to the upper echelons of the professional game. Walden is currently ranked 18th in the world and is sure to have one eye on breaking back into the top 16.
Williams has produced some superb snooker since the turn of the year, but has endured some gut wrenching defeats in the process. The 24-time ranking event winner was pipped 6-5 in the semi-finals at the Cazoo Masters by Neil Robertson, the Australian required two snookers in the decider. Williams was also runner-up to Hossein Vafaei at the Shoot Out and today’s loss once again came in a cruel manner.
It had looked as if Williams was set to make light work of the tie this evening. At 2-1 up, the Welshman fired in back-to-back centuries of 107 and 102 to move 4-1 in front. Walden immediately responded with a superb run of 123 to reduce his arrears, but it was Williams who won the seventh to pull a frame from the win at 5-2.
Former International Champion Walden then forced his way back into contention with breaks of 65 and 80 to get within a frame at 5-4. Williams then spurned an opportunity to clinch his place in the last four when he missed the final brown with a chance to clear. Walden potted it and that was enough to ensure a final frame.
A break of 58 put Walden in charge of the decider, but he was left fearing the worst when Williams cracked in a thunderous long pot on the second last red to set up a potential match winning opportunity. However, he missed the final red along the black cushion and handed Walden the tie. The Chester cueman now faces either Yan Bingtao or Barry Hawkins in the last four.
“It was just relief after that last frame. I was hanging by a thread all game to be honest. I felt sick when he potted that last red and thought it was going to be a tough one to take. Thankfully he missed the red down the rail and a bit of luck went my way,” said 39-year-old Walden.
“Those matches just toughen you up. If I had lost there, it would have been another experience and I would have gone again. You just need to keep trying and keep working. I was on the right side of that one and it does toughen both your mind and your emotions.
“Barry and Yan are obviously both great players, everyone in this tournament is a brilliant player. Yan is a Masters champion and Barry plays awesome all of the time. It will be a tough game for me.”
Williams was visibly gutted to lose that match, having led by 4-1 and 5-2. Ricky Walden, on form, is a top player and I’m very happy to see him back to the latter stages of tournaments. He deseserved this win, he battled hard. Still, I couldn’t help wondering if Willo is still suffering from the aftermaths of covid. He has been very ill and only recently admitted that fatigue was still an issue when he had to play in the evening.
Hawk Swoops To Snatch Epic
Barry Hawkins defeated Yan Bingtao 6-5 in an encounter which seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry described in commentary as “one of the best 11 frame matches I have ever seen”, to reach the semi-finals of the Cazoo Players Championship.
Both players produced a scintillating standard this afternoon in Wolverhampton, each finishing the match with a 95% pot success rate. Between them they fired in ten breaks over 50, including four centuries.
Hawkins qualified for this week’s elite event by the skin of his teeth. Only the top 16 players on this season’s one-year list have qualified and the Hawk pushed World Champion Mark Selby out into 17th position to claim the final spot.
The Londoner has taken full advantage of his qualification and now faces a last four showdown with Ricky Walden, who he defeated 17-14 in the semi-finals of the 2013 World Championship.
Both Hawkins and Walden are attempting to halt a silverware drought this week. Hawkins last picked up a ranking crown at the 2017 World Grand Prix, while Walden’s last ranking win came at the 2014 International Championship.
Defeat for Yan leaves his hopes of qualifying for the eight-player Cazoo Tour Championship hanging in the balance. He currently sits in ninth place on the live one-year list just behind Walden.
Yan, who was runner-up at the recent German Masters, seized the early initiative this afternoon. The Tiger fired in back-to-back century runs of 139 and 103 to move 2-0 ahead.
However, three-time ranking event winner Hawkins was unfazed and breaks of 86 and 77 saw the pair head into the mid-session locked level at 2-2.
The relentless break building continued when play resumed. Former Players Champion Hawkins hit the front for the first time with a run of 95 to make it 3-2. From there they traded frames all the way to the finish line.
Yan composed breaks of 54, 98 and 132 on his way to moving 5-4 ahead, before Hawkins crafted a run of 126 to force a decider. A misfired long red from Yan allowed Hawkins a straightforward starter over the right middle and he pounced with a nerveless 73 to wrap up victory.
“We both played really well, we both scored heavily and didn’t make many mistakes. I don’t think I’ve played in many best of 11 matches as good as that,” said 42-year-old Hawkins.
“He butchered one long red in the whole match and that was in the final frame. He is such a strong all round player, he has a great temperament and is a great scorer and long potter. He is still so young and has so many years ahead of him. Both Yan and Zhao Xintong are fantastic players. The game is in good hands.
“It will be a massive opportunity for both of us in the semi-finals. I’ve grown up with Ricky since the junior days. We’ve been on the tour together for what feels like forever. It is a big opportunity for him as he is back in form and he has been looking for a result like this to push him up the rankings. It is going to be a really tough game.”
This indeed was one of the best matches I ever watched. It was vey high quality from both. It was enjoyable and the table seemed to play well. Unfortunately that didn’t last as we saw during the evening session … Barry Hawkins is badly underrated by most fans. He’s not a genius but he’s a formidable all-rounder and very strong under-pressure. He proved that again during this match.
Robertson Stages Stunning Higgins Upset
Just under a year ago Jimmy Robertson was a frame off relegation from the professional ranks, but today he sealed a stunning 6-4 win over four-time World Champion John Higgins to reach the semi-finals of the elite 16-player Cazoo Players Championship in Wolverhampton.
Robertson’s career was on the line at 2021 World Championship qualifying. He needed to win his first round match against China’s Zhao Jianbo to remain on the circuit. Having trailed 3-0, he showed his steel to secure a critical 6-5 victory.
The Bexhill cueman’s significant mental fortitude from last season has been transferred into the current campaign. Robertson has capitalised on winning his tour survival battle, by reaching the semis at the British Open and the quarters at the Cazoo World Grand Prix.
Part of the credit for Robertson’s enhanced mental toughness must be given to mind coach AP O’Neill, who he started working with at the back end of last season and has helped him to regain his confidence.
Robertson already has a ranking title to his name, having beaten Joe Perry 9-6 in the final of the 2018 European Masters. The subsequent years saw him slide down the rankings with his form deteriorating, before his recent resurgence.
Scotland’s Higgins will leave Wolverhampton disappointed not to have come closer to securing his first ranking silverware of the season. The 31-time ranking event winner agonisingly lost finals at the Northern Ireland Open and English Open 9-8 at the hands of Mark Allen and Neil Robertson respectively.
It was Higgins who gained the early advantage this afternoon, taking the first two frames to lead 2-0. However, runs of 58 and 57 helped Robertson to claw his way back into proceedings and make it 2-2 at the mid-session.
The pair traded frames when play resumed, before a decisive burst from Robertson moved him to the verge of victory. Breaks of 102 and 57 saw him claim two on the bounce to make it 5-3. Higgins kept his hopes alive by firing in a contribution of 80 to claim the ninth frame, before a dramatic tenth.
Robertson had appeared to have done enough when he left Higgins requiring two snookers. The gritty Glaswegian got the required penalty points to bring the frame back into the balance. Eventually he left Robertson an opportunity on the brown, which he deposited to get over the line. Next up he faces Cazoo Masters champion Neil Robertson in the semi-finals.
“That win means everything. It was a massive match and a massive occasion. Beating him in an ITV event on the one table setup is huge for me and hopefully it can give me a lot of confidence,” said 35-year-old Robertson.
“I’ve struggled over the years with certain things going on in my head. I don’t always show it on the table, but there’s all sorts happening mentally. It was time to start working with somebody and it is really doing me good at the moment.
“Snooker is the toughest sport in my opinion because you are out there on your own. You can be sat in your chair at times without getting a shot. It is so difficult and you need to get your mind in the right place for when you do get a chance. Over the years I’ve struggled a bit with nerves.
“These guys are the best in the world, but you have to go out there and show you aren’t scared of them. That is the main thing I’ve shied away from over the years. To have a chance of beating them you need to take the game to them and attack them.”
This certainly wasn’t expected, especially when John Higgins was about to go 3-0 ahead. That said Jimmy Robertson always had a loads of ability but has not really done his talent justice so far. I remember being introduced to him by Janie Watkins at the start of 2009 EBSA Championship in Duffel, in Belgium. This was actually the first tournament I “covered” as a photographer. Janie, who was a player herself, thought very highly of Jimmy and I remember being impressed by his fluency around the table. He lost in the QFs that time, to Mario Fernandez, brother of Leo and former practice partner of Jimmy White. Mario went on to reach the final. The event was won by David Hogan. Also competing in that event, in the main draw, was a very young Luca Brecel; he was only 14 and reached the last 16.