Marco Fu’s return to professional snooker after a two-year absence finished in a narrow 6-5 defeat against Ian Burns in the first qualifying round of the the Betfred World Championship.
Three-time ranking event winner Fu had not previously competed on the tour since the 2020 Welsh Open, having taken a break from the sport due to a combination of problems with his vision and travel restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic. The Hong Kong ace decided to return to the UK to play in snooker’s biggest tournament, but despite showing flashes of his old magic, he was unable to get the better of Englishman Burns.
A 141 total clearance – an early contender for the £15,000 tournament high break prize – helped put Burns 3-0 ahead. Fu recovered to 3-3, and later came from 5-3 down to 5-5 with a top run of 122. But a break of 73 gave Burns the decider and set up a second round meeting with Elliot Slessor.
“I know Marco hasn’t played a lot in the last couple of years, but when the draw came out I knew it was going to be a really tough game,” said Burns, who needs three more wins to earn a Crucible debut. “My game is in good shape and I knew I would have to play well today. Getting to the Crucible is something that everyone dreams of doing and there is pressure out there.”
Fu said: “It was nice to be back, I missed playing on the pro circuit. I have been stuck in Covid for two years and I almost forgot how to play the game. I didn’t expect too much today because I only had a week of intense training. When I started that week I couldn’t make a 20! Towards the end of the match today I was able to make a few breaks, but I was also missing a lot of easy shots.
“I still enjoy playing, though I have not practised more than twice a week for the last two years, so I feel like an amateur challenging the pros. I feel proud of the way I played today, but Ian played very well and it was hard to live with that standard.
“I’m not too sure what the future holds for me. I would love to pay in more tournaments next season but it all depends on what the quarantine rules are when I travel back to Hong Kong. If it stays at seven days that’s ok but if it changes to 21 days then I can’t come over.”
Hong Kong’s hopes of having a player at the final stages were dashed as Ng On Yee lost 6-2 to Rory McLeod. A break of 97 gave On Yee the opening frame, but McLeod hit back to take six of the next seven with a top break of 93.
Peter Devlin top scored with 64 in a 6-1 thrashing of Yorrit Hoes while Yuan Sijun fired runs of 105 and 130 in a 6-3 defeat of Ross Muir.
James Cahill, who knocked out Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible in 2019, moved a step towards a return by beating Jamie O’Neill 6-4 with a top break of 113.
Lee Walker top scored with 100 in a 6-2 win over Reanne Evans while Daniel Wells came from 5-4 down to edge out Chang Bingyu 6-5.
In the last match to finish on day two, or in fact at 2am on Wednesday morning, Peter Lines came from 5-2 down to 5-5 in a Leeds derby against Sanderson Lam, only for Lam to take a tense decider on the colours.
Marco has been out of the game for a very long time. because of health issues (eyes problems) and covid related travel restrictions. For the first three frames of the match he was really struggling, unable to construct anything. I was impressed with the way he improved during the match but it was obviously too little, too late.
Neither Reanne, nor On Yee currently have the level required to succesfully compete on the main tour, that much is obvious. Some people have questioned whether the women game should exist at all given that the tour is open to both genders. There is no easy answer to that. It can’t be denied that, even in 2022, girls don’t always feel welcome in snooker clubs. Mind you, some clubs don’t even allow them to play. Rebecca Kenna, who will play today, was playing for her local league and was prevented to play some fixtures simply because the “host” club was not allowing women to play. So the women’s game offers girls a safe and welcoming environment which is of course very important to encourage them to take on snooker. BUT, when they reach a certain level, they don’t get the opposition they need to progress further, unless they get out of that “bubble”. Should they be on the main tour though? I’m not sure. Once again, unless snooker evolves to a completely different “rating” model, the only short term answer I can see is to create a secondary tour as a transition step between amateurs and pros and have them competing at that level first.
Yesterday’s results mean relegation / Q-School for Ben Hancorn,