Four matches concluded on the second day of the Championship, producing four winners: Zhao Xintong, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jackson Page and Stephen Maguire.
Here are WST reports about the three sessions played yesterday:
‘Phenomenal’ Zhao Scores First Crucible Win
Jamie Clarke claimed that Zhao Xintong will “definitely win the title within five years” after being blown away 10-2 by the Cyclone in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.
Zhao’s only previous Crucible appearance came in 2019 when he lost 10-7 to Mark Selby, but he has improved dramatically since then and now has a first win in Sheffield under his belt. The 25-year old Chinese ace made his major breakthrough in December when he won his maiden ranking title at the Cazoo UK Championship, and he soon doubled his tally at the German Masters in January.
With flair and fluency in abundance, world number seven Zhao proved against Clarke he is capable of reeling off frames in quick succession, a crucial asset on snooker’s biggest stage. His next opponent will be Stephen Maguire or Shaun Murphy in a last-16 clash which starts on Thursday evening.
Zhao’s natural talent has been widely praised by the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Mark Williams, and a heavily beaten Clarke was quick to join his list of admirers.
“He’s just phenomenal, a sensation in our sport,” said the Welshman. “He’s a real contender for the title this year. I’ll put my neck on the line and say that I fancy him to win the world title in the next five years if he doesn’t win it this year. He’s unbelievable to watch. He floats around the table and acts like the game is easy. When you get to the table after he misses it feels difficult because he’s made it look so easy, it makes you only see problems.”
In yesterday’s opening session, Zhao scored breaks of 98, 57, 73, 109, 78 and 103 in building a 7-2 lead. Just 25 minutes into today’s second session, he had extended that advantage to 9-2 with runs of 88 and 82. Frame 12 came down to the colours and Clarke got the snooker he needed on the green, but then missed the green and handed Zhao the chance to complete the scoreline.
“This is my first win at the Crucible so I’m very happy,” said Zhao, who lives in Sheffield. “I need more confidence for the next match, so this win is very important to me.
“In the second session I didn’t want to lose frames because Jamie is a great player, so I had to concentrate on my shots. Now I feel better. It is not easy, it’s very difficult. Even when I was 9-2 up I still felt pressure and I needed to finish the match quickly so that the pressure didn’t build.
“Hopefully I can win, I am confident but I don’t know what will happen in the future so I will try my best.”
Clarke added: “I didn’t have any problem with how I played. I played well through the qualifiers, with the pressure of potentially dropping off the tour in the first round. I had a good win against Graeme Dott to qualify which I was really pleased with. I’m back in the top 64 so I don’t have to go to Q School so I’m extremely proud of myself.
“After playing three really tough matches to get here – which feels like a tournament in itself – If you’re going to win this tournament, as I aspire to one day, I think getting seeded is crucial because you’re up here for a very long time.”
On the other table, world number 13 Anthony McGill made a strong start to his 2022 Crucible campaign, moving 6-3 up on Liam Highfield.
McGill has a reputation for producing his best snooker at the World Championship. The Glaswegian beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-12 last year and made the semis in 2020, when he narrowly lost out 17-16 against Kyren Wilson in an epic clash.
Englishman Highfield is making his third Crucible appearance, but is still seeking his first match win at the Theatre of Dreams. He lost opening round matches in 2018 and 2021 to Mark Allen and Judd Trump respectively.
Highfield took a tightly contested opener this morning on the colours, before a break of 56 helped McGill to restore parity at 1-1. He pressed on from that point, adding a second frame and then crafting a run of 70 to make it 3-1 at the mid-session.
When play resumed, McGill pulled further clear with a break of 71 to take the fifth. However, Highfield showed his resolve by compiling runs of 59 and 55 to take two of the next three and reduce his arrears to 5-3.
Despite Highfield’s efforts, it was McGill who secured the last of the session to end with a three-frame cushion. They will return to play to a conclusion tomorrow at 10am.
Zhao was indeed fantastic to watch. During the second session, the commentators praised his cue ball control and break building ability.
Speaking to Phil Haigh on the opening day, Ronnie had explained how he is trying to help Zhao to reach his phenomenal potential:
Ronnie O’Sullivan reckons Zhao Xintong could be the greatest player of all time and he is helping him do just that by imparting some of his break-building mastery on the young star.
The Rocket has long been a fan of the Cyclone and is looking to help him develop his immense talent, which has seen him win the UK Championship and German Masters this season.
Zhao is yet to develop much consistency, with the two titles coming in an otherwise quiet campaign for the 25-year-old – not winning more than two matches in any other event.
O’Sullivan has been to Victoria’s Academy in Sheffield, where Zhao is based, to help sharpen his skills, with the Chinese star saying it is to improve the way he thinks about the game.
‘We talk like friends, just about thinking about snooker, he teaches me a lot and he’s a good man. He’s the best player, a legend,’ Zhao told Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s how to think. I think this is very important. The top players are all so great, so thinking is important.’
O’Sullivan went into further detail about how he is helping Zhao think on the table and it is largely about the art of break-building.
The Rocket is the game’s greatest break-builder, thanks to his immense potting ability but more to his control of the white ball.
This is what he is trying to improve in Zhao, although O’Sullivan says it has been an interesting process in trying to teach the Cyclone, because much of it comes to him without thinking, so describing it to someone else is a new challenge.
‘With Zhao, it’s more about, why have you ended up there?’ O’Sullivan explained. ‘You’re so good, but you’ve ended up there, so figure out why you’ve ended up there.
‘So I showed him, and he went, “yeah”. We get on the practice table and watch him do something and I’m thinking, “Why can’t you get there? Why are you struggling with that?”
‘So I’d tell him to do this or do that and he’d get it, and actually it taught me a lot. I didn’t realise until I was watching him, because I know how to get there but it’s not until you watch someone do it, you think what you have to do. When you do it yourself you don’t realise you’re doing that.
‘I think I’ve been able to help him navigate the table a bit better. I’ve realised my break-building and the breaks I’ve made over the years are because the way I go about my shots.
‘How I get from A to B, basically, and I’m trying to show him that he can get from A to B a lot more efficiently and easier and the mistakes that we picked out will no longer be mistakes because shots will be a lot easier.
‘I just want to see him develop. I want all the snooker fans to get to see the best Xintong they get to see. If I can help with his development and sit back and watch him come along, I get great joy out of that.’
How far he could develop is extremely far indeed, according to O’Sullivan, who thinks the Chinese sensation has the skills to become the finest player in history.
The Rocket is happy to try and help him do just that, as the legendary Ray Reardon did for him as he developed his own game.
‘He could be the greatest of all time with his talent, his ability,’ said O’Sullivan. ‘I always say he’s Roger Federer with a snooker cue in his hands. But he’s got to develop and learn, and he will learn. He’s like me, he’s a quick learner and he’s shown that he’s on it.
‘A bit like what Reardon done with me, he showed me how to defend better. Xintong attacks but it’s sometimes attacking because he’s forced to attack. I said to him, “If you do this better, you’ll always have the upper hand, the more you’ve got the upper hand the more you will feel comfortable. You don’t want to play snooker from desperation.”
‘That’s what I used to do, play from desperation. Attack because I don’t know how to get out of trouble and pot my way out of it. Let’s not do that, get the odds in our favour, but you need to go about it in a certain way for that to happen.’
Well, it’s working it seems. Zhao is obviously a good student! Ronnie and Zhao could potentially play each other in the QFs. It could be interesting!
On the other table, Mark Williams made a sizzling start to his Welsh derby against Michael White, taking a 7-2 lead. Three time champion Williams compiled breaks of 121, 90, 71, 116 and 138 in winning the first seven frames.
White is only the second amateur to play at the Crucible and at that stage he looked in danger of being on the wrong end of a rare whitewash. But he won the last two of the session with runs of 56 and 68. They return on Monday at 2.30pm, Williams needing three frames to reach round two.
New Chapter For Brilliant Page
Jackson Page proved himself an authentic star in the making with the best win of his career so far as he beat former finalist Barry Hawkins 10-7 in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.
On his Crucible debut, 20-year-old Page finished the match in the style of a seasoned champion by making back-to-back centuries to win the last two frames. World number nine Hawkins, runner-up in 2013, becomes the first seed to be knocked out of this year’s event, and it’s the first time since 2010 that he has failed to reach the second round.
Page’s potential was first recognised in 2017 when, competing as a 15-year-old schoolboy, he reached the third round of the Welsh Open. Like many leading amateurs, he struggled with the huge step up to the professional tour, and dropped off the circuit at the end of last season. But he bounced back immediately through Q School and has shown more maturity in his game this term.
The 20-year-old from Cwm is now enjoying the best month of his life on the baize, having won four matches in the qualifying rounds just to make it to the Crucible, before his tremendous win over three-time ranking event winner Hawkins.
Page could face his mentor and practice partner Mark Williams in the last 16, if the the three-time champion can convert a 7-2 lead over Michael White into a second round spot on Monday. So calm did Page look in the closing stages tonight that he seems to have absorbed Williams’ unflappable temperament.
Through to the last 16 of a ranking event for the fifth time in his career, world number 90 Page is already guaranteed a career high pay day of £30,000.
Hawkins trailed 6-3 going into the concluding session but got the start he needed by taking the first two frames for 6-5. He led 49-5 in the 12th when he missed a difficult red to a centre pocket, then sat in his chair as Page knocked in a long red and made an excellent 54 clearance. Hawkins dominated the 13th to close to 7-6 at the interval.
Londoner Hawkins trailed 44-27 in frame 14 when he missed a tough pot on the last red to a top corner, leaving his opponent the chance to clear and double his lead. A run of 59 saw Hawkins close to 8-7, but he failed to score a point in the last two frames. Marvellous total clearances of 128 and 135 saw Page into the second round.
“I couldn’t have asked for a much better debut,” said Page. “When I get my mind in the zone, the scoreline and everything else is irrelevant, I’m just trying to take what’s there on the table. It got a bit edgy out there tonight but I made a great century break to go 9-7 up and then another century to win it. The break to go 9-7 I felt slightly nervous, but overall I felt pretty cool.
“I played great in the qualifying, it all leads up to this really, and I’m going to try and keep it going. I was focused on the match but it was hard not to take glances around the place. I just enjoyed it all. It’s about time I had a good run in a tournament – it would be great if it was this one. Everyone in my corner, Mark Williams, Mark Skinner my sponsor, family, friends – I cannot thank them all enough.”
Asked about the prospect of taking on Williams, Page added: “I suppose it’s fitting if I do take Mark on next. It’s going to be fun. We’re still going to be friends afterwards so the scoreline is irrelevant. It’s going to be a good fight and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. Mark is a very good mentor – he sets a great example. It’s good to learn off him.”
Hawkins said: “The way he finished in the last two frames was very classy. I thought he might feel the pressure but he looked as if it didn’t bother him at all. He has come through the qualifiers and he looked sharp – much sharper than me. The seeds are under pressure in the first round. Mark Williams has been saying for years how good Jackson is and I think we saw that today.”
Barry Hawkins has an excellent record at the Crucible but was well below his best yesterday evening. That said Jackson Page did remarkably well: it was his first match at the Crucible and he’s only 20. Mark Williams’ influence on the young man was very noticeable, both in his attitude and in his shot selection. He’s matured a lot this season.
Maguire Downs Murphy In First Crucible Meeting
Stephen Maguire defeated Shaun Murphy 10-8 in the first ever Crucible encounter between the pair, to reach the last 16 of the Betfred World Championship.
The two adversaries have been battling it out on the World Snooker Tour for 21 years, but until this week have never faced one another on the sport’s biggest stage. Today’s victory for Maguire cuts his head-to-head deficit with Murphy to 12-11.
World number 40 Maguire came through two qualifying matches this year, beating Zhou Yuelong 10-7 in the final round. The six-time ranking event winner admits that the experience was enough to motivate him to return to the world’s top 16 and avoid having to qualify again.
Afterwards he said: “I kept seeing gravestones and skulls. It’s hard – snooker players understand what it’s like. You are out there trying not to lose, when you should just be trying to win. I would rather be in the top 16, back at home watching Judgement Day.”
Triple Crown winner Murphy went on an inspired run to the final 12 months ago, beating Judd Trump and Kyren Wilson on his way to the title match before losing a pulsating encounter with Mark Selby. His campaign ends at the first hurdle on this occasion.
Maguire established a healthy 6-3 advantage after the first session, but it was 2005 World Champion Murphy who came out firing this evening.
The Magician crafted a stunning run of 130, his 100th century break in the World Championship, to take the opening frame. Murphy then made it two on the bounce, thanks to a break of 61, to pull within a frame at 6-5.
Maguire halted the comeback charge with a contribution of 57. However, it was Murphy who claimed the following frame in 40 minutes to head in for the interval with a spring in his step, trailing by just one at 7-6.
A marathon 14th frame was described by Ken Doherty on commentary as one of the craziest he has ever seen. It involved Maguire ironically throwing his cue to the ground after missing position, Murphy inadvertently fouling the pink with his finger and a four-minute discussion over a free ball, which Murphy sportingly refused. Eventually, after 71 minutes, it was Murphy who claimed it on the black to restore parity.
He then compiled a break of 50 to take the lead for the first time in the match at 8-7. However, from there Maguire summoned his best snooker to charge for the finish line.
Breaks of 90 and 82 helped the Glaswegian on his way to three on the bounce and a place in the next round. He now faces a mouth-watering last 16 tie with UK Champion Zhao Xintong.
“I didn’t expect all those twists and turns, but I did expect a fight back from Shaun. Even though I was 6-3 up, I was lucky to be. The two of us were bad and he was worse. All he did today was play a bit better and he looked as if he was favourite to win at one point,” said 41-year-old Maguire.
“I thought the match was over for me when he pulled level. When I lost that one, I thought I had nothing left. Somehow I managed to find three frames from somewhere. I’m just so tired, but I’m over the moon. I’ve got a few days off now, and I need to improve badly before my next match.
“Zhao has kicked on this season, all the players knew over the last few years how good he could be – he always had that sort of style, similar to Jimmy White. What he’s done this season is special and the way he’s done it I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s a contender for the title this year. He’s won two big tournaments this season so why not? He’s got his first Crucible win out of the way now, so he’ll go on from there.”
Murphy said: “It was always going to be a battle. Our games are very similar. We’ve been playing each other since we were boys, and neither of us were going to run away with it. I am just pleased from 6-2 down, I made a game of it. Perhaps if I played the same today as I did yesterday the score line would have been different.”
“I was blown away last year by the support I got here and the stories created around my run to the final. It was so special for everyone after we were starting to come out of the pandemic. This year, although I’ve fallen at the first hurdle, I felt the same love and support here at the venue and on social media too.”
This was a pretty terrible match actually and to make it worse the crowd was extremely rowdy. It was actually problematic for the players, even those on the other table and the commentators reflected on that. Just imagine that there would be 10000 persons in there, as Trump wished, and the kind of atmosphere we get at the Masters… Would that be ok? The Masters is just one table, a shorter format and not ranking. But this is the World Championship and should be treated as such. It’s already 17 days, so just one table is hardly an option. So NO.