Those are the WST reports on each of the three sessions played yesterday and some thoughs about what I saw …
Massive Fluke Helps McGill Beat Highfield
Anthony McGill enjoyed a huge fluke at a crucial moment which helped him wrap up a 10-7 victory over Liam Highfield in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.
Former Crucible semi-finalist McGill was well short of his best during a hard-fought battle against Highfield, but did enough to book a second round meeting with Judd Trump or Hossein Vafaei.
Leading 9-7 and by 39 points to 32 in frame 17, McGill attempted a long red and missed his target, but luck went his way as the balls collided and another red dropped into a top corner. That proved decisive as he cleared with 51 for victory.
“I needed that because if it went to 9-8, Liam would have been confident as he was definitely the better player today, no doubt,” admitted Glasgow’s McGill. “I struggled today, the same as yesterday. There were a hell of a lot of mistakes and missed pots. My positional play was so bad. My safety was good and that’s what got my through. That has always been the best part of my game.”
World number 13 McGill is through to the last 16 for the sixth time since 2015. He made it to the last four in 2020, losing narrowly 17-16 to Kyren Wilson, and relishes every opportunity to compete in Sheffield.
Highfield took the opening frame today to reduce his deficit to 6-4 and he led 63-0 with four reds remaining in frame 11 when he ran out of position. He then hit the blue when escaping from a snooker, and McGill cleared superbly with 59 to restore his three-frame cushion.
McGill trailed 44-54 in the 12th when he made a safety error on the penultimate red, handing Highfield the chance to close the gap, and the Englishman took the next as well with a run of 73 to make it 7-6 at the interval.
A break of 48 helped McGill take frame 14, and in the 15th he laid a tough snooker on the last red, earning the opportunity to clear for 9-6. Highfield dominated the next to raise his chances of a fight-back, but his hopes ended with McGill’s fluke in the 17th.
McGill said: “In the first two frames yesterday I was really nervous which is strange because I had no nerves in the build up, then when I went out there it hit me. After that I really enjoyed it. What’s happening in Ukraine puts it into perspective – it’s only a game of snooker. It’s great to win, but if the worst thing that happens is losing a match, things are ok. I am trying my absolute best, but I used to get really wound up when I lost and it would affect me for days and weeks.
“You can’t beat the Crucible. Every time I am out there I think about all the moments that have happened here, with Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and all the others.”
Two-time ranking event winner McGill now heads to Glasgow to practise with Stephen Maguire and added: “We’ve got each other to have a few good games and get into shape. The more you play, the more everything comes together.”
Highfield said: “I can’t complain with one fluke in 17 frames, Anthony got to ten frames first. I didn’t really do that much wrong, maybe just didn’t quite score heavy enough. I tried my best throughout and did all the right things. Hopefully I can come back many more times and get some wins.”
On the other table, Mark Allen edged to a 5-4 lead against Scott Donaldson in a high quality opening session.
Antrim’s Allen enjoyed one of the highlights of his career earlier this season, defeating John Higgins 9-8 in the final of the Northern Ireland Open. Allen will be hoping to recreate that form over the next two weeks, having struggled in Sheffield in recent years. The six-time ranking event winner has only been beyond the second round once in his previous ten attempts.
Donaldson came through three qualifying matches to earn his place at the Theatre of Dreams, thrashing Allan Taylor 10-1 in the final round. This is his second Crucible appearance, having lost 10-4 to Kyren Wilson in 2019.
World number 15 Allen got up and running with a break of 80 to take the opener. Perth cueman Donaldson quickly warmed to the task and contributions of 50 and 78 saw him take a 2-1 advantage. Donaldson led 60-0 in the fourth, but Allen countered with a clearance of 61 to take the frame by a single point and restore parity at 2-2.
The following two frames were shared, before a century run of 107 helped Allen to regain the lead at 4-3. Donaldson pulled level again, but Allen fired in a break of 109 to end the session 5-4 in front.
Scott Donaldson really stayed with Mark Allen in this first session. Neither of them played outstanding. It was a bit of a mixed bag: some really good breaks, and some unexpected mistakes, not just misses but also weak shot choices. I guess it’s easy to write this from the comfort of the spectator’s seat. They are under pressure out there and those things are bound to happen.
Vintage Williams Fires Four Tons
Mark Williams looked in the mood to add to his tally of three Crucible crowns as he made four centuries in a 10-3 victory over Michael White in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.
Williams is 47 years old and making his 24th appearance in the televised stages in Sheffield, but has rarely played better in the opening round as he eased into the last 16. Having seen off one fellow Welshman, he now faces another in practice partner Jackson Page, a player he describes as “like a fourth son.”
Just like fellow Class of 92 members John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan, Williams remains a regular face at the business end of the biggest tournaments, three decades after turning professional. He won the British Open at the start of this season, and reached the final of the Shoot Out as well as the semi-finals of the Cazoo Masters.
On the evidence of his performance against White, the left-hander is playing well enough to add the the world titles he landed in 2000, 2003 and 2018.
His match against Page, which starts on Thursday afternoon, will be among the most intriguing of the second round. Williams has tipped his young apprentice for success for several years and will now see at close hand how Page will handle the biggest occasion of his career so far.
“It’s going to be tough because Jackson’s not just a friend, he’s like my fourth son,” said world number eight Williams. “He comes to my house, we play cards, have pizzas with my kids, play badminton and golf – you name it, we do it together. Unless he blanks me for the next two days then I assume we’ll be having something to eat together tonight.
“I’m going to try my best against him but if I am going to lose to anybody then it would be him. If I lose I will have no problem at all. If it means him getting into the top 64 by beating me then I am half on his side. I know he’s got the talent, I’ve been telling you all for years. He played so well last night (beating Barry Hawkins) and proved me right.”
Williams took a 7-2 lead in the first session against White, making breaks of 121, 90, 71, 116 and 138. He won the first two frames today with a top run of 50 before White pulled one back with an 83. But White – only the second amateur to play at the Crucible – couldn’t even force an interval in the second session as Williams wrapped up the contest in frame 13 with a 121.
Williams added: “I started off like a train, put Michael under pressure and didn’t really ease up. My safety was good. To win 10-3 in the first round is unusual these days, especially against someone as good as Michael. The atmosphere here is like nothing else.
“My form is as good as it can be at my age. In any sport you start declining when you get to my age. My eyes are deteriorating a little bit, but I am dangerous, whoever I play.
“I’ve played well most of the season. A few rubs here and there have stopped me winning a couple of tournaments – with a bit more luck I could have won the Masters or the Tour Championship.”
Robertson Rallies To Lead Hugill
Tournament favourite Neil Robertson recovered from an early deficit to lead Ashley Hugill 6-3 after the opening session of their first round encounter at the Betfred World Championship.
Australia’s Robertson has arrived in Sheffield off the back of what he describes as his best ever season. The world number three has racked up ranking event wins at the English Open, Players Championship and Tour Championship, as well as a second Masters title at Alexandra Palace in January.
Hugill battled through three qualifying rounds at the English Institute of Sport to earn a Crucible debut. He defeated Joe O’Connor 10-7 in the final round to earn a first trip to the Theatre of Dreams.
The Thunder from Down Under struck first this afternoon, with a total clearance of 127. However, Hugill was undeterred by the occasion and summoned a surprise three-frame blitz to take control of the tie. Breaks of 85 and 77 helped him to three on the bounce and a 3-1 lead at the interval.
When play resumed, Melbourne’s Robertson turned up the heat to regain the initiative. Breaks of 72, 97, 109 and 132 helped him to claim five on the bounce to turn the tie on its head and end 6-3 in front. The pair will return tomorrow at 10am to play to a conclusion.
Ashley Hugill played really well before the MSI and Neil Robertson looked extremely unneasy in his chair. The match on the other table finished whilst they were playing the fourth frame and that meant that the “curtain” would go up and that they woud have the whole place for themselves after the MSI. The commentators predicted that this would change the whole feel of the match and would favour Neil. Neil has often complained about the “cramped” nature of the arena and not being able to walk into his shots as he uses to do. When the full arena is “open” the cameramen have a bit more space to work “around” the table and that was going to help Neil. But the commentators also stressed that the atmosphere is more intimidating when the curtain is up and that it could affect Ashley more because he never experienced this before. Having been there myself taking pictures, I can confirm that this is indeed the case, it does feel very different. Whether that was a main factor or not, only the players can tell, but, as a matter of fact, the match turned completely when they resumed.
Allen Excited By O’Sullivan Clash
Mark Allen came through a tough opening test against Scott Donaldson at the Betfred World Championship by a 10-6 scoreline, and will try to revive memories of his only previous Crucible meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan when the pair go head to head in the second round.
World number 15 Allen looked in danger when Donaldson came from 7-4 down to 7-6, but he finished strongly to take the last three frames and set up a best-of-25 clash with O’Sullivan which starts on Friday morning.
Allen’s first career meeting with O’Sullivan came in Sheffield in 2009 and he won 13-11 en route to the semi-finals. He has a fair record against the Rocket, winning four of their ten matches, and hopes another will go his way this time.
“It’s what we play the game for. You want to play your best game on the biggest stage,” said 36-year-old Allen, who has reached the Crucible quarter-finals just once in the past decade. “The only time I played Ronnie in Sheffield, I beat him. So I have to try and keep those memories fresh. The task is tough, but Ronnie has been coming here for 30 years, and he’s won six titles. That means he’s lost 24.
“I’ll go out there, hopefully play well, and try to keep control of myself. He looks in a good place so far, but we all know it can turn very quickly with Ronnie so it’s up to me to go out there on Friday and Saturday and play the best I can and get under his skin. He’s a genius, but he is beatable.”
Leading 5-4 coming into tonight’s concluding session, Allen made a break of 57 in taking the opening frame to double his lead. In frame 11, Donaldson led 47-35 and had the balls at his mercy when he missed the brown to a top corner. Allen punished him by clearing to extend his advantage to 7-4.
The Northern Irishman might have increased his lead, but missed the penultimate red when he led by 35 points in frame 12. It came down to a safety exchange on the pink, resolved when Donaldson converted an excellent long pot to a top corner and added the black. The Scot also dominated the 13th to close to 7-6 at the interval.
A run of 52 helped Allen take frame 14. The next came down to a battle on the last red, and Allen trapped his opponent in a tough snooker, which created the opportunity to put him 9-6 in front. And the Pistol sealed the result in the 16th with runs of 34 and 38.
“That match had a bit of everything today,” added Allen, winner of six ranking titles. “I don’t think it’s the best match we’ve ever seen but by far from the worst either. There was some real good stuff in there.
“I’ve been feeling unwell for the last ten days or so. I was convinced I had Covid, but I’ve been testing negative every day. Today hit me more out there, being under the lights and the heat. I have a few days now to rest and hopefully I’ll be firing on Friday.”
Donaldson said: “I felt really comfortable out there, I feel like I’m enjoying my snooker again. I love playing in the Crucible, I think everyone loves playing here. It’s a brilliant buzz to be out there, even if you don’t play very well. It’s such a great privilege to play here.
“My game is going the right way again. I had a tough time earlier in the season but I’m happy now where I am both personally and on the table. I know my flaws, I know my strengths – I’ll just work on those and go out there and try my best. I think Mark can win it. If he can find his A-game, then he can go all the way.”
On the other table, 2015 World Champion Stuart Bingham opened up a 6-3 lead over Lyu Haotian.
Basildon’s Bingham reached the semi-finals here last year, beating Ding Junhui, Jamie Jones and Anthony McGill before losing 17-15 to Mark Selby.
Lyu is making his third Crucible appearance, he beat Marco Fu to make the last 16 back in 2018 and succumbed to an opening round loss against Allen in 2021. Lyu defeated Dominic Dale 10-4 in the final round of qualifying to secure his place at the Sheffield showpiece this year.
China’s Lyu edged a nervy opening frame on the black, before Bingham claimed the second to restore parity. The former Masters winner then took the lead at 2-1 with a break of 52. Lyu, age 24, showed his class with a century break of 103 to make it 2-2 at the interval.
Bingham returned in clinical mood and produced a run of frame winning breaks to pull clear. Contributions of 54, 85, 86 and a stunning 140 saw him rack up four in a row to move into a 6-2 lead.
Bingham looked in position to take the last, but missed a red on 68. Lyu pounced and cleared to the black with 69 to steal by a single point and stay in touch at 6-3. They return on Tuesday at 2:30pm for the final session.
About the Allen v Donaldson, the thing is: Allen improved, Donaldson didn’t and even, if anything, his shot selection became a bit more negative. That made the difference. Allen is not afraid of anyone and he will be a though opponent for Ronnie. I do think however that he will need to win more frames in one visit to beat him. He’s very capable of doing that of course and he will be up for it.
Ronnie was in the Eurosport studio for most of the day. Asked about Bingham’s strengths he immediately answered: “He scores very heavily”. He does indeed: he had six breaks over 50 yesterday evening and was first in in most frames. That’s a deadly combination.
With Ronnie in the studio a few sujects were discussed.
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson explain why World Snooker Championship could leave the Crucible
Ronnie O’Sullivan has hailed the atmosphere at the Crucible, but says the World Snooker Championship could benefit the sport by moving to China if the country made an offer that could not be refused.
The Rocket won his first round match at the Crucible on Saturday, beating Dave Gilbert 10-5, and enjoyed his return to the famous Sheffield venue.
‘Brilliant, it’s such a good venue and such a good atmosphere,’ O’Sullivan told Eurosport of his first round win.
‘We’re not used to playing in venues like this. Years ago there used to be four or five venues that created this kind of atmosphere.
‘There isn’t a venue like this anymore, we just play in an atmosphere like this once a year. It’s harder, you get a bit excited and you feel like you want to stay in the tournament a little longer because it’s such a special tournament.’
However, there has been some discussion on whether the World Championship could move from the Crucible at some point in the future and O’Sullivan could see it happening, but only under very specific circumstances.
‘I think the only time you’d move the Crucible is if China said they’d put up a £3m first prize and start competing with the likes of golf and tennis. Which they can do, they’ve got the potential to do it,’ said the Rocket.
‘I think it would be a good one to put it out there to China and go: “Would you be prepared to do four majors. £3m a winner, turn it into a golf or tennis and raise the bar?”
‘It can’t be done in this country or Europe, but it can be done in China.
‘I just think, if you are going to make that move, it has to be an offer like that on the table that you just cannot refuse. It would elevate the game onto another stratosphere. It can only be done in China.’
Neil Robertson has spoken out against the Crucible in the past, frustrated about the tight nature of the venue and preferring the atmosphere at the larger Alexandra Palace, the home of the Masters.
The Australian feels the sport’s biggest tournament should be at a bigger venue than the Crucible, which has a capacity of around 1,000, although he would like it to stay in Sheffield – presumably at the Sheffield Arena.
‘If you look at the Masters this year, that was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in, and I think nearly all the players said that, and I believe the atmosphere there is everything that the World Championship isn’t,’ Robertson told Eurosport.
‘I think we have to be very careful sticking to tradition. There are a lot of sports that have suffered because of that, being too stubborn to move on. I think the Crucible has had a few tables since I’ve been there.
‘The one-table setup is really special but the two-table setup definitely has a lot of room for improvement.
‘I think it could be possible [to move the tournament] one day, still in Sheffield of course, because that’s the home of snooker. You could get a venue of 4,000-5,000 [fans]. That would be amazing.’
So, basically, whilst Ronnie loves the Crucible and praised the atmosphere it generates, he also believe that over time the World Championship could be moved, and the move would be driven by commercial reasons mainly. He might well be right, especially if the young generation of Chinese players thrive.
Neil Robertson never liked the venue, and he is right when he says it’s cramped and doesn’t offer much room for hospitality but he would like to see the World Championship stay in Sheffield. Neil has been criticized for his opinion, but, already in 2012, Mark Williams had been very blunt about his views on the venue adequacy and hinted at a move to China:
Williams said: “World Championships just around the corner. Shame its played in the crucible, sh*t hole [sic], hopefully it will be in China soon. Rubbish, rather play in Pontins.”
When contacted, Williams confirmed he made the remarks, saying: “I don’t like the venue, and have never liked playing there. It is everything about it, from the players’ lounge upwards. I think it is inevitable it will end up in China, they have five events already and we only have three [in the UK].”
Williams also used Twitter to say: “Over-hyped is correct. It’s only my opinion about the Crucible so [World Snooker] don’t send me any letters or fines.”
In response Barry Hearn, the World Snooker chairman, issued a statement that stressed he would be happy to keep snooker’s biggest tournament at the Crucible permanently. The World Championship has been staged at the venue since 1977 and the current contract runs until 2015.
Hearn said: “We’ve had fantastic support from Sheffield City Council, Welcome to Yorkshire and the BBC, and as long as that continues I’d be happy to keep the event at the Crucible until the day I die. It’s an outstanding venue and the refurbishment which recently took place has greatly improved the facilities. There is so much history associated with the Crucible, it is synonymous with snooker and the World Championship.”
Mark was fined for those remarks at the time. He was also booed by the press when entering the press room after his first round win … but that was done in jester. The press clearly had some sympathy for Willo. Anyone who is honest will know that the venue has its limitations. Every single session, the commentators come up with the line about the “perfect view from every seat.” Even that is untrue, unless you are tall and not sat behind someone who insists to keep their hat on whilst watching the snooker, or, of course, sat on the front row. And, even there, you might need to look at the TV screens to properly understand the situation on the table.