Let’s start – as usual – with WST’s reports on yesterday
Robertson Up And Running
Neil Robertson got his bid for a second Crucible crown underway with a 10-5 win over Ashley Hugill at the Betfred World Championship.
Tournament favourite Robertson has been in red hot form so far this season. The Australian secured a second Masters title in January, beating Barry Hawkins in the final at Alexandra Palace. He’s also landed ranking silverware at the English Open, Players Championship and Tour Championship.
However, Robertson has struggled at the World Championship in recent years. Since beating Graeme Dott in the 2010 title match, he has only reached the semi-finals on one occasion back in 2014.
The 40-year-old has admitted that previous trips to Sheffield have ended with matches where his opponent has dictated the style of the game. Robertson is aiming to impose his own brand of snooker on matches this time around. His next assignment is a last 16 tie with Jack Lisowski or Matthew Stevens.
York’s Hugill can depart in the knowledge he made a good account of himself on his Crucible debut. He came through three qualifying matches at the English Institute of Sport, beating Joe O’Connor in the final round to earn his place on the sport’s biggest stage.
Hugill made a dream start in yesterday’s first session, taking a 3-1 lead. However, a run of five consecutive frames from world number three Robertson put him in charge at 6-3.
When this morning’s concluding session got underway Robertson continued to press home his advantage, taking the first three frames to move to the verge of victory at 9-3.
The Melbourne cueman then looked set to get over the line before an unfortunate pack split left him without a red to go at on 42. Hugill stepped up with a break of 51 and took the frame to reduce his arrears. The 27-year-old then showed his class with a contribution of 82 to make it 9-5. However, Robertson wrapped up the win in the 15th, firing in a superb break of 109 to get over the line.
“I thought my performance was pretty good. Part of you as a seed wants to draw a debutant, because they have less experience here. I stayed aggressive – made three centuries and some other big breaks as well. I played well to get to 6-3 at the end of the first session. This morning just felt like having a professional job to do,” said 23-time ranking event winner Robertson
“He was just walking around the venue smiling to himself, he looked so comfortable, so I just thought is he going to come here and absolutely fly without a care in a world. That’s how he started out. He was deserving of his 3-1 lead. I saw the footage of his family watching his last qualifying match, that was lovely to see. I hope he enjoyed playing here, It was nice to see him playing with a smile on his face.
“I just have to take it one match at a time. The matches are so long you can’t get ahead of yourself and start looking at potential draws or anything like that – you’ve just got to play. I’ve always done that in any tournament no matter what it is. I just play a frame at a time.”
Hugill said: “It was incredible. I was trying not to look into the crowd too much at first, because I thought it might be a bit intimidating. In the second session, when it went to 9-3, I thought I would just take it in a bit and try to take in what I was doing. To make my debut is an incredible achievement and I know I can compete with the best in the world.”
On the other table, 2021 Masters champion Yan Bingtao secured a slender 5-4 lead over Chris Wakelin.
Yan is making his fourth Crucible appearance and has exited the event at the last 16 stage in the previous two years, while Wakelin is still seeking his first match win at the Theatre of Dreams, having lost first round ties in 2018 and 2021.
It was Yan who took the opener in a high quality session, after crafting a run of 71. Wakelin responded emphatically, making a superb break of 130 to restore parity. The Nuneaton potter then stole the third on the black thanks to a clearance of 74. Yan hit back in turn and runs of 79, 69 and 56 gave him a 3-2 lead.
Wakelin claimed two on the bounce to move 4-3 in front, but contributions of 84 and 100 saw Yan wrest back control and end the session with a 5-4 advantage. They will return at 7pm this evening to play to a conclusion.
Ashley Hugill may not be that young in snooker’s terms but he has been a breath of fresh air at the Crucible this year. Trying his best, with a smile … even when things weren’t going his way. He is probably the most improved player of this season, and it’s not just about his game, it’s about his whole approach to the sport. He looks much more comfortable, much more positive than ever in the past. Hats off Ashley!
Bingham Too Strong For Lyu
Stuart Bingham made eight breaks over 50 on his way to a comprehensive 10-5 defeat of China’s Lyu Haotian at the Betfred World Championship.
The 2015 Crucible king thrives on the longer format at the Theatre of Dreams and in recent times he has reserved his best snooker for the Sheffield showpiece.
Bingham’s only semi-final appearance in a ranking event last season came at the World Championship, where he was narrowly beaten 17-15 by Mark Selby. The Basildon cueman has only made one semi-final this term, at the World Grand Prix, but he appears to once again be firing on all cylinders for the sport’s biggest event.
China’s 24-year-old Lyu came through three matches at qualifying to earn what was a fourth Crucible appearance. His best showing in the event thus far saw him beat Marco Fu to make the second round back in 2018.
Bingham made the highest break of the final stages so far during the first session, a run of 140, on his way to opening up a 6-3 advantage and he seized the initiative when play got underway this afternoon. The 45-year-old took the opening two frames to establish a commanding 8-3 lead. However, Lyu responded with a break of 86 to take the 12th, before stealing the 13th on the black to make it 8-5.
A run of 68 then helped Bingham to close within a frame of the win and he didn’t flinch at the finish line, wrapping up a 10-5 victory. Next up is a last 16 clash with either Kyren Wilson or Ding Junhui.
“It was a tough game with Lyu Haotian. I knew I had to be on my guard. I played some good snooker and I’m pleased to be through to round two,” said six-time ranking event winner Bingham.
“My strength is my break building. It was good to get my timing right. I’ve been up here for a few days and I’ve been to both Victoria and Ding’s academies. Something has clicked on the practice table, so it was nice to show not just my break building but my safety game.
“It was nice to come here and walk out in front of a packed crowd. I had the vibes of the semi-finals last year. I have good memories coming back here. Not everyone can settle down, but if you can and play some good snooker then this is the best place to be. I had a smile on my face, enjoyed it and showed what I can do.”
On the other table, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh put on a superb display to secure a 5-4 lead over four-time World Champion John Higgins.
Thailand’s former Shoot Out champion Un-Nooh found himself in the unexpected position of a tour survival battle at the qualifying event, but he came through to secure his professional status and seal a fourth Crucible appearance.
Higgins is still searching for his first ranking silverware of the season. However, he has shown great consistency to make five major finals this season. The Scot came closest to silverware at the Tour Championship earlier this month, where he surrendered a 9-4 advantage in the final to lose 10-9 to Neil Robertson.
Un-Nooh had led 4-2 this afternoon, but back-to-back breaks of 106 and 98 saw Higgins draw himself level at 4-4. The final frame of the day went the way of Un-Nooh, who fired in a run of 114 to end 5-4 ahead. They will play their concluding session tomorrow morning at 10am.
I didn’t watch this match, except in patches, but clearly Stuart lived up to the “heavy scorer” profile Ronnie had been speaking about in the ES studio. Lyu Haotian is only 24. It’s hard to believe because he has been on our screens since 2012 … 10 years! He has been thrown into the game far too young, lived through terrible experiences, a lost kid in a foreign country. I had seen him play in Shanghai an Yixing in 2012. He was sensational, but he was also “over-hyped”, with huge expectations piled over him. Evey time I watch him play I feel sad, remembering the bright kid he was then. Has he been permanently damaged? Could a “Chines Steve Peters” help him?
Tiger On The Crucible Prowl
Yan Bingtao pulled away from 5-5 to beat Chris Wakelin 10-6 in the first round of the Betfred World Championship, and having made two centuries and nine more breaks over 50, he looks sure to pose a serious challenge to Mark Selby in the last 16.
China’s Yan, nicknamed the Tiger, is through to the second round for the third consecutive year and has the chance to reach his first Crucible quarter-final, if he can sink his teeth into defending champion Selby. That match gets underway on Friday afternoon.
Former Masters champion Yan has not added to his trophy collection this season – his best run came at the German Masters where he reached the final before being annihilated 9-0 by Zhao Xintong. With an excellent all-round game and a steady temperament, 22-year-old Yan looks sure to have a bright future ahead of him.
Breaks of 71, 68, 79, 69, 56, 62, 84 and 100 helped give Yan a 5-4 lead in the first session this morning. Wakelin won the first frame of the evening with a run of 77 to square the match. The Englishman had a chance to steal frame 11 from 56-0 down but missed a difficult pot on the third last red along a side cushion on 28, and soon found himself behind again at 6-5.
Yan’s excellent break of 106 doubled his lead and he added a scrappy 13th frame to make it 8-5 at the interval. Wakelin might have pulled one back but missed the last red to a top corner when trailing 53-46 in frame 14, and could only watch as Yan converted cracking pots on the red, brown and yellow as he extended his advantage.
Yan was just three balls from victory in the 15th when he missed a mid-range pot on the third last red, and Wakelin took advantage to narrow the gap to 9-6. World number 16 Yan made 48 in the next before running out of position, but soon got another chance and added the points he needed.
“I felt very confident, I played very well this morning,” said Yan. “This year the Championship feels different, compared to the last two years. I’m just trying to relax ahead of my matches so I feel more confident. But I always feel pressure. Last night I only slept two hours so I am feeling very tired now.
“It will be a great match against Mark Selby. Many people say we are similar players. I cannot wait to play him in a best-of-25 match. I will just try to enjoy it. Mark has very good control over the table. I always try to be as good as he is in safety.
“I am very lucky because I didn’t go to the Gibraltar Open, I could have been knocked out of the top 16 then I would have had to qualify.”
Wakelin said: “I’m really delighted with how I’ve performed here today. If I’d been facing anyone else in the draw I’d probably have come out a comfortable winner. But hats off to Yan, he just played absolutely phenomenal snooker today. He did not give me an inch,
“It’s been a testing season, I’ve made a lot of changes my lifestyle such as losing weight. I’ve smashed that, I’ve lost four stone. I don’t feel like today was a loss. I feel like I did myself justice and I was really pleased with how I played.”
Meanwhile, Jack Lisowski established a 6-3 overnight lead against Matthew Stevens in a match which finishes on Wednesday afternoon.
After sharing the first four frames, Lisowski pulled away to take four in a row, knocking in breaks of 106, 100, 73 and 52. Two-time finalist Stevens won the final frame of the session with a break of 108 but still needs seven of the last ten. Victory for Lisowski would put him into the second round for the third time and set up a meeting with Neil Robertson.
I started the evening watching Lisowksi and Stevens … and gave up promptly out of sheer frustration. The start of the match was a bit of a miss fest. They must have improved later going by the above report.
Yan was rock solid in the evening. Chris played well, just not well enough to beat yan in that mood. It was a good match. Chris has every reason to be proud of himself, not just because of what he did at the table, but off the table as well. He mentioned “losing weight” in his post-match but he did much more than that, he helped others in the process as well, massively. If you wonder why some call him the”Dancing Potter” here is the explanation. And they did fantastically well!
Judd Trump frustrated, annoyed but defiant: ‘I’ll always think I’m the best player in the world’
Judd Trump is cutting a frustrated figure as he heads into the 2022 World Snooker Championship, irked by both what he sees as a lack of progress in the sport and with his own form this season. But the inner confidence never wanes, as he says: ‘If both players play their best then I am the best.’
A great season by almost any other player’s standards, Trump has won the Turkish Masters and Champion of Champions, but it has just not been as good as his stellar last two campaigns, so has felt underwhelming for the Ace.
The sense of irritation within the 2019 world champ is clear as even just asking him how he’s feeling on arrival at the Crucible sees frustrations pour out.
‘This tournament is always special, the Masters is always special but some of the other tournaments are a bit half-hearted now the China ones have been gone for a couple of years,’ Trump told Metro.co.uk.
‘I think a lot of the tournaments are quite poor, a bit rushed. This is one that, when you get started, you’re excited to be here. It’s the rest of the season in between, I feel like the game has gone a little bit downhill over the past couple of years.
‘There’s been no real progress in the stature, the prize money anything like that. I feel like someone who is trying to promote the game as best as possible, be adventurous, do different things and get your name out there, I feel that people don’t seem to have the same kind of views as me.’
Trump has spoken out in the past about being keen to modernise the game, attract younger audiences and grow snooker in new areas.
The pandemic has obviously made this very difficult over the last two years, with snooker doing well to keep a full calendar of events, never mind make significant expansions.
However, Trump says he is not the only one feeling frustrated and now intends to just concentrate on playing rather than speak out on changes he wants to see brought in.
‘I think all the top players are frustrated,’ he said. ‘I think Ronnie [O’Sullivan] especially has tried to help in the past but gave up a long time ago. I think I’ll probably have to go down that line at some point.
‘It is important to me, but I think it’s best just to play snooker. Play this event, get it out the way, hopefully I can do well, there’s no reason why I can’t do well.
‘I’ve put the work in and I’ll be trying my best. It’s nice to have friends and family back supporting. For me, when I come here I like to have a big base around me so I feel at home. This is the first year in three that I’ve been able to do that.’
On his own chances of a second world title this year, Trump is far from clear, having left the Tour Championship last month after an early exit and sounding like he was woefully out of love with snooker.
He told The Sportsman: ‘My main aim in snooker always is to enjoy it, and at the moment I am not.
‘So whether I have to start missing more events or even do what Ronnie did and miss a season out, I don’t know.’
After a short break between the Tour Championship and Crucible preparation Trump is ready for the challenge in Sheffield, but cannot be certain of how his form is.
‘I don’t really know where my game is,’ he said. ‘I had a few days off and then started practicing again, so not really [a break], I think I’ll just save it until the end of the season.
‘See how this tournament goes, the tournament’s so long, you can be playing bad, scrape through and you’ve got another 15 days of the tournament left. It’s such an adventure this event, but it’s one that you can quite easily find form in, because you’ve got so long to find it.
‘I don’t really know what to expect this time. I’ve prepared as well as I have done in the last couple of years, but I could go out there and miss everything, or fly from the start. It probably makes it easier for me knowing that I’m not favourite, it’s a 50-50 first round game, hopefully I find a bit of confidence and go further.’
Trump sounds like he is talking down his chances a bit and taking the pressure off his shoulders, but he insists there is no problem with his confidence, it’s just that he must keep proving his quality to fans.
‘I’ll always think I’m the best player in the world, I know my game and I know other people have different opinions, but on my day I’ve proved that if both players play their best then I am the best,’ he said.
‘So I still know that deep down, but you’ve got to keep proving it. Proving it at every event otherwise people are quick to forget what’s happened.
‘It can be annoying because it feels like all your hard work gets forgotten straight after if you don’t keep doing it, but it’s the same in every sport, someone else comes along and you get forgotten about. If I want to be considered the best, I’m sure winning this title will go a long way towards that.’
If he is to lift the World Championship trophy for a second time he will have to beat Hossein Vafaei in the first round, with the challenge of the Iranian debutant something he is looking forward to.
‘He’s one of the players…it’s a tough draw but his style of play suits me as well,’ said Judd. ‘It’s going to be an open game, I didn’t want someone slower, or who’s not going to be attacking.
‘This is going to be a game where they’ll either go in or not. You’re not worried about getting pulled off, it’ll be over as quick as possible. He’s someone I enjoy watching, he hits the ball really good and looks like he’s got a lot of confidence in himself, hopefully that can rub off on me as well.’
Vafaei ruffled some feathers before the tournament when he said Ronnie O’Sullivan was not good for snooker, hadn’t done enough to grow the game and should retire.
Trump says the Prince of Persia has made similar comments in the past, and while he backs any player speaking their mind, he thinks Vafaei’s words were far too harsh on the Rocket.
‘He’s said that to me before when we was flying to another tournament, so it didn’t surprise me when it come out,’ Trump said.
‘As someone that’s sort of up and coming, he might not realise that other people have tried to get somewhere and it gets thrown back in your face.
‘He’s someone that obviously wants to expand the game, but it’s not as easy as that. Plenty of people have tried, including myself, including Ronnie, I know at times he’s gone out of his way to promote the game but it hasn’t been reciprocated. Nowadays he does his own thing, turns up, plays his tournaments and that’s the best way to be.
‘You’ve got to get it off your chest, no point holding it in or caring what people think. If that’s on his mind and he gets it out, he has to be his own person. People can like him or not, either way.’
Trump and Vafaei will be looking to take out their frustrations on each other on the Crucible baize on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening in the first round at the Crucible for a place in the last 16.
Now waiting for Csilla big smile…