These are the results of the past week-end matches at the 2022 English Open Qualifiers (source: snooker.org)
On Saturday …
There was another disappointing result for On Yee. Mark Davis beating Xiao Guodong and Zhang Anda beating Stephen Maguire were minor surprises, although the score in the Zhang v Maguire match is unexpected. Mark Davis always was a good player and Zhang … is a mystery. The guy has never been in the top 64, but has qualified for the Crucible three times, the first one came in 2010. If anyone has a good explanation, they are welcome to comment. Fan Zhengyi played well in beating And Hicks. The Woollaston v Clarke match was a good one, and a close one. It was a harsh draw for both of them.
Andres Petrov scored his first win as a pro, beating rookie Victor Sarkis in a decider. It wasn’t a bad match. Both players have a lot to learn obviously but there was good stuff in there.
And then, Dechawat Poomjaeng celebrated his return to the professional ranks with a hard-fought win over Alexander Ursenbacher. Alex wasn’t happy. “Poomy” disappointed … he failed to applaud himself out there!
Dylan Emery was really impressive in beating the experienced Li Hang: he scored three high breaks (107, 100, 89). He’s by far the best UK youngster I have seen in years. Xu Si beating Zhou Yuelong was a minor surprise but not a good sign for Zhou. It won’t do his confidence any good. Pang Junxu played a solid match to get the better of Barry Pinches. Gary Wilson dominated Lyu Haotian; Lyu had a bit of an off-day and didn’t have the best of luck either. As much as I like Jimmy … I didn’t watch that one.
We are off to Bolton for the 2023 Champion of Champions
Some images taken at the venue and in the arena shared by Eugene James (fitter) during the rig.
Neal Foulds snooker column: ITV and Eurosport pundit with Champion of Champions predictions
I’m on duty for ITV Sport this week, with the Champion of Champions always a personal highlight of mine on the calendar and an event that promises so much in the coming days.
It was back in 2013 when this tournament made its return – Ronnie O’Sullivan won that year and followed up 12 months later – and in many ways this event has been the flagship for snooker on ITV ever since, with the channel displaying a growing commitment to the sport in the ensuing years.
It’s a week I always look forward to and I know there are lots of people, Neil Robertson for one, who have at times labelled this event as the fourth major in snooker. I wouldn’t argue too much with that, for all the Players Championship and Tour Championship continue to grow in stature, and I have a real soft spot for the Champion of Champions.
When you talk about the prestige of a tournament, this one has all of that because it’s so hard just to earn the right to be here in the first place, with 15 of the 16 to have qualified having done so by winning a tournament in the last year – which is so hard to do when you consider the depth of talent on the tour.
Mark Selby is the only player without a title win in the last 12 months, but he is currently ranked number four in the world. We are very much talking about the cream of the crop this week and I think that this is just another example of how the tour has grown, with so many big titles for the players to chase nowadays.
And we must not forget the China Open which offered a huge prize fund and was quickly becoming a tournament of some repute before the pandemic. Hopefully that will return in the future.
O’Sullivan set to shine on big stage
What tournaments like this one and the Tour Championship have in common is that they offer the one-table set-up we know the top players love so much. Nobody thrives in such an environment quite like Ronnie O’Sullivan and I’m tipping him to get his name on that trophy for a fourth time on Sunday.
As three wins and two more finals demonstrate, O’Sullivan has dominated this tournament – particularly in the early years – and given the type of player he is now, and his age, I’m of the belief you must look at the biggest events on the calendar, with the biggest crowds and biggest prizes, and think that is when we’ll see him at his best.
What I mean by the type of player he is nowadays, is that you can’t expect him to be motivated to win every event he enters. He’ll enter them because he wants to pick up important ranking points, but as we saw in the World Grand Prix and at the World Championship last season, it’s the real big nights that really set his pulse racing at this stage of his career.
I wrote in my last column that I didn’t fancy him in Belfast and David Grace enjoyed a famous victory over him there, but O’Sullivan was back practicing and working on his game later that week and I think it’s weeks like the one coming up when we will see the real Rocket.
He might not be able to motivate himself week in, week out like he might have a few years, but his victory in Hong Kong confirmed he is still the man when he really gets the bit between his teeth, and I think he’ll be hard to beat in Bolton.
Past winners Robertson and Allen always feared
O’Sullivan might have to overcome dual Champion of Champions winner Neil Robertson in the semi-finals if he’s to go all the way after what appears a favourable opening group, and you can never underestimate the Australian who won a couple of ITV events last term and clearly places great importance on them.
Robertson played really well to reach the last four of the Northern Ireland Open recently and given that was the first ranking event he has contested all season, he is entitled to be sharper for his workout in Belfast. A prolific tournament winner, his turn will surely come before too long.
I’m sticking with O’Sullivan, but a semi-final between him and Robertson would be something to savour. They put on a real show when they met in Hong Kong not so long ago and hopefully O’Sullivan can come out on top again.
The man who beat Robertson in Belfast was Mark Allen, who was quite magnificent in storming to back-to-back Northern Ireland Open titles in front of his home crowd. For a man who once struggled to perform in front of so much home support, Allen really is making the Waterfront Hall something of a fortress and is proving unbeatable if he gets to the weekend.
It’s great to see Allen going well again. He’s a class act on his day, though he hasn’t always helped himself with some of the decisions he had made. The one that springs to mind was, having just run out a brilliant winner of the Champion of Champions in 2020, he decided to change his cue the following week.
That was a call I always found strange, but I think he’s making better decisions nowadays and I hope we’ll see a more consistent Mark Allen from now on. The signs are good, anyway.
Nightmare draw for Trump
That’s not to say I’d be backing him next week, though. Allen finds himself drawn in a horrible group along with defending champion Judd Trump, who might have bagged the worse first match of the whole draw in getting Luca Brecel.
Brecel won the Scottish Open in tremendous style close to a year ago, he beat Trump in the Tour Championship and in this very event in 2017 when the Belgian stormed to a 4-0 victory. Brecel can take down anyone on his day and both Trump and Allen will have their work cut out to reach the semi-finals.
Whoever does progress from that group will have certainly earned it. But that’s what this tournament is all about – the best of the best, and Sunday’s winner will have had to do it the hard way, be it O’Sullivan or anyone else.
It should be a great week and with snooker coming thick and fast in November, owing to the football World Cup being held in December this year, there is so much for snooker fans to look forward to.
I’m betting that O’Sullivan is thinking along the same lines, and here’s hoping he can put on a show in a tournament he has always saved his best snooker for.
Ronnie hasn’t been anywhere near his best in ranking events so far but he has won the Hong Kong Masters. His victory over Neil Robertson in the semi-finals, from 4-1 down, vindicates Neal’s opinion. At this stage of his career, and having nothing whatsoever to prove after reaching his “Seventh Heaven” last May, finding the motivation for every event must be difficult.
Now here are some personal thoughts … for what it’s worth (not much).
I actually expect Mark Allen to win this group. Joe Perry looks badly out-of-form recently and I can’t see him causing Mark any problem. Luca Brecel is not the most consistent player but he always seems very up for it when he plays Judd Trump and he thrives on the big stage. Judd himself hasn’t been at his best so far this season. Group final: Allen v Brecel, with Allen going through to the SFs
Robert Milkins can be very dangerous and he’s a very heavy scorer when on form. That said he plays an open game and that will suit Ronnie. If Ronnie is motivated and in decent form, he should win that match. Zhao Xintong hasn’t been at his best so far this season, but he should have too much for Mink, who, simply, doesn’t score heavily enough. Group final: Ronnie v Zhao, with Ronnie progressing to the SFs.
Neil Robertson, on paper, has a very easy opener; although Fan played well yesterday I can see only one winner here. The Kyren Wilson v Ryan Day match is much more difficult to predict: neither have been at their best recently. I favour Kyren based on temperament and resilience under pressure. Group Final: Neil Robertson v Kyren Wilson, Neil coming out the winner.
Mark Selby should beat Lee Walker confortably although both might take their time over it… Neither John Higgins, nor Hossein Vafaei have shown their best form so far this season. If Hossein manages to get the best start of the two, I believe he will win this match. John Higgins has looked very low on confidence in recent times. Group Final: Mark Selby v Hossein Vafaei, Mark Selby progressing to the next stage.
Time to have a look at what happened this week at the 2022 English Open qualifiers.
The highlight of the day for me was the excellent 4-0 win by Julien Leclercq over Si Jiahui. After a hard fought first frame, Julien dominated the match. He scored breaks of 86, 75 and 51 en route to victory. When he qualified for the main Tour, Julien was elated, like most youngsters when they start their first year. But realisation soon dawned on him that it wasn’t to be easy at all. He reacted well though. After losing his previous match against Pang Junxu in the 2022 Scottish Open qualifiers, he came on social media saying “I’ll be back”. The score in that match had been 4-1, but the match was much closer than the score suggests and Julien had shown that he’s a fighter.
Michael White produced a stunning performance in beating Michael Judge by 4-0, with breaks of 77, 141, 92 and 50. Michael is a joy to watch when playing well.
The standout result on Wednesday was Muhammad Asif 4-2 win over Oliver Brown. Overall it wasn’t a high scoring match, although Muhammad scored a magnificent 134 in frame 4. It was hard fought and Muhammad showed both positivity and resilience. The way he plays is very easy on the eye. It’s worth noting that Muhammad is one of the Asia-Oceania Q-School laureates. This was only his second match on the main tour. Most people I talked to don’t rate the Asia-Oceania Q-School qualifiers. They may be surprised …
Two matches stood out for me on Thursday.
Ding Junhui absolutely destroyed Ian Burns… scores speak for themselves
Ding is a marvellous player to watch when on form.
Mink lost by 4-3 to Chen Zifan. Chen scored breaks of 122, 75, 51 and 81 in that match, he lead 3-0. Mink’s only “big” break was a 54 in frame four. She gained a lot of fans though and showed tremendous character in fighting back from the brink of defeat to force a decider. Eventually, it was in vain. She impressed though. Her tactical nous and safety game were excellent, her will to fight and win exemplary.
Joe Perry’s recent form is worrying. Yesterday he was beaten by 4-1 by Cao Yupeng.
We had two very hard fought matches: Anthony McGill beat David Grace by 4-3 and and Sam Craigie beat Graeme Dott by the same score in a fantastic encounter that featured two centuries and five more breaks over 50.
This week-end …
Today will see the much anticipated return of “Poomy”. Dechawat Poomjaeng will play Alexander Ursenbacher. The winner of that match will take on the winner of the held-over encounter between Ronnie and Ben Mertens.
The last match tomorrow should be interesting as Gary Wilson will face Lyu Haotian.
The WPBSA has today suspended Liang Wenbo from attending or competing in WPBSA sanctioned events. This is due to an ongoing investigation into allegations of misconduct. The suspension will remain in place until the conclusion of the investigation or the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.
The WPBSA will not comment further until the investigation is complete.
This is bizarre on many accounts. According to reports in the press, this suspension is NOT linked to the domestic abuse affair that lead to the previous one. However there was no indication about the nature of the “misconduct”. Also, Liang was informed of his suspension at very short notice before his match. He’s not allowed to attend WPBSA sanctioned events: it’s not just that he isn’t allowed to compete, he’s not allowed to be there, even as a spectator. I’m not sure how common such restriction is, but I know that the same is true for Stephen Lee.
The draw and format for the 2023 BetVictor German Masters are now available. The qualifying rounds will be played from November 21 to 26 in Leicester, with 32 players going through to the final stages at the Tempodrom in Berlin in February.
Zhao Xintong, who beat Yan Bingtao 9-0 in the final last season, will start the defence of his title against Wu Yize. World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will take on Oliver Brown while Germany’s top player Lukas Kleckers will face India’s Himanshu Jain.
Matthew Stevens will be up against Stephen Hendry – a repeat of the 2003 UK Championship final – while Judd Trump will meet Mark Davis. John Higgins will play Marco Fu in a repeat of their recent Hong Kong Masters semi-final.
Ronnie has entered the tournament. I was not really expecting this: he’s rarely shown a lot of enthusiasm for this event, there are two rounds of qualifiers, with no held-over matches, and he has a couple of exhibitions in Bulgaria on 25 and 26 November. He’s playing his first match on November 23, with the second, should he qualify, the next day.
Liang Wenbo is also in the draw, which is slightly baffling given the previous announcement. I suppose that they can’t prevent him to enter events until the investigation finishes and maybe they expect it to be quick.
First round match fixtures are now confirmed for the top 16 seeds competing in next month’s Cazoo UK Championship in York, including Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and defending champion Zhao Xintong.
The tournament has been staged at the York Barbican since 2011, and this year’s event runs from November 12 to 20. There’s a new format this year, with all of the top 16 seeded through to the last 32 for the televised phase, and only two tables in the arena throughout.
First round matches are:
Saturday November 12, 1pm Zhao Xintong v qualifier Mark Allen v qualifier
Saturday November 12, 7pm Kyren Wilson v qualifier Ryan Day v qualifier
Sunday November 13, 1pm Neil Robertson v qualifier Luca Brecel v qualifier
Sunday November 13, 7pm John Higgins v qualifier Barry Hawkins v qualifier
Monday November 14, 1pm Ronnie O’Sullivan v qualifier Yan Bingtao v qualifier
Monday November 14, 7pm Mark Williams v qualifier Stuart Bingham v qualifier
Tuesday November 15, 1pm Judd Trump v qualifier Jack Lisowski v qualifier
Tuesday November 15, 7pm Mark Selby v qualifier Shaun Murphy v qualifier
The top 16 will be drawn at random against the 16 players who come through the qualifying rounds, which will run from November 5 to 10 in Sheffield.
The Cazoo UK Championship is one of snooker’s Triple Crown events with a history dating back to 1977. It will be televised by BBC, Eurosport, CCTV5, Matchroom.Live and a range of other broadcasters worldwide. Prize money this year has been increased from £1,009,000 to £1,205,000, with the first prize up from £200,000 to £250,000.
China’s Zhao Xintong is the current champion having beaten Belgium’s Luca Brecel in the 2021 final.
The Barbican is a great venue but it was not really suitable to host 128 players. When I was there, in early rounds, there were no changing rooms for the players and the practice table was in a room where guests and pundits were relaxing and working as well. That was far from ideal.
With four tables in the arena during the early rounds, some players complained about lack of space around the two tables situated at the sides.
There were also four tables in the “Sports hall”. The setup was far from ideal as fans entering and leaving the room were bound to distract the players because spectators were sat very close to the tables. WST had to put a policy into place to “regulate” the “traffic”. But even so, it was not great. People waiting to enter could easily be heard from inside the arena and sometimes a spectator just HAD to get out. Also players whose matches were played in the sports hall often had the feeling to be “outcasts”.
Also, as it was close(r) to Christmas, accommodations were very expensive.
Week 6 at the 900 concluded yesterday and it provided great entertainment again.
On Monday… Ant Parsons emerged the winner, beating the legend that is Les Dodd in the final. Here is how it unfolded:
It was however Tam Mustafa who stole the show… playing with incredible flair.
On Tuesday, it was Lenny Baker who prevailed.
George Pragnell, who currently dominates the Q-Tour was the favourite. He was beaten in his first match though. Of course, over just one frame, about anything can happen. Tam Mustafa delighted the fans all evening but Lenny Baker eventually had too much for him.
On Wednesday …
The winners of the previous days met in the final, with Ant Parsons emerging the winner
The 900 proves to be a very interesting, diverse and highly appreciated event. this is what Matt Andrews, a mental coach who helped Ronnie in the past, and David Church, a WDBS player, had to say:
Here are some more images shared by Jason this week:
Jason now “plots” a “Junior 900” and a “Legends 900”. Bring it on!
News from the Barbican …
Mark Williams’ reaction to this tweet was immediately calling for a return of the “best of 17” format. I agree with him and I would like to see a return of the tiered format in the majority, if not all, events.
Some players, notably Barry Pinches, brand it unfair. I don’t think it is, especially if players losing their first match, no matter the round, get no ranking/rating points. That removes the “protection” that was, maybe, a problem in the past. What Barry seems to overlook is that the majority of the current top 16, grew through the tiered system and started at the very bottom, and that includes someone as young as Judd Trump. They weren’t privileged or protected, they were better than the rest and that’s why they are there. Barry, and many others in his generation, had exactly the same opportunities.
What I do see is that the vast majority of the current top 16 who have grown and developed through the tiered system, have been there for many years, despited the alleged “protection” being removed long ago. What those players have, that the younger ones seem to struggle with is consistency and consistency comes from a solid foundation. The current system doesn’t offer a good path for development. It’s too brutal. It’s mentally bruising. Playing more matches, and more winnable matches is what builds a good foundation and grows confidence. It’s naïve to believe that players who qualify for the main tour are “ready” or should be “ready” from day one. Experience matters in all walks of life and in every profession or job.
The draw and format for the qualifying rounds of the Cazoo UK Championship are now available, with all players seeded outside the top 16 to head to Ponds Forge in Sheffield to battle for spots in the final stages in York.
A new format for snooker’s second biggest ranking event means that the top 16 are all seeded through to the last 32 and will compete in the televised phase at the Barbican in York, from November 12-20.
At Ponds Forge in Sheffield from November 5-10, there will be 128 players competing to earn one of 16 places in York. Star names in the field will include former UK Champions Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire and Jimmy White as well as former World Champions Graeme Dott, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry.
First round matches to look out for include:
Jimmy White v Pan-American champion Victor Sarkis: Saturday November 5 at 9.30am Seven-time Crucible king Stephen Hendry v Andrew Pagett: Saturday November 5 at 9.30am Women’s World Champion Mink Nutcharut v Fergal O’Brien: Saturday November 5 at 2.30pm Ken Doherty v Fraser Patrick: Saturday November 5 at 7.30pm Sheffield’s top player Adam Duffy v Dylan Emery: Saturday November 5 at 7.30pm Three-time ranking event winner Marco Fu v Bai Langning: Sunday November 6 at 9.30am
For the first four days (November 5-8) the session times are 9.30am, 2.30pm and 7.30pm, then for the last two days (November 9-10) the session times are 1pm and 7pm. All matches are best of 11 frames.
For me the (other) interesting first round matches are:
Chen Zifan v Farakh Ajaib
On Yee Ng v Jenson Kendrick
Oliver Brown v Ross Muir
Ben Mertens v Martin O’Donnel – this will be a test for Ben as he will have to cope with a very methodical opponent (to put it mildly)