As usual now in the Home Nations, the top 16 got their last 128 match held-over to the venue. They are, of course, expected to win those but there are always upsets. This time, we got three unexpected outcomes as Zhao Xintong, Ricky Walden and Jack Lisowski lost their opening match.
The biggest surprise probably was Lyu Haotian’s 4-1 win over Zhao Xintong, especially as Zhao had won the first frame with a big break. Zhao has not been consistent since his big UK Championship triumph and it’s easy to forget how good Lyu was as a junior. It’s good to see Lyu playing well again.
Ricky was beaten by 4-1 by Xiao Guodong. Xiao is a very, very good player when on form and he seems to be on form this week. As for Jack Lisowski … I’ll abstain to say anything, he’s just too frustrating.
Here are the reports by WST:
Trump Channelling Higgins In Belfast
Judd Trump claimed that emulating Alex Higgins has helped him to woo the Belfast crowds, after securing a 4-1 defeat of Rod Lawler in the opening round of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.
Trump is the most successful player in the event’s short history. The Ace in the Pack lifted the trophy, which is named after Higgins, on three consecutive occasions between 2018 and 2020. Remarkably, all three of those finals saw Trump beat Ronnie O’Sullivan by a 9-7 scoreline.
The opening frame wasn’t played on Trump’s terms this afternoon, with Lawler taking it after 35-minutes to lead 1-0. From that point, 2019 World Champion Trump sprang into gear. A break of 114 gave him the second and he stole the third on the black to lead 2-1.
Trump then doubled his advantage, before a break of 88 saw him take his fourth on the bounce to run out a 4-1 victor. Next up Trump will take on Ireland’s Aaron Hill in the last 64.
“I’ve won this event a few times now. It is up there with my favourites. The greats of the game have won events five, six or seven times. I want to try to to that at this tournament,” said 23-time ranking event winner Trump.
“Every time I’ve come here I’ve always had amazing support. I don’t know what it is, it might be something to do with the fact my style of play is like Alex Higgins. They get behind that and can see that I am trying my best, playing all these different shots for the fans out there.”
Shaun Murphy kept his hopes of qualifying for the Champion of Champions alive with a 4-0 whitewash win against China’s Xu Si.
This week is Murphy’s last opportunity to qualify for the prestigious invitation event. The 2005 Crucible king fired in contributions of 51, 79 and 62 on his way to the win. He plays Jamie Clarke next.
“I’ve come here with the clear goal of trying to win to get in the Champion of Champions. That is one down and six to go,” said 40-year-old Murphy.
“I’ve had the same opportunities as everyone else. This is the last chance saloon. I’ve not taken the chances and I am going to give it everything to get in.”
Neil Robertson needed just over an hour to brush aside Fraser Patrick 4-0. The Australian made breaks of 85, 120 and 55 on his way to victory. Robertson is now up against former European Masters winner Fan Zhengyi in the last 64.
Mark Selby was made to work for a 4-2 win over 12-time women’s World Champion Reanne Evans. He is also still to secure his place at the Champion of Champions. The four-time Crucible winner progresses to face Sam Craigie here in Belfast.
The match between Mark Selby and Reanne Evans could have been really close had Reanne got off to a better start. But she played really badly for the first two frames, before finally finding some form. But it was far too late.
Memories Flood Back For Allen On Winning Return To Belfast
Mark Allen made a strong start to his defence of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, claiming a 4-1 opening round victory over Chang Bingyu in front of a raucous crowd in Belfast.
Allen defeated John Higgins 9-8 at the Waterfront Hall last season to secure his first professional title on home soil in what he later described as his best ever professional win. The 36-year-old, who reached the final of the Cazoo British Open earlier this month, will be hoping to add a seventh-ranking title to his tally this week.
But, it was Chang Bingyu who started the better of the two in this match, taking the opening frame. The Pistol then found his rhythm and drew level with a clearance of 123. Allen took the second frame before runs of 56 and 70 moved him 3-1 ahead. The Belfast crowd were then treated to a century break in what would prove to be the final frame of the evening – Allen scoring 108 to seal a 4-1 win and a place in the last 64.
“I walked in from practice and I actually thought in my head, ‘this is the first time I’ve been in here since I won that final frame last year’, so those sort of feelings came flooding back,” said Allen, who plays Chen Zifan in the next round. “But you’re trying to block all of those out and just focus on your job which is quite hard to do. When I first walked out into the arena, all of a sudden I felt really edgy. I felt really calm all day and then suddenly it hit me. But I was happy to put that to bed in the second frame with a century and I played well after that.
“I always felt like I had something to prove to the people of Northern Ireland. But now that I won last year, I don’t feel like I’ve got that to prove to them (home crowd). I feel like winning it before should help me, it should ease the pressure a little bit. I’ve done it before, so why not do it again.
“The Belfast crowd always support their own really well. It’s probably the most supported Home Nations event and I think it has the best identity of the lot. People in Northern Ireland just love sporting events so it was great to be involved in tonight. I wasn’t feeling that when I missed a few in that first frame but after that it was pretty flawless.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan is also through. He made light work of Lukas Kleckers in a 4-0 whitewash. O’Sullivan took the lead in the match with a break of 66 before edging the second frame 78-46. The German struggled to get going in the contest and the Rocket soon made it 3-0 with a break of 77. Kleckers hopes of securing his opening frame of the match were extinguished following a safety exchange on the brown. Trailing 56-53, he left the object ball over the top right pocket, allowing O’Sullivan to clear up the final four colours and see out a comfortable 4-0 win.
“He (Kleckers) wasn’t at the races and I just had to pot a few balls. I didn’t do anything special,” said O’Sullivan.
“I haven’t even picked up my cue since the Hong Kong Masters! I came home and had a nice weekend with the dogs. They’re the best thing. They’ve restored my faith in life and they give me so much love.”
Two former world champions Mark Williams and Stuart Bingham came from behind to win their qualifying matches against Peter Lines and Allan Taylor respectively. The Welshman took the opening frame of the match before Lines drew level. The current UK Seniors champion then moved in front with a break of 53. Williams responded, winning the following three frames with contributions of 128 and 69 to see him through.
Meanwhile, Bingham won four frames on the bounce after going behind to book his spot in the last 64, with breaks of 110 and 61. World number 11 Luca Brecel eased past Joe O’Connor 4-0, knocking in three fifties in the process, to earn a place in the next round.
Robertson Aiming For Home Nations Slam
Neil Robertson revealed that completing the Home Nations set is acting as extra motivation to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy for the first time this week. He booked his place in the last 32 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open this afternoon with a 4-2 defeat of Fan Zhengyi.
Robertson is a two-time winner of the Welsh Open and was victorious at the Scottish Open in 2017 and the English Open in 2021. However, his record in this event is a poor one by comparison. The Australian has never been beyond the last 32 in Belfast.
The 2010 World Champion took the first two frames this afternoon to move 2-0 ahead, before 2021 European Masters winner Fan pulled back within a frame thanks to a fine break of 91.
A run of 48 helped Robertson to restore his two-frame cushion. However, Fan refused to wilt and showed his class with a 108 break to make it 3-2. It was to no avail as Robertson got himself over the line in the sixth to emerge a 4-2 victor.
“There extra incentive and motivation having won the other three Home Nations tournaments. Nobody has ever won all four. In the last couple of seasons, myself, Judd, Ronnie and Selby have won two or three. It would be nice to be the first person to do it,” said 23-time ranking event winner Robertson.
“We get beautiful replica trophies made of crystal. I’ve got all three sat in my man cave with my other trophies. It would be really cool to have all four. That is the kind of motivation in my career now. I am trying to complete little sets. That is a nice position to be in.
“I’ve not done too well in this tournament in previous years. It would be nice to go deep in this event. The venue is set up really well for good crowds later on in the week. I remember what the atmosphere was like with Mark Allen and John Higgins in last year’s final. It would be awesome to be a part of that.”
World number four Mark Selby came out a 4-2 victor in a clash with Sam Cragie, a player he had previously sponsored.
Selby is still chasing a place in the upcoming invitational Champion of Champions and faces either Hammad Miah or Lu Ning next in his quest to win this week’s event.
The four-time Crucible king revealed after the match that he used to sponsor Craigie while he was initially trying to make it as a professional. Although he lauded the talent of world number 47 Craigie, he fears he may not fulfil his potential.
“I sponsored him for a little while when he was trying to get on the tour, but he wasn’t really putting the work in,” said 39-year-old Selby.
“He didn’t really have much money. I was with Mukesh (former manager) at the time and we said we would pay for him to travel to events and we put him up in a hotel around the corner from a club. He wasn’t turning up until four o’clock in the afternoon to practice. We said we are willing to help you, but don’t want to waste money either.
“He has everything. He has a good technique and scores well. You watch him in some matches and he blows people away. It is frustrating when you see players like that not fulfilling their talent.”
Last year’s runner-up John Higgins battled past Fergal O’Brien 4-2 to book a last 64 meeting with Jackson Page. Glasgow’s Higgins took two frames on the black en route to victory this morning.
Jack Lisowski succumbed to a 4-2 loss against Li Hang, while Xiao Guodong beat Mink Nutcharut 4-0.