2022 Northern Ireland Open – Taking stock of the last 64 and last 32 rounds.

Here are WST reports on the last 64 and last 32 rounds in Belfast. It’s been a bit of a bloodbath for the top seeds

Last 64

18 October – afternoon

Higgins Edges Page In Belfast Thriller

John Higgins edged Jackson Page in a thriller at the Waterfront Hall, battling back from 3-2 down to win 4-3 and earn a place in the last 32 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.

The world number five finished runner-up in Belfast last year, suffering a 9-8 loss to Mark Allen in the final – one of five finals that Higgins lost last season. The Scot will be hoping to go one better this time around, having seen off Fergal O’Brien and now Page to advance to the next round.

Higgins struck early with a run of 91 to take the lead after Page left a red to the middle pocket when trying to play safe up the table. In frame two, Higgins made the same mistake when attempting to play safe down the table. The Welshman potted the red and made a 128 clearance to draw level. The high-quality contest continued with Higgins striking 84 to regain the lead before his opponent took the following two frames with breaks of 65 and 76 respectively to make it 3-2.

Page looked to be on the verge of victory in the sixth frame following a break of 64, but a missed red to the middle allowed Higgins back in. The Scot then made a clearance of 69 under pressure to force a decider. Page looked to be feeling the pressure in the final frame too, missing a tricky plant to the top left pocket. And Higgins picked the right time to land his first century stand of the match with a 124 clearance to black, securing a 4-3 victory.

I was very impressed with Jackson!” said the four-time world champion. “He’s got great talent and he hits the ball really really well. It doesn’t take him a lot of effort to manoeuvre the white ball around the table. It’s incredibly difficult for the young guys because there are more top players now that stop them. But, he is a great talent.

Jackson was in about the balls to get over the line and win 4-2 but he was a little bit unlucky. He’s potted the blue and got a cannon on the brown which left him a horrible shot on the red. I managed to clear up which was great. He’s missed a plant in the last frame and again I managed to clear up.

Barry Hawkins is also through to the last 32, defeating Louis Heathcote 4-0. Despite a break of 52 in the opening frame, Heathcote left a red over the green pocket. Hawkins was on 39 at the time and made no mistake in clearing up the colours needed to take a 1-0 lead. The Hawk doubled his advantage in the next frame before a run of 61, when trailing 64-17, made it 3-0. Having battled hard all match, Hawkins eventually found his rhythm in the fourth frame. A break of 106 secured the win and his place in the next round, where he will face Michael White.

Earlier in the morning, White defeated Ding Junhui 4-3 with three breaks of over 50. The two-time ranking event winner fell off the tour in 2020 but won his place back this season after qualifying for the World Championship.

It was a quality match,” said the Welshman. “I’m just pleased that I performed out there on the match table. It’s been a while since I played to my potential on the TV table. That means a lot to me. To do it under that extreme pressure and to have a one-visit in the deciding frame is a massive confidence builder.

There is an old saying, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. This game’s got a funny way of biting you back when you don’t give it the respect it deserves. I said to myself if I’m going back on tour, I’m going to give it 100% or not going to bother at all. So I’m working extremely hard on and off the table and I’ve got a great balance to my life now. I’m enjoying my snooker, I’m enjoying my practice. And I’m in a much better place than I was.”

Luca Brecel continued his quest to hold two Home Nations titles simultaneously after beating Jimmy White 4-0. The current BetVictor Scottish Open champion hit a century and two fifties on his way to securing a place in the last 32.

Tom Ford defeated Scott Donaldson by the same scoreline while Shaun Murphy and David Gilbert also booked their spot in the next round, beating Jamie Clarke and Noppon Saengkham 4-1 respectively.

18 October – evening

Hill On Cloud Nine After Beating Trump

Ireland’s world number 95 Aaron Hill scored a stunning upset 4-1 win over 23-time ranking event winner Judd Trump at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

Hill is no stranger to defeating snooker’s biggest stars, having registered a 5-4 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan at the BetVictor European Masters during his rookie season as a professional back in 2020.

Unfortunately, the Cork cueman stalled after that significant early triumph and lost his place on the circuit at the conclusion of this year’s World Championship. However, he picked himself off the canvas and earned an immediate return to the circuit by successfully negotiating Q School, beating China’s Zhao Jianbo in the final round of event two.

Today’s win has seen former under-18 and under-21 European Champion Hill again showcase his considerable potential against the sport’s finest and he now progresses to the last 32, where he will face Tom Ford.

World number two Trump’s early exit is in stark contrast to his overall record in Belfast. The Ace in the Pack won the title on three consecutive occasions between 2018 and 2020, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in the final each time. There will be no fourth title for Trump, who now turns his attention to the defence of his Champion of Champions title at the end of this month.

A break of 54 gave Hill the opener this evening, before Trump emphatically replied with 109 to restore parity at 1-1. Hill regained his advantage by taking the third and then moved one from the win courtesy of a run of 87.

Trump was in first in the fifth frame, but an unexpected missed red on 25 allowed Hill back to the table. After a couple of visits he got himself over the line and booked his place in the last 32.

“It means the world to me,” said 20-year-old Hill. “When I had that big win against Ronnie two years ago I didn’t back it up, as I was inexperienced. When I started losing matches after that expectation started to build. I felt like I had a big monkey on my shoulders and I couldn’t get him off.

“When I dropped off the tour it gave me a different perspective. When I got through Q School it was the biggest relief ever. I had gone from being the biggest prospect to losing my professional place and I showed good character to get back on. Hopefully I won’t look back now.

“I don’t want to just be out there playing the likes of Judd and Ronnie. I want to beating them on a consistent level. I know I am good enough to be getting these kinds of results. It is just about getting a bit of consistency. I am really happy with how my game is right now so hopefully I can kick on.”

The shocks continued with world number 108 David Lilley whitewashing 2015 World Champion Stuart Bingham 4-0. Lilley made breaks of 60 and 73 on his way to the win. He now faces David Gilbert in the last 32.

Kyren Wilson avoided a surprise exit, battling from 3-2 down to beat Sean O’Sullivan 4-3. That sets up an intriguing last 32 encounter with Stephen Maguire.

Welsh amateur Daniel Wells beat Welsh Open champion Joe Perry 4-0, while Scotland’s Anthony McGill defeated Belgian rookie Julian Leclercq 4-1.

19 October – afternoon

Amazing Grace Halts Rocket

World number 49 David Grace scored a shock 4-3 win over World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan to reach the last 32 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

Grace is a former Northern Ireland Open semi-finalist, having made the last four back in 2020 when the event was staged in Milton Keynes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite his successes that week and in reaching the semi-finals of the 2015 UK Championship, this result undoubtedly remains one of the best in Grace’s career so far.

The Yorkshireman’s only previous meeting with O’Sullivan yielded a very different result. On that occasion, at the 2018 Welsh Open, O’Sullivan emerged a 4-0 victor and allowed Grace to register just 13 points.

Although Grace exceeded his previous points tally in the the opening frame this afternoon, O’Sullivan still imposed himself on proceedings with a break of 62 to take the first. The 39-time ranking event winner then took the second to secure an ominous 2-0 advantage. However Grace responded in impressive fashion by crafting breaks of 57, 94 and 64 in consecutive frames to take three on the bounce and lead 3-2.

He had his chance to get over the line in the sixth, but missed a black off the spot and allowed O’Sullivan to force a decider. He made up for his mistake and took the final frame to emerge with a famous victory. Next up Grace faces Tian Pengfei.

I think it’s got to be the biggest win of my career. It is such a big occasion playing Ronnie and everybody is watching on. It is a special one,” said 37-year-old Grace.

It was going really badly at 2-0 down and I am proud that I managed to find the cue ball control to give myself a foothold in the match. When you play the legends they get better when they go in front. They don’t normally give you a chance to get in the game.

I am in the club every day working hard. I’m trying to prove that I can do it on the biggest stage. That is what everyone down the rankings is trying to do. When you get a chance to prove it like that you have to take it.

Neil Robertson continued his quest for a first Northern Ireland Open crown with a 4-1 defeat of John Astley. The Australian has won all of the other three Home Nations events and victory this week would see him become the first to complete the series slam. Next up he faces a tough test against China’s Li Hang, who beat home favourite Jordan Brown 4-0.

Welsh three-time World Champion Mark Williams beat former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson 4-2, while Xiao Guodong defeated Iranian Hossein Vafaei 4-3.

And the trend continued in the last 32 round

19 October – evening

Selby and Allen Through As Top Seeds Fall

Mark Selby and Mark Allen have secured their places in the last 16 of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, as top seeds fell around them on day four at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Kyren Wilson are out, joining Judd Trump who exited the competition last night. Selby will be hoping he can better his run to the semi-finals at the Waterfront in 2018. He beat Hammad Miah 4-2.

Prior to the BetVictor European Masters in August, Miah had been practising with Selby. But, following a break of 54, flawed attempts at leaving both the blue and pink balls safe, allowed his new training partner to steal the opening frame. Leading 59-31 in the second, Miah failed to make contact with the green after being left snookered behind the brown. The Jester from Leicester made no mistake in clearing the green and remaining colours to double his lead.

Mistakes became contagious with the third frame following a similar pattern to the first two. Selby missed a black off the spot when leading 50-16. Miah then cleared to blue before losing control of the cue ball and with it the frame. He fought back to win the following two frames and looked to be causing his opponent some concern. But, Selby held his nerve in the sixth with a run of 59 to seal a 4-2 win.

Hammad’s a great lad,” said the four-time world champion, who will play Michael White in the next round. “He came to practise with me just before the European. I’ve got to know him a little bit and he’s a great kid. In practice he was screwing long balls back and potting ridiculous balls. He’s probably one of those players that thrives on confidence. If it goes 3-3, it’s a spin of a coin.

My concentration from start to finish was non-existent, I felt flat out there. I could have lost all three of the opening frames. So to be 3-0 up I was over the moon. But, I just couldn’t even see the shots out there. I’m watching everything else that’s going on but my table. We both gave each other so many chances so even when you went back to your chair you felt like it would be a matter of time before you were coming back again.

Allen came from 2-0 down to defeat Andy Lee, who is ranked world number 105, to continue his quest for back-to-back titles at the Waterfront Hall. The Northern Irishman will also be hoping to put last month’s disappointment behind him and claim his first trophy of the season, having lost 10-7 to Ryan Day in the final of the Cazoo British Open.

But, it was Lee who won the opening frame of this match. Allen looked to be in charge of the second frame, leading 44-23. But after leaving a red to the top left pocket, his opponent took advantage and made it 2-0. With it looking like his title defence could be slipping away, Allen mounted a comeback. He won the next three frames to move within one of the next round. Lee, who regained his place on tour in the spring at Q School, made a break of 91 to draw level at 3-3. And in the decider, it was Allen who got over the line. Lee rattled a black in the jaws of the top left pocket, leaving enough points on the table for the home favourite to secure the win. Allen will face Xiao Guodong for a place in the quarter-finals.

Michael White has also booked his place in the last 16 after beating Barry Hawkins 4-2. The Hawk flew out of the traps, striking a century break in the opening frame. But, White drew level before breaks of 65 and 44 in the third game him the lead. The Welshman looked in good touch and won two of the next three frames to secure the win.

Aaron Hill couldn’t replicate last night’s fireworks against Judd Trump, suffering a 4-1 defeat to Tom Ford. Losing 3-0, the Irishman looked to kickstart a fightback with a break of 85, but any chances were soon extinguished as Ford made a run of 67 adding to his breaks of 56 and 66 in frames two and three.

David Gilbert hit two centuries on his way to beating David Lilley 4-1, backing up his win over British Open semi-finalist Noppon Saengkham in the previous round. Steven Maguire defeated world number six Kyren Wilson by the same scoreline. The Scot closed the match out with a break of 92 adding to the century stand he made in the fourth frame.

The report about what happened earlier today isn’t available yet but Yan Bingtao, Barry Hawkins and John Higgins all lost.

This leaves us with only 5 of the top 16 still in the competition in the last 16 round. Four of them – Mark Allen, Mark Selby, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson are in the top half of the draw, with only Luca Brecel from the top 16 still alive in the bottom half. At the time of writing, Neil Robertson has booked his place in the QFs. The other matches are either underway or to be played tonight.

My feeling is that the very slow and disjoint start of the season hasn’t done anyone any good. Most of the top players have barely played at all, and amongst those who have played recently in Hong Kong most will probably still feel a bit tired because of the time difference, especially the older ones. As for the lower ranked players, it’s been start/stop and those who where on form and qualified in August may not be on form right now.

The calendar this season is a shambolic. It may and will create surprises and shocks, and that may suit some people’s agenda but it’s not doing the sport or its fans any favour.

As we would say in Brussels’ idiom … “That’s my opinion and I agree with it!”

One thought on “2022 Northern Ireland Open – Taking stock of the last 64 and last 32 rounds.

  1. The format of the Home Nations is so stupid now. From the held-over matches to the messed up Thursday schedule. Previously, all players had to win two matches on the Thursday to make the QFs, but now, some players play one match and some play two to make the QFs. It’s unfair.

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