2022 UK Championship Qualifiers – Round 4 – Day 1

Yesterday was a truly amazing day in Ponds Forge …

Here are the reports by WST

Afternoon session

White: I Can Win It

Jimmy White insisted that he can win the Cazoo UK Championship after thrashing Dominic Dale 6-1 to reach the last 32 of snooker’s second biggest ranking event for the first time since 2010.

Veteran White, age 60, has shown vintage form by winning four qualifying matches this week, beating Victor Sarkis 6-0, Mitchell Mann 6-0, Stephen Maguire 6-4 and now Dale. He will be in the hat for the draw to take place at the end of the afternoon session on Thursday, when he will be picked out at random against one of the top 16 seeds.

The final stages run from November 12 to 20 in York, and whoever White draws it will be his biggest occasion in a pro tour event since he last played at the Masters in 2010. The Whirlwind, who won the UK title 30 years ago, remains a crowd favourite and is sure to receive raucous support at the York Barbican.

It was a nervy opening to today’s match with so much at stake for both players. White scrapped to a 3-1 advantage with a top break of 39. After the interval he was more fluent, and took the last three frames with top runs of 46, 45 and 49.

I’m not going to York to make up the numbers, if I have my A game I can win it,” said White, who is already guaranteed £10,000 which will boost him up the rankings from his current position of 89th. “I can still play like the top players when my game is there, they are just a lot more consistent than me. If I didn’t think I could win then I wouldn’t play. Even at my age, if you have a passion for practice then you can keep your game in shape.

I have hit the ball well this season without getting results, but when I played Mitchell Mann this week, something clicked. I played well against Stephen Maguire. Today it was scrappy and I was lucky to be 3-1 up. When I play like that I get embarrassed. At the interval I said to myself ‘come on, there’s work to be done.’ I was thinking about John Higgins because even when he struggles he still plays good matchplay.

Welshman Jamie Clarke raced into a 5-0 lead over Duane Jones with top breaks of 77, 75, 52 and 63. Jones recovered to 5-3 before Clarke sealed a 6-3 win with a run of 89.

Tom Ford was in fine form in a 6-3 defeat of Noppon Saengkham, firing breaks of 58, 102, 54, 108 and 82.  Xu Si top scored with 99 as he won a Chinese derby against Tian Pengfei 6-4.

Jimmy’s indefectible love for the game and optimism is truly admirable. How can anyone begrudge him his tour card? Especially now that the three invitational tour cards come on top of the normal “128” professional tour cards, he’s not taking anybody’s place and he continues to bring so much to his sport. You can be certain that he will fill the Barbican in a few days. I just hope that he doesn’t draw Ronnie. It would be horrible for both. As much as they love playing each other in exhibition, they don’t like it in ranking competitions. Ronnie certainly does hate it.

I din’t actually watch that match. I will watch it later for sure, but yesterday I watched Tian Pengfei v Xu Si. It was an extraordinary tense match. Both played well. It was not a scoring fest, but the tactical nous on show (by both) was excellent. I was happy to see Xu Si prevail. He has a lot of potential.

Evening session

Stevens Survives Yize Thriller

Matthew Stevens let slip a 4-0 lead over Wu Yize in the final qualifying round of the Cazoo UK Championship, but eventually prevailed 6-5 to secure his place in the final stages.

Stevens won this title in 2003 and the 45-year-old has given himself a chance of another deep run. The draw for the last 32 will take place at the end of the afternoon session on Thursday, with the top 16 seeds to be picked out at random against the 16 qualifiers. Former world number four Stevens is now ranked 60th but has shown improved form in 2022, notably qualifying for the Crucible and reaching the last 16 of two other ranking events.

Breaks of 126, 63, 75 and 57 saw Welshman Stevens race into a 4-0 lead. China’s Wu, Rookie of the Year in 2021/22, took the next three frames within 36 minutes with runs of 73, 87 and 55.

Stevens led 50-1 in frame eight but his opponent hit back to snatch it on the colours for 4-4. Wu also took the ninth, but Stevens made a 91 for 5-5 and a break of 58 in the decider proved enough.

At 4-1 I could see that Wu fancied it,” said Stevens. “Before I knew it, it was 4-4. I should have gone 5-3 so when he won that frame and then went ahead it wasn’t looking good. I don’t know how I managed to turn it around and win the last two frames but it feels good and I’m very happy to still be in it. Wu is some talent for a 19-year-old, he looks like he’s going to be a fantastic player.

Iran’s Hossein Vafaei booked his spot in York with a 6-4 success over Robbie Williams. Runs of 127 and 111 helped put Shoot Out champion Vafaei 3-1 ahead. Williams battled back bravely after the interval and the match looked in the balance at 5-4, but runs of 47 and 25 gave Vafaei frame ten.

I am so pleased to qualify because it’s one of our biggest tournaments,” said the world number 20. “I wasn’t cueing well today, I missed a few balls. I started thinking about my technique and trying something different in every frame. Then it’s difficult to find your way, that’s why snooker is so hard. I have about 25 different cue actions – I don’t know how I’m playing!

But every day is different and I just keep going. I don’t mind who I play in York, they all have two arms and two legs and they can all make 147s.”

China’s Lyu Haotian eased to a 6-1 win over Andy Hicks with top breaks of 92, 106 and 69. A frustrated Hicks smashed the pack of reds from the break in frame seven but to no avail as Lyu took it to wrap up the result.

Northern Ireland Open runner-up Zhou Yuelong saw off Jak Jones 6-3 with breaks of 78, 117, 84 and 72.

Wu Yize looked completely out of sorts before the MSI. His shot selection was weird and his positional game … random. I’m not sure what happened. Anyway, he came back after the MSI a different player. Stevens would never have won that match if he had faced the “post-MSI” Wu Yize from the start.

As for Hossein Vafaei, he spoke to Phil Haigh, in a far more measured way this time.

Hossein Vafaei on snooker getting boring, wanting a legend in his corner and those Ronnie O’Sullivan comments

Phil Haigh Thursday 10 Nov 2022 12:50 am

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Six
Hossein Vafaei is never short of a fascinating opinion (Picture: Getty Images)

Hossein Vafaei is something of a restless snooker soul, looking for more from himself, wanting more from his sport and hoping people can help him achieve it.

The 28-year-old had a great season last time around, winning his first ranking event at the Shoot Out and becoming the first Iranian to qualify for the Crucible.

However, he feels his game is not progressing how he would like it, stuck in the same battle for consistency that so many players find themselves in.

He is still playing good stuff, qualifying for the main stages of the UK Championship on Wednesday night, but that is when he expressed his frustrations and how he wants to put them to an end.

Vafaei thinks working with a legend of the game, having an icon in his corner, could be the difference in making him turn from contender into champion.

I’m trying my best to move forward, but it’s hard when you are alone, when you don’t have anyone to check when you’re off line,’ said Vafaei. 

You’re always learning from your own mistake. If I lose I learn, but why shouldn’t someone be beside me to tell me what to do before that. 

Maybe I can be dangerous if someone can help me to go to a different level. I still don’t perform well in tournaments, I’m not finding the consistency. I need some tips from somebody, maybe one of the legends in this sport

I’ve showed that I can play, but it’s very hard to know everything alone. Who knows how far I can go in this game? I just need little tips to improve.

I don’t know who, but I will think about it. Maybe I can ask John Higgins and he wouldn’t say no, but I am their opponent right now, so maybe I should ask someone who is not on the tour. Everyone needs to work with someone to get success and improve. 

‘I’m not improving. I’m working all the time, but sometimes it’s not working. People ask what’s going on and why I play like that sometimes, but I don’t know, we are human. Some people find consistency and some don’t. That’s the difference between top players and other players.

Hossein is desperate to succeed because he is not short on dedication, putting in serious hours and he wants to see the rewards.

He is not just talking about winning matches, but he wants to see the sport grow and reap the benefits of playing in more glamorous settings than Ponds Forge where he secured UK Championship qualification on Wednesday.

I’m alone in this country. Sometimes it’s hard to know what I’m doing here, why I’m here,’ Vafaei said. ‘As a young person I should enjoy my life. You practice 7-8 hours a day, you don’t see anyone, you’re losing opportunities in your life

I’ve said that before, it’s getting boring, so boring. If this sport doesn’t change to be something big it’s going to be the same, very boring. 

We need something to change, at least make the venues, qualifiers everything nicer. This sport looks nice on TV, in our suits, they expect behind the scenes to be that, but…you know. Champion of Champions was the first time I saw the LED TVs beside the table, it was great, like football! You feel great when you see something change like that.

We need this sport to get bigger, we need some change, I don’t know what it is, but I’d like to see it. I’d like when I go to the venue to enjoy it as a snooker player. I do 8 hours in a room, when I go to the tournament I must be happy, not like, “oh, I’m going there.” Sorry I’m saying that, I’m always honest, I say my opinion, some people like it and some don’t.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Six
Vafaei enjoyed his Crucible debut despite a first round loss to Trump (Picture: Getty Images)

Judd Trump has spoken regularly about wanting to attract a younger audience with some changes in the game and Vafaei sees the Ace as a role model to look up to.

Absolutely [I agree with Judd],’ he said. ‘I always follow the players, what they’re saying about this sport. Especially Judd, he’s one of the big heroes of this sport. 

He’s a legend and he’s a nice kid, not a kid, he’s a nice man! He’s a great hero for the young people to see what he’s done to get to the top. Every young snooker player should follow Judd.’

Vafaei is always ready to give his opinion on matters, most famously when he said Ronnie O’Sullivan should retire earlier this year.

He says he may have got carried away with that particular claim, but reiterates his point that he wants to see snooker grow and feels that the Rocket is the man to help it take off.

I didn’t say something really bad!’ Vafaei said. ‘But people said, why are you talking about Ronnie like that?! 

I said that Ronnie is one of the legends of our sport, a genius, without doubt no one can play snooker better than him, you have to call him god of snooker, he’s a winning machine

I always respect him, as long as he respect me. I don’t want to start anything again talking about something and get people asking why I’m talking like that again. I just said my opinion a little bit. He’s a great man, people love him, and I wish him success.

All I was trying to say was, do something for us please Ronnie. Snooker is in your hands. Leave something for the youngsters. I didn’t ask anything too much. If you can make the sport bigger, please do, I know it’s not his job to make snooker big, he should focus on his game, but he’s been winning 30 years, who else can do that for us? To make young players come and play snooker.

Maybe my English wasn’t great. What I said was right and at the right time because I qualified for the Crucible and I knew newspapers would write it. 

All I asked was for our sport to be a bit bigger. I think every snooker player should want this, I know it’s not their job, but when you see the future, it’s a bit of change, a bit back again, you don’t want that. 

We’re putting our lives into a game. This is why I said Ronnie O’Sullivan should have a private jet, he should be like Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, look at their lifestyle. This is what I want for him! 

All I said was, help us Ronnie make this game a bit bigger. But he’s done his best, as long as he plays, people love him and I love watching him, I never get tired of that. When I say something bad, it doesn’t mean I don’t love him

I don’t doubt Hossein’s good intentions but there are manifestly a few he doesn’t know or understand. First of all that Ronnie and other older players HAVE tried to change things in the past and failed.

I remember Ronnie, at the Masters 2010, speaking to the press about how dispirited most players were, with very little to play in, how the atmosphere around the game was grim. He urged the authorities to do something to help the players. This was still when Sir Rodney was at the elm. He was crucified by the authorities, the BBC pundits and the fans for “speaking bad about his sport”. He was only speaking the truth, the situation WAS bad. Now he can’t be bothered and they wonder why?

4 thoughts on “2022 UK Championship Qualifiers – Round 4 – Day 1

  1. Yes the Xu-Tian match was very good: two re-spotted blacks, two 147 attempts, ten 50+ breaks, and a very tense climax. Xu Si gained vital ranking points in his bid to stay on tour. Obviously, the broadcasters were banking on him losing when Rob Walker promised to “interview every winner”. There were some rather strange interviews actually, but that can happen when a player speaks just after playing, and is not a regular winner and used to the procedure.

    The roaming coverage is definitely an idea which could be experimented with more in multi-table events, as there is extra energy and always something happening somewhere.

    I didn’t see much of the evening session (I’m still working Shanghai time), but the matches looked to be more one-way, but then all got a bit closer towards the end. Wu Yize is indeed a real talent, but very erratic. He reminds me of a young Thepchaiya, and will have to be careful not to waste his ability.

    Today’s matches will probably be different in character – yesterday in general had younger, more attack-minded players, apart from one match of course.

  2. I watched most of Jimmy’s match and he was lucky in a way, because Dominic Dale played awful. Jimmy played fine, made some beautiful pots and unlikely cuts, but his cueball control is not that great, he finishes a few inches short and then he has to resort to safeties, which won’t do against top players, although his safeties were very good. I also hope he won’t draw Ronnie: it would be so sad.

    I have little time for Vafaei’s rubbish. He dug a hole for himself with his comments and now that he was given a lot of grief for them, he is trying to climb out of that hole, but it is not that easy or even interesting.

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