The 2023 World Snooker Championship Qualifiers – Day 9

Eight players booked their place at the Crucible yesterday evening, amongst them four debutants.

Here is the report by WST:

End Of An Era For Hawkins And Maguire

Jak Jones earned a Crucible debut with a 10-8 success in the last qualifying round of the Cazoo World Championship, beating former finalist Barry Hawkins who had been ever-present at snooker’s most famous venue since 2006.

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Stephen Maguire had been on an even longer run of consecutive appearances, stretching back to 2004, but he was beaten 10-6 by Fan Zhengyi. Maguire and Hawkins have dropped out of the world’s top 16 and were unable to negotiate the difficult path through the qualifying rounds in Sheffield.

Jones, age 29 from Cwmbran in South Wales, was a semi-finalist at the Gibraltar Open last season but when he steps out at the Theatre of Dreams it will be the biggest moment of his career so far. From 8-8 against 2013 runner-up Hawkins, he made an excellent 69 clearance in frame 17 to go 9-8 ahead, then won the 18th by laying a snooker on the final yellow and dishing up from the chance that followed.

It means a lot,” said the former European Amateur Champion, who made two breaks of 101 in the first session. “I didn’t play well today but Barry wasn’t at his best. My arm felt like jelly towards the end but I scraped over the line. In the last clearance, every pot was a twitch. It’s not easy to qualify, everyone is under so much pressure, it’s totally different to any other tournament.”

In the most dramatic finish of the day, Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham edged out China’s Zhang Anda 10-9 after a battle on the final black. A loose safety from Zhang handed a Saengkham a chance at a mid-range black, and he slammed it into a baulk corner.

Ricky Walden came through an exciting conclusion to beat Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-9 in a superb match which featured four centuries and ten more breaks over 50. Walden, a Crucible semi-finalist ten years ago, had leads of 4-1, 7-5 and 9-8 but could not shake off his opponent, who forced a decider. Un-Nooh then led 32-0 at 9-9 but missed a tough red to centre, and Walden punished him with an excellent 69. His attempted double on the penultimate red when he led by 29 points missed its target, but bounced into the opposite centre pocket, and he added the black which proved enough for victory.

I’m not sure how I managed to win,” admitted three-time ranking event winner Walden. “Thepchaiya played so well from 4-1 down. His safety was better too. I was just hanging in, I wasn’t happy with how I felt, it was nerve-racking. I made some good breaks, especially the one in the last frame. I just went one ball at a time, and to make 70, I have to be proud of myself. The Crucible is the home of snooker, I’ve had some great moments there and some terrible moments. To go there and be in the mix is so exciting.

Graeme Dott, the 2006 champion, suffered a 10-6 reverse against Matthew Selt, who is through to the Crucible for the fourth time and will be looking for his first win at the venue.

Selt, whose top break was 61, said: “Graeme knows how to win but I could tell he wasn’t fully fit today. I asked if he was ok and he said he had a shoulder injury. I felt bad for him but I still had job to do. I had copious amounts of luck, it’s been a while since I had that much good fortune and it definitely played a big part in that match.

I haven’t played particularly well here this week but hopefully I can play better at the Crucible. I’ll be able to enjoy it and it will be a proud moment when I walk out. I need to settle, and if I do that I can play really well. I’ll be listening to the draw – there’s a couple of people I want to avoid, and 14 I want to play!

Anthony McGill earned his ninth consecutive appearance as he beat Cao Yupeng 10-6 with a top break of 106. Glasgow’s McGill, who narrowly lost 17-16 to Kyren Wilson in the semi-finals in 2020, said: “At 3-0 down I tried to just enjoy the match and being here. These are the days you look back on, it’s an occasion. It’s a privilege to play at the Crucible, the historical venue in our sport. It’s an achievement to get through the qualifying rounds, it’s extremely difficult. I’ll have my sights set on doing some damage.”

Wu Yize

Three up-and-coming Chinese players all booked Crucible debuts: Fan Zhengyi, Wu Yize and Si Jiahui. Former European Masters Fan saw off Maguire 10-6 with a top break of 102. Si, who won the World Snooker Federation Open last year, beat Jordan Brown 10-7 with a top run of 115. And Wu, Rookie of the Year last season, came from 5-1 and 7-4 down to beat beat Shoot Out champion Chris Wakelin 10-8 with top breaks of 140 and 100.

Now WST, really, why is the focus in this piece on Hawkins and Maguire failure to qualify, instead the four debutants? Why focus on “end of an era” rather than focus on “rising new stars”? And why are the three youngest qualifiers getting just one paragraph, the last in the text? Is it because they are Chinese? Those kids are the future you know. Also, British match winners were interviewed by Rob Walker, but not the Chinese lads. For me those things are further evidence that, despite branding themselves “World Snooker”, the powers in charge still have a very UK centric, and a very “nostalgia cult” attitude towards the sport.

I have known Jak Jones since he was a teenager, playing at the SWSA. He comes from a humble background but was always supported by a caring family, as well as encouraged by Paul Mount and Janie Watkins. What surprises me the most is that he took him that long to get where he is today.

I’m also very pleased for Ricky Walden, who seems to be finally be over his health issues. Ricky and his manager, Lee Gorton, were the ones who first invited me to the World Qualifiers and I’m forever grateful to them as, for me, it all started in earnest from there. I had first met them at a pro-am tournament organised in Belgium. Lee was also the man behind the organisation of the first ever PTC in Belgium.

Big Shout to Fan Zhengyi, Wu Yize and Si Jiahui as well as to Victoria Shi, the women behind the Vic Snooker academy. It can’t have been easy times for them all with the current “match fixing cloud” over their heads. All three youngsters are former students of coach Roger Leighton.

Finally, it’s not mentioned above but the finish of the Si v Brown match was very special. Only pink and black were still on the table. Si, who was ahead in the frame and in the match, had managed to push the black right over a top corner pocket, with the pink right on top of it. Knocking the black in would have meant end of match for Brown. There was a long phase of cat and mouse play where Brown was trying to take the pink away from the black, whilst Si was systematically putting it back on top of the black, trying to force the mistake. Both showed tremendous skills.There were talks of “re-rack” in commentary – it has happened before with only pink and black on the table – but eventually Brown succeeded to separate the two balls. It was in vain though as Si won the ensuing safety battle and won the frame and the match.

5 thoughts on “The 2023 World Snooker Championship Qualifiers – Day 9

  1. This was only the tile about Maguire and Hawkins and I personally am sad they did not make it. They are more familiar names than many young ones, people grew to like them even, but at least have sympathy for them, over the years and they deserve a mention and a tear. Whoever makes the later rounds of tournaments will become more of a household name, especially if they become a little more individualized, not simply the “Chinese players”. While I don’t doubt the existence of racism, fans in general took to Zhao Xintong and his game, but to see him under investigation does not help.

    • They only took to Zhao Xintong after he won the UK Championship and was interviewed for the first time.

      I wouldn’t like to say ‘racism’, but the policy is desciminatory. Any Sports Psychologist will say that this will lead to a competitive disadvantage. It’s no accident that no overseas players have reached their full potential. It may also lead to some grievances, if players feel like outsiders. I can’t help thinking that some of the bad things might not have happened had the tour been more inclusive.

    • I understand what you say Csilla and I like both Hawkins and Maguire, but the future of the sport is not about them. An effort must be made to promote the young players and not just the British/Irish young players. Not if you call yourself “World snooker”. Also, I don’t think it’s actual racism. More about laziness. They milk the existing fanbase, there is a lot of nostalgia, they don’t do enough to attract new fans. I’m sick an tired to hear about Alex Higgins who frankly was a horrible person or the 1985 final that was a terrible match for 99% of its duration.

      • Just to make it clear: racism I mean on the part of certain fans, not by the commentators/commentary.

        An interesting comparison could be made with the way they treat Neil (OK, he is closer the English, LOL), or the Belgians, even Boiko. Vafaei seems to have a fanbase and not only among Iranians. But let’s see who remains a constant force on the tour and what kind of treatment they receive.

  2. Naturally, I’m pleased with this set of qualifiers. With the average age of the top-16 now over 40, we really need some young qualifiers to inject a bit of life into the World Championship.

    It would make a good quiz question, but at the beginning of the season the highest-ranked British player under 30 was actually Jak Jones! He has since been overtaken by Joe O’Connor, but he had a good season in 2021-22, and his qualification shouldn’t really be a surprise on that basis.

    The success of the three Chinese lads ought to have been the best story, but as you say it was downplayed. In the 21st century, media is really all about coveting popularity (i.e. Twitter approval), and they are playing to a middle-aged British audience, who generally don’t know one Chinese player from another, even if they don’t actually despise them. The lack of interviews only reinforces that. At least this time Rob Walker didn’t promise to interview all the winners. They did talk to Noppon Saengkham, and it was probably the best interview. The others were lacklustre, as is quite normal: they are totally drained after a highly stressful struggle.

    Wu Yize is in fact a Ding Academy player, but Si Jiahui and Fan Zhengyi share a flat together – what celebrations must have been last night! No doubt they all helped to encourage each other this week, and yesterday they played on adjacent tables.

    In general I was very disappointed by the ‘roaming’ coverage. The style doesn’t suit Dave Hendon and Ken Doherty (who seemed exhausted by his own matches). It needs someone like Rob Walker, and similarly energetic pundits. As I suspected, there were too many ‘features’: interviews with Mark Allen, Judd Trump, a conversation with Doherty about Alex Higgins, and various Crucible-related things. It’s OK to promote next week’s event, but those ‘features’ would be better at the appropriate time. The changeovers between tables was too slow – usually we missed the crucial moments in a frame. There was drama happening all around, but a lot of it was missed.

    Hopefully today the coverage will be a bit slicker, but I don’t expect the matches to be better.

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