2023 Crucible – The first round concludes on Day 6

The last three of the first round matches were played to a finish yesterday and two of them produced a quite unexpected result.

With Joe Perry leading by 7-2 after the first session, very few, if any, would have given Robert Milkins a chance but yesterday morning, he came out fighting … and won! Here is the report by WST:

Milkins Completes Epic Fight-Back

Robert Milkins pulled off one of the great first round Crucible come-backs as he recovered a 7-2 deficit to beat Joe Perry 10-9 at the Cazoo World Championship.

In a match which started on Monday evening and finished 66 hours later, Milkins recorded the biggest successful first round fight-back since 2017 when Marco Fu battled from 7-1 behind to beat Luca Brecel 10-9. Perry looked by far the stronger player in Tuesday’s session as he built a commanding lead, but his touch deserted him today as he missed a string of chances, allowing Milkins to turn the tide.

Competing as a top 16 seed at the Crucible for the first time in his 28-year career, Welsh Open champion Milkins goes through to the last 16 to face Shaun Murphy or Si Jiahui. The 47-year-old from Gloucester has appeared in the second round three times before and has never reached the quarter-finals.

Milkins took the first two frames this morning with a top break of 61 to reduce the gap to 7-4, then the next two were shared to leave the interval scoreline at 8-5. Runs of 51, 53 and 55 helped Milkins battle back to 8-8.

A scrappy 17th frame came down to the colours and Perry had a chance but missed a tricky brown to a baulk corner, and fell behind for the first time in the match. Two-time ranking event winner Perry bounced back with a run of 63 for 9-9.

World number 14 Milkins had first clear chance in the decider and made 63. After a brief safety exchange, he knocked in a long red and added the points he needed.

From 7-2 down you are pretty much dead and buried,” said Milkins. “You just come out and try and make the score respectable. I won the first two frames but then lost the next for 8-4 which was a set back. I dug in and managed to close the gap. If I had ended up losing 10-9 after being 9-8 up, I would have been more gutted than losing 10-2.

I tried to be more positive, playing the percentage shots but being a bit more aggressive and speeding up a bit to get myself going. I am not totally happy with the tip on my cue, it will take more time to bed in. I have some time to practise now and be ready for round two.”

Perry, who beat Mark Davis 10-9 in the final qualifying round but was on the wrong end of the same scoreline today, said: “It was a shambles today for me. I never got going, I started bad and gradually got worse. I was playing safety shots and catching everything thick. I was bemused by what was happening. It was the same Rob Milkins I played on Tuesday night and I dominated the session. I didn’t lose today because of anything special Rob did. He played better than he did the other night, but he was allowed to play by my mistakes.”

The unusual schedule of this session was of course the result of the “Just Stop Oils” disruption. There were calls by Mark Allen and Stuart Bingham for WST/WPBSA to give Olivier Marteel proper recognition for his clarity of thoughts and bravery under the circumstances. Olivier is now back to Belgium as his work at the Crucible is finished for this year.

In the afternoon Mark Selby beat Matt Selt by 10-8 (WST report)

Selby Steps Up To End Selt Challenge

Mark Selby scored a tremendous century break in the last frame to quash a Matthew Selt fight-back, winning 10-8 in the first round of the Cazoo World Championship.

Four-time Crucible king Selby looked at risk of a shock exit when qualifier Selt came from 8-4 down to within a frame at 9-8. But – as he has so many times at this venue – Selby found something extra when it mattered most. His match-winning break of 112 in the 18th frame started with a series of excellent pots to keep the break going, and once in prime position, the world number two remained composed as he cruised to the finish line.

Leicester’s Selby, who lifted the trophy in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021, goes through to the last 16 to face Gary Wilson, a player who beat him at the same stage in 2019. The best-of-25 frame tie gets underway on Saturday evening.

Selby took the first frame today to go 7-3 ahead before Selt pulled one back with a break of 74, then a run of 56 restored Selby’s four frame cushion. Frame 13 came down to the last red and Selt converted a cocked-hat double to a centre pocket, then cleared to close to 8-5.

The 14th was resolved with a tactical exchange on the pink, and a weak safety from Selby handed his opponent the chance to pot pink and black to continue his fight back. Selby recovered with breaks of 57 and 73 to go 9-6 up, but Selt dominated frame 16, then in the 17th he laid a clever snooker on the yellow and took the chance that followed to close to 9-8. However, his efforts were in vain as Selby seized his opportunity in the 18th.

It was one of the best breaks I have made, under the circumstances,” said 39-year-old Selby. “Matt was asking me questions, he played well in both sessions. It was tense out there and he put me under pressure. I was happy with how I stood up to it. Matt is a good player, he should do better. He has been here a few times and I knew he wasn’t going to buckle. He has a good match game and he’s capable of beating anyone.

The biggest thing for me is that mentally I am in a better place to be out there competing. Last year, mentally I was fragile, but now I’m in a better place and that is showing on the table.

Gary Wilson has won a ranking event this season and seems to play well here. He’s a very high scorer. There are some huge second round games here and that’s what’s great about the World Championship.”

Selt, who has now played four matches at the Crucible without reaching the second round, said: “It was a great game, quite a high standard throughout the whole match. I made a few mistakes, and I don’t want to sound disrespectful but I thought Mark had a great run of the ball – he made quite a few mistakes and got away with them.

I put him under a bit of pressure tonight and then he produced an unbelievably good break which sums him up as a person and a player. Just an absolutely class break, he deserves the win. Him and Ronnie are always the favourites here.

Apparently Matt Selt was warned for swearing during the match… IF this article in the press today is to be believed. Swearing during a match would certainly not be out of character for Matt but the referee … definitely wasn’t Desi, it was Tatiana Woollaston. Again, this is typical of a certain press, specially during the World Championship … they never report on snooker all season, but come Crucible time they try to stir controversy, and paint the sport in a bad light, whilst not being bothered to get the most basic facts right.

The most dramatic match of the day, and the best one, came in the evening and saw Si Jiahui beat Shaun Murphy … again. This time however, Shaun had no complains.

Here is the report by WST:

Sensational Si Shocks Murphy

Si Jiahui, the lowest ranked player in the tournament at 80th in the world, scored a major Crucible upset by beating fourth seed Shaun Murphy 10-9 in the first round of the Cazoo World Championship.

At the end of a dramatic day in Sheffield, with two matches going to a deciding frame, China’s 20-year-old Si got the better of an exciting conclusion to knock out one of the pre-tournament favourites. Murphy was the best player on the planet on current form having won the Players Championship and Tour Championship within the past two months, but was narrowly outgunned in a fabulous match, despite making three centuries.

Si, based in Sheffield, had to win three qualifying matches just to make it to the Crucible and is now through to the last 16 of a ranking event for only the fourth time in his career. The highly rated youngster won the World Snooker Federation Open, the most prestigious event in amateur snooker, last year to regain a place on the pro circuit and enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals of the European Masters earlier this season.

The result may feel particularly sweet for Si, as he beat Murphy 6-5 when they first met at the 2021 UK Championship while competing as an amateur, after which Murphy claimed that amateurs should not be allowed to take part in professional tournaments. This time, 2005 Crucible king Murphy was completely magnanimous in defeat as he heaped praise on his opponent and offered the view that Si will become the first World Champion from China.

Si’s next step towards that dream will be a best-of-25 contest with Robert Milkins which will start on Saturday.

Si led 5-4 going into tonight’s concluding session and soon extended that advantage with a  break of 120. Murphy had first chance in frame 11 but missed the pink to a centre pocket on 30 and his opponent capitalised with 93. Murphy hit back with 102 and 66 to close to 7-6 at the interval.

A run of 86 gave Si frame 14 and he dominated the next for 9-6. At 48-0 down in frame 16, Si missed a tricky red to centre, allowing Murphy to pull one back. The next came down to the last two reds, and a safety error from Si handed Murphy the chance to close to 9-8. A run of 120 set up the decider.

A superb long red from Si initiated a run of 56, before Murphy clawed his way back with 28, and the match came down to the final red. Si laid a tough snooker, and Murphy missed the red three times, and the third attempt proved his last shot as Si cleared for victory.

I didn’t really play to win, I just wanted to learn from him,” said Si. “I would not be too dissatisfied with myself even if I’d lost tonight because I did perform well and I was so happy out there. Shaun has had a brilliant season so I never thought I could have done this.

I thoroughly enjoyed the match. The whole arena applauded every time I got a long pot, and they did the same for my good safeties. That’s the best part I’ve enjoyed so far and I was able to play without any pressure. If I can really perform I can compete with any player. I’m playing with a great mindset because I’m not bothered about winning or losing. There will be no regrets if I can carry on with my own game.

Murphy said: “I really enjoyed it, it was exciting. I just came out on the wrong end. I have had many great nights at the Crucible and I will have more, but tonight was Si Jiahui’s night. He was fabulous from start to finish. I think he will be the first Chinese World Champion – maybe not this time, but I believe he will be the first. I see things in him that some of the other players don’t have. He’s got a bit of swagger, he’s very talented, plays right and left handed, gets on with it and always tries to attack. I threw everything at him, I tried my absolute best and I still lost.

This has been possibly my best season, I won’t let this result ruin it. I will enjoy being here for the rest of this tournament in my BBC role and I’m already looking forward to playing here again next season.

This was a very enjoyable match to watch and Si’s carefree approach was refreshing. I’m happy for the young man, but also for Victoria Shi who has gone through terrible times since several of her Academy top players were suspended for being involved in the match fixing affair currently under investigation. She has tried her best to run it as normally as possible for the sake of her other players and that can’t have been easy. The hearing is about to start next Monday and that could overshadow the championship which would be a terrible shame.

There were suggestions on social media that the controversy and spat between Ronnie and Hossein Vafaei are taken out of proportion – some even said it’s “staged” – in an attempt to take the attention away from the hearing. Whilst I don’t really believe that, the fact is that their match is due to finish on Sunday, on the eve of the start of the hearing. There are usually no matches played to a finish on the mid-championship Sunday, so that’s very unusual. Having to report on a highly controversial match, involving the defending champion might indeed create a diversion and keep the press busy with something other than speculating about the hearing outcome.

2 thoughts on “2023 Crucible – The first round concludes on Day 6

  1. It was a magnificent match between Si Jiahui and Shaun Murphy. I thought Murphy was a little unlucky, but he had his chance to win.

    Finally, we got an interview on Eurosport with a Chinese player, helped by Victoria. The BBC are planning a pre-recorded profile. These should all have been done before the tournament – all of the Chinese players here live in Sheffield. Basically they didn’t get away with their lack of foresight.

    Perry was so bad against Milkins. He will have unhappy memories of this year’s World Championship. But, like Murphy, he can concentrate on commentary for the BBC.

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