David Hendon’s latest podcast: previewing the 2020 World Championship

Two days ago David Hendon published this podcast on his soundcloud channel:

davehendon · Snooker Scene Podcast episode 114 – World Championship Predictions

David Hendon and Michael McMullan first reflect on Stephen Maguire’s Tour Championship win, as well as on his career so far.

They then turn their attention to the 2020 World Championship seeds and discuss who they fancy to reach the one table setup. Looking at each quarter, they each give their opinion on the chances each player has to get the the semi finals, why, and, in case they pick a different player to go through, they push the debate further until they find an agreement.

Judd Trump (1) / Qualifier
Yan Bingtao (16) / Qualifier
Stephen Maguire (9) / Qualifier
Kyren Wilson (8) / Qualifier

————————————

John Higgins (5) / Qualifier
David Gilbert (12) / Qualifier
Jack Lisowski (13) / Qualifier
Mark Allen (4) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Williams (3) / Qualifier
Stuart Bingham (14) / Qualifier
Ding Junhui (11) / Qualifier
Ronnie O’Sullivan (6) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Selby (7) / Qualifier
Shaun Murphy (10) / Qualifier
Barry Hawkins (15) / Qualifier
Neil Robertson (2) / Qualifier

In the first quarter, they both picked Judd Trump. Looking at his season as a whole, it’s a logical choice. However, he didn’t play well neither in the Championship League, nor in the Tour Championship. In the latter, his postmatch interview very much reminded me of the Judd Trump of the past. At the Crucible, a huge weight of expectations and the attention of the media will be on him. There are reasons why a first time champion has never defended successfully. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost on the first day. If we look back at the last decade, we had three first time World Champions: 2010, Neil Robertson, 2014, Mark Selby and 2015, Stuart Bingham. As defending Champions, Neil and Stuart lost in the first round, Mark Selby, who went on to win three times in four consecutive years, lost in the last 16. That’s how hard it is. My pick in that quarter would be Stephen Maguire. I don’t think pressure will be an issue in the early rounds, and he certainly is the man on form.

In the second quarter, they picked Mark Allen, and I agree. Michael McMullan makes him the favourite to win the tournament. I’m not sure about that. Mark often seems to run out of steam in the latter stages. The reason for that, in my opinion at least, is that Mark isn’t physically fit enough. The World Championship is am endurance test, mentally and physically. I’m certain that Mark has the game to be a World Champion but I’m not sure that he currently has the required stamina.

In the third quarter, Michael went for Stuart Bingham and David for Ronnie. Eventually they settled on Ronnie, but are not expecting him to go much further. Stuart and Ding are in that quarter and they had a similar season in that both won a “major” – Ding won the UK Championship, Stuart won the Masters – but didn’t do much else. Ronnie had a poor season as compared to the previous ones, but he still won the Shanghai Masters and made the final of the Northern Ireland Open. He won 77.78% of his matches so far this season. As a comparison Ding has won 67.44%, Stuart has won 57.58%, Selby despite winning two ranking tournaments is at 66.28%, Mark Allen at 69.49%, Neil Robertson at 72.86%, Shaun Murphy at 75.76% … Judd Trump, winning six ranking events, is at 82.61%. So clearly Ronnie isn’t playing badly, but he hasn’t played enough which has put him under huge pressure and, at times, it showed. To me, IF Ronnie was to reach the one table setup, he would a good chance to win the event. But he will be under pressure in the early rounds. Also, I’m not sure that he will cope with the “Bubble” conditions. He struggled in Milton Keynes and it was a much shorter event. During one of his instagram chats with Hendry, he admitted being several time on the phone with Steve Peters whilst there.

The last quarter, with Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy is loaded. They settled on Mark Selby, and Mark is also David’s pick to win the event. I’m not sure I understand why, other than the fact that, mentally, Mark is probably the best equipped for the very long formats. His form however has not really been there recently.

Clarifications about the 2020 World Qualifiers line-up

Yesterday, WST published an article about their efforts to have all players in Sheffield for the World Championship. It contains the same information basically as the one provided by Phil Haigh’s interview with Jason Ferguson, that was reported here.

But there is a very important new bit in it as well, explaining how the gaps left by players’ withdrawals will be filled:

Several players have indicated that they have decided not to travel to the UK and the draw for the qualifying rounds will be made after the entry deadline which falls on July 6th. If professional players from the main tour decide not to enter, they will be replaced as follows:

  • The eight players competing in the Challenge Tour Play-Off event, to be staged on July 20.
  • The top eight players from the 2019 Q School ranking list.
  • (If required) players invited by the WPBSA.

Involving the eight Challenge Tour players who made the play-off is definitely the right thing to do. It rewards amateurs who have shown, throughout the season, their desire and commitment to become pros. Also, with the play-off event being played on the eve of the World Championship qualifiers, those players will already be there, tested and in “the bubble”. As it stands, those players are: Dean Young, Adam Duffy, Oliver Brown, Alan Taylor, Patrich Whelan, Rory McLeod, Jake Nicholson and Tyler Rees.

 

More – not great – news about the snooker planet

Yesterday brought more news about the state of snooker and it’s not great.

Regarding players withdrawals there was this:

ScreeGriffiiths HK - 30.06.2020

The man behind this tweet is Wayne Griffiths, son of Terry, and head coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. This tweet means that neither On Yee Ng, nor Andy Lee will be at the World Qualifiers, Ka Wai Cheung will not have the chance to try to earn his tour card in the Challenge Tour, despite making the play-offs. Although nothing is said about the Q-school, I would be surprised if any player training at the HKSI was at the Q-School.

And, clearly, it’s NOT their choice.

Why am I writing the above? Because there was a discussion between Neil Robertson and Mark Allen, both of them “agreeing” that ultimately if players miss out, they do so by personal choice, so should take the consequences.

Neil argued that he would dearly love see his family in Australia, and is missing them, but chose to stay in the UK in order to be able to compete in the World Championship. Allen added that the Chinese players could have made the same choice but decided to go home instead. The Chinese players who returned made a personal choice, so they have to accept the consequences. It’s not the first time that Neil compares his situation, past and present to the one of the Chinese players. That comparison is not entirely valid. Yes, Neil came to the UK as a teenager, without money and away from his family. It was hard, very hard, no question. But at least he spoke the language, and came from a culture that isn’t that different from the UK one. Those two factors alone make a big difference. As for his present situation, indeed, he decided to stay in the UK, and won’t see his parents and siblings this summer, but, at least, his partner and children are with him in the UK. Most married Chinese players live separated from their close family for most of the season. One Chinese player, who married last year, was left worrying for weeks during the worst of the pandemics as his pregnant wife was stuck in China. Given the chance, he went back home when he had the opportunity and it wasn’t an easy trip. He’s now back in China, the father of a newborn baby. He won’t come back for the qualifiers, and he will lose his tour card, a card he had a very good chance to keep actually. Given the covid-19 situation in the UK, coming back for the qualifiers, might have meant being unable to go back again to China for a long time, and, to an extend, putting himself at risk. You can say that it was his choice, but what kind of choice was that really? What would Neil do if he was put in the same situation? Would he stay in the UK? I very much doubt it, and I would be disappointed with him as a person if he did.

I’m not suggesting that the World Championship should be canceled, not at this stage, and there are contracts and sponsors to consider; they are important for the future, but simply stating “it’s their choice, they have to live with the consequences” is over-simplifying a complex and difficult situation.

Then there was this statement by WPBSA

WPBSA / EPSB Statement: 30th June

Further to our previous statements in respect of the re-opening of snooker clubs in the UK we can today provide a further update following guidance received from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Following the announcements made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK government on 23 June with regards to the relaxation of lockdown measures from 4 July, we have been urgently seeking clarity from the DCMS and the Sport’s Minister’s office as to their application to snooker clubs.

We have today (30 June) received further guidance from DCMS as follows:

“Licensed premises will be able to open from 4 July in their capacity as bars and restaurants but not for indoor sport use. Any opening will need to follow the government’s guidance for pubs, bars and restaurants.”

We understand that this guidance will come as a disappointment to clubs that had planned to open as snooker clubs from 4th July and together with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Snooker we remain in dialogue with government to ensure that snooker facilities will be able to be used as soon as possible.

Well, that is exactly what I expected unfortunately, and it doesn’t make much sense to me either. So, people can gather around a table and get smashed, but can’t play a frame of snooker? I’m not sure I understand. It’s not as if snooker involves physical contact between players, or demands for huge physical efforts, getting players to breath deeply. According to an article I read recently about how the virus spreads, droplets from deep breathing are the biggest “vector” of propagation, and singing in a choir one of the most dangerous activities… Except for Dominic Dale maybe, snooker players are low risk beings in that respect, methinks.

Anyway, some players already decided to look at the positives, whatever the situation.

Alfie golf

 

 

 

 

WST ans WPBSA made every effort to get everyone playing at the World Qualifiers

Phil Haigh has spoken to Jason Ferguson about the withdrawals from the World Championship:

The World Snooker Championship is losing entrants but not through lack of effort to solve problems

Zhao Xintong
Zhao Xintong has reportedly chosen not to play in the World Championship this year (Picture: VCG via Getty Images)

The 2020 World Snooker Championship is going to be a unique event and one that some players are opting out of competing in, but that is not through a lack of effort from tournament organisers.

The rescheduled main event of the snooker season will run from 31 July – 16 August at the Crucible in Sheffield, with the qualifiers taking place from 21-28 July at the English Institute of Sport in the same city.

While there are a plethora of concerns about a World Championship with no fans in attendance and keeping players, staff and officials safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a serious worry that international players will not be able to compete.

It appears that a number of Chinese players will not be playing, with the South China Morning Post reporting that Zhou Yuelong, Xiao Guodong, and Zhao Xintong are three of ‘at least 10’ players from China who will not be travelling to South Yorkshire.

World number 10 Ding Junhui is expected to return from China for the event, while the likes of Yan Bingtao and Liang Wenbo are already in the UK so will compete.

Safety concerns regarding COVID-19 have put off some players returning to the UK, while the 14-day travel quarantine for arrivals from abroad is also a problem. Flights are much less regular than in normal times, and more expensive, but they are running.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson insists that no player is unable to play in the event, some are opting to out of their own personal choice, and every effort has been made to allow them to play in Sheffield.

‘We’ve been in contact with every single player,’ Ferguson told Metro.co.uk. ‘We’ve put in place travel and financial support for all players to help them get back to the UK, support for visas and everything.

‘Some of them are thinking, “shall we or shan’t we” but our job is to present the opportunity for every single player to get here. On that we’ve not failed.

‘We’re doing more than ever before on a very individual basis, chasing them to see if they’ve got paperwork sorted etc. We are on top of it.

‘It’s down to personal choice, and we respect that choice, if it’s down to family reasons or safety reasons, that’s down to the players.

‘We don’t want to lose any, we want a full contingent, but if we get a few gaps we will fill up through the normal channels.

’ While it is more than understandable that some players do not want to risk travel to the UK at this time, the safest environment possible is being created for those that do.

Any players arriving in the country before 7 July can quarantine in a residential address, while those arriving after that will quarantine in a designated hotel. They will be tested for COVID-19 before entering and then stay there up to and including qualifying.

There will be practice tables available and secure transfers to and from the venue when they play.

Ding Junhui
UK champion Ding Junhui is expected to be in Sheffield, where he owns a house (Picture: Getty Images)

Ferguson also made it clear that the entry deadline for the World Championship is not until 6 July, so any players that are considering not playing, or have already decided not to, can still change their minds and help would be in place to get them to the UK to play.

Little is ideal about this year’s World Championship, and undoubtedly playing in it is much trickier for international players than those based in the UK.

Everything possible is being done to accommodate the overseas players, though, with WST and the WPBSA attempting to make the very best of a bad situation.

Tournament organisers in China are confident that events will be back up and running there in the near future, with the possibility of a string of Chinese events being held early next season.

While little could make up for a player missing out on the World Championship, China and its players, along with players from Thailand, mainland Europe and elsewhere, are in no means being forgotten about by snooker’s decision-makers.

The “bold italic” has been added by me.

That’s a very impressive effort by the governing body. They are clearly doing everything in their power to get everyone involved. Being from mainland Europe myself, I was afraid that non UK players would be left on their own devices in this unprecedented situation and would be unable to attend for any number of reasons. I want the World Tour to really be a “World” tour and not a somehow “extended” UK tour and I’m very happy to read the above.

About the bits I highlighted …

Like many, I assumed that if players were withdrawing, the first round would simply be made shorter. Apparently, this is not the case: “if we get a few gaps we will fill up through the normal channels”. If I understand this correctly, quite a number of Q-school top-ups might get an invitation…

Jason Ferguson is clearly trying his best to get all players on board. His “public” offer to concretely help those who would wish to change their mind is as unprecedented as the situation we are in: “so any players that are considering not playing, or have already decided not to, can still change their minds and help would be in place to get them to the UK to play”

And it’s reassuring to read that tournament organisers in China aren’t throwing the towel at snooker, but on the contrary are working to have it up and running there asap. I sincerely hope that, this time, those events will be run with all 128 players at the venues. It would be the sensible thing to do, avoiding difficult rounds trips from and back to China and it would definitely be fairer on Chinese players, who, for years now, have been forced to travel to UK to qualify for their home events.

This is the article by the China Morning Post

Snooker World Championship: Ding Junhui heads 10-man Chinese force planning Sheffield raid

Again I have put some interesting parts in “bold italic

The article mentions the problems Ding had to go back home. He wasn’t the worst affected though. Some players had to go through a 14 days quarantine when arriving in China, before being allowed to get on a domestic flight towards their final destination – their home – only to be quarantined again for another 14 days upon arrival in their home region. It’s easy to forget that China is vast as a continent and the virus didn’t affect all areas at the same time, nor the same way. It’s understandable that those who went through that aren’t too keen to repeat the experience.

Some people are NOW calling for the World Championship to be cancelled. That would be ridiculous after so much effort, and considerable resources, have been devoted to get it up and running. I was in favour of not playing the event, and extending the season up to May 2021, resuming it gradually with more modest events. No relegations, no Q-School. I still think it would have been the best option. But that was only an option at the start of the lockdown, before all those efforts had been made, it’s no more an option now.

After the CLS and Tour Championship, I’m reasonably confident about the World Championship, qualifiers included. I’m still very concerned about the Q-School …

 

Another update on players withdrawing from the World Qualifiers

Here are some more infos, provided by the reliable Nikolay on twitter.

Screenshot 2020-06-28 at 18.01.47Screenshot 2020-06-28 at 18.08.11Screenshot 2020-06-28 at 18.08.24

Also, according to Lewis – see comments section – Ding and Luo Honghao are due to travel on the 9th of July, entering the UK on the 10th. For what we know, Luo’s visa is not sorted yet, but he’s optimistic.  If they are quarantined for 14 days, this might be an issue for Luo, but one that WPBSA could sort out probably. Luo is due to start in round 2.

As it stands, there are five players who were due to play in round 3, who have withdrawn: Zhou Yuelong, Zhao Xintong, Xiao Guodong, Yuan Sijun and Li Hang. This means that Chris Wakelin, Daniel Wells, Lu Ning, Alan McManus and Tian Pengfei will now start in round 3 instead of round 2. Should Hossein Vafaei fail to get his visa, Sunny Akani, provided he gets his, would also need to play only two matches.

The first round could be considerably shortened, with currently only 31 pros set to play in that round, including some who may find it difficult to get a visa and travel if they aren’t already in the UK, or who might just decide that it’s not worth the hassle. I’m thinking mainly about Rory Thor, whose season has been plagued by health issues, stands currently ranked 100th and in his second year, or Alex Borg who hasn’t won a match all season.

Update on Chinese players withdrawing from the World Qualifiers

Yesterday, one Chinese friend posted on twitter about Zhou Yuelong, Xiao Guodong, and Zhang Jiankang not having applied for their visa, hence effectively withdrawing from the WC qualifiers.

ChineseNoVisa

Today, the same person added that more than 10 Chinese players had withdrawn, adding the following names to the list:

Chang Bingyu, Li Hang, Mei Xiwen, Zhang Anda, Chen Zifan, Xu Si, Bai Langning, Zhao Xintong and Lei Peifan.

And, of course, Marco Fu also withdrew a couple of weeks ago.

Luo Honghao who is currently in his second year and ranked 62, will surely do everything in his power to be there. He’s not guaranteed to succeed though. Zhang Anda, ranked 72, had a decent chance to stay on tour, but, if the above is confirmed will now be relegated.

Ding doesn’t need to qualify. So that’s 13 out of 22 who opted out, and I’m certain that, for most of them, it was not a light-hearted decision .

This is alas, exactly what I feared. The “World” Snooker Tour becoming actually a UK Snooker Tour more than ever next season. And if China loses interest in snooker, the sport will suffer financially. Big time.

How things stand regarding the World Championship 2020

Following Stephen Maguire’s victory yesterday, here is how the top 16 seeding stands ahead of the Crucible.

Judd Trump (1) / Qualifier
Yan Bingtao (16) / Qualifier
Stephen Maguire (9) / Qualifier
Kyren Wilson (8) / Qualifier

————————————

John Higgins (5) / Qualifier
David Gilbert (12) / Qualifier
Jack Lisowski (13) / Qualifier
Mark Allen (4) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Williams (3) / Qualifier
Stuart Bingham (14) / Qualifier
Ding Junhui (11) / Qualifier
Ronnie O’Sullivan (6) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Selby (7) / Qualifier
Shaun Murphy (10) / Qualifier
Barry Hawkins (15) / Qualifier
Neil Robertson (2) / Qualifier

That is if Ding enters the competition and manages to get to the UK. Ding opted out of the Tour Championship, allegedly over health and safety concerns, but, as we know, there is more, with players struggling to get visas and the number of flights being severely limited. Therefore his presence is Sheffield at the end of next month is anything but certain.

Two days ago a Chinese friend on twitter posted this:

ChineseNoVisa.png

If Zhou, Xiao, and Zhang really haven’t applied, it extremely likely that they don’t intend to travel at all. Xiao and Zhou are safe for next season ranking wise, and Zhang has next to zero chance to avoid relegation as it stands. So they might feel that it’s not worth the risk and the hassle.

Ding might be under pressure to try to his best to compete at the Crucible, because of his status in China’s sporting scene, but his presence at the Crucible is far from certain as it stands. Should he miss out here is how the seeds draw would look:

Judd Trump (1) / Qualifier
Joe Perry (16) / Qualifier
Stephen Maguire (9) / Qualifier
Kyren Wilson (8) / Qualifier

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John Higgins (5) / Qualifier
Jack Lisowski (12) / Qualifier
Stuart Bingham (13) / Qualifier
Mark Allen (4) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Williams (3) / Qualifier
Barry Hawkins (14) / Qualifier
David Gilbert (11) / Qualifier
Ronnie O’Sullivan (6) / Qualifier

————————————

Mark Selby (7) / Qualifier
Shaun Murphy (10) / Qualifier
Yan Bingtao (15) / Qualifier
Neil Robertson (2) / Qualifier

What further complicates the situation regarding the World Championship, its qualifiers, and the Q-school, is the situation regarding snooker clubs’ openings. Surely WST thought that by mid-July clubs would be open. As it stands, the UK govt recommendations are unclear and confusing (as they have been since the start of this pandemics). Snooker clubs, it seems, are allowed to open from the 4th of July but no snooker can be played in them, as no indoor sports are authorised. Well, that makes little sense to me.

It probably doesn’t make sense to WPBSA either, judging by those two statements recently published:

This one came three days ago:

WPBSA Statement

24th June 2020

We have noted the announcements by Prime Minister Boris Johnson detailing the planned relaxation of current ‘lockdown’ restrictions within the United Kingdom over the coming weeks.

Together with the independent All-Party Parliamentary Group for Snooker we have been engaged in regular dialogue with the government, including the submission of proposals to the Sports Minister for the re-opening of clubs in the UK.

We are now seeking clarity as to the application of the announcements to snooker clubs and in the first instance will continue to liaise directly with affiliated clubs through ‘The 147 Club’ scheme.

We of course understand the desire from fans and players of our sport to return to the baize as soon as possible. However, we will only be able to issue guidelines for the re-opening of clubs once it is safe to do so and with clear advice directly from the government.

And this one was issued just yesterday:

WPBSA / EPSB Statement: Re-Opening of UK Snooker Clubs

  • 26th June 2020

 

Further to our previous statement of 23 June, together with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Snooker, we have since continued to seek further clarification from both the Department for Media Culture and Sport and the Sports Minister’s office in respect of the proposed re-opening of snooker clubs in the UK.

Having carefully studied the wording of the announcements made by the UK government earlier this week, it is clear that social clubs, including licensed premises are able to re-open from 4th July 2020.

However, what is not clear is whether the snooker facilities in these clubs can be used or not from this date. We are therefore continuing to seek urgent clarity on this point as we understand that clubs are reliant upon activity on the snooker tables in order to be sustainable.

We strongly advise all clubs concerned to seek further guidance and advice from their local Health and Safety Executive who will be able to assess the level of risk. It is ultimately the decision of each club as to whether they are able to re-open based upon all guidance provided.

Jason Ferguson, WPBSA Chairman said: “We are aware that snooker clubs all over the world are currently working hard to ensure that they will be able to re-open safely as soon as it is possible to do so. This includes clubs within England, in particular members of The 147 Club scheme which played a key role in the preparation of proposals submitted to the Sports Minister on 13 May, which contained detailed procedures that we believe will allow clubs to re-open safely.

“It is therefore extremely disappointing that we have not received clarity from government to be able to advise clubs in England and the UK to be able to open safely at this stage.

“Every snooker club provides a vital community social hub and a place to engage in non-contact activity. We therefore would urge each individual club to seek local authority guidance prior to re-opening and in the meantime, we will continue to push for further information from the government to provide certainty during this time.”

If clubs and academies are not able to offer tables to play snooker by the time the Qualifiers begin in Sheffield in about three weeks’ time, it’s a major issue. The qualifiers are meant to involve 128 players, 32 players will start at the Crucible, and during the Championship, the Q-school will be held, potentially involving well over 100 players. They ALL will need to find somewhere to practice, safely. Unless workable guidelines are available, and clubs can open for professional practice, how is that going to work? I can’t see WST or WPBSA taking care of that on top of everything else they will have to cope with already.