2020 Northern Ireland Open – Ronnie beats Ding Junhui in the QF round

Ronnie is through to the semi-finals at the 2020 Northern Ireland Open after beating Ding Junhui by 5-2.  Here are the scores:

NIOpen2020L16ROSvDingWinNIOpen2020ROSQFvDingScores

Looking at that, the impression might be that Ronnie had an easy victory. It certainly wasn’t the case. It was a very strange match actually, and one that was won/lost in the player’s head more than on the table.

 

Here is the report by WST:

O’Sullivan Sets Up Carter Clash

NIOPen2020ROS-6World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Ding Junhui 5-2 to set up an intriguing semi-final with Ali Carter at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

O’Sullivan, winner of a record 37 ranking titles, will compete in the semi-finals of a ranking event for the 78th time tomorrow.

It will be the first time the Rocket has faced Carter since their fiery World Championship encounter in 2018. On that occasion, the pair exchanged a shoulder barge and tense words, as Carter secured a 13-9 win.

Today’s victory for 44-year-old O’Sullivan extends his head-to-head advantage over China’s number one Ding to 15-4. Ding will now turn his attentions to the defence of his UK Championship title, which gets underway next week.

It was Ding who flew out of the blocks this evening. Asia’s top cueman fired in breaks of 121 and 87 to charge into an early 2-0 advantage.

However, at that point Ding started missing opportunities and O’Sullivan opportunistically capitalised. Runs of 59 and 58 saw him head into the mid-session interval level at 2-2.

When they returned he claimed a further three frames on the bounce, making runs of 70 and 79 in the process, to emerge a 5-2 victor.

Following the match O’Sullivan denied apologising to Carter in the aftermath of their 2018 World Championship clash, or to Mark Allen after they exchanged words in the arena at the recent Champion of Champions.

O’Sullivan said: “I didn’t apologise to Ali and I didn’t apologise to Mark Allen either. I just said, ‘look, let’s move on, let’s not hold any grudges’. It is what it is. I still feel I was right on both occasions. That apology they say I said, definitely wasn’t one. It was more like saying to move on. It doesn’t really matter. I will see you around tournaments and you will see me, we might as well say hello to each other.

At one point in this evening’s match I’d have been happy just to get a frame. He went off the boil and that allowed me to get back in the game. I just picked up bits and pieces, tried to stay solid and capitalise on any chances I got.

“You just have to win as many frames as you can and try not to lose frames. You have to keep your head down and not look for the winning line. I make it hard for myself. I missed a few balls early on and left him in. I don’t pot as well as I used to. I missed a few balls, but that is a natural thing as you get older.

And two more, by Europsport this time:

This one is a report on the match:

NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN SNOOKER 2020: RONNIE O’SULLIVAN BEATS DING JUNHUI TO REACH SEMI-FINALS

Ronnie O’Sullivan fought back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Ding Junhui on Friday night, winning 5-2 to move one step closer to another final showdown with Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open. Ding threatened the upset with breaks of 121 and 87 in the opening two frames, but O’Sullivan responded quickly to keep alive his hopes of avenging back-to-back final defeats at this competition.

Ronnie O’Sullivan fought back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Ding Junhui on Friday night, winning 5-2 to set up a semi-final meeting with Ali Carter at the Northern Ireland Open.

O’Sullivan is attempting to right the wrongs of the past two years, having been beaten 9-7 by Judd Trump in both the 2018 and 2019 finals.

We could be heading for a hat-trick of showdowns between the pair after both men advanced to the last four in Milton Keynes on Friday. Trump meets David Grace in the other semi.

First, O’Sullivan must overcome Carter, a man with whom he has shared bad blood in the past..

The head-to-head between O’Sullivan and Ding ahead of Friday’s match stood at 14-5 in favour of the Brit. The pair had also shared three draws.

However, it was Ding who got off to a flying start, instantly taking the opening frame with a 121 break, despite this marvellous escape from the Rocket.

If frame one was a marker for Ding, the next was a genuine warning to O’Sullivan as Ding this time showed fine break-building skills to amass 87 for a 2-0 lead.

O’Sullivan needed to dig in and find a foothold in the match, which he promptly managed in the third with a gritty 58. It wasn’t vintage O’Sullivan, but it was extremely timely.

Momentum had shifted and the players entered the interval all square at 2-2 thanks to a break of 59 from O’Sullivan, although Ding will feel he should have taken the frame. An unfortunate kick had opened up the table, but an over-hit black left the world No. 10 with too much to do with the following red.

The theme continued upon resumption, Ding was among the balls, but an error allowed O’Sullivan to clear up, taking the lead for the first time in the match with a swift 59.

In the sixth, it was a simple red to middle pocket that left Ding hunched over the table. Switching seamlessly between hands, O’Sullivan moved to a 4-2 advantage, one frame from victory.

Even by this stage, O’Sullivan hadn’t hit anything like top form. This was a pragmatic display from the world No. 2, capitalising on mistakes that were visibly weighing on Ding as the match went on. Where Ding needed to take more care with his shots, he was instead addressing the ball all too quickly.

The outcome of the match was predictable by now, and even more so when the Rocket found himself with the table at his mercy again in the seventh.

O’Sullivan expertly opened the pack, screwing off the black to all but sign and seal his ticket to the semi-finals.

He saved his biggest break of the match for last, securing victory with a slick 79.

And Ronnie’s assessment of  the match and his performance:

NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN 2020 – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: I’M NOT THE PLAYER I WAS

Ronnie O’Sullivan booked a showdown with rival Ali Carter in the Northern Open semi-finals after fighting back in in the last eight. The Rocket resumes his quest for the title in Milton Keynes on Saturday, but admitted he “felt useless” during the win over Ding Junhui and said his powers were on the wane. 

NIOPen2020ROS-7

Ronnie O’Sullivan admitted he is “not the player he was” despite reaching the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals with an impressive comeback win over Ding Junhui.

The Rocket was staring at a two-frame deficit in Milton Keynes, which is playing host to the tournament due to Covid-19 restrictions, but reeled off five frames on the spin to progress.

O’Sullivan said he “felt useless” after watching Ding’s fast start, conceding that age had finally caught up with him along with fellow Class of ’92 players John Higgins and Mark Williams.

My potting’s not that good. I’m just not as good as I was,” O’Sullivan said, when asked why he had refused a long pot in the fourth frame.

“My long game used to be much better. I miss too many balls. Higgins is the same, Williams is the same. It’s just a natural progression as you get a bit older.

“So there’s no point going for it if you’re going to let him in amongst the balls. I might as well just smash into them and say, ‘here you are, clear up’.
“I used to be ‘the potter’. Now I wouldn’t even make the top 50 of potters on the tour.”

O’Sullivan, the current world champion, is on a collision course with Judd Trump, who bettered him in the 2018 and 2019 finals in Belfast.

But the 44-year-old was keen to salute the efforts of Ding, who at one stage looked set to sweep to a comfortable win after exploding out of the blocks.

His positional play was unbelievable with the first two breaks in the two frames. I thought ‘he’s going to punt me 5-0 here’,” said O’Sullivan.

“He wasn’t out of position once. You wonder why he hasn’t won numerous world titles.

“I literally felt useless out there, I felt embarrassed because I thought my position was OK, but compared to him it was amateur. You start to feel a bit embarrassed out there because you can’t play to the level he was playing at.

“And then he started to miss a few and I dragged him down to my level.”

O’Sullivan will next face Ali Carter in the last four, a rematch of their clash at the 2018 World Snooker Championship – the scene of their infamous ‘shoulder barge’.

Here are some short videos that WST shared on social media as the match unfolded:

Ronnie’s intro

Ronnie’s great escape in the first frame

Ding takes the first frame

And the next …

Ronnie fights back

And makes it level at the MSI

Ronnie takes the lead after the MSI

A wise decision earn him the sixth frame

And there is the win …

And part of the post-match with the ES pundits

My thoughts…

After two frames, I thought that Ronnie had no chance at all, Ding was playing incredible snooker. Ronnie, in fact had missed two balls and lost two frames. I just hoped that it wouldn’t be a whitewash.

However, in the next two frames, Ding took some unwise decisions, went for very ambitious shots and missed them. He allowed Ronnie to come back at the table, and, in the balls, at close range, Ronnie is still the best in the business.  Ronnie was patient as well when needed and manage to win those two frames. It affected Ding, he lost his confidence. It also allowed Ronnie to settle.

After the MSI, although the score was still 2-2, Ding looked a beaten man. The outcome never looked in doubt.

In the pre-match presentation, Alan McManus was asked about Ding’s chances to win the World Championship. Alan’s answer was the Ding issn’t strong enough mentally. It may sound harsh, but it’s probably true. Yesterda’s match certainly does nothing to contradict Alan’s assessment.

Ronnie saying that he didn’t actually apologise, but rather invited Ali and Mark to move on, doesn’t surprise me. Mark certainly did stand in Ronnie’s eyeline on multiple occasions at the Champion of Champions, the match footage proves it. Ronnie was right about that, although he didn’t handle the situation well; he should have spoken to Mark and the ref before it “over-boiled”.

Ronnie has now almost certainly secured his 2020 World Grand Prix spot: he’s currently 9th in one year list counting towards that event. 

 

2020 Northern Ireland Open – Ronnie books his place in the QF round

Ronnie won his two matches yesterday to book his place in the quarter-finals. He will play Ding Junhui this evening.

The last 32 match against Matthew Stevens wasn’t the best for either of them. They both struggled. The table conditions seemed to be very difficult, the table playing “heavy” and the cushions being “pimgy”. Judd Trump, who had won on that table earlier,  had complained about it during his postmatch interview with the Eurosport pundits. When a player who just won – fairly comfortably as well – complains, it has to be taken seriously.

Ronnie applied himself despite the adverse conditions and won by 4-2, “avenging” his defeat to Matthew at the same stage in the English Open last month.

Here are the scores:

NIOpen2020L32ROSvStevensWinNIOpen2020L32ROSvStevensScores

There was no report by WST on that match, that started very late, more than an hour and a half later than scheduled, and finished shortly before the evening session was due to start.

The only thing that made the headlines about that match was this:

Snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan FARTS during match against Matthew Stevens before cheekily blaming referee for breaking wind

Snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan somehow managed to silence an already silent Milton Keynes arena on Thursday.

The six-time world champion loudly broke wind during his Northern Ireland Open third-round victory over Matthew Stevens.

O’Sullivan trailed 2-1 in frames and 8-0 in points when he accidentally let off a fart before his attempt at a red.

Stevens and referee Ben Williams were unable to hold in their amusement before O’Sullivan cheekily suggested his opponent did it.

The 44-year-old then valiantly admitted to ‘dropping his guts’ in a typically honest confession.

“I dropped my guts – I am taking full ownership of that,” he said after winning the match.

“I have had stomach problems for a couple of months.

“I did say ‘Was that you’ to the referee but I am proud of that one.

“As for the table – it is the heaters and the effect on the cloth. It is like taking clothes to the dry cleaners and they do them on too high a heat.”

Neal Foulds, the commentator for the clash, was also unable to stop himself laughing, saying: “That was a very unfortunate noise.”

The report is actually inaccurate. A mischievious Ronnie suggested that the referee did did, he even actually asked him “was that you?”. Poor Ben Williams became redder than the red ball Ronnie was playing, but still laughted it off in good spirit!

The key to that match was that, despite countless errors, Ronnie was able to score heavily when in the balls, whilst his opponent wasn’t. Also Matthew should have gone three one up but, offered a really good opportunity in frame four, he refused to use the rest, and played a red left-handed, on a full strech. He missed and it was the turning point of the match. This was the table situation:

ROSMaffTable situationNIOpen2020L32

In the evening Ronnie faced Thepchaiya Un-nooh in the last 16 round, and won by 4-2, despite looking quite uncomfortable at times, clearly suffering from an upset stomach.

It was a very entertaining match to watch all the same.

Here are the scores:

NIOpen2020L16ROSvTheppyScores

This is the report by WST:

O’Sullivan Downs Un-Nooh In Thriller

NIOPen2020ROS-2

World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan came through an enthralling clash with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 4-2 to book his place in the quarter-finals of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

It’s O’Sullivan’s first trip to the quarters of a ranking event since securing a historic sixth World Championship win in August.

His most recent meeting with Thailand’s quickfire Un-Nooh came in the opening round at the Crucible this year. On that occasion O’Sullivan demolished Un-Nooh 10-1, this evening’s match was far more closely contested.

Each frame of the thrilling encounter contained a break over 50. It was Un-Nooh who claimed the opener with a run of 85. However, contributions of 106 and 60 saw O’Sullivan move 2-1 in front. Un-Nooh restored parity with a break of 98.

With the scores locked level at 2-2, there was a crucial fifth frame. Un-Nooh had looked set to move one from victory, before missing a straightforward red to the middle on 66. O’Sullivan ruthlessly capitalised by stealing on the black with a break of 70.

The Rocket then wrapped up the win to book a mouth watering quarter-final with Ding Junhui, who scored an impressive 4-1 defeat of John Higgins.

O’Sullivan said: “I didn’t have much choice in it. Thepchaiya just attacks the balls at all times. You can’t really keep him under wraps. You just have to try and score better, make less mistakes and capitalise if he makes a mistake.

“A bit of run of the ball here or there and it can be over very quickly. I feel I got away with that tonight. He was the better player and I got a bit of luck. I had no luck in the first three matches. They do say if you are patient enough then sometimes the luck turns around. I believe you make your own luck and I got mine tonight.”

The 70 break that Ronnie made to go 3-2 up was gem and it was the pivotal moment in the match.

There were also two articles by Eurosport about that match:

This one is actually a report on the match:

NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN 2020 – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN RACES TO WIN OVER THEPCHAIYA UN-NOOH TO REACH LAST 8

World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan moved into the last eight of the Northern Ireland Open. Last year’s beaten finalist remains on course to go one better than 12 months ago, having beaten Matthew Stevens earlier on Moving Day in Milton Keynes. Up next is a clash with either John Higgins or Ding Junhui.

NIOPen2020ROS-3.png

Ronnie O’Sullivan advanced to the last eight of the Northern Ireland Open with a 4-2 win over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.
The Thai was not overawed by facing the world champion and had his chances to cause a shock. However, he faltered at key stages in the fifth and sixth frames, and on both occasions O’Sullivan stepped in to punish his opponent and seal the win.

After beating Matthew Stevens earlier in the day, O’Sullivan returned to complete his Moving Day in fine style and remains on course to go one better than in the previous two years of the tournament.

Taking an eye off O’Sullivan and Thepchaiya is not advised, given the pace they play. O’Sullivan got in the opening frame, but was unfortunate to pot the blue only to see a red go in when attempting to split the pack. Thepchaiya jumped out of his chair and gave a passable impression of his opponent by knocking in a break of 85 in under five minutes.

Thepchaiya got in first in the second frame, but he played a pink into the middle with too much pace and it failed to drop. O’Sullivan – who watched Thepchaiya intently during his break of 85 – did not waste the chance, as he stroked in a swift and impressive 106 to level the scores.

World champion O’Sullivan relishes playing against an opponent who operates at a fast pace, so a meeting with Thepchaiya was always likely to suit. Thepchaiya had a chance in the third, but missed a long blue and O’Sullivan was out of his chair before the balls had come to rest.

A shade over five minutes later, last year’s beaten finalist was in front courtesy of a 60, which included an audacious long black from a tight angle.

At the World Championship earlier this year, Thepchaiya was thrashed 10-1 by O’Sullivan. The fear was that he would wilt after falling behind, but the Thai dispelled that notion with a break of 98 to level the match at two frames apiece.

Thepchaiya was well set to move ahead in the match, but his break broke down at 66. O’Sullivan rolled in a tough red into the middle to get his break going and he cleared with a 70 to punish the error.

The Thai faltered again when well set in the sixth and later in the frame he missed a yellow that he probably should not have taken, which allowed O’Sullivan to step in and claim victory.

Up next for O’Sullivan is a meeting with Ding Junhui, who ran out a 4-1 winner over John Higgins. Breaks of 82 and 95 were too much for Higgins, who won the first frame but was then overpowered.

The other one is more about Ronnie;s assesment of the match:

 ,h2>NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN 2020 – O’SULLIVAN ADMITS LUCK WAS ON HIS SIDE AGAINST THEPCHAIYA UN-NOOH,/h2>

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan claimed a 4-2 win over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh but felt he was a litle fortunate. “The first three matches I felt I was getting no run of the ball at all, and having to fight all the elements, but tonight I got the run of the ball.” Last year’s beaten finalist will meet Ding Junhui in the quarter finals.
NIOPen2020ROS-4.png

Ronnie O’Sullivan has admitted he was a shade fortunate in his win over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh at the Northern Ireland Open.

The world champion booked his place in the last eight at Milton Keynes’ Marshall Arena, which is playing host to the event due to Covid-19 restrictions, with a 4-2 win.

It was far from vintage snooker from the 44-year-old, who felt the run of the balls favoured him over his Thai opponent.

“I got some luck today,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport. “The first three matches I felt I was getting no run of the ball at all, and having to fight all the elements, but tonight I got the run of the ball.

“Not the balls he missed, that’s his own fault, but I missed a few balls and got safe and if I hadn’t he’d have probably cleared up.”

O’Sullivan says he is enjoying his snooker, and will continue to play for as long as he can compete with the players at the top of the game.

He added: “Even though I didn’t feel great out there, I am enjoying it and it is nice to be out there hitting balls.

“I just take what is going, have fun and will not take it serious, but take it serious if that makes sense.

“I play this as a hobby. I do other stuff for my work and my business side of things.

“I practiced last week. I did about 20 hours, I’ve never done that since I was 17/18. I don’t really want to be playing snooker all day. I like hitting a few balls, and at my age you want to chill out and enjoy yourself.

“At some point when I can’t compete, I will be on the exhibition circuit and the seniors. I am like Jimmy [White], I just love playing, but don’t want to come here and get bashed up. I just love playing snooker.”

The bold bits in the the body of the article have been highlighted by me. I think they are important to undersyand Ronnie’s attitude at the table at this stage of his career, and it’s good to read.

One important aspect of what happened yesterday is that Ronnie is now ranked 18th in the “race to the World Grand Prix 2020”.  Not completely safe yet but in a good position. 

2020 Nothern Ireland Open – Rounds of 128 and 64

Today is “moving day” at the Northern Ireland Open, when 32 become just 8 and two rounds are played. I’m behind with my reporting on the event as some private sorrowful concerns kept me away from the snooker over the last two days. But now it’s time to catch up. I watched nothing from Tuesday late afternoon on, except for the Ronnie v Slessor match that I watched on replay this morning, as well as Judd Trump’s maximum. So this will be basically about gathering the reports from various sources, albeit mainly from WST, about what happened since the tournament started.

On Monday (last 128)

Morning and afternoon (WST)

Trump Up and Running

Defending champion Judd Trump eased through the first round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open, beating Gerard Greene 4-1.

Trump is aiming to become the first player to win the same ranking event in three consecutive years, since Stephen Hendry achieved the feat at the 1996 UK Championship.

World number one Trump has defeated World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in both of the previous two Northern Ireland Open finals to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy.

It was Northern Irishman Greene who started fastest this afternoon, making a break of 75 to go 1-0 up. However, from there Trump moved into top gear and burst for the line. Breaks of 105, 55 and 88 helped him on his way to four on the bounce to wrap up the win.

Trump said: “I’m pretty happy with how I played. In a best of seven, if you go behind it is always tough. Losing the first frame you are always under a bit of pressure. I got back into the match quickly and potted a lot of good balls.

“The finals against Ronnie are two of the best I’ve played in. The standard was incredible and the atmosphere over there, in Belfast, was incredible as well. It is up there with the final of the German Masters and the Masters. It is disappointing not to be there this year. Hopefully I can maintain my record, get a third in a row and take it back and defend it in Northern Ireland.”

World number 67 David Grace recorded a shock 4-1 defeat of world number 12 David Gilbert.

Grace raced into a 3-0 lead this morning, composing breaks of 60 and 71 along the way. Tamworth’s Gilbert clawed one back and looked set to pull within a frame, when Grace required snookers in the fifth. However, Gilbert went in off and allowed Yorkshireman Grace to get over the line on the black.

Grace said: “It is an absolutely massive win. If you look back over my career, I haven’t had that many wins over top 16 players and opponents as good as Dave. I’m delighted to nail one today.”

Mark Williams booked his progression with a 4-2 defeat of compatriot Jamie Jones. The three-time World Champion top scored with a sublime 133 in the final frame of the match.

Crucible runner-up Kyren Wilson eased through with a 4-0 win over David Lilley, while Shoot Out winner Michael Holt defeated Iran’s Soheil Vahedi 4-1.

Evening (WST):

Rocket Too Strong For O’Neill

World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan booked his place in the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open with a 4-1 defeat of Jamie O’Neill.

O’Sullivan has reached the previous two Northern Ireland Open finals. On each occasion he faced world number one Judd Trump and lost both times by a 9-7 scoreline.

Today’s match was a repeat of O’Sullivan and O’Neill’s first round clash at last season’s English Open, when the Rocket battled back from 3-2 down to win 4-3. Matters were far more straightforward for the six-time Crucible King this evening, who will face either Elliot Slessor or Li Hang next.

O’Sullivan averaged just 14.8 seconds per shot on his way to victory. He secured an early 2-0 advantage, before O’Neill got his solitary frame on the board thanks to a break of 66. However, O’Sullivan was undeterred and finished his opponent off with runs of 57 and 125.

O’Sullivan said: “For me, that is as good as any win. Any players outside of the world’s top 64 are harder than beating top players these days. They go out there, no pressure, come out swinging and invariably they get the rub of the green.

“You have to fight for everything out there as you are on a hiding to nothing. I can’t even win tonight, I just had to avoid getting cake sploshed in my face.”

Ryan Day recorded an impressive 4-0 whitewash win against world number six Shaun Murphy to book his place in round two.

Day, winner of two ranking titles and a former world number six, has struggled to find his best in recent years and slid the rankings to currently occupy 40thposition. However, he looked to be in fine form today, composing breaks of 84, 107 and 79 on his way to victory.

Day said: “When the draw came out and I saw I was playing Shaun, I knew it was going to be a very difficult first round match. However, it is difficult for both of us and after getting through German Masters qualifying last week, I was feeling confident. I got off to a great start and finished it off.

“I got a couple of easy chances at the start of the match. If you get that opportunity it can really settle you down going forward. I was pleased with that and held myself together in a close final frame.”

Jack Lisowski was another big name to fall by the wayside this evening. The three-time ranking event finalist was beaten 4-1 by world number 113 Ashley Carty.

There was a clash between two promising teenage prospects, as Irishman Aaron Hill took on Welshman Jackson Page. It was Page who prevailed in a 4-3 thriller.

Tour Champion Stephen Maguire beat Malta’s Alex Borg 4-2 to progress, while Kurt Maflin came through 4-1 against Fraser Patrick.

On Tuesday (last 128)

Declan Lavery withdrawn (WST)

Tuesday 17 Nov 2020 12:49PM

Declan Lavery has tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival at the Northern Ireland Open in Milton Keynes and has been withdrawn from the event.

Lavery was due to play Neil Robertson on Tuesday afternoon, so Robertson receives a bye to the second round of the world ranking event.

All other players and officials tested on site at the event so far have had negative results. Riley Parsons tested positive before travelling to Milton Keynes and was withdrawn from the event.

Lavery and Parsons will undergo a period of self isolation and will receive the support of WST and the WPBSA.

Since WST events restarted in June, strict Covid-19 regulations have been and continue to be followed, under UK Government guidance.

Morning and afternoon (WST):

Ding Through With Whitewash Win

Ding Junhui surged to a 4-0 whitewash defeat of Eden Sharav to progress to the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

The Chinese number one has a busy fortnight ahead, with the defence of his Betway UK Championship title taking place next week. He was victorious 12 months ago, beating Stephen Maguire 10-6 in the final to win a third UK crown.

However, Ding’s immediate attention is on capturing a maiden Home Nations title this week, by claiming the Alex Higgins Trophy.

Ding, who has recently opened his own snooker academy in Sheffield, required just over an hour to see off Sharav this afternoon. The world number 10 composed breaks of 72, 62 and 100 on his way to a routine victory. Next up he faces compatriot Lu Ning.

Ding said: “I played very well. I made three breaks over 50, including a century. Best of seven is a short match. Anyone who knows me will know I am not that quick at warming up in the short games. I am very happy to see the performance I brought today.

“I don’t know about my chances at the UK Championship. At the moment my level isn’t too high. I am just trying to bring myself to another level, be stronger and if I do that maybe I will have more of a chance to win it. I am just enjoying playing now, so I’m not putting myself under too much pressure.”

World number four Mark Selby sealed his progression with a 4-0 defeat of Andrew Higginson.

Last season, three time World Champion Selby became the first player ever to win two Home Nations titles in a single campaign. The Jester from Leicester defeated David Gilbert in the final of the 2019 English Open, and beat Jack Lisowski to claim the Scottish Open title.

Selby top scored with a run of 93 in today’s match and will face Germany’s Lukas Kleckers in the next round.

Selby said: “I felt alright out there. The first frame was scrappy and then I felt fine. Andrew normally plays really well against me, but today he just didn’t perform. It was difficult, I felt that my concentration was in and out.

“From now until I end my career, Triple Crown titles are my targets. You obviously want to win other tournaments, but if I was to say the ones I wanted, it would be the UK Championship, the Masters and the World Championship. I have one eye on the UK next week, but I feel I have a chance in any tournament I play in at the moment, so I am focussed on this week.”

Scotland’s 2006 Crucible king Graeme Dott lost out 4-2 against Brazilian Igor Figueiredo. It’s only Figueiredo’s second match win of the season and he faces Sunny Akani up next.

Barry Hawkins recorded a 4-2 defeat of Alan McManus, while Thepchaiya Un-Nooh beat Peter Devlin 4-2.

Evening (WST):

Superb Higgins Whitewashes Wells

John Higgins thrashed Daniel Wells 4-0 to reach the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

Higgins has showed signs of finding his best form so far this season, most notably with a run to the semi-finals of the English Open, where he was narrowly beaten by Judd Trump.

Scotland’s four-time Crucible king took a hard fought opening frame, before a stunning break of 144 saw him double his advantage and lead 2-0.

Further contributions of 51 and 54 helped Higgins to wrap up the 4-0 victory. Next up he’ll face Northern Irish amateur Patrick Wallace.

After the match Higgins talked of his delight in both his performance and Scotland Football Team’s victory over Serbia last Thursday night, which saw them qualify for the postponed Euro 2020.

Higgins said: “I’m really happy to beat Daniel, he is a top player and has been to the semi-finals of one of these events before. It was a big first frame, Daniel could have nicked it but I managed to win it. I had the 144 in the next frame and that put him on the back foot.

“That was the best feeling ever on Thursday night. What a boost for the whole nation. The boys were incredible, especially picking themselves up off the floor when Serbia equalised in the 90th minute. For them to get through has lifted the whole nation. All of the Scottish boys down here have smiles on their faces.”

Northern Ireland’s number one Mark Allen produced a superb display to defeat former German Masters winner Anthony Hamilton 4-0.

Allen is riding high following victory at the recent Champion of Champions. The Pistol defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson on his way to lifting the prestigious invitational title.

This evening Allen continued his rich vein of form with breaks of 94, 111 and 125 on his way to victory. Allen faces Robert Milkins up next.

Stuart Bingham came through with a 4-1 defeat of Oliver Lines. The 2015 World Champion composed runs of 72 and 74 during the tie. The Basildon cueman now plays China’s Zhao Jianbo.

Elliot Slessor defeated Li Hang 4-1 to set up a second round clash with World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Slessor currently enjoys a 2-0 head-to-head lead over the Rocket.

World number 18 Joe Perry saw off Robbie Williams 4-0, while Allan Taylor defeated Iran’s Hossein Vafaei 4-2.

On Wednesday (last 64)

Morning and afternoon (WST):

Judd Trump fired in the fifth 147 break of his career en route to a 4-0 demolition of Gao Yang at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

The Ace in the Pack has enjoyed a sparkling 2020/21 Home Nations series thus far. Trump defeated Neil Robertson 9-8 in the final of the English Open last month. The world number one has kept up the fireworks with today’s magnificent maximum.

Trump is also aiming for a third consecutive Northern Ireland Open title this week. He’s beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in both of the previous two finals to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy.

Trump got off to a quick start this afternoon, firing in a fine run of 127 to take the opener. He then moved 2-0 up, before making his 147 to go a frame from victory. A closing century run of 108 wrapped up the win, which took just 53 minutes. Next up Trump faces a tough test against Luca Brecel.

Trump said: “It is always special to make a 147, even with no crowd. I was very nervous and it is exciting to make one. You know that everyone at home is willing you on. When other players are going for one against me I’m always wanting them to get it and it is nice to watch on TV.

“For me it was the same as making any of my 147s, it was just as special and the nerves were exactly the same. It didn’t make any difference not having a crowd, it is just you against the table when you are on a 147. It was nice because I made a couple of good pots to keep the break going. It was a good 147 in the end.”

World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Elliot Slessor 4-1 to end the world number 58’s undefeated streak against the Rocket.

Slessor came into the match having won both of their two meetings to date, at the 2017 Northern Ireland Open and the 2018 China Open.

It was Slessor who made the best start this afternoon, taking the opener with a break of 71. However, from there O’Sullivan wrested control of the tie. Runs of 76, 78 and 97 helped him to four on the bounce as he progressed.

O’Sullivan said: “That is one of my best victories for a long, long time. He beat me twice before, convincingly. He just always plays well against me and I felt like I was getting outplayed again. For me that is as good a victory than anyone I’ve played in my career, so I’m over the moon.

“It is the cake in the face scenario. Everyone expects me to win. If I don’t win, then I look like I’m not the player I was. I’ve got nothing to gain by winning. Nobody is going to be writing about what a great win by Ronnie O’Sullivan, into the last 32 by beating Elliot Slessor. They are going to expect that. Everybody on the circuit knows what a fantastic player he is. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion.”

Kyren Wilson held off a steely Ken Doherty fightback to win 4-3 and book his place in the last 32.

Wilson charged into a 3-0 lead early on. However, 1997 Crucible king Doherty fought back with breaks of 90 and 71 on his way to levelling at 3-3. Just when required, Wilson produced a sublime run of 135 to wrap up the tie in the deciding frame.

Evening (WST):

Kleckers Soars To Shock Win Over Selby

Germany’s Lukas Kleckers scored the biggest win of his career so far, beating three-time Crucible king Mark Selby 4-0 at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

Kleckers, 24, is one of two Germans currently on the World Snooker Tour, alongside Simon Lichtenberg. He was relegated from the circuit after his first spell of two years, but regained his professional status for this season by virtue of his performances on the Challenge Tour.

World number 117 Kleckers will now face China’s Zhao Xintong in the last 32, while Selby will turn his attentions to next week’s UK Championship.

It was Selby who appeared to have control in the opener, but after he broke down on a break of 50, Kleckers clawed his way back and pinched it on the black to lead 1-0.

From there Kleckers grew in confidence and ruthlessly fired in runs of 63, 88 and 79 to finish off the tie.

“I played so well. The first was a little bit scrappy, I was lucky to win it. Then I didn’t miss in the next three frames so I am very happy with the way I played,” said Kleckers. “I think that was my best ever performance on the professional tour, so I’m very delighted.

“After my first season, I feel like I learned so much and benefitted from it. Having two years on tour was very good preparation for all of the tournaments. I feel like I have good experience now and I am now trying to bring my practice game to the match table.

“The people in Germany love watching snooker. I’ve been to the Tempodrom once for the German Masters, it is such an amazing atmosphere. It is a shame that there aren’t too many German players yet, but I hope there will be in the future.”

World number 35 Ben Woollaston put on a fine performance to defeat Triple Crown winner Neil Robertson 4-2.

It’s Leicester cueman Woollaston’s second win over Robertson in the space of a week, after he defeated the Australian 5-4 in German Masters qualifying.

World number three Robertson took the opening frame. However, Woollaston then claimed three on the bounce, including breaks of 61 and 101, to lead 3-1. Robertson pulled one back, but Woollaston got over the line in style with a fine contribution of 134.

Woollaston said: “I was confident, because I beat him last week. I was a bit edgy at the start. There were a few tough long balls that I didn’t get anywhere near. Once I got to 1-1, I definitely felt that I could win.

“Neil was in Leicester when I was just a kid. I used to play with him when he was 17 or 18. Even though he is world number three, I just see him as another player, because I know him so well.”

Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins defeated Northern Irish amateur Patrick Wallace 4-2, while Northern Ireland’s number one and Champion of Champions winner Mark Allen beat Robert Milkins 4-2

Judd Trump’s 147 (WST) :

Trump Makes Magical Maximum

Wednesday 18 Nov 2020 02:02PM

Judd Trump made the fifth maximum 147 break of his career during his second round clash with Gao Yang at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open.

The perfect run came in the third frame of his 4-0 defeat of Gao. It is the 161st official maximum in professional snooker history and the fourth on the circuit this season. The others were made by Ryan Day, John Higgins and Shaun Murphy.

The 147 break was Trump’s first since the 2018 German Masters and puts him in line for the £5,000 high break prize on offer this week.

Ronnie’s matches 

Ronnie beats Jamie O’Neill by 4-1 in the last 128

Ronnie beats Elliot Slessor by 4-1 in the last 64

Round-up

From the top 16, only 8 remain: Judd Trump, Ronnie, Mark Allen , John Higgins, Kyren Wilson, Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire and Yan Bingtao.

Mark Selby won the first event of the season, the 2020 European Masters, but lost last week to Fergal O’Brien in the 2021 German Masters qualifiers, and was now outplayed by Lukas Kleckers in the last 64. I’m very happy for Lukas. I’m always happy when a young player from Mainland Europe does well. It’s much harder for them to succeed on the main tour: they have to expatriate because of the UK centric organisation of the sport, they have to learn English and to face a different culture. Most fans underestimate those aspects.

Neil Robertson made the final of the 2020 English Open, and the 2020 Champion of Champions but has now lost wice to Ben Woollaston: last week in the 2021 German Masters qualifiers first round and now in the last 64.  It’s good to see Ben Woollaston coming back to form, although he’s not at his 2015 best just yet.

Two other players who have rediscovered their form in recent moths are Martin Gould and Ryan Day. Both are through to the last 32.

Rookie Zhao Jianbo is certainly one to watch. He beat the reigning Masters Champion Stuart Bingham very convincingly in the last 64, and from 2-0 down as well.

Another relatively young player who is doing well is Michael White, now playing as an amateur. He beat Iulian Boiko, who is only 15 of course, in the first round, but then got the better of the vastly experienced, former World finalist, Barry Hawkins. Hopefully Michael has turned the corner and will be back on tour soon.

David Gilbert and Gary Wilson both lost in the first round and had a pretty miserable season so far. At the 2019 World Championship they were the main talking point until the very latests stages.

David Grace, a lovely chap, and returning professinal, was responsible for the demise of David Gilbert in the first round. He confirmed his good form by beating Sam Craigie in the next.

Igor Figeiredo had a very good win over Graeme Dott in the first round, and another excellent one over Sunny Akani in the second round. He has struugled so far on the main tour, but he’s very entertaining to watch when on form.

Dominic Dale sent Mark Williams out of the tournament (and likely back on the golf courses). Willo is very unhappy about short supply in practice tables at the venue. With everything needing to be sanitized after every session, it’s not that easy.

Barry Pinches is another “senior” player who did very well after struggling badly last season. He beat Liam Highfield in the first round, and Anthony McGill in the second round. No mean feat.

Veteran Ken Doherty is playing well, but fell short He took Kyren Wilson to a deciding frame in the last 64, and had two breaks over 50 in the process.

The short formats probably help the older player. They have the experience, but, often, they lack the stamina needed in the longer matches.

 

 

 

2020 Northern Ireland Open – Ronnie beats Elliot Slessor in the last 64 round

Yesterday, Ronnie beat Elliot Slessor by 4-1 to reach the last 32 of the 2020 Northern Ireland Open. here are the scores:

NIOpen2020L64ROSvSlessorScores

It was an excellent match, and one that Ronnie was 100% determined to win. Indeed, Elliot had beaten him twice in two previous matches and Ronnie gave it all to make sure that this match wouldn’t end in another defeat. He played excellent safeties throughout the match, he was completely focussed on the job. It was extremely tense as well, with the Eurosport commentators, Joe Johnson and Philip Studd, reflecting that it had the feel of a final, despite it being only the second round, best of seven match. It was compelling.

The signs were there through that Ronnie was going to fight with all he has, when he came back at the table in first frame, needing three snookers, but not playing for snooker; instead he cleared the table, to get his arm going and get a feel of the conditions.

Eurosport devoted not one, but two, reports about this match om their site:

This is the first one:

NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN SNOOKER 2020 – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN FINALLY GETS BETTER OF ELLIOT SLESSOR

Ronnie O’Sullivan produced an impressive display to beat Elliot Slessor in the second round of the Northern Ireland Open. Slessor led the head-to-head 2-0 against O’Sullivan, but couldn’t take early chances and slipped to a 4-1 defeat.

O’Sullivan will next face Matthew Stevens, who won their last encounter at the English Open.

Ronnie O’Sullivan finally got the better of Elliot Slessor as he won 4-1 to reach the third round of the Northern Ireland Open.

World No 58 Slessor had won both previous meetings with O’Sullivan, but couldn’t make it three in a row despite taking the opening frame.

O’Sullivan finished with breaks of 76, 78 and 97 to clinch victory and set up a meeting with Matthew Stevens, who beat him 4-1 at the English Open last month.

O’Sullivan called the win over Slessor “one of the best” of his career.
“He obviously plays well against me and the way he started off he was just cruising round the table,” he said in the Eurosport studio.

I had to hopefully get a chance and he was unlucky not to go 2-0 up, left the red in the jaws, and I was able to steal one and get in the game. Sometimes beating someone like Elliot Slessor in this tournament in that round is better than beating someone like [Mark] Selby in the semi-finals of the Worlds because he is up for none, you have everything to lose. Everyone on the circuit knows how good Elliot is and he can play.

Slessor started confidently at the Marshall Arena with a break of 71 seeing him take the opening frame of the match.

O’Sullivan levelled in a closely-fought second frame, but only after Slessor played a poor positional shot to get onto the final red when he looked to have a chance of stealing the frame from 64-17 down.

The third frame saw Slessor punished for a missed brown into the middle, with O’Sullivan racking up a break of 76 to move ahead in the match.

Slessor ran out of position at 25-0 ahead in frame four and saw O’Sullivan knock in a red along the cushion to start a break of 78 that earned him a third frame in a row.

The Rocket then finished in style as a break of 97 saw him ease into the third round.

And here is the second one:

NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN SNOOKER 2020 – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN SAYS ELLIOT SLESSOR WIN ONE OF HIS BEST EVER

After losing their previous two meetings, Ronnie O’Sullivan was delighted to finally get the better of Elliot Slessor. The Rocket recovered from dropping the opening frame to win 4-1 and compared the result to “beating someone like [Mark] Selby in the semi-finals of the Worlds [World Championship]”.

Ronnie O’Sullivan described his second-round win over Elliot Slessor at the Northern Ireland Open as “one of the best victories of my career”.

O’Sullivan had lost both previous meetings with the world No 58 and looked in trouble as he fell 1-0 behind in the best-of-seven match.
But the Rocket stepped up a level and knocked in breaks of 76, 78 and 97 to secure his place in the third round.

That’s up there with one of the best victories of my career,” he told Eurosport.
“He’s beaten me twice before, had the voodoo sign over me, seems to play fantastically well every time he plays me, and he started off really well again and I was thinking ‘here we go again, he’s going to pump me 4-1, bit more cake in the face…back up the M1, I’m going home’
“.

He obviously plays well against me and the way he started off he was just cruising round the table. I had to hopefully get a chance and he was unlucky not to go 2-0 up, left the red in the jaws, and I was able to steal one and get in the game.

SOMETIMES BEATING SOMEONE LIKE ELLIOT SLESSOR IN THIS TOURNAMENT IN THAT ROUND IS BETTER THAN BEATING SOMEONE LIKE [MARK] SELBY IN THE SEMI-FINALS OF THE WORLDS [WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP] BECAUSE HE IS UP FOR NONE, YOU HAVE EVERYTHING TO LOSE. EVERYONE ON THE CIRCUIT KNOWS HOW GOOD ELLIOT IS AND HE CAN PLAY.

O’Sullivan will next face Matthew Stevens, who won their previous encounter 4-1 at the English Open last month.

The Rocket has lost in the final of the Northern Ireland Open for the past two seasons but was pleased with his all-round performance against Slessor.

I was just trying to stay focused and patient and if I got a chance try and put some numbers on the board. If I didn’t get a chance try and not leave him anything too easy where he can attack me.

O’Sullivan also had some advice for his opponent, who started brightly but dropped off after missing a couple of crucial pots.

If he plays like he did in that first frame and a half why shouldn’t he be winning tournaments? He should be winning tournaments with that sort of stuff. Sometimes he gets a bit down on himself and a bit frustrated and this game is all about temperament.

Players have won world titles because of their temperament, not because their talent or ability is as good as Elliot, but you need to have that temperament. It is probably the most important thing in this game. You have to stay focused.

They also shared short videos on social media.

In this interview, Ronnie refuses to comment on the young players, hinting that there are many things that could be done to help them improve but that he doesn’t want to get involved as nobody would listen anyway. Of course, I don’t know what he has in mind, but I definitely agree that things could be made to help the younger players, and I’m convinced that a return to a tiered system, with no ranking points for the losing seed, and streaming of all tables – which actually already exists for the Chinese “market” – would offer a best development path for them, with exposure, and without protection for the higher ranked players. I also believe that even the first round losers should get a minimal “wage” for their efforts, unless they blatantly didn’t try.  After all, it takes two to play a match and by doing that they contribute to the sport and create value for the sponsors and venue managers.

And here is the WST report:

World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Elliot Slessor 4-1 to end the world number 58’s undefeated streak against the Rocket.

Slessor came into the match having won both of their two meetings to date, at the 2017 Northern Ireland Open and the 2018 China Open.

It was Slessor who made the best start this afternoon, taking the opener with a break of 71. However, from there O’Sullivan wrested control of the tie. Runs of 76, 78 and 97 helped him to four on the bounce as he progressed.

O’Sullivan said: “That is one of my best victories for a long, long time. He beat me twice before, convincingly. He just always plays well against me and I felt like I was getting outplayed again. For me that is as good a victory than anyone I’ve played in my career, so I’m over the moon.

“It is the cake in the face scenario. Everyone expects me to win. If I don’t win, then I look like I’m not the player I was. I’ve got nothing to gain by winning. Nobody is going to be writing about what a great win by Ronnie O’Sullivan, into the last 32 by beating Elliot Slessor. They are going to expect that. Everybody on the circuit knows what a fantastic player he is. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

This afternoon, Ronnie will play Matthew Stevens, the man who beat him at the same stage in the 2020 English Open. Hopefully, this time, it will go the other way around.

 

2020 Northern Ireland Open – Ronnie beats Jamie O’Neill in the last 128 round

Ronnie beat Jamie O’Neil by 4-1 to book his place in the last 64 of the 2020 Northern Ireland Open. He has never lost in the first round of a Home Nations event in 17 attempts, which is qite remarkable.

Here are the scores:

NIOpen2020L128ROSvONeilScores

And here is the report by Eurosport:

MARCUS FOLEY

Ronnie O’Sullivan began his pursuit for a first Northern Ireland Open title with a convincing 4-1 victory over Jamie O’Neill in the first round.
The reigning world champion has lost the past two finals to Judd Trump in 2018 and 2019, but will be looking to go one better this week.

The second seed could face Trump again in the final, but his next task will be to see off either Elliot Slessor or Li Hang in the second round.

I thought I played alright, I’m pleased to get that win. He’s a dangerous player,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.”
“[The tables] are all playing hard for me at the moment so I’m probably not the best person to ask. Some days your touch is good, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you’re chasing the white around the table.”

On his activities away from the table, O’Sullivan added:
I RAN EIGHT MILES THIS MORNING IN 57 MINUTES, SO GETTING FITTER. I’LL TRY AND DO AN EASY FIVE TOMORROW THEN GO FOR A 10-MILER WEDNESDAY. MY AIM THIS MONTH IS TO FOCUS ON MY RUNNING, IT’S A BIT HARD FOCUSING ON JUST SNOOKER SO YOU’VE GOT TO TRY AND FIND SOMETHING YOU LOVE DOING. FOR ME IT’S THE RUNNING, I’M KEEN TO GET MY TIMES DOWN

Both players had chances in the opening frame but it was O’Sullivan who got over the line with a break of 60, and the second seed made it 2-0 after a prevailing in a safety exchange with the world No 82.
O’Neill got on the board in the third frame, and though he was unable to close it out when leading 66-6, he benefited from O’Sullivan rolling the white in after the green when looking to reduce the deficit.

A break of 57 saw O’Sullivan edge closer to victory, and he closed it out a frame later with a classy 125 century.

And this is WST report:

Rocket Too Strong For O’Neill

NIOPen2020ROS-1World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan booked his place in the second round of the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open with a 4-1 defeat of Jamie O’Neill.

O’Sullivan has reached the previous two Northern Ireland Open finals. On each occasion he faced world number one Judd Trump and lost both times by a 9-7 scoreline.

Today’s match was a repeat of O’Sullivan and O’Neill’s first round clash at last season’s English Open, when the Rocket battled back from 3-2 down to win 4-3. Matters were far more straightforward for the six-time Crucible King this evening, who will face either Elliot Slessor or Li Hang next.

O’Sullivan averaged just 14.8 seconds per shot on his way to victory. He secured an early 2-0 advantage, before O’Neill got his solitary frame on the board thanks to a break of 66. However, O’Sullivan was undeterred and finished his opponent off with runs of 57 and 125.

O’Sullivan said: “For me, that is as good as any win. Any players outside of the world’s top 64 are harder than beating top players these days. They go out there, no pressure, come out swinging and invariably they get the rub of the green.

“You have to fight for everything out there as you are on a hiding to nothing. I can’t even win tonight, I just had to avoid getting cake sploshed in my face.”

Those are a few short videos shared on social media by Eurosport UK and WST:

Ronnie’s postmatch with the ES pundits

Last balls of the match:

Ronnie’s interview with WST:

And Ronnie’s extraordinary positional shot … in the frame he lost

 

My assesment:

Ronnie played well, but not outstandingly well. He definitely didn’t take any liberties which is nice to see. Whatever he said, he’s certainly trying 100% despite struggling with motivation because he finds the Milton Keynes environment uninspiring, and although the absence of crowd has helped him in Sheffield, he clearly misses the buzz they bring.

Running has been his passion for a long time, and it’s something he can do despite the Covid-19 circumstances. We all need something to help us through the current difficult times, and running does it for Ronnie I suppose.

 

2020 Northern Ireland Open – Matt’s preview

Matt Huart has written this preview of  the 2020 Northern Ireland Open, starting this morning in Milton Keynes.

Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open 2020: Tournament Preview

The season’s fourth ranking event silverware will be claimed next weekend at the Matchroom.Live Northern Ireland Open with an all-star field set to contest the Alex Higgins Trophy.

As the snooker season enters its ‘winter swing’ – a term coined in recent years by Scotland’s Alan McManus – the standard of play on the World Snooker Tour shows no signs of dropping with Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Kyren Wilson and most recently Champion of Champions winner Mark Allen having all impressed en route to success so far in 2020/21.

Of course it is Trump who has captured this title during both 2018 and 2019, each time having defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in the final and the world number one has already enjoyed Home Nations success this season at the English Open last month.

Before him, Mark Williams memorably ended a six-year ranking title drought with his defeat of Yan Bingtao in 2017, while perhaps one of the most unforgettable successes of the past decade saw Mark King claim his maiden ranking title a year earlier.

Once again, the tournament will be held at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes as a consequence of the ongoing coronavirus restrictions, but there will nonetheless be a top prize of £70,000 to be won by the last player standing next Sunday.

The seeding structure of the event remains unchanged with the top 32 players seeded apart until the third round, with the remaining players seeded randomly into the draw. Early rounds will be played over the best of seven frames (no interval), increasing for the quarter-finals (9), semi-finals (11) and final (17).

As with previous tournaments, the overwhelming majority of professional players will be involved, with all but five (Mei Xiwen, Marco Fu, Bai Langning,Stephen Hendry and Steve Mifsud) of the 128 WST professionals in the main draw. As with other Home Nations Series competitions, there will also be two regional qualifiers taking part with Northern Ireland’s Declan Lavery and Patrick Wallace joining the fray.

Gary Wilson playing snooker

#RaceToTheMasters

As in previous seasons, the Northern Ireland Open carries added significance as the penultimate tournament in the battle to qualify for the January’s Masters tournament.

We recently analysed the state of play prior to the conclusion of the Championship League last month and the position remains broadly unchanged with Gary Wilson holding a narrow advantage to closest chaser Jack Lisowskifor the final spot.

Intriguingly, both Wilson and Lisowski are on course to meet in the third round next week in a match that could have a huge influence on who will claim a spot in snooker’s biggest invitational competition.

Speaking of the draw…

The Top Quarter

Heading up the draw is of course the defending champion as Judd Trump embarks on what could be a historic week in Milton Keynes. Not since Stephen Hendry claimed the UK Championship in 1994, 1995 and 1996 has a player won a ranking title on three successive occasions, but that is what Trump can emulate if he were to complete a hat-trick of Northern Ireland Open titles next week.

Standing in his path will first be the experienced Gerard Greene, with potentially Mitchell Mann and Luca Brecel to follow in the early rounds if the tournament were to unfold according to seeding. The winner of the aforementioned clash between Wilson and Lisowski could also come into play.

The highest seed in his quarter however is Mark Allen, who notwithstanding his Saturday defeat at the German Masters qualifiers, will come into the tournament with confidence following his Champion of Champions victory last week – which of course included a 6-1 success against Trump at the semi-final stage.

Allen’s path however appears far from straightforward with Anthony Hamiltonfirst up, with Robert Milkins, Scott Donaldson and Tour Championship winner Stephen Maguire among those potentially in his way.

The Second Quarter

The second section of the draw is led by Mark Selby and Kyren Wilson, who having both tasted ranking event success already this season will be looking to maintain their respective strong form of late.

Notwithstanding a surprise opening-round defeat to the high-scoring Fergal O’Brien in the German Masters qualifiers on Friday, Selby has shown strong form in recent months and will begin his title bid with a match against Andrew Higginson, with potentially Chinese trio Chang Bingyu, Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao to follow before the quarter-finals.

For Wilson – who notably ended the ten-final winning streak of Judd Trump with his victory in their Championship League title decider – David Lilley awaits in the opening round before possible match-ups against Chris Wakelin, Michael Holt and David Gilbert before any meeting with Selby.

Other notable names in the section include the likes of Anthony McGill and Barry Hawkins, who are among those still in with a chance of Masters qualification, as well as 2016 champion Mark King.

The Third Quarter

Neil Robertson finds himself installed as the top seed in the tournament’s third section with sixth ranked Shaun Murphy on paper his biggest threat to a semi-final berth.

Runner-up at both the English Open and Champion of Champions in recent weeks, Robertson will be looking to go one better this week and begins with a clash against reigning Northern Ireland champion Declan Lavery. Intriguingly, he could then face Ben Woollaston in the last 64, with the Leicester potter having beaten Robertson 5-4 only last Thursday at the German Masters qualifiers.

Whoever comes through that one could then face Liang Wenbo, before a potential clash with 2017 champion Mark Williams in the last 16.

For Shaun Murphy, who last week celebrated his sixth professional maximum break against Chen Zifan, comes a tough opener against Ryan Day who himself has also compiled a 147 break earlier this season.

Lyu Haotian or James Cahill would await in the second round, with Kurt Maflin and Stuart Bingham further ahead in the draw before any potential clash with Robertson.

Once again there are a number of players present in this quarter who will also have half an eye on Masters qualification, including Graeme Dott and Ali Carter, while the already mentioned Mark Williams will be looking to consolidate his current top 16 status heading into the all-important UK Championship.

The Bottom Quarter

As is customary, the defending world champion is seeded as number two in the draw, meaning that this is where we find Ronnie O’Sullivan with the two-time runner-up looking to kickstart his season in Milton Keynes.

First up he will take on Jamie O’Neill, ahead of a potential meeting with either Li Hang or Elliot Slessor, the latter having defeated O’Sullivan 4-1 at the last 32 stage of this competition back in 2017.

Awaiting the winner in the last 32 could be another player who has enjoyed recent success against O’Sullivan in the form of Matthew Stevens, ahead of a possible clash with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who of course did not threaten the reigning world champion this summer during their World Championship meeting.

If O’Sullivan can come through his section then we could see yet another career-meeting with John Higgins at the quarter-final stage with the Scot set to open his campaign against Welshman Daniel Wells.

Faraikh Ajaib, Matt Selt and Ding Junhui – the latter having defeated Higgins at last week’s Champion of Champions – could be among those who would stand between Higgins and another potential meeting with O’Sullivan next week if the tournament were to unfold according to seeding.

Tian Pengfei tested positive with Covid-19 last week and  was immediately withdrawn from this tournament. Riley Parsons has also withdrawn; the resaon for this isn’t known (to me) at the time of writing. As a result Anthony McGill – again – and Noppon Saengkham get a bye to the last 64.

I’m not so sure about Matt’s views on Mark Allen’s chances. By his standards, he has a poor record in this event, with the pressure of playing on home soil seemingly affecting him: 2016 – QF, 2017 – last 64, 2018 – last 128, 2019 – last 16. But, of course, this time it will be in Milton Keynes, not Belfast, and without a crowd. That should help him, provided that he doesn’t put pressure on himself  purely because it’s still his “home” tournament.

Regarding Ronnie, I’m not sure what to expect. He doesn’t like Milton Keynes, but even if he loses he will probably have to stay there working for Eurosport. He played OK in the English Open, and played well in the Champion of Champions. His first round opponent though, Jamie O’Neill seems to be playing well too and it’s only best of 7. Should Ronnie win today, he could face Elliott Slessor next; Elliott is a bit (a lot) of a bogey opponent for Ronnie.

Now here are my selection of “interesting” first round matches:

  • Mark Williams v Jamie Jones – Welsh clash between a 3x World Champion who might not be that motivated and an opponent eager to redeem himself after a ban.
  • Martin Gould v Jamie Clarke. Both capable of fireworks on their day.
  • Aaron Hill v Jackson Page.
  • Matthew Selt v Joe O’Connor.
  • Zhao Xintong v Si Jiahui
  • Lukas Kleckers v Chang Bingyu
  • Liang Wenbo v Steven Hallworth. Both playing well recently.
  • Pang Junxu v Jak Jones. This may be a long one.
  • Yuan Sijun v Luo Honghao. Provided that Luo doesn’t turn into a bag of nerves from ball one on.
  • Zhao Jianbo v Brian Ochoiski. A very winnable match for both of them.
  • Iulian Boiko v Michael White. A huge talent, but far too young to be a pro versus a relegated – still young – player who, IMO, paid a high price for being hyped too young, and didn’t cope well with too high expectations.

 

2021 German Masters Qualifiers – Day 5

The last day of the 2021 German Masters qualifiers saw more top players exit the tournament before the television stage. The biggest “casualty” was the recently crowned Champion of Champions, Mark Allen. This means that only seven of the top 16, and only Judd Trump from the top 5, will make the trip to the Tempodrom … if, indeed, it is the Tempodrom and not Milton Keynes again. None of the German, or German speaking , players made it either, which is a shame. With two round of qualifiers it’s almost impossible to hold first round matches over to the main venue. It is a bit of a logistic nightmare.

Here is the report by WST:

Sharp Pang Upsets Allen

World number 109 Pang Junxu scored a shock 5-2 win over Mark Allen in the final qualifying round of the BetVictor German Masters.

All results

Pang reached the last 16 of the BetVictor European Masters earlier this season

Allen played superb snooker to win the Champion of Champions just six days ago, but couldn’t replicate that form and was outplayed by China’s 20-year-old Pang, who is playing his debut season on the pro tour. He goes through to the last 32 for the final stages which run from January 27 to 31.

Breaks of 81 and 101 gave Allen a 2-1 lead, but Pang then took four frames in a row with top breaks of 121 and 72.

John Higgins made top breaks of 69 and 70 in a 5-0 win over Ashley Hugill while Masters champion Stuart Bingham top scored with 92 in a 5-2 win over Ricky Walden.

Jack Lisowski fired runs of 56, 89, 97, 78 and 64 as he beat Brandon Sargeant 5-2. Joe O’Connor scored an impressive 5-4 win over Anthony McGill, from 3-1 and 4-3 down. O’Connor compiled runs of 102, 52, 72, 83 and 73.

Robbie Williams trailed Martin O’Donnell 4-2 and by 52 points in frame seven, but took that one with a 74 clearance and added the next two frames for a 5-4 success.

Zhou Yuelong eased to a 5-0 win over Peter Devlin while Luca Brecel top scored with 90 in a 5-2 defeat of Andrew Higginson.

Germany’s Simon Lichtenberg missed out on the final stages of his home event as he lost 5-2 to Fergal O’Brien

Pang again showed a lot of maturity for a 20 years old rookie. He was calm, composed and efficient. Mark Allen looked a bit despondent, especially after the MSI. In the 5th frame, he conceded with his opponent still at the table in a break. In the next, Pang broke down leading by 72, with still five reds on the table and the black on its spot; Mark Allen stayed in his chair. In the last, Mark’s body language, whilst sat in his chair, was that of  someone who can’t wait to get out of there. That said, he did not leave the arena before he had the opportunity to congratulate his young opponent. Bad day in office, I suppose… it happens to everyone of us.

I only saw three frames of the Higgins v Hugill match, the first and the last two. Higgins did find some fluency in the last one I watched, the one after the MSI. But the other two were a bit bizarre, particularly the fourth frame of the match. Both frames were close, involving a lot of excellent safeties, from both players. But whenever one of them got an opportunity they struggled to string three pots together.

Joe O’Connor is steadily evolving into a very solid, dependable player. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started challenging for titles in the next couple of seasons.