2021 Crucible Build-up – Ronnie about the class of 92 and the state of the amateur game

Ronnie reckons that there will never be aything like the “Class of 92” again 

Ronnie O’Sullivan: There will never be another three who can play like me, Higgins and Williams

‘We come from an era where you became a proper snooker player,’ said the Rocket ahead of the weekend’s World Championship

Welsh Open 2020 - Day 6 -
O’Sullivan says he is one of a dying breed of players (Photo: Getty)

Ronnie O’Sullivan may no longer consider himself at the very peak of his snooker powers but says recent successes mean no one should question his ability to keep winning until he turns 50.

O’Sullivan defeated Kyren Wilson in the final last August to win his sixth World Championship and heads to the Crucible Theatre this month to not only defend his crown but also to match Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record of seven world titles.

That 2020 World Championship triumph is O’Sullivan’s only ranking-event victory in the past two seasons but reaching five finals this campaign doesn’t suggest any sort of impending snooker mortality.

As he approaches 30 years since first turning professional, the 45-year-old – along with fellow ‘Class of 92’ members Mark Williams and John Higgins – has maintained a remarkable level of play well into his 40s.

In fact, at least one of the trio has appeared in all but two of the past 10 World Championship finals – and in each of the last four – with O’Sullivan insisting that record proves they can all keep competing past their 50th birthday.

There will never again be three players who can play the game like me, John and Mark do, playing into their late 40s, early 50s and still winning tournaments,” said O’Sullivan, who is a regular contributor to Eurosport on all their snooker coverage.

We come from an era where you became a proper snooker player. That experience and level of game at amateur level has allowed us to play way beyond what others have. Mid 40s, still winning tournaments and you shouldn’t have to ask the question of if we’re good enough any more until we hit 50.

Williams won the world title two years ago, I did it last year, Higgins has made lot of world finals recently and then won a big tournament [the Players Championship] this year.

“Just off the back of that, you’ve got to give yourself another five years. Even if you have a down season, you’re not likely to be losing that sort of form within one or two years.

O’Sullivan’s 2021 World Championship campaign begins on Saturday morning, with the final concluding on 3 May – a 17-day marathon that The Rocket admits doesn’t suit his personality.

Despite his remarkable success at the Crucible, he claims he has never enjoyed the tournament – struggling with boredom and a lack of focus at the event.

And that may explain why matching Hendry’s record of seven world titles isn’t as burning a desire as you might think for such a fierce competitor.

I don’t think I need to win anything else to cement my legacy,” he said. “I never thought I’d win one world title, so I’m certainly not going to complain if I don’t get to seven. I’m over the moon with what I’ve achieved.

I just want to go there and enjoy my snooker and I need to play well to enjoy it.

“I’ve accepted that about myself – I only want to play snooker and really get excited about it if I’m in my slot, in my groove, timing the ball well and it’s all coming easily to me.

If I’m not doing that, I’m not prepared to go through the pain barrier as much anymore. I’ve made a pact with myself that if things aren’t quite going right, then a defeat isn’t the end of the world.”

He is right of course about the level of the amateur game and there are any number of reasons that contributed to its decline, some linked to the way the sport has been managed and promoted over the years, some related to way our societies have evolved and to what today’s young people desire to achieve or indeed what their parents want them to achieve. But there is also the fact that the brutal current structure offers no path for development for young professionals.

Steve Feeney posted this on FB after learning that Kaçper Filipiak is giving up on snooker:

Just sharing my thoughts seeing the 25 Year old 2019 European Champion quit the game having fallen off Tour following his World Championship 2 Round defeat….
People will debate the fors and againsts, however I see the Flat Draw as being brutal for younger players who are working hard to craft a successful profession is this sport.
No prize money at the bottom end of Events / and in many cases very small prize money at lower end of many Events is undoubtedly compounding pressure on the younger players unless they have good financial sponsors.
Most new / young players to the Tour nowadays need more time to develop in the Ranks, especially with the Flat Draw structure where statistically they will meet a Top 16 Player 1:4 events – some players Seasons have been plagued with such tough Draws.
So their game has to be of at least Top 32 Standard ‘consistently’ almost immediately to survive. By comparison the Apprenticeship of Professional Snooker is no longer like it was in the Tiered Structure from which so many of our Top Players and top 32 players developed their ‘skills’ and ‘ring craft’.
Or is the current ‘Development Pathway’ i.e. Q-School / Challenge / QTour to becoming a Pro meant to be a Professional Apprenticeship – there is definitely a gap ….
Thoughts ….

I can only agree. It’s basically what I have been writing here countless times over the last years.

2021 World Championship Qualifiers – Day 8

The last round of the World Championship qualifiers starts today. Eight matches will be played over two sessions. the format is best-of-19.

This is WST report on yesterday’s action:

Captain Set For Judgement Day

Ali Carter came through a fiercely contested Betfred World Championship qualifying clash with China’s Pang Junxu 6-4, to earn a Judgement Day place.

Carter, a two-time World Championship finalist, missed out on Crucible qualification last year losing to Louis Heathcote in the penultimate round. That was the first time Carter hasn’t appeared at the Theatre of Dreams since 2002.

Carter controlled the opening stages, firing in breaks of 69, 64, 71 and 64 on his way to establishing a 5-2 advantage.

However, from there 21-year-old Pang showcased his potential by shooting back into contention. After claiming the eighth frame, a stunning break of 106 pulled him within one at 5-4.

Carter wasn’t to be denied and runs of 25 and 45 in the tenth frame took him over the line and secured a Judgement Day meeting with Alexander Ursenbacher, who defeated Martin O’Donnell 6-5.

“I didn’t sleep last night, because I want it so badly. Almost too much. Even after being a pro for 20 odd years, I think I want it more now than I ever did. Maybe it is because I am trying hard on my preparation back home. This first match is horrible,” said 41-year-old Carter.

“His safety was unbelievable today. He just looked like he was willing to stand there all day to try and win. All kinds of things were going through my head. I should have won 6-2, but I twitched a red. There is so much pressure for us out there with the ranking points. I have to get my head round it and make sure I get through.”

Englishman Sam Craigie put on a superb performance to whitewash Iranian number one Hossein Vafaei 6-0 and clinch a Judgement Day place for the first time in his career.

Craigie now faces Zhao Xintong in the final qualifying round. Zhao defeated Poland’s Kacper Filipiak 6-3 this afternoon. That result relegated Filipiak from the circuit.

Steven Hallworth rallied from 5-4 down to beat Welsh Open champion Jordan Brown 6-5 and move one win from a Crucible debut.

Hallworth came into this year’s event having never won a single match in the World Championship. The 25-year-old scored a 6-2 win over Dean Young in round one and a 6-3 defeat of David Grace in round two. He’ll play Gary Wilson on Judgement Day.

World number 18 Stuart Bingham eased to a 6-1 defeat of Chen Zifan. The 2015 World Champion now faces Luca Brecel in the final round.

Someone who is not even mentioned in this report is the 18 years old Bai Langning who beat Ben Woollaston by 6-5, scoring a great 96 in the deciding frame. Bai was 4-1 down in this match. I find this pretty baffling as Bai is probably one of the major stories in this year’s competition. He went back to China towards the end of the previous season and came back to the UK only recently. He had not played a main tour match all season and here he is in the last round of the World Qualifiers. He needs to reach the Crucible to stay on tour. Bai will face Martin Gould tomorrow.

At the start of the qualifiers, about one in six of the players involved were Chinese, as we reach the last round ten of them remain, nearly one in three. Yet WST largely ignored them in their reports throughout.

Kaçper Filipiak was relegated and someone on twitter said that he was retiring from snooker. I can’t say I’m surprised. Kaçper got a tour card at the age of 15 and he wasn’t ready. He was practicing at Paul Mount’s SWSA and at the time Janie Watkins had told me that he was “a lamb for the slaughter”. It was a deeply unhappy year for the young lad and I believe that it left him with scars. I’m wishing him the best for the future, whatever he chooses to do from here.

 

 

 

2021 World Championship Qualifiers – Day 7

Here is the report by WST:

Brazil’s Figueiredo One Win From History

Brazilian number one Igor Figueiredo is one win away from becoming the first South American to compete at the Crucible, after defeating Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 6-5 to earn a Judgement Day spot at Betfred World Championship Qualifying.

Figueiredo will now face Mark Joyce in the final round with a place at the Theatre of Dreams on the line. The extent of his success this week can be illustrated by the fact that he hadn’t previously won a match at Crucible qualifying since 2015, when he lost to Robin Hull in the final round.

The 43-year-old from Rio De Janeiro first turned professional in 2010, having only played on a full-size snooker table for the first time a year earlier. Figueiredo bases himself out of the Q House Academy in Doncaster and lives away from his wife and three children, who are back home in Brazil, in order to pursue his professional snooker career.

He showed his talent today by battling back from 5-4 down to defeat Thai number one Un-Nooh. A superb break of 84 forced a decider, before Figueiredo crafted a gutsy run of 59 to take the final frame.

World number 85 Figueiredo said: “It is a big dream to get to the Crucible. I maybe won’t sleep tonight thinking about this. For most people the dream is to become World Champion. My dream is to visit the Crucible one time. I would be the first South American player to compete there. I can’t explain, my dream is nearly real.

“I’m living in the UK to improve my level. I miss my wife and my children a lot every day. I see pictures and get power from them to survive and work hard. I have been working ten hours a day over the last two months for this tournament. Sometimes it is painful in my body because I have worked so hard for this moment.

“In Brazil the tables are ten feet and there is a lot of pool. I just started to play snooker in 2009 at 32 years old. I’d never played full size in my life. I’m so happy because I think I have improved a lot. This tournament has amazing players and I started at 32 years old. I believe in myself and I feel like a star player.”

Ryan Day came through an enthralling encounter with Louis Heathcote 6-5. The Welshman missed a black off the spot to emerge a 6-4 victor. However, a crucial break of 30 saw him claim the decider on the colours.

Day will now face Ricky Walden on Judgement Day. Walden was a comfortable 6-1 winner against Peter Lines, who has now been relegated from the circuit and will need to go to Q School.

Jamie Jones is through to the final round after a 6-3 defeat of Michael Holt. That leaves the Welshman one win away from a Crucible berth in his first season back on the World Snooker Tour.

Jones has enjoyed a strong season, having regained his professional status through Q School in 2020. The Welshman dropped off the tour at the end of the 2019 season whilst suspended. However, his return to the circuit has seen him produce some good snooker, including a run to the semi-finals of the 2020 Scottish Open.

Jones now faces Li Hang for a place at the Crucible, after the Chinese cueman overcame Andrew Higginson 6-2.

I’m quite happy for the big mam from Brazil although, at the same time, I’m sorry for Thepchaiya Un-nooh. I like to watch them both. Jamie Jones is really making the most of his retunr to the main tour, all credits to him. As compared to previous “cases”, I always thought his pinishment was particularly harsh, but maybe, in a strange way, the setback  may prove to be the defining challeng that made him a better player and a stronger person.

All three Thai players fell at first hurdle.

On the other hand of the 20 Chinese players involved in the qualifiers, 12 are still in the draw, and three are well placed to be redeemed via the one year list.  Over 2 in 3 of the Chinese players who competed on the Tour this season are under 25. Clearly they will be a big part of the future in our sport. Yet, there is next to none coverage by WST of their accomplishments during those qualifiers. Four of them played and won yesterday. Yet again, the above report only mentions one of them “en passant”.

Judd is right in saying that there is far too much focus on the older players, and I will add that there is also too much focus on the Bristih/Irish players. I know that it may be more diificult to interview the Chinese players, because of the language barrier especially as Tai Chengzhe, the assistant media officer is still stuck in China, but a number of the younger players do speak decent english.

And, as expected, Jimmy White got another invitational Tour card:

Jimmy White Awarded New Invitational Tour Card

Jimmy White has been given an invitational tour card for the next two seasons on the World Snooker Tour, due to his outstanding contribution to the sport.

The 58-year-old Londoner lost to Stephen Hendry in the first qualifying round of the Betfred World Championship this week.

Despite some impressive results this season, including a run to the last 16 of the BetVictor Gibraltar Open, White would drop off the tour at the end of the season. However his invitational tour card, first awarded in 2017, has been extended by two years.

White has won ten ranking titles as well as the Masters, and has reached the final at the Crucible six times.

In a joint statement, WST Chairman Barry Hearn and WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson said: “Jimmy is one of snooker’s one-time greats, not only in terms of his achievements on the table, but also in his massive worldwide popularity. He has done so much to promote snooker through his playing style and charisma. He remains a great asset to our sport and we had no hesitation in offering him a tour card for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons.”

White said: “I would like to thank Barry and Jason, I am very grateful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to a new start next season.”

In all there will be four invitational tour card holders during the 2021/22 season: White, Marco Fu, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry.

This didn’t go down well with a few, including Mark Allen who branded the decision “shocking”.

Screenshot 2021-04-12 at 10.18.53Screenshot 2021-04-12 at 10.19.03

I have to admit that I’m in two minds about this.

Let’s put it this way. I do understand why WST wants to reward the players who massively contributed to grow the game especially in those times or places when it struggled. Therefore I don’t mind such wildcards, but they should come on top of the 128 regular spots. They should not take spots that should go to promising prospects. Very rarely do all players enter the draw anyway. Yes, it would limit the spots for the Q-school top-ups, but I do object to the top-ups anyway, largely because, with all Q-schools and all qualifiers held in the UK this system mainly favours the UK based players AGAIN. I will change my mind when qualifiers will be scrapped or played at/near the final venue for all events, and there will be an Asian and European leg of the Q-school, or even better, no Q-school in its current form at all. In it’s current format I’m not at all convinced that the best players do come through it.

 

2021 World Championship Qualifiers – Day 6

The quality of the matches on display has raised significantly as we reach day 6 and the third round of the World Qualifiers.

Here is the report by WST:

Selt Fightback Floors Bond

Matthew Selt summoned a superb fightback from 5-2 down to beat Nigel Bond 6-5 and clinch a Judgement Day spot at Betfred World Championship qualifying.

Former Indian Open champion Selt came into the Sheffield event in strong form, having produced his best showing of the season so far last month by reaching the semi-finals of the Gibraltar Open.

Selt has bowed out in the final round of qualifying in each of the last two years. He’ll be hoping not to suffer the same fate this year when he goes up against Scott Donaldson with a Crucible place on the line. The Essex cueman last graced the Theatre of Dreams in 2015.

The early signs indicated a straightforward afternoon could be in the offing for Selt, after he composed breaks of 64 and 137 to take a 2-0 lead.

However, 55-year-old Bond hit back and notched up four frames on the spin, before a superb break of 122 took him a frame from victory at 5-2.

Selt refused to wilt and produced a break building burst to wrest the momentum back in his favour. Runs of 60, 54 and a tournament high break of 142 forced a decider. Selt showed his class by making 110 to seal the dramatic 6-5 win.

“Once Nigel got a foothold in the game, he pretty much strangled me,” admitted 36-year-old Selt. “When I was 3-2 and 4-2 down I was sat in my chair telling myself I had bottled it to be honest. My game is really good at the moment. I’ve played Nigel a few times and he doesn’t give you anything, he wouldn’t give you a nod in the desert.

“At 5-2 down I was assuming that I was going home. Mentally that was very draining for me. I’m very proud of how I have played, but I’m very lucky to still be in.

“I’m 36 years of age and I have three appearances at the Crucible. It’s not really what I dreamed of growing up. As we are sitting here doing this interview, the relief is starting to come through. I know how good my game is, it is the best it has ever been. I’m looking forward to a best of 19 and a chance to get back to the Crucible.”

That was just one of four remarkable matches this afternoon, which all went down to deciding frames. Selt’s Judgement Day opponent Donaldson came from 5-4 down to beat Dominic Dale 6-5.

In the other two matches, world number 17 Zhou Yuelong defeated Chinese compatriot Xu Si 6-5 and Liam Highfield beat Elliot Slessor 6-5. They will now face each other for a place at the Crucible.

Kurt Maflin made three century breaks on his way to an impressive 6-4 defeat of Jak Jones. The Norwegian is now just one win away from a second consecutive trip to the Crucible.

The morning action saw the second round reach a conclusion. Among the results was a 6-3 win for Mark King over Austrian amateur Florian Nuessle. That sets up a third round showdown against Luca Brecel, with a Judgement Day spot on the line.

Once again it focussed on not-so-young British players… unfortunately.

Zhou Yuelong beat Xu Si in the deciding frame of a VERY high quality match. Xu Si though should have done enough to stay on tour.

Chang Bingyu beat Tom Ford who once again showed sign of mental frailty under pressure. All the same it’s an excellent result for Chang, who should also be safe in the tour survival battle.

Chang and Xu are currently ranked 1 and 2 in the “one year redeem list”.

There is an interesting situation regarding that list: both Pang Junxu and  Jamie Jones who are in the first year of a two years tour card, could still get into the top 64, at the expense of Chris Wakelin and Louis Heathcote. Should that happen, Wakelin and Heathcote would probably still stay on tour via the “one year redeem list”.  It would however make a huge difference for them next season: on one hand they would go back to 0 points, on the other hand they would be assured to get another two seasons and avoid battling on the fringe of the relegation zone next season. It also means that Duane Jones and Gerard Greene are under pressure to win their third round match to stay on tour, and that Jamie O’Neill and Andy Hicks are far from safe.

Yesterday’s result also means that Jimmy White is now set to be relegated from the Main Tour unless he can get back through the Q-School or receives another invitational tour card. Going by what Barry Hearn said in a recent interview, the latter is likely.

 

 

Build-up to the Crucible – “The Break” Eurosport potcast

Eurosport is back with “the Break”

You can listen to the last instalment here:

 

And here is the written account about it what Ronnie thinks about the possible Crucible favourites and his own game:

 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP -‘HE’S LIKE A MICHEL ROUX CAKE’ – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON ‘FRIGHTENING’ ROBERTSON

His game is built to do well in Sheffield and over the years he’s added to his game and now he’s taken over from John Higgins as the player with the best all-around game. He plays safety very well, his temperament is brilliant, his scoring is unbelievable, his potting is just frightening, I’ve never seen anyone with a cue action as good as that.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is in a relaxed mood ahead of the defence of his World Championship title, but believes Neil Robertson is the biggest obstacle to him winning at the Crucible for a seventh time.

The 45-year-old ended a seven-year wait for a sixth world title when beating Kyren Wilson in the final, but he has not won an event since that victory in August.
O’Sullivan has lost five successive finals, the most recent being at the hands of Neil Robertson in the Tour Championship.

He was comfortably second best to Robertson at Celtic Manor, and feels the Australian is favourite for the World Championship which gets underway on April 17.

What happens at Sheffield is that when you get on a good run you seem to just win matches every year,” O’Sullivan said on Eurosport’s The Break podcast.

It comes like a run in itself but then it can go the other way as well.

I think [John] Higgins didn’t make a quarter-final for seven or eight years. You could have got any price you want down the bookies on that. I did the same from 2013 to 2021, I didn’t make a semi-final.

Robertson is the same. I think every player goes through a little phase like that in their career at Sheffield where they just don’t seem to be able to make the final stages.

I think at some point that will change for Neil and when it does I think you’ll see him win one, get to a final, maybe three finals on the spin.

His game is built to do well in Sheffield and over the years he’s added to his game and now he’s taken over from John Higgins as the player with the best all-around game. He plays safety very well, his temperament is brilliant, his scoring is unbelievable, his potting is just frightening, I’ve never seen anyone with a cue action as good as that.

SO, IF YOU’RE MAKING A CAKE AND PUTTING ALL THAT INTO IT YOU’RE GOING TO COME OUT WITH A ‘MICHEL ROUX’ CAKE AND THINK, ‘WOW, THAT TASTES AMAZING’.

O’Sullivan has shown patches of brilliance this season, but has not found form in the finals he has contested.

I’m not nervous at all,” he said. “I’ve had a great season. I’ve enjoyed playing. Everything is really good.

I go to a tournament like ‘have I got my running boots with me? Yeah OK great. Have I got my restaurants sorted? Yeah, great.

I CAN DEAL WITH THE SNOOKER, WHATEVER IT THROWS AT ME I’M ALRIGHT BECAUSE I’VE GOT THOSE TWO THINGS IN PLACE SO THE SNOOKER BECOMES SOMETHING I JUST DO BECAUSE I’M THERE. IF I PLAY GREAT, BRILLIANT!

I’m super-enthusiastic about playing, and continuing, and trying to go as far as I can in the tournament.

If I’m not playing great, I know I’m not a grinder and there’s no point me doing what Jimmy [White] seems to be doing which is trying to grind it out, take my time, get focused and over-practice.

You won’t see me on the practice tables before a match ever because I don’t want to know how I’m playing ten minutes before I go out there. I’d rather find out when I’m there.

With that kind of attitude, it’s a lot easier to deal with because otherwise it becomes tough. It’s a tough sport anyway so you have to find that happy medium.

I feel alright to be honest with you. It’s no secret; it’s not my favourite tournament. Last year it was a bit better because there was not so much smothering going on. So I enjoyed last year and this year has been OK. I’m looking forward to Sheffield but also looking forward to a bit of a break at the end of it.”

Commenting on the state of his game heading into the Crucible, O’Sullivan said: “I came back in the New Year, I took three or four weeks off after that, and I’ve enjoyed my snooker up until the Welsh [Open] when [John] Higgins gave me a good hiding.

But I’ve enjoyed the best of three tournaments, I’ve enjoyed playing and just seeing where my game’s at. Every tournament hasn’t been about winning it’s been about ‘where’s my game now compared to last week?’ ‘I’ve taken three weeks off now, I wonder where it is compared to three weeks ago. OK not too bad.’

SO BECAUSE I WAS PLAYING A BIT MORE REGULARLY I WASN’T AT AS MUCH OF A DISADVANTAGE WHEN I WAS PLAYING. BEFORE I’D TAKE SIX OR SEVEN WEEKS OFF AND MISS SIX OR SEVEN TOURNAMENTS. WHEN I DID COME BACK IT TOOK ME THREE OR FOUR TOURNAMENTS TO EVEN HAVE A CHANCE TO COMPETE REALLY.

It’s been a nice year in a way because I feel like I’ve had half a chance when I’ve played.

Ronnie also gives his opinion on the Jimmy White vs Stephen Hendry match. It was a horrible draw for Jimmy who puts too much pressure of himself, as Stephen Hendy himself reckons.

And a bit of video…

2021 World Championship Qualifiers – Day 5

The second round at the qualifiers is maybe the toughest as many players are fighting to survive on the main tour. Here is WST report on what happened yesterday:

Heathcote Boosts Survival Hopes

Louis Heathcote took a big step towards tour survival by defeating Ashley Carty 6-2 in a must win second round clash at Betfred World Championship qualifying.

Leicester’s Heathcote was Rookie of the Year last season, in a campaign that saw him come within a match of the Crucible at the 2020 qualifiers. On that occasion he defeated Ali Carter on his way to the final round, where he eventually lost out against the recently retired Alan McManus.

However, he has struggled during his second season on the circuit. Heathcote came into today’s match knowing that only a win would keep his hopes of tour survival alive. The world number 67 produced a fine performance just when it was required.

The 23-year-old showcased his breakbuilding talent this morning, firing in runs of 51, 72, 65, 57, 77 and 104 on his way to a crucial victory. Heathcote now faces two-time ranking event winner Ryan Day in round three.

Heathcote said: “I played really well and I’m really proud of how I dealt with the pressure. I’ve been putting a lot of hard work in and it is nice to see the rewards there.

“I’ve really struggled in the second half of the season. I’ve not been in the best place with my confidence. I just thought I’d go out and enjoy it and if I have to go to Q School, so be it. That was the best I’ve played all season, so it is good to play like that with the pressure I was under.

“I’ve lost about four deciders this season and missed easy balls. I always say to my mum how bad I am under pressure! To play like that with my tour card on the line is amazing.”

James Cahill will require a trip to Q School if he is to retain his professional status. The Blackpool cueman succumbed to a 6-5 defeat to Gerard Greene to drop off the tour.

It was a crucial victory for Greene, who himself needed to win to remain in with a chance of staying on the circuit. Next up he faces Gary Wilson in round three for a Judgement day spot.

Welshman Daniel Wells also suffered relegation from the circuit after a 6-4 loss to compatriot Duane Jones. Victory for Jones means he is still in the hunt to stay on tour. He plays Martin Gould in the third round.

Poland’s Kacper Filipiak came through a vital clash with Jackson Page 6-5 to keep his tour survival bid alive. Defeat for Welshman Page sends him to Q School.

Swiss number one Alexander Ursenbacher booked his place in round three with a comprehensive 6-2 defeat of Germany’s Lukas Kleckers. He faces Martin O’Donnell in round three.

I find it very disappointing that there is NOTHING in this report about the fate of the Chinese players, except for Bai Langning who beat McManus, leading to the Scot’s retirement. Another example of the still strongly UK centric nature of the “World” snooker tour.

Luo Honghao who had made it to the Crucible on his first year as a pro, has stuggled badly since. He had won a titanic battle against Tom Ford in the last round of the qualifiers. He was whitewashed by Shaun Murphy on his debut at the Theatre of dreams, unable to compete properly because of a food poisoning. Yesterday, he was beaten by Peter Lines and he will now need to go to the Q-school if he wihes to regain his professional status. I don’t rate his chances very high and, should he succeed, I’m not sure it would be the best thing for him. He may need a reset: see his family, assess what he really wants for himself, and retrieve his technique that has deteriorated.

Si Jiahui will also need the Q-school to stay on tour. He’s only 18. I hope he gets another chance should he fail to immediately re-qualify.

Those two, and Yuan Sijun are extremely talented, very young, and good to watch … when we get the opportunity.

WST has stressed how hard it has been for Neil Robertson to make it to the top as an expat, and rightly so. Neil, who is 39, has been open about how much he has struggled being unable to see his family over long periods of time.  Yet, Neil didn’t have to learn a different language to be able to communicate, and the Australian way of life in big cities isn’t probably that different from what is is in Europe. Just imagine how hard it must be for teenagers from Asia. All three mentioned above were barely more than kids where they started on the tour.

Today we have five more of those young Chinese players in action: Zhou Yuelong, Xu Si Chang Bingyu, Lei Peifan and Chen Zifan. The first three are (reasonably) safe, but Chen and Lei need to win.

Following his deafeat yesterday, Alan McManus has announced his retirement:

McManus Retires Following Bai Defeat

Alan McManusAlan McManus announced his retirement from professional snooker following a 6-3 defeat to Bai Langning at Betfred World Championship qualifying.

The Scot has enjoyed an illustrious career, spanning 31 years, since he turned professional in 1990. The highlight came at the 1994 Masters, when McManus ended Stephen Hendry’s five-year title winning streak at the London event by defeating him 9-8 in a thrilling final.

McManus won two ranking titles during his career, at the 1994 Dubai Classic and the 1996 Thailand Open. The Glaswegian reached a further five ranking finals on top of those wins.

McManus, who has become a highly respected TV pundit and commentator in recent years, has struggled to produce his best form this season, which has seen the tour head behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. He’s notched up just 11 match wins and has failed to go beyond the last 64 of any ranking event.

This afternoon’s encounter saw McManus start brightly, crafting breaks of 61 and 66 on his way to establishing an early 2-1 lead. Bai restored parity to head into the mid-session all-square, before McManus once again edged ahead to lead 3-2.

From there China’s Bai took control of proceedings. Four frames on the bounce, including breaks of 102 and 54, saw him storm to the 6-3 victory. The win kept Bai’s hopes of tour survival alive and ended an era for McManus. Afterwards he admitted that the opportunity to explore his broadcasting career further played a role in his decision.

“I made the decision before Christmas for a number of reasons,” said 50-year-old McManus. “This year has been pretty tough and I’m working on TV at tournaments as well. I’ve not been able to play and practise. If this continues then there is no point in me playing. I’m pretty happy with the decision.

“I really love the television work. It is a privileged position to have and it has just been really difficult doing both. I’ve always thought 50 was a good number. It is a young guy’s game and you have to face up to that. I don’t have a problem with that though, it is all fine and well.

“For me it isn’t so much a results game. For me it is the experience and that is what I take from it. Results and beating someone isn’t my thing. I had getting to the semi-finals of the World Championship five years ago and that was pretty cool.

I’m happy and I’m settled. I’m really content to not play. What I will miss is being 4-4 and deciders. Those are the times that you really find out who you are. That is why when I watch, I don’t look at the table, I look at the guy. Who he is, who he is going to be and who he is going to become in that moment.

Alan may have made the decision months ago, he still looked absolutely gutted when missing shots and facing retirement yesterday. The competitive animal inside never goes.

WST has published a tribute to Alan’s career

Today my focus will be on Wakelin v Lei, Zhou v Xu, and Maflin v Jones or Ford v Chang depend what is on the ES stream.

 

 

 

2021 World Championship Qualifiers – Day 4

Yesterday was a day full of drama and fightbacks

We had a first withdrawal because of a positive covid test: Noppon Saengkham.

Noppon Saengkham has tested positive for Covid-19 and has been withdrawn from Betfred World Championship qualifying.

Saengkham, who returned the positive test off-site, was due to play either Lyu Haotian or Gao Yang in round three. The winner of that tie will now receive a bye to the final qualifying round.

All on site tests conducted on players and staff so far have returned negative results.

Saengkham will now undergo a period of self-isolation and will receive the support of WST and the WPBSA.

Here is WST report on the action:

Fitness Kick Powers Jones Fightback

Former Crucible quarter-finalist Jamie Jones said he could have “played all day” after summoning a late charge to come from 4-2 down to beat David Lilley 6-4 at Betfred World Championship qualifying.

Jones has enjoyed a strong season, having regained his professional status through Q School in 2020. The Welshman dropped off the tour at the end of the 2019 season whilst suspended. However, his return to the circuit has seen him produce some good snooker, including a run to the semi-finals of the 2020 European Masters.

Away from the table over the last year, Jones has been hitting the roads and regularly running. He showed his stamina for the fight today, turning on the style in the second half of the match.

Having trailed 4-2, back to back century runs of 117 and 100 helped him to turn the game on its head and establish a 5-4 lead. Jones then got himself over the line by claiming a tightly contested tenth frame.

Defeat for Lilley sees him drop off the circuit. Jones now faces former Shoot Out champion Michael Holt in round three.

“I could have played all day out there. As much pressure as there was and as tiring as it is trying to concentrate for that amount of time, I could have gone on for hours,” said 33-year-old Jones.

“I’ve been running up here in Sheffield. I’m either practising or stuck in the hotel, so I’ve got out running. I’m just enjoying my lifestyle at the moment. My life is different to how it was when I was on the tour before.

“That was probably one of my most pleasing wins of the season. At 4-2 down he was so solid, potting balls and good safety. It sums up my attitude since coming back on tour. I’m enjoying the battle out there.”

Former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson sealed a massive 6-5 win over Zhao Jianbo to boost his hopes of tour survival.

Robertson would have been set to drop off the circuit had he lost this evening. He trailed 3-0, before producing gutsy snooker to turn the tie around.

Despite Zhao composing three centuries throughout the match, a break of 57 from Robertson in the decider was enough to eventually see him through. He faces Lu Ning up next, knowing that he is in a great position to stay on the circuit.

Robertson said: “I was absolutely devastated throughout the game. It was really tough and I felt sick during the whole match. To come through that and hold myself together in the end, I am so pleased. I never thought I would be in this position. It is my own fault.

“I’ve lost too many matches and first rounds this season. I got in a slump and a losing run, it has been very hard to get out of it. I’m in a good position now and I’m still in the tournament. That is all that matters.”

China’s Lyu Haotian became the first player to earn a Judgement Day spot with a 6-5 defeat of compatriot Gao Yang.

Lyu gets a bye through round three due to his scheduled opponent Noppon Saengkham returning a positive test for Covid-19.

Rod Lawler defeated Yuan Sijun 6-5 on the final black to keep his chances of tour survival alive. Defeat for Yuan sees him knocked off the circuit.

Jamie Clarke summoned an epic comeback from 5-0 down to defeat Jamie O’Neill 6-5.

Last year’s Crucible qualifying saw Clarke dramatically clinch a place at the Theatre of Dreams to retain his professional status. This evening’s herculean fightback saw the Welshman produce yet more drama. Clarke top scored with a break of 98 and will face Joe Perry next.

Jak Jones battled back from 4-1 down to beat 17-year-old prospect Jamie Wilson 6-4. Jones fired in breaks of 130, 63 and 70 on his way to overhauling Wilson. Next up he will face last year’s Crucible quarter-finalist Kurt Maflin.

We have seen a lot of good things from many young players so far.

All young Chinese players involved in round 1 won their first match, as did Julien Leclercd from Belgium, Kaçper Filipiak from Poland, Lukas Kleckers and Simon Lichtenberg both from Germany and Florian Nuessle from Austria. Brian Ochoiski from France, Ben Mertens From Belgium and Robbie McGuigan from Northern Ireland pushed their professional opponents to a deciding frame. Brian was 4-0 down to Rory McLeod.

Xu Si, Lyu Haotian and Chang Bingyu entered the frey in round 2 and won their first match as well. Chang Bingyu and Xu Si are now well placed in the “one year redeem list”, being numbers 1 and 2.

Yuan Sijun yesterday became the first young Chinese player to fall at first hurdle and be relegated.. He lost the match on the last black in the deciding frame. It’s a pity really. He has lost his way since the covid crisis disrupted our lives.

Despite the defeat, Zhao Jianbo was impressive yesterday, especially at the start of the match. He had three centuries… he had only made two before during the season.

Gao Yang, only 16, showed quality as well despite a narrow defeat. He pushed Lyu Haotian to a decider. Lyu’s win and Noppon Seangkham withdrawal mean that Lyu’s tour card is now safe as he climbs to number 52 in the provisional rankings, with an over 20000 points cushion separating him from the current number 65.

Jamie Wilson had not won a match this season, his first as a pro, until the WST Pro Series. He won two in that tournament, and has reached the second round in every tournament he has played in since. He pushed Jak Jones hard yesterday. The WST Pro Series may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its round-robin format is definitely providing valuable experience to the youngest players.

There is a very important match for Luo Honghao today. Winning would give him a decent chance to stay on the tour, a defeat would mean relegation.