Paul Hunter English Open 2009: Day Three Blog

I am back from my day in Leeds for the third day of the 2009 Paul Hunter English Open and what a busy day it was as the last 64 and last 32 matches were played to a conclusion…

Today saw an even earlier start than usual as before heading to Leeds I drove to Sheffield to pick up Ryan (crucible77 from TSF for those in the know), who I had arranged to take up to the NSC for the day to continue his quest to be in photos with each of the 96 tour players. Amazingly not getting lost this time, we arrived at the venue at around 10am and as Ryan took in the atmosphere of the place which as I described in my previous blog is such a contrast to the ranking events, we headed on up to watch Daniel Wells in action against young Phil O’Kane.

I have not seen Phil before but from his junior record he appears to be a useful player having twice reached the final of the under 16’s ‘Summers Cup’ in his regional association, winning once in 2007/8. Unfortunately for him however he struggled on the main show table against his talented Welsh opponent and it was Wells who raced to an easy 4-0 victory, highlighted by a break of 107.

Indeed this proved to be a common theme for the fancied men during the morning session as Ben Woollaston, Dave Harold, Chris Norbury and Jack Lisowski all followed suit with flawless victories. With Ryan and myself on a photo hunt, we managed to catch Robert Milkins, Woollaston, Wells, Bingham (who was in at 10am despite not playing until 7pm!), Harold, Norbury and Kuldesh Johal who despite making a 145 on Wednesday was already out of the tournament. It was the first time that I had chatted to most of them and they all seemed nice enough.

The professionals did not have it all their own way however as Mark Joyce, Simon Bedford and Tony Drago all had to come through long, tense matches to progress. It was hard to really follow what was going on because at the NSC you essentially have the main table in the centre with another five surrounding two sides in an L-shape. Tony in particular was right over on the opposite side so we had to make do with following from a distance, though it was obvious that he was in a battle as he has typically been among the first to finish his matches this wee but not this time.

Having been almost deserted on our arrival at 10am, by noon with the players arriving for the 1pm matches it was getting rather busy and there were also more spectators present compared to my last visit on Wednesday. This was not a bad thing however as we continued to run amok with the cameras and had photos with Rod Lawler, Andrew Higginson, Jimmy Robertson and more.

Higginson in particular was again really nice as I showed him a copy of his profile on this site and he made a couple of amendments which I will add in due course. We chatted about a number of other things (from promising young Jack Lisowski to directions to the nearest shop!), and I was pleased to see him come through a 4-1 winner in his match with Justin Astley soon after.

The match on the main table for this session was that between Andrew Norman and 14-year-old Oliver Lines (son of local professional Peter), which predictably saw me take lots of photos while watching. Oliver did show some flashes of his talent but it was a tough draw to face an experienced professional such as Norman and in the end his greater experience showed as Andrew won 4-0.

On a similar note I was chatting to Peter after his 4-2 victory over Jonathon Bagley in the same session and he again seemed like a very nice guy, showing a genuine interest in my day at the event. Knowing the club like the back of his hand (he works there when not playing) and having come through his next match 5-0 to reach the last 16 stage, he could be a dark horse for the title.

Following this, the match that then caught our attention was that between professional duo Matt Couch and Lee Page, a tough one to call given their similar positions in the rankings. Initially it was Lee who gained the upper hand to lead 3-1 at the interval but Couch managed to claw it back to 3-3 and force a decider. Despite his comeback it was Page who was to take it and book an evening tie with Mark Davis who himself had a real scare against Lee Shanker before also coming through 4-3. After his match we managed to catch Mark and again he seemed like a decent bloke, one obviously relieved to be through.

On to the 4pm session and back were the players from the morning to play what were now best of nine frames matches which for the first time would have a 10 minute interval after the fourth frame if both players agreed. Wasting no time at all this time was Tony Drago who with a relatively large crowd around his table of around 20 people, managed to race into a 4-0 lead at the break before eventually winning 5-2. Not far behind him was Chris Norbury who recorded a 5-0 whitewash over Stephen Welsby, while surprisingly both Jack Lisowski and Daniel Wells both crashed to 5-1 defeats (though in fairness Wells’ opponent Mark Joyce is a higher ranked player and very capable).

After Jack’s match we managed to catch him and I have to say that I was really impressed with him, came across brilliantly and I can see why Dave Hendon recently said that he is as eloquent as most top 16 players. Considering that he had just lost he was very friendly and again took a genuine interest in my blog and Ryan’s website which is really nice to see. Fingers crossed that he will make it onto the main tour in a year’s time.

One of the highlights of the session was the match between Dave Harold and Rod Lawler which while appearing on paper to be a clash of the grinders, was actually a high quality contest containing four breaks over 60. As Rod managed to take the decider to book his last 16 spot, it was far from the last match to finish either as Simon Bedford was making heavy weather of a 5-2 win over Richard Binns, while Robbie Williams and Ben Woollaston were involved in a long match on the main table.

It was the first time that I had seen Williams in action and I was pretty impressed by him today as he handled himself well against his more experienced opponent and despite a 120 break in frame eight from Ben, held his nerve to pinch a cagey decider. Of the amateur players that I have seen this week he would certainly be right up there with the best and I  would not be too surprised to see him on the main tour at some point soon.

As a trip to Pizza Hut beckoned, we managed to stay around for the start of the evening session but if I was going to be back at a decent time then staying for it was not really an option. Other players that I managed to chat to included Craig Steadman who I had previously spoken to on the phone, while I also managed to get a few more nice photos including some arty ones of a fully set up, but unused table in the corner before leaving.

It is a shame that we could not hang around as Stuart Bingham put on an exhibition as he cruised through on the main table with two centuries and three other big breaks, while Michael Holt performed his second miracle comeback of the week to defeat Daniel Ward 5-4 from 4-0 down. Having had me tip him for the title just a couple of hours before I am impressed that he managed to overcome my impressive jinxing abilities, blogger’s curse and all that.

Overall I found today to be hugely enjoyable because as I suggested the other day, it is just so open and relaxed in comparison to a ranking event. To go into the bar and be surrounded by all these instantly recognisable faces, let alone talk to some of them is something that I am not quite used to yet, but it is nice that without exception today they were happy to stand around for photos and were friendly.

I also had a few nice chats with the tournament director John Hartley who was very helpful and and on the whole I was really impressed with the way that the EASB run the tournament almost like clockwork. Snooker governing bodies do not always get the best press but from what I can see this week all involved have done a fantastic job and I certainly hope that I will be able to come along again next year.