China Open 2011: Qualifying Preview II

As promised, below you can find part two of my preview of the 2011 China Open qualifiers which begin tomorrow at the Academy in Sheffield. Or you can click here to view the draw again…

Third Quarter

Moving on to the second half of the draw, this section begins with a clash between Brazil’s Igor Figueiredo and Huddersfield’s Kuldesh Johal. Since catching the eye of snooker fans with his run to the TV stages of the World Open, Igor has not actually won a match at a major even since, while Kuldesh has also struggled aside from a couple of wins against Andrew Pagett. I would marginally favour Kuldesh but not with a great deal of confidence.

The winner will play Bjorn Haneveer who having moved into the top 64 at the end of last season has struggled of late, losing opening round matches to Simon Bedford, Liu Song and David Morris since qualifying for the World Open. As a result, Bjorn could be vulnerable if either Igor or Kuldesh can find some form.

While these players are not in the best of form, next opponent Nigel Bond having won the Shootout recently and having won four matches to qualify for the German Masters and Welsh Open tournaments should be full of confidence and feeling good about his game at the moment. While at his age players tend to throw in more bad performances than in their prime, I would be surprised to see him lose here.

And he could well qualify for a third venue in a row as Liang Wenbo has struggled to win any sort of match on the tour this season and it feels like a long time ago since he broke into the top 16 following his qualification for the Crucible. With a place at his home tournament on offer, can he arrest his slide at this event or will he head into the World Championship qualifiers looking for his first non-PTC win of the season?

The next section begins with a bye as Scotland’s James McBain advances straight into the second round following the withdrawals of both Paul Davies and Jimmy Michie from the event. There he will face Welshman Jamie Jones who this season has matched his undoubted promise with consistent results, particularly during the PTC. Now pushing for a top 48 spot, he will be hoping to continue his progress and I would expect him to win this one.

Lying in wait in the next round will be Twitter favourite Mike Dunn who having not reached a venue since the World Open will be hoping to get back on track and avoid slipping down the rankings between now and the season’s end.

The man who I do expect to come through here however is Martin Gould who will be looking to bounce back from recent defeats to Joe Swail and Jack Lisowski to get his season back on track. In mitigation, he was clearly suffering from illness against Joe and probably played as well as anyone as losing against Jack in the Welsh so I see no reason why he should not bounce back here.

Here we have the second all Asian clash of the opening round as young prospect Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon comes up against Issara Kachaiwong. On form this one should go the way of the youngster, Issara not having won a match at a major ranking event so far this season.

The winner will be rewarded with a match against former world semi-finalist Andy Hicks who despite his fall down the rankings remains a dangerous player on his day and won two matches during the recent Welsh Open qualifiers.

It is the next two names in this section who really catch the eye however, Tony Drago and Ken Doherty who are also poised to meet in qualifying for the World Championship should Tony win his opener. It has been a while since either reached a venue but on balance I would still have to favour the Darling of Dublin to progress here given the quality of his safety game which is still as solid as ever. That said, I would favour Tony more in a best of 9 than a best of 19…

This section starts off with another bye as Kyren Wilson moves straight through to a match with Rod Lawler, the gritty scouser who qualified for the venue here a couple of years ago and will be hoping to defend those points. While he is quite far down the rankings, this is to me something of a false position caused by his lack of results during the PTC as when it comes to the major ranking tournaments his form has been as consistent as anyone’s.

Next up is the latest snooker player to join Twitter, Nottingham’s Michael Holt who having struggled for form during much of the season did at least qualify for the Welsh Open recently with wins against Andrew Higginson and Xiao Guodong.

Finally comes Joe Perry who despite a heavy defeat at the hands of Stephen Hendry in Newport continues to win matches at the qualifiers and will be hoping to secure his top 32 position at the end of the season. It would be a tough match to call if he were to play either Michael or Rod but I do get the feeling that Joe is playing better than his ranking would suggest at present and should start favourite.

Bottom Quarter

Unlucky for some, the 13th path opens with a must-win match for James Wattana if he is to stand any chance of retaining his place on the main tour by virtue of finishing inside the top 64 at the season’s end. He could have been given a tougher opening match, opponent Justin Astley having not won since the World Open, but James too has won few matches outside of the longer format events such as the UK and World Championships so could be vulnerable.

Another player who appears to be vulnerable at present though is the man waiting in the next round, Stuart Pettman. Without a win since the World Open and set to lose his place on the tour following the removal of his points from his semi-final run during this tournament back in 2009, it will take another performance of that ilk if he is to get himself back into the top 64.

Next up comes another player who has struggled this season, Steve Davis who could do with getting some points on the board in order to prevent himself from falling out of the top 48. Despite his poor run of results recently, it has taken strong players such as Peter Ebdon, Jamie Cope and an inspired Mark Joyce to defeat him so I would be too surprised to see a Davis win here.

Nor would I be surprised to see a Davis win in the final round, although given that Mark shares Steve’s surname, that would be cheating! That said, Mark Davis has lost close matches against Robert Milkins and Dominic Dale recently so will be hoping to get back to winning ways here.

Onwards to the next section as Reanne Evans continues her quest for that elusive first professional victory, this time against Leicester’s Ben Woollaston. Losing a lot of close frames at the moment Reanne will be hoping that her luck starts to turn but it is hard to tip anything other than a win for Woollaston here.

If he does come through, Ben will face a tough match against Scotland’s Anthony McGill, one of the more impressive young players on the tour at present and one who has made TV appearances at both the Shootout and the German Masters recently.

Next up is another Scot, Shanghai Masters finalist Jamie Burnett who recently demolished Tom Ford and Jimmy Robertson to qualify for Newport without the loss of a frame. If Anthony can come through this one it will be an interesting test for the youngster against a player with such extensive experience.

Whoever wins will face Judd Trump who is a regular winner at the qualifiers, despite defeat to Rod Lawler recently as he missed out on a spot in Newport. Could be an upset here, though if he is to make that long-awaited step up into the higher ranking positions, these are the matches that Judd needs to start winning more of.

The penultimate path begins with a match between Adam Wicheard and Paul Davison, two players with comparable records so far this season therefore making it a tough match to call. If pushed I would probably lean towards Davison but it could just as easily for the other way.

The winner will play Matt Couch who with points to defend from the final qualifying round of the World Championship two years ago will be hoping to go on a run here to maintain a position inside the top 64, although thanks to his PTC performances his main tour place will be safe whatever happens.

Further down the line await Fergal O’Brien and Gerard Greene, both seasoned campaigners and occupying similar spots in the rankings. If they were to meet I would probably make it a 50-50 call, slightly leaning towards Fergal but again, not with a great deal of conviction.

At the foot of the draw are Michael White and Michael Judge, two players at opposite ends of their careers at present and on recent form you would have to back the younger man to come through.

While Welshman White is relatively new to the professional scene however, the next two players have over 40 years experience between them in Joe Swail and Alan McManus. Much improved of late, Joe could take some stopping although of all the players on the tour his results are probably the hardest to call! Alan meanwhile has been solid, but he has not made it through to a venue since the World Open back in October.

The final man in this section and indeed this preview is Barry Hawkins, a regular as far as successfully making venues is concerned and a warm favourite to make it through to Beijing in my view.