World Championship 2011: Qualifying Preview Part IV

Click here for the full qualifying draw…

With the qualifiers drawing ever closer, in fact the preliminary matches actually begin tomorrow at the Academy, I turn to the final part of my World Championship qualifying preview and shock horror, I am actually going to tip an upset this time…

The Bottom Quarter

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Qualifying Round One Qualifying Round Two Qualifying Round Three Qualifying Round Four
Simon Bedford Jamie Jones Dave Harold Gerard Greene
Noppon Saengkham

So here we go again, this time with a match-up between 2008 Grand Prix qualifier Simon Bedford and former IBSF world champion Noppon Saengkham from Thailand. Sitting in 81st and 92nd places in the rankings, at first glance this would not appear to be the most interest match on paper.

In Simon’s case however I do feel that like Rod Lawler, he is playing better snooker than his ranking would suggest and but for his lack of points from the PTC could quite conceivably still be in with a chance of gaining a top 64 spot. Indeed with just two opening round defeats and decent wins against the likes of Lawler, James Wattana, Andy Hicks and Bjorn Haneveer, Simon’s form appears to be reasonable.

Noppon on the other hand has found life on the main tour something of a struggle, wins against Matt Couch and Adrian Gunnell in the Welsh Open proving to be the highlights. As a result Simon has to be installed as a reasonably warm favourite to progress here in my book.

If he does, he would then meet Jamie Jones in the second round, the young Welshman having vaulted up the rankings earlier in the season courtesy of his PTC performances. At first glance Jones looks the favourite here but it has to be said that his recent results have not set the world alight and I could see Simon wearing him down here if he is not at the top of his game.

Next up comes Dave Harold, the man who a year ago was the player who everyone outside of the top 32 wanted to draw, the Stoke Potter having lost all but one of his matches during 2009/10. This year however Dave has enjoyed a much improved campaign, qualifying for three venues and sneaking back into the top 48 following his recent run in Wales at the expense of Joe Swail. While he can be beaten as Kurt Maflin showed last week, I would fancy him to win his opener here.

If he can he would then play Gerard Greene, a player who has been to the Crucible on five occasions now, including the last two seasons, but is yet to win his first match there. For Gerard it has largely been a season of two halves, a series of consistent performances during the PTC earning him a spot in this month’s Grand Finals while in the major events he has struggled for wins, until recently at least.

With convincing wins against Ian McCulloch and Fergal O’Brien recently, Gerard looks to be getting back on track at the Academy but for the first time this week I am going to be brave and tip Dave Harold to cause an upset here. It could go either way, but Dave is due another appearance at the Crucible and this could be the year.

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Qualifying Round One Qualifying Round Two Qualifying Round Three Qualifying Round Four
Ben Woollaston Stuart Pettman Alan McManus Stuart Bingham
Jamie O’Neill

Section two begins with a meeting between Leicester’s Ben Woollaston and Jamie O’Neill who has struggled so far on the main tour this season. With wins against Reanne Evans, Anthony McGill and Jamie Burnett last week, Ben looks to be in good form and will be targeting a good run here to put himself into the top 64 at the end of the season. Jamie himself is no bye as  his 4-0 win against Kyren Wilson during the Welsh qualifiers demonstrates, but I think that Ben will have too much for him here.

Next up is Stuart Pettman, looking to qualify for the event for a second successive season but short on form following a campaign to forget. With his imminent relegation from the tour to follow this tournament, Stuart will be hoping to go out on a high but if Ben can play like he did last week then I would fancy the upset. Truth be told I like both players so hopefully it will be a good tussle if they are to meet.

Third up comes another player short on form, this time Scot Alan McManus who will be looking to make it back to the Crucible for the first time since his relegation from the top 16 back in 2006. Having finished last season in decent form and won matches during the PTC this term I had expected Alan to have a reasonable season but for whatever reason (in part some shocking draws), it has not quite worked out and he now faces a fight to hang on to his top 48 spot after the next seedings revision. If Alan can find something like his best form then his opening match looks to be a winnable one but it is hard to imagine that he will be too high on confidence right now.

Lying in wait in the next round however is Stuart Bingham who other than a couple of early defeats at the World Open and German Masters tournaments has enjoyed a very good season indeed, putting him well in contention for a season-end top 16 spot if he can win matches here. Last season he was surprisingly annihilated in his final qualifying round match against Stuart Pettman but he did manage to qualify for the event in the two previous seasons and I think that he will do so again here.

Qualifying Round One Qualifying Round Two Qualifying Round Three Qualifying Round Four
Andrew Pagett Bjorn Haneveer Nigel Bond Andrew Higginson
Zhang Anda

The penultimate tier begins with two players very much short on form this season, Andrew Pagett’s PTC exploits aside. For Zhang though it has been a tough campaign full stop, few wins coming during a season in which much was expected of him following his Crucible run last season.

A case can be made for either here but my instinct tells me to back Zhang who in truth also entered last season’s World Championship short of wins before going on an excellent winning streak. While there is no guarantee that he will do so this time around, I cannot believe that the player who impressed me so much last season is not in there somewhere!

Either way the winner will meet Bjorn Haneveer, a tough opponent but one too who is short on wins recently. Indeed prior to his win against Kuldesh Johal during last week’s China Open qualifiers he had not won a match away from the PTC since the World Open back in October. If Zhang or Pagett can play their way into form during their opening match therefore it could be quite a test for Bjorn.

As will be the next round when the winner comes up against Nigel Bond, a man who has qualified for the last three events courtesy of wins against the likes of Ken Doherty and Liang Wenbo (twice). Also notable is the fact that Nigel also defeated Bjorn during this run during the China Open qualifiers last week, though not without being taken to a decider.

While I expect a close match however, I would expect Nigel to come through and shockingly for me, I also think that he has a reasonable chance in his next match against Widnes’ Andrew Higginson. Another player that I have a lot of time for, Andrew enjoyed an excellent campaign up until the Welsh Open tournament but since then has lost two early matches to all but end his chances of a year-end top 16 spot.

That is not to say that these will necessarily have a huge bearing as the shorter formats are very different to the best of 17’s and 19’s that Andrew usually does well in. Nevertheless, Andrew has only made it through to the Crucible on one occasion and I would imagine that he is not feeling quite as good about his results as he was at the turn of the year. I think that Nigel could just do it here…

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Qualifying Round One Qualifying Round Two Qualifying Round Three Qualifying Round Four
Xiao Guodong Jimmy Robertson Tony Drago Ken Doherty
Kurt Maflin

Last but certainly not least, this section begins with an intriguing match between Xiao Guodong and Kurt Maflin. For Xiao the season has been quietly impressive, the wildcard player (still can’t believe that they agreed with me last year and gave him one),  winning each of his opening matches to date.

For Kurt meanwhile the season has generally been a disappointing one as he has struggled the match the high of his maximum break during the PTC1 event, but he hit form in a big way during last weekend of China Open, making centuries for fun and defeating the likes of Jack Lisowski, Dave Harold and Mark King to qualify for the venue. With those wins coming just days ago it is hard to imagine that such form will have disappeared in that time but I can see this one being a really close affair.

Next up comes Jimmy Robertson, another player who has done well since returning to the tour back in 2009 but one who aside from this season’s German Masters has struggled for wins. Up into the top 64 for the first time, he will be under pressure to win here and secure that position heading into next season, will this help or hinder him?

Awaiting the winner will be Tony Drago who despite recently losing his first opening match since his return to the tour a couple of seasons ago, continues to win matches and continue his gradual ascent back up the rankings. Tony’s results are never the easiest to predict and although he lost out to Jimmy 4-1 last July during the second PTC event, it would not surprise me to see him use his experience to good effect and win this time around. That said, both Xiao and Kurt have as much chance of making it through to a clash with Tony in my eyes and on recent form could both cause him a problem.

Arguably the most unpredictable quarter for me up until the final qualifying round, the eventual winner whoever that may be will meet Ken Doherty, the 1997 world champion who will be looking to add points to his ranking bearing in mind his loss to Gerard Greene at this stage of the event back in 2009. On that occasion Ken was far from his best form and he was reportedly considering retirement, but thankfully two years on is while not at his best, at least competitive again.

At their best a number of the players here could push Ken and it is a shame that we were denied a dress rehearsal between him and Drago during last week’s China qualifiers when the man from Malta succumbed to Issara Kachaiwong in the third round.

That said though, over the best of 19 frames I can only see one result here, a win for Ken.

My Predicted Four Qualifiers: Harold, Bingham, Bond and Doherty. My predicted upsets are like buses it seems.