Australian Goldfields Open 2011: Tournament Preview

Ok so we have had the Wuxi Classic and the World Cup in recent weeks but the best has certainly been saved until last with the first full ranking event of 2011/12, the Australian Goldfields Open. Click below for my preview of the last 32 draw…

  • Click here to view the tournament draw

The Top Quarter

In the absence of a defending champion for this new event, the draw is headed by reigning world champion John Higgins who begins his campaign against Matt Selt who now does not have to play a wildcard match beforehand due to the withdrawal of Ronnie O’Sullivan yesterday.

Making his third appearance at this stage of a televised ranking event, Matt’s draw does not get any easier as having lost previously to Higgins and Stephen Hendry in 2009, he now comes up against four-time world champion Higgins for a second time out in Bendigo.

On the face of it John has to be the favourite to win based on experience and simply the fact that he is without doubt for me the best player in the world at the moment in time. Undefeated in a full ranking event since his comeback from suspension last year with the exception of his quarter-final reverse to Shaun Murphy at the China Open, Higgins is the man that they all have to beat.

That said however, his form at the World Cup during the last week has been patchy to say the least and following defeat at the first PTC, perhaps after what has undoubtedly been a busy year for the Scot, the start of the new season has come slightly too early for him. If he can make it through to the latter stages as he did at the Welsh Open after a fairly ordinary start, he would no doubt be the favourite to win but I have a feeling that he may well fall before the semis.

Can Matt do it? An impressive 5-0 qualifying win against Ricky Walden is certainly a statement of intent but it just depends on whether he can repeat that form against Higgins in front of the TV cameras.

Whoever does win will come up against either Stephen Hendry or Martin Gould who meet for the third time at the last 32 stage of a televised ranking event.

It is a well documented fact that Hendry has struggled for consistency during the past couple of seasons and comes into the event ranked provisionally outside of the top 16 for the first cut-off point in October. That said, it should be pointed out that since the 2008 UK Championship, Hendry does have a near unblemished record against qualifiers in the full ranking events, losing just two from 16 tournaments which has been the major factor in him remaining inside the top 16 despite not having threatened the winner’s circle recently.

Unfortunately for Stephen however, those two defeats have both come against his opening opponent this week Martin Gould which at the least is indicative of the fact that Martin will not be short on belief when he comes up against him this time around.

As far as form is concerned there is little to go on here, Martin having come through a single qualifying match against Mark Joyce while having also won three matches at the PTC before losing out to Ronnie O’Sullivan while Hendry has just a defeat to Kyren Wilson in Sheffield to show for his season so far. I could see the match going either way but the fact that Martin has won their last two meetings probably swings it for me.

Elsewhere in the section comes the tie between Peter Ebdon and Rory McLeod which has unsurprisingly been the centre of many jokes out there on Twitter and the various blogs and is surely guaranteed to be a war of attrition if ever there was one! If his game is anywhere near where it needs to be then I would expect Peter to come through but Rory cannot be underestimated either having finally broken his last 32 duck at the Crucible back in May.

The winner will meet either Shaun Murphy or Andrew Higginson who meet in a repeat of their last 32 match at the Crucible back in 2009 which saw Shaun come through a 10-8 winner, while he also edged out the man from Widnes at the EPTC1 event last August. Andrew is a much-improved player these days and is ranked up inside the top 32 on merit but it would be fair to say that during recent seasons his best performances have come away from the TV cameras and the conditions should suit Murphy to a greater extent.

Semi-finalist: On paper Higgins has to be the favourite, but I fancy either Gould or Murphy to come through this section. I’ll go for Shaun Murphy, always one of the stronger players during the overseas events.

The Second Quarter

Heading the second section of the draw is a clash between Ali Carter and Marcus Campbell, two players who met recently at the last 16 of the China Open when Ali came through a 5-3 winner en route to the quarter-finals.

Could it be a different story in Australia? Perhaps. Ali has by his own admission struggled with his Crohn’s disease during the recent World Cup which saw him and team-mate Mark Selby lose in the quarter-finals to Hong Kong and coming into the tournament straight on the back of both that tournament and the Wuxi Classic, there is a possibility that Marcus could be the fresher of the two.

On the other hand though, Marcus will presumably have had less time to adapt to the time zone than Ali and like Higginson has had more success away from the cameras than in front of them during recent seasons.

The winner will meet either Mark Allen or Ryan Day who meet in what on paper is one of the better first round matches, their last ranking meeting coming at the 2009 World Championship when Mark edged a hard-fought quarter-final clash just months after defeating the Welshman at the Masters.

A lot has happened for both since then but both appear to be on the way up after a difficult period, Mark impressing during the World Cup this week while Ryan if not quite back to his best, is looking much better than a year ago.

On paper I would pick Allen of the two to win this one but having been involved at the World Cup until the final day, it will be a quick turnaround ahead of his match in Australia on Tuesday, possibly too quick…

Elsewhere, Jamie Cope is in action against Tom Ford in a match between two players who have promised much but so far not quite realised their full potential during their careers for one reason or another. It is a match that I could see going either way but with his greater experience at this stage of tournaments and renewed confidence following the diagnosis and subsequently treatment of a hereditary tremor recently, Jamie would probably be my favourite to come through.

At the last 16 stage he would meet either Ding Junhui or Stuart Bingham who meet again following their thriller at the Crucible which saw Ding come back from 12-9 down to deny Stuart a place inside the top 16 as well as a quarter-final at the Crucible. Like Mark Allen, Ding has the added complication of having competed in the World Cup until Sunday evening but otherwise he would probably be the favourite to come through this quarter for, certainly based on ranking in any case.

Semi-finalist: Tough one this as the two players that I would normally fancy here, namely Ding and Allen, have both been detained in the World Cup until the final day so it will depend as to whether they can hit the ground running in Australia. Interestingly though Ding does not play Stuart until Wednesday so will have an extra day and for that reason I will tip him for the semi-finals, though I also fancy Jamie Cope to do well…

The Third Quarter

Moving on, one of the men of the moment Mark Selby begins his latest quest for a second career ranking event title with a clash against Joe Perry, a man who is showing signs of emerging from a slump which has seen him slip down outside of the top 16 following his World Championship semi-final in 2008. It is a match that could go either way depending on who performs on the day but I would have to make Selby a narrow favourite.

In the next round the winner will meet either Judd Trump or Mark Davis who play tomorrow night in another last 32 clash. On the face of it Judd is the favourite following his meteoric rise at the climax of last season but an early exit at the first PTC combined with various tweets which give the impression that he has (understandably), spent the couple of months since the Crucible enjoying himself more than thinking about snooker makes me think that he might need a couple more events to get going this season. We shall see, only he knows how much practice he has put in recently and if is in good shape then he will take some stopping.

Elsewhere in the section we have a tie between Welshman Matthew Stevens and China’s Liang Wenbo, two players fresh from their meeting in the World Cup this morning which saw Stevens win the frame but Wales lose their semi-final. I can’t imagine that this will have any bearing on the match but on paper Stevens would have to be the favourite based on the respective form of both players over the past year or so.

Whoever wins will meet either Stephen Maguire or Ken Doherty, two players who haven’t been in the best of form recently, particularly Ken who struggled throughout the recent World Cup and needs wins under his belt if he is to retain a top 32 place beyond the first cut-off. Stephen has not looked quite the same since the birth of his most recent child shortly before the PTC finals in Dublin earlier in the year however I would expect him to come through by virtue of his heavier scoring.

Semi-finalist: With a number of players involved recently in the World Cup this one could go a number of ways but I will have to take Mark Selby to come through to the last four here.

The Bottom Quarter

Following the withdrawals of both Ronnie O’Sullivan and Graeme Dott from this section, on the face of it matters are easier to call here with two players in particular standing out.

The first is home favourite Neil Robertson who surely will be as fired up for this tournament as any other this season with the possible exception of the World Championship and Masters events. Opening against Nigel Bond he will be hoping to make it through that match and a last 16 tie against either Dominic Dale or countryman Steve Mifsud who replaces Ronnie in the draw.

As Steve has shown this week at the World Cup he is no mug despite his amateur status but you would have to favour two-time ranking event winner Dale to come through it.

Elsewhere world number 1 Mark Williams comes up against surprise qualifier Barry Pinches at the foot of the draw while the wildcard match between James Mifsud and David Gilbert has effectively become a last 32 tie due to the withdrawal of Dott. The way Gilbert has played since his World Championship qualifying run in March it will be interesting to see exactly what he can do in the tournament. Could he shock Mark Williams again in the second round as he once did in Newport?

Semi-finalist: While there are some talented players in this section I find it hard to imagine that the winner of this quarter will be anyone other than either Neil Robertson or Mark Williams. Will the pressure be too much for Neil? I’ll say no and tip him to come through it.


Ding def Murphy
Selby def Robertson


Ding def Selby