Australian Goldfields Open 2012: Tournament Preview

Hot on the heels of tournaments in China and in Thailand, the snooker circus moves on to Australia this week as Stuart Bingham looks to defend his title. Click below for my customary look at the draw…

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Barely into July and already we are at the second full-ranking event of the 2012 season as the Australian Goldfields Open gets underway in Bendigo. As pointed out by Mark Allen in this morning’s newspapers, this is a full-ranking event with a difference following the decision of seven top 16 players not to make the trip and looking at the draw, it is evident that there is a real opportunity here for certain players to put a run together…

The Top Quarter

Heading the draw of a ranking event for the first-time is Stuart Bingham, who begins the defence of his title with a clash against qualifier Matt Selt.

Looking at the form book so far in the new season, it is no secret that Stuart has been one of the star performers of the campaign to date, lifting both the Pink Ribbon and APTC1 titles before just falling short at the Wuxi Classic in losing to Ricky Walden in the final. As he has demonstrated several times in the past, Stuart is a player who will give his all in every tournament, be it the World Championship or a pro-am, and is clearly looking sharp at the moment.

That said, his opponent Matt Selt is another player who shone at this event a year ago as he reached the quarter-finals of a full-ranking event for the first time in his career with impressive wins against John Higgins and Stephen Hendry. While he has been unable to repeat that run since, consistent performances in the remaining events of last season have helped to establish him as a member of the top 48. As far as head to heads are concerned, there is little to go on, their most recent meeting coming at an EPTC a couple of years ago when Stuart ran out a 4-1 winner.

The winner will meet either Andrew Higginson or Ryan Day in the second round, a tough match to predict between two players currently ranked outside of the top 16, though it is Andrew who is the seeded following the non-entry of players ranked above him.

On balance it is a tough match to call, neither having really got started so far this season, both having lost to Robert Milkins at the Wuxi Classic, while Ryan qualified for this event with a 5-2 victory against compatriot Michael White. Despite the tough time that he has experienced over the past couple of seasons, I would marginally favour Ryan to come through, but Higginson will also be well aware of the opportunity before him this week.

Elsewhere in this section, the ever-reliable Barry Hawkins takes on China’s Xiao Guodong for a place in the last 16, the latter competing at this stage of a ranking event for the first time in his career, discounting his appearances in China as a wildcard player.

Much to my surprise when I read the statistic earlier on today, Barry has not appeared in the quarter-finals of a full ranking event since the 2008 Bahrain Championship, a shocking statistic given Barry’s status as a regular at the venue stages of events, as well as the fact that he is a four-time ranking event semi-finalist.

I wonder if this week might be the week where he changes this, certainly he will be favourite for his opener against Xiao, though the Chinese youngster is a talent that I rate highly and who is now up into the top 48 for the first time in his career. Their only previous meeting came almost a year ago when Barry came through a 4-1 winner at last season’s PTC3 event.

If Barry can come through that match he will face either Matthew Stevens or Liang Wenbo in the last 16, as the two meet in a repeat of their opener at this event back in 2011. On that occasion it was Liang who was able to edge a deciding frame and the indications are that this could be another close match as neither has played a great deal of match snooker so far in 2012/13, though Matt was in action at the Six Red World Championship in Thailand last week.

Looking at their past matches, Stevens has won their other two meetings, while their many meetings in the Championship League competition have been shared.

The Second Quarter

Turning to the second section of the draw, Martin Gould continues his quest for a first match victory in a ranking event since the Welsh Open back in February with a match against former world champion Ken Doherty, a semi-finalist in Bendigo in 2011.

From the outside it has hard to say why Martin has struggled of late, but having won just two matches in full-ranking events since breaking through into the world’s top 16 following his previous consistent form, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is not just a coincidence.

Having failed to make it out of the group stage in last week’s Six Red World Championship, there is no sign that his fortunes are close to changing and he could have asked for an easier match than one against a player who has started the season well by qualifying for two events, and who married to an Australian, has an added incentive to perform well in Bendigo.

The winner will meet either World Championship finalist Ali Carter, or the winner of the match between Cao Yupeng and wildcard player Johl Younger. Having excelled at the Crucible as he did, Ali has despite falling out of the world’s top 16 players, so far managed to avoid having to qualify for tournaments, but is low on match practice having played only one competitive match so far in 2012/13.

His lower ranked opponent (assuming Cao can come through his wildcard match), however won three matches to qualify for this tournament, whilst also playing in the Wuxi Classic and APTC1 tournaments in which he lost in the first round. It is a tough match to call and while at his best Ali would have to be the favourite, Cao has shown in the past that he is not scared to play big name opponents and with a wildcard match under his belt, could be the sharper of the two.

Moving on, Six Red World Champion and Wuxi Classic semi-finalist Mark Davis looks to continue his sparkling start to the season with another run in Bendigo and will fancy his chances against talented youngster Jack Lisowski, who qualified for the venue with a 5-2 victory against Dave Harold.

After a disappointing campaign in 2011/12, Jack will be hoping to at least consolidate his current position in the rankings, if not challenge for a top 32 place and a run to the venue here is a good start, but he could have been handed a kinder draw than a match against a opponent as sharp as Davis is at present.

That said, I do wonder whether Mark might just feel the effects of fatigue having played so much snooker recently and think that this may be a factor in the match.

Whoever can come through will play either local favourite Neil Robertson or former world finalist Nigel Bond, who meet in a re-match of their contest here in 2011 which was won 5-2 by the Australian. On paper Robertson looks to be a heavy favourite given Nigel’s indifferent form over the past six months (this is only his second appearance at a venue since last September), but when I saw him at the recent Wuxi Classic he looked far from ready for the start of the new season in losing 5-1 to Jamie Burnett and he has not played any snooker since.

Neil does however have a 4-1 advantage in their previous matches, Nigel’s win coming at the round robin stages of the 2006 Grand Prix.

The Third Quarter

The third section of the draw is headed by former world champion Shaun Murphy, who opens his campaign with an interesting match against Scotland’s Marcus Campbell, a first-time semi-finalist at the recent Wuxi Classic.

For Shaun that tournament perhaps came slightly too early in the campaign as he lost out 5-1 to Ken Doherty, but last week at the Six Red World Championship he looked far more like his normal self with eight victories seeing him through to the final. While the relevance of a six red event to a major tournament such as this is up for debate, the fact that it is useful match practice at this stage of the season is (to me at least), not and as someone with as strong a record as he has overseas, I expect him to go well in this tournament. Add to that the fact that Shaun has won all three of their previous ranking event matches and it is easy to say that he is a heavy favourite for this match.

That said though, it should be noted that Marcus is in the midst of the most consistent run of his career at present and having broken new ground recently by making it to the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time, is in good form himself.

The winner meanwhile will face either Dominic Dale or Tom Ford, after the two faced off last week in the Six Red World Championship in Thailand, Dale emerging a 6-5 winner on that occasion. Two players who have both made reasonably solid starts to the new campaign and who are both established in the 17-32 bracket of players, it is hard to separate them and I suspect that another deciding-frame might be required to separate the pair.

Elsewhere, China Open champion Peter Ebdon begins his campaign with an intriguing clash against Michael Holt, a re-match of their meeting earlier this year at the Welsh Open qualifiers, won on that occasion by Holt.

Like Ken Doherty, Peter is a difficult player to predict at this stage of his career, he could just as easily lose heavily in the first round as win the tournament, while Holt too has a habit of losing when I fancy him to win. If I were a betting man, this match would be the last one on my coupon and while at a qualifying tournament I would favour Holt to come through, at a venue I would perhaps lean the other way.

Whoever does win could face Ding Junhui, or the winner of the wildcard match between Alan McManus and James Mifsud in the last 16.

On the subject of difficult players to predict, Ding Junhui is another who for me falls into that category. It is hard to explain, but while he generally wins at least one significant tournament each season, when he does win them, it is often that those victories were not widely tipped beforehand. If nothing else that proves that while he can lose matches that most would not expect him to, he can just as quickly turn the tables and take home the trophy.

Potential opponent Alan McManus meanwhile is through to his first venue since the 2010 World Open following wins against Tony Drago and Robert Milkins, therefore will be keen to demonstrate that he can still perform at this level on the big stage. That said, it is fair to say that this is another of those matches that Ding will be expected to win.

The Bottom Quarter

The bottom section of the draw begins with a clash between Stephen Lee and Rory McLeod, Lee hoping to re-discover the scintillating form that has seen him rise back up into the top right of the world rankings during the last six months. Despite his early exit at the recent Wuxi Classic tournament, Stephen did begin the campaign well with a run to the final of the APTC1 event in China and looked strong at the Six Red event last week before losing to eventual champion Mark Davis in a deciding frame.

Rory on the other hand is a player who despite being a regular face at venues during recent seasons, has struggled for consistency since his narrow defeat to John Higgins at last season’s UK Championship. That said, he enjoyed this event last season having made it through to the last 16 stage and has made a solid start to the new season in the matches that he has played, losing only to the in-form Mark Davis.

The winner will face either Ricky Walden or Jamie Cope, who meet in an intriguing last 32 match between two talented players. Ricky of course is one of the form men at present having captured his second full ranking event title at the Wuxi Classic, as well as made it to the semi-finals of the Six Red World Championship before losing to Mark Davis.

Jamie Cope meanwhile has qualified for both full-ranking events so far this season, reaching the last 16 in Wuxi before losing heavily to Mark Selby in the second round. Surprisingly, the pair have met only once in a ranking event previously and even that was a best of five match at the 2010 World Open when Ricky came through a 3-1 winner.

Moving on, Joe Perry takes on Marco Fu in what is another match that is almost too close to call, though interestingly Marco has won four of their previous five matches, Perry’s sole victory coming at the 2011 PTC10 event when Joe was able to come through a 4-3 winner.

At the foot of the draw meanwhile, world number one opens his campaign with a tie against Jamie Burnett, their first meeting since the Scot came through a 9-4 winner at the 2005 UK Championship.


Hawkins def Davis, Selby def Murphy

Selby def Hawkins