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World Championship Qualifiers 2013: Steadman Denies Grace In Thriller

Day one of the 2013 World Championship qualifiers began as a slow burner, but ultimately proved to be one full of drama as the match between Craig Steadman and David Grace went the distance in Sheffield. Click below for a round up of a day which also saw Luca Brecel happy to trail by just one frame overnight, while Thai duo Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon were also among those to progress…

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Morning Session

Arriving at the EIS for my fourth year attending the World Championship qualifiers, I immediately met up with @snookerisland and headed up inside the familiar setting of the Badminton Halls to catch the six matches underway in the morning session, which would be played to a conclusion in the evening session.

As I settled down, Craig Steadman was in the process of making the first century break of the day, 105 to lead 3-1 at the mid-session interval, while Zhang Anda held a commanding 5-0 advantage against the struggling Passakorn Suwannawat. Michael Wasley and Sean O’Sullivan were embroiled in what always had the look of a close match, Wasley taking a couple of close frames to lead 4-2, while Jamie O’Neill was a surprise leader against Thailand’s Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon at the mid-session of their match.

As the morning progressed, though I could not see the table, it was evidence that the performance of the day, in terms of quality at least, was being delivered in the opening session by another Thai player, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who hit breaks of 129, 85, 71, 61, 53 and 52, on his way to a 6-3 lead at the end of the session.

Elsewhere, Tian Pengfei, Zhang Anda and Craig Steadman were among those to finish the session with commanding, if not decisive 6-3 leads, while Sean O’Sullivan recovered well against Wasley to take a narrow 5-4 lead into the evening session, Wasley losing a golden chance to lead 5-3 at one stage when suffering a kick on the final pink.

Afternoon Session

As the attention turned to the afternoon session, it was the two streamed tables that were to catch the eye, as Luca Brecel and Tony Drago got their campaigns underway.

In Tony’s case, the Maltese player was to make an flying start, against an opponent in Egypt’s Mohamed Khairy who looked a little overawed early on. As Tony hit a break of 114 to lead 3-0, as well as breaks of 63 and 52 prior to the interval, it was understandable and in the circumstances he did well to finish up the session trailing 6-3 overnight.

Things could also have been a lot worse for last season’s qualifier Luca Brecel, who trailed 4-0 early on against amateur player Fraser Patrick. Having recorded a number of impressive wins this season in the events that he has entered, while Luca is without a win in 2013 so far, it appeared for a while as though a shock might have been very much on the cards.

The beauty however of the long matches is of course that a four frame deficit early on is by no means insurmountable and Brecel was to respond by taking four of the next five frames, to trail by just one frame overnight. Of course he is far from past the winning line just yet ans Fraser will no doubt push him hard tomorrow, but one would have to imagine that Luca will be very happy with the scoreline and looking to show what he can do tomorrow.

Elsewhere in the session, Li Yan took control of what was a scrappy match against Robbie Williams to take a 6-3 lead into tomorrow’s second session, while Daniel Wells shaded what has all the hallmarks of a close match with India’s Aditya Mehta 5-4.

Evening Session

Following a much-needed trip to Bella Italia for what was a rather appetising Calzone, we headed back to the EIS for an evening session which would see the matches from the morning played to a conclusion.

Having heard of Thepchaiya Un-Nooh’s heroics from the morning session, we decided to watch him in action against Scott Donaldson, however as the pink drifted over one of the corner pockets at 7-3, the 11th frame would inevitably become a real scrap and the quality was not to match that of the morning. Similarly, next door the quality was not the best between Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon and Jamie O’Neill, though it was Jamie who was just about able to maintain a cushion in the match, at this stage at least.

As the evening progressed, it was notable to see that Michael Wasley had turned the tables against Sean O’Sullivan by taking two of the first three frames to level at 6-6, which the match at this stage looking like it might be the last one to finish in the session. As it would transpire however, Michael would win the next four frames, to become the first man to make it through to the second round, a 10-6 winner.

Relatively soon to join him were Un-Nooh, and Zhang Anda, also both 10-6 winners, against Scott Donaldson and Passakorn Suwannawat respectively.

Next through was Tian Pengfei, who ended the run of former SB Classic winner Martin O’Donnell with a 10-5 win, leaving what would prove to be two dramatic matches in play.

Of the two, I elected to watch the match between Craig Steadman and David Grace, two players who I have known for a few years and like a lot, both deserving of success. Of the action I had seen, it was Craig who appeared to be winning the close frames, the last of the first session won on the pink being a case in point, as well as frame 13 which he took before the final mid-session interval to lead 8-5.

To his credit however, David was to launched a spirited comeback, taking the next frame on the black following a double kiss from Steadman to leave the pot on to the yellow pocket, before he then took the next following a missed brown to close to within just one at 7-8.

Carrying all of the momentum, Grace soon took his third frame in a row to level at 8-8, before what looked to have been the biggest frame of the tournament so far, in which Steadman recovered from having needed a snooker with 35 remaining, to close to within just 11 points and gain the upper hand in a crucial safety exchange.

Perhaps feeling the pressure having lost the last few frames, from the balcony at least, I did not fancy Steadman to pot anything that was not relatively straight-forward at this stage and so it proved, as he missed a couple of half-chances on the brown to complete the recovery in the frame.

Grace though was to make no such mistake, producing a brilliant pot, before adding the blue to ensure that he would go into the lead for the first time since 1-0, at 9-8 in the match.

Having lost the last four frames, three of them on the colours, it was hard to see Craig coming back at this stage and it was his opponent who had the first scoring chance in the next as he looked to complete the comeback.

The match was however to take one final turn, as he smashed into the reds from the blue, only to see the colour stay on the table. What followed was in the circumstances a terrific break of 57 from Steadman, paving the way for him to set up a 19th and deciding frame.

Though there were to be no big breaks, it was Steadman who was able to largely control the final frame, eventually winning it to book his place in the second round and set up a tie with Kurt Maflin next week. It was a match tonight that had almost everything and David can be proud of his fightback from 8-5 down, but ultimately it was to be eclipsed by Craig’s effort from 9-8 down, which given what had gone before was most impressive.

I did manage to record the deciding frame on camera, and will hope to upload this at some point over the coming days, when I am not in Sheffield!

Also completing a comeback was Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, who from 8-5 down against Jamie O’Neill turned things around to eventually win 10-8 and set up a tie with Mike Dunn in the second round. A peculiar match throughout, despite the fact that Thanawat made just one break of 50+ during the match, there was always a nagging feeling that it would be he who would prevail and so it proved, Jamie by all accounts very unfortunate to lose out in what would prove to be the final frame in the match.

So then on to tomorrow, as we look to see whether Luca Brecel can be another who will complete a comeback, while Joe Swail takes on Pankaj Advani in what promises to be the tie of the round…