«

»

Apr 06 2014

World Championship 2014: Qualifying Preview

ponds30

With Ding Junhui’s victory in the final of the China Open today, all attention can now switch to the big one – the World Championship, the qualifiers for which start this Tuesday.

Click below for my section by section preview of what is always one of my favourite weeks of the year…

  • Click here to view the draw for the World Championship qualifiers (pdf)
  • Click here to view the format
  • Click here to view the draw (snookerorg)
  • Click here to view my latest tour survival update after the China Open

Whilst reading Twitter this week I saw fellow blogger Snookerbacker describe the World Championship qualifiers as being better than most ranking events and I can see exactly what he means. Not only are the now rare, long-format matches in themselves more fascinating to watch, but with Crucible places, main tour places and big money up for the grabs, the pressure and tension out there is on another level to what we see at most other tournaments.

You only have to look at some of the finishes to World Championship qualifiers that I have caught on camera over the past few seasons (see here, here and here), to see what these matches mean to the players and with so much on the line, we are bound to see similar scenes this year.

There are however changes this year, both to the format and the venue. Although the qualifiers will continue to be held in Sheffield, no longer will they be held in the Badminton Halls at the EISS, but instead they will move to the Ponds Forge Leisure Centre, pictured above.

No doubt a necessary move given the expansion of the tour to 128 and need for more than six tables this year, I can’t help but be disappointed that the qualifying venue will be open plan, but that does seem to be the direction that snooker has been heading in for some time now. I hope to make my first visit this year on Tuesday night, so will reserve judgement until then.

As for the format, the tournament will adopt the same format as the Australian Goldfields Open and Shanghai Masters events earlier this season, with those seeded between 33-48 now having to win three matches, instead of just two if they are to qualify.

So what do we have to look out for? Below I offer a few thoughts as to each of the 16 sections of the draw and as to who could be the surprise packages in this year’s tournament…

Route 1

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Zhang Anda Dechawat Poomjaeng
Andrew Pagett R1 winner
R2 winner Ken Doherty
  R2 winner R3 winner
Craig Steadman Steve Davis
Jak Jones R1 winner
72=

Section one of this season’s World Championship qualifying draw sees 2010 qualifier Zhang Anda take on 2011 Crucible débutante Andrew Pagett in a difficult match to predict, while Craig Steadman will begin his match with Jak Jones as a warm favourite, his opponent having so far failed to win a match this season.

Whoever does come through from the Steadman v Jones match will progress to meet six-time world champion Steve Davis in the second round, a must-win match for Davis’ main tour place that will inevitably attract a significant amount of attention from fans and media alike.

As explained within my most recent tour survival update however, it may be the case that Davis will have to win his next match also, potentially against Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng, if he is to hang on to his tour card.

KenDoherty15

Following his memorable début at the Crucible last year, Poomjaeng has struggled to live up to the promise that he showed towards the end of last season, but is not without victories and could be inspired by those memories of 12 months ago.

Top seed in this section is 1997 world champion Ken Doherty, a player who perhaps a little under the radar has struggled for results this season, as demonstrated by the fact that he lies down in 53rd place on the one-year money list.

With just three victories in full-ranking events so far in 2014, on the face of it I would suggest that Ken could be vulnerable as he looks to make it back to the Crucible for the first time as a player since 2012, but who here has what it takes to deny him?

Route 2

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Liam Highfield Jimmy Robertson
Khaled Belaid Abumdas R1 winner
R2 winner David Gilbert
R2 winner R3 winner
Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon Anthony McGill
Sanderson Lam R1 winner
72=

Section two sees seemingly outgoing professionals Liam Highfield and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon kick off their respective Crucible bids against Libya’s Khaled Abumdas and Leeds amateur Sanderson Lam.

Awaiting the winners of those matches in the next round will be Jimmy Robertson, who of course appeared at the Crucible back in 2011, and Anthony McGill, a player who will surely be making his own début at the event sooner rather than later.

Gilbert

For Jimmy the season has been a relatively uneventful one, consistent, without a real breakthrough run, two European Tour quarter-finals representing his best runs in 2013/14. Anthony meanwhile recorded a career-best quarter-final finish at the Indian Open earlier in the campaign, while he has also reached the last 32 of both the UK Championship and Welsh Open in recent months.

For that reason, I would fancy Anthony to come through and set up an intriguing final round match against the ever-dangerous David Gilbert, who for the first time comes into the event as a top 32 player. It would be tough to call, but one I would definitely want to see if they are to meet…

Route 3

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Barry Pinches
Alfie Burden
Hammad Miah
R1 winner
R2 winner Graeme Dott
R2 winner R3 winner
Kyren Wilson
Rod Lawler
Chris Norbury
R1 winner
72=

With a couple of exceptions, route three is a section full of experience, with Barry Pinches, Alfie Burden, Rod Lawler and Graeme Dott among those looking to make it back to the Crucible this year.

Notwithstanding that experience, the likes of Chris Norbury, Hammad Miah and in particular Kyren Wilson will be looking to make a mark, Kyren having made it to a number of venues this season, including the Shanghai Masters under the same tiered format as this event.

Dott1

I could almost see any of the players from this section making it through to face 2006 world champion Graeme Dott in the final qualifying round, all have impressed at various stages of this 2013/14 season.

Whoever does make it through though, I would have to make Dott a warm favourite to progress, following what has been a quietly impressive campaign for the former world champion. Back to back quarter-finals in Beijing and Hainan Island, as well as his run to the semi-finals of the International Championship earlier in the campaign have seen the Scot regain the confidence that 12-18 months ago was clearly lacking and he will prove tough to beat.

Route 4

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Martin O’Donnell
Andrew Higginson
Shane Castle
R1 winner
R2 winner Dominic Dale
R2 winner R3 winner
Daniel Wells
Kurt Maflin
Ryan Clark
R1 winner
72=

Route four begins with two difficult to call opening round matches, with matches against Andrew Higginson and Kurt Maflin awaiting the winners in the second round.

Since reaching a career-high ranking of 18 less than a couple of years ago Andrew Higginson has struggled for consistency, having not progressed beyond the last 32 stage of any event carrying ranking points since the 2012 Ravenscraig Open and not beaten a player ranked higher than himself in ranking event competition since the 2013 German Masters.

Dale

Kurt Maflin meanwhile has shown once again this season that he can mix it with the best, having already defeated the likes of Mark Selby, Ali Carter, Joe Perry, Robert Milkins and Mark Williams amongst others of late.

Having come so close to edging out Peter Ebdon to make it to the Crucible last year, can Kurt go one better if he can make it through to play Shoot Out champion Dominic Dale in the final round? It could happen, but Dominic too is a player who has enjoyed a typically solid campaign and wins his opening match more often that not.

Tough to call.

Route 5

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Jamie O’Neill
Peter Lines
Cao Xinlong
R1 winner
R2 winner Mark Williams
R2 winner R3 winner
Paul Davison
Alan McManus
Chris Wakelin
R1 winner
72=

As with the section including Graeme Dott above, section five is headed by a big name, in this case double world champion Mark Williams, who is looking to make it back to the Crucible for an 18th successive season.

Who can stop him? For me his biggest threat comes from Scotland’s Alan McManus, who during the past couple of seasons has clearly seen an upturn in results, recently reaching the quarter-finals of the Haikou World Open, as well as the last 16 of the German Masters.

Williams

The event is also a significant one for Peter Lines, who will be hoping to win his match against either Jamie O’Neill or Cao Xinlong to make certain of his tour place for another season, while Chris Wakelin is another name to keep an eye on after a promising début season so far.

When all is said and done though, Williams has to be the man to beat here.

Route 6

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Michael Leslie
Aditya Mehta
Christopher Keogan
R1 winner
R2 winner Michael Holt
R2 winner R3 winner
Joel Walker
Jamie Jones
Allan Taylor
R1 winner
72=

Headed by Michael Holt, section six sees the likes of Aditya Mehta and Jamie Jones looking to come through and deny the Hitman a 7th appearance at the Crucible Theatre.

Of those, Aditya Mehta has enjoyed a strong season, having reached his first ranking event final on home soil earlier in the campaign at the Indian Open, though it has to be said that since the turn of the year he hasn’t been quite so successful, having won just two matches so far in 2014.

Holt

Jamie Jones meanwhile has struggled to live up to the promise that we saw from him at the Crucible back in 2012, but at times this season has shown signs of beginning to turn a corner, particularly in the European Tour events.

A dark horse here could be Sheffield’s Joel Walker, who has shown significant improvement this season, but Michael Holt is top seed here for a reason and having had a strong season himself will be expected to progress.

Route 7

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
James Wattana
Marcus Campbell
Alex Borg
R1 winner
R2 winner Mark King
R2 winner R3 winner
Sam Baird Jamie Cope
John Astley
R1 winner
72=

Section seven of the draw is an interesting one for a number of reasons, not least because it is a section where it is conceivable that we could see a qualifier from the opening round in the form of Sam Baird.

That said, he does not have the kindest opening round draw, John Astley having shown his talent at times this season, while with the likes of Marcus Campbell and James Wattana in the draw have been there and done it before.

King

In terms of his main tour place, Sam is of course safe via the European Order of Merit, but would like to win a couple of matches here to vault up into the top 64 on the money list and ensure that he goes into next season with a realistic chance of continuing to climb up the rankings.

Awaiting somebody in the final round will be Mark King, who you might remember gave Ding Junhui at the last 16 stage of the event 12 months ago and with 14 previous appearances at the venue, should not be underestimated.

Route 8

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Gary Wilson Tom Ford
James Cahill R1 winner
R2 winner Matthew Stevens
R2 winner R3 winner
Luca Brecel
Yu Delu
Lee Page
R1 winner
72=

Onto section eight of the draw and we find twice former World Championship finalist Matthew Stevens, who will be hoping to make it back to the Crucible for a 15th time this year.

A semi-final appearance at the Wuxi Classic back in June 2013 aside however, it has been a difficult season for Stevens, so could he be vulnerable to an upset?

China’s Yu Delu is one player in this section who has shown strong form of late, defeating Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Players Championship Grand Finals, before coming close to repeating the feat against Neil Robertson a week later in Beijing.

Stevens

Tom Ford has struggled for results of late, aside from a last eight run at the AT4 event where incidentally he lost out 4-2 to Yu Delu, but Gary Wilson is a player in this section who has consistently impressed during this season and will be one to keep an eye on during the early rounds.

So too will be Luca Brecel, who will be among those looking to secure a place inside the top 64 with a good run this week.

Route 9

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Chen Zhe
Mark Joyce
Antony Parsons R1 winner
R2 winner Robert Milkins
R2 winner R3 winner
Michael Wasley
Rory McLeod
Sydney Wilson
R1 winner
72=

Onto section 9 and we find Robert Milkins, who of course was unfortunate to miss out on an automatic place at the Crucible, having finished 16th in the rankings at the latest seedings revision.

Milkins

Rob has not enjoyed the strongest run in 2014, but who in this section will be equipped to cause an upset? Rory McLeod’s best run this season so far is a last 32 run at the Haikou World Open, while Mark Joyce made it as far as the quarter-finals of the same event before losing out to Marco Fu.

Newly crowned Snookerbacker Classic champion Antony Parsons will be hoping to put a run together at his first World Championship, while Michael Wasley is another could could be worth keeping an eye on, already safe on tour courtesy of the European Order of Merit.

Route 10

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Robbie Williams
Liu Chuang
Lyu Haotian
R1 winner
R2 winner Fergal O’Brien
R2 winner R3 winner
Li Hang
Pankaj Advani
Ratchayothin Yotharuk
R1 winner
72=

Hoping to return to the Crucible for the first time since 2010 will be Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien and it has been a good season so far for the former world number nine, capped by his recent run to the final of the Gdynia Open in Poland.

Fergal

Who can stop him? China’s Liu Chuang is a player who seems to be at his best during the longer format matches and has made it to the Crucible twice before, while Robbie Williams and Pankaj Advani have also shown their talent at times earlier in the season.

Another Chinese player here Li Hang is another player who I like the look of, but all things considered here, I think that it will take a good performance to deny Fergal his Crucible return.

Route 11

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Tony Drago
Tian Pengfei
Robin Hull R1 winner
R2 winner Peter Ebdon
R2 winner R3 winner
Ian Burns
Jimmy White
Fraser Patrick R1 winner
72=

Another section headed by a former world champion, Peter Ebdon will be hoping to make it 23 consecutive appearances at the Crucible, a feat that if he could achieve it would see him stand alone in second place on the all-time list behind Stephen Hendry’s 27.

Ebdon

Looking to deny him will be the likes of Tian Pengfei and Jimmy White, both battling for their main tour places, while Ian Burns will also be hoping to push for a top 64 place with a deep run this week.

Fraser Patrick is a player who has struggled for victories so far this season, but a year ago sprung a surprise with a good victory against Luca Brecel in the opening round.

Route 12

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Sean O’Sullivan
Martin Gould
Mitchell Travis
R1 winner
R2 winner Liang Wenbo
R2 winner R3 winner
Adam Duffy
Gerard Greene
Igor Figueiredo
R1 winner
72=

Section 12 looks to be a very competitive one with China’s Liang Wenbo looking to resist the threat from the likes of Martin Gould and Gerard Greene to make it back to the Crucible once again.

It will be surprising for some to see Martin Gould back in the second round, something that is a consequence of both the change to the format and his fall in ranking outside of the top 32. There he could face friend and fellow Sight Right player Sean O’Sullivan, if the latter can overcome amateur Mitchell Travis in the opening round.

Liang

Elsewhere, Gerard Greene will be looking to build on his run to the final of the recent Players Championship Grand Final with another good run here, though I would imagine that he will have to score heavier over these best of 19 frame matches if he is to make it back to the Crucible for the first time since 2010.

Liang though will be favourite after arguably his most consistent season to date, which has seen him secure his place comfortably inside the top 32 and impress in the Asian Tour events in particular.

Route 13

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Noppon Saengkham
Jamie Burnett
Vinnie Calabrese
R1 winner
R2 winner Ben Woollaston
R2 winner R3 winner
Scott Donaldson Cao Yupeng
Ahmed Saif
R1 winner
72=

Three quarters of the way through the draw and we find Leicester’s Ben Woollaston, looking to make it back to the Crucible for a second successive season and improve upon his showing against Ali Carter a year ago.

Woollaston

The most obvious dangerman in his section of the draw looks to be Cao Yupeng, who has won three of their four meetings so far this season, while top 64 chasing Scott Donaldson is also a dark horse to make it through to the final round against Woollaston.

Vinnie Calabrese and Noppon Saengkham have also had their moments so far this season, while Scotland’s Jamie Burnett has the experience and has won more matches of late than during the first half of the season.

Route 14

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Stuart Carrington
Jack Lisowski
Andrew Norman
R1 winner
R2 winner Ryan Day
R2 winner R3 winner
David Grace
Nigel Bond
Ross Muir
R1 winner
72=

Having missed out on appearing at the Crucible last season for the first time since 2005, Welshman Ryan Day will be hoping to make amends in 2014 and could face either Jack Lisowski or Nigel Bond in his final round match.

For Lisowski, a semi-final run at ET7 aside, it has been a relatively anonymous season from the man who 12 months ago made it to the Crucible for the first time in his career, but he remains one of the most talented young players on the tour and if he hits form next week could prove hard to stop.

Day

Nigel Bond on the other hand is a former World Championship finalist with a wealth of experience, but who has not won too many matches at venues this season and will have to play well if indeed he can make it through to a third round match with Lisowski.

Hoping to stop him will be David Grace and Ross Muir, while the winner of Stuart Carrington and Andrew Norman will be eyeing the scalp of Lisowski in the second round.

Route 15

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Mike Dunn
Matt Selt
Rhys Clark R1 winner
R2 winner Michael White
R2 winner R3 winner
David Morris
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
Alexander Ursenbacher
R1 winner
72=

The penultimate section of the draw sees last season’s quarter-finalist Michael White looking to return to the Crucible for a second time, but with the likes of Matt Selt, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and David Morris lurking, this promises to be one of the most competitive routes to the Crucible.

And that is not to mention shock China Open semi-finalist Mike Dunn, who now without the pressure of having to win for his main tour place will be hoping to play with greater freedom in Sheffield. The only question mark will be given the quick turnaround and lack of recovery time for him having spent the past month in China, can he find something else in the tank to mount a challenge here?

White

Of the others, David Morris has enjoyed an excellent season to date and will be hoping to cap it with a strong run in Sheffield, while Thepchaiya Un-Nooh will be keen to win at least one match to make absolutely sure of his tour card for next season.

Like White, Matt Selt will be targeting a return to the Crucible after his début last year and has recorded a few good results this year, most obviously his semi-final run in Gdynia back in February.

Route 16

 

ROUND 1 ROUND 2 ROUND 3 ROUND 4
Alex Davies
Anthony Hamilton
Joe Swail R1 winner
R2 winner Xiao Guodong
R2 winner R3 winner
Li Yan Dave Harold
Elliot Slessor R1 winner
72=

Last but not least, China’s Xiao Guodong heads up the final section of the draw and will be looking to make it through to the Crucible for the first time in his career.

Xiao1

While Xiao is not experienced at the Crucible however, he is surrounded by players who are, with Anthony Hamilton, Dave Harold and Joe Swail having 35 Crucible appearances between them. It is difficult to pick a favourite there, although I would probably lean towards Hamilton based on previous results this season.

Or could we see a run from one of the less experienced players in this section? Elliot Slessor has shown promise during his rookie season, while Alex Davies and Li Yan will also be hoping to finish their respective seasons on a high.

  • ddrIII

    Xiao Guodong should be able to make his debut this year.