After all the hype, after all of the previews, day one of the 2014 World Championship is now well underway, with Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stuart Bingham having started their respective campaigns this morning.
Click below for day one of my now traditional Crucible Diary, which throughout the week will detail any stories of mine, together with bring you quotes from all of the post-match press conferences…
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14:53: In Sheffield for the start of my tenth Crucible, the traditional walk up to the Crucible felt stranger than usual today, mainly due to the fact that I was here just three days ago during the
final day of this year’s qualifying tournament, held across the road at Ponds Forge Leisure Centre.
As dramatic and thrilling as the qualifiers are however, there is nowhere like the Crucible and collecting my media pass, finding my way to the media centre and saying hello to familiar faces, it did not take long to immediately feel at home. There was also a visit from Leo Scullion to enquire as to how me and @snookerbacker ended up exchanging YouTube links on Twitter last night. You probably had to be there.
Last season, I was not quick enough into the arena to claim a seat for the opening session of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s comeback match against Marcus Campbell (though I did manage to sneak on to table two), so this time I wasted little time in heading there and building anticipation ahead of the opening session by posting a selection of photos on Twitter.
As ever, the set-up was a familiar one, but of course with a new red and grey colour scheme to reflect new tournament sponsors Dafabet. watching the action in the arena, I think that the set looks quite nice, certainly I prefer it to last season’s yellow, but watching later on the television I am not convinced by the grey carpet.
Another noticeable addition includes the two giant images of the World Championship trophy to the dividing wall between the two tables, which I found amusing due to visibility of the ‘globes’ which were part of the old Embassy set in the trophy reflection.
In the arena an hour before the start of play, I was there to see Hazel Irvine pre-record a few voiceover lines before the spectators were allowed to enter, while I was also able to chat to Daniel (@esnukero), who is a Spanish snooker blogger visiting the Crucible for the first time. True to form, his first reaction was to comment upon how small the venue feels inside, something that you really have to visit to appreciate.
Eventually it was time for the talking to stop (despite some amusing lines from the ever self-deprecating Steve Davis) and for the action to start, all four of the players being given a good reception as they entered the arena.
Watching the match between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Robin Hull, it was clear early on that the defending champion was in good form, a brilliant total clearance in the second frame setting the tone, although Hull too had his chances and showed what he could do with a century of his own in frame four.
It was the first frame after the interval which would sum up the match so far for Robin however, as he left Ronnie needing a snooker, only for him to get it and clear brilliantly to extend his lead to 4-1. He added the next with a break of 81 and though Hull continued to battle and by no means missed too many easy balls, it was O’Sullivan who would finish the session needing just three more to progress this evening, 7-2 ahead.
There had even been the threat of a 147 from Ronnie during the final frame of the session, going into the reds very early and clearly looking to stay on the black, but position would eventually elude him and the break would end on 90, some time after he had abandoned the maximum chase. I must admit, that having previously seen maximums by Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Mark Williams live, I was hopeful that Ronnie would be able to complete the set as it were, but there is still plenty of time this week…
Over on table two meanwhile, Stuart Bingham looked to have had the better of the early exchanges with former world champion Ken Doherty, building up a 3-0 lead, but as was the case during his qualifier against Dechawat Poomjaeng on Tuesday, the Irishman was to rally, eventually finishing just one behind at 4-5.
As the oldest man in the draw this season, indeed the oldest since Steve Davis back in 2010, it was noticeable that there was a lot of crowd support for Ken. It should also be said that Robin Hull on table one was not without support either, which was interesting given the obvious popularity of his opponent.
14:59: With a relatively short turnaround ahead of the afternoon session, I elected to retreat to the media room ahead of the matches involving Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy, but was fearful to learn that there will be a press conference from Barry Hearn next Wednesday to announce format changes to the World Championship.
News that surely the majority of the die hard snooker fans that Barry Hearn recently labelled as ‘traditionalist anoraks’ have been dreading for a long time, we can only wait and see exactly what this will entail. Will it be a flat 128 draw, shorter matches or still more radical changes? We will see…
17:45: Having gone through the formalities of check-in to my hotel and returned to the Crucible, I have been somewhat distracted from this afternoon’s action by IT problems, although thankfully these seem to have sorted themselves out.
Meanwhile, qualifier Ryan Day has taken a 6-3 lead against Stephen Maguire after their first session, recording breaks of 130, 65, 61, 46 and 47 along the way. A difficult match to call this, despite Ryan’s improved form during 2014 to date, many (myself included), had been swayed by the clear head to head advantage in favour of Maguire during their previous meetings.
Ryan though has not found himself inhibited by that today, in particular claiming a dramatic seventh frame on the black to ensure that he would take a lead into their final session tomorrow evening.
Meanwhile on table one, Shaun Murphy are currently locked at 4-4 following what has been a hugely entertaining display of attacking snooker from both this afternoon. It had looked like Murphy might break clear as he moved two clear at 4-2, but having just seen Jamie snatch the eighth on the black, there is now certain to be no more than one frame between the two overnight.
Away from the baize, speculation is rife as to what the anticipated ‘changes’ to the format of the World Championship for next season will be. On further reflection, I now think that it is less likely to be a change to the duration of the tournament, given the fact that season ticket holders have already been provided with dates and paid up for next season.
Further evidence is that in response to a concerned tweet from Mark Allen, Barry Hearn replied ‘don’t worry mark’ which hopefully suggests that we will not see a reduction in frames.
So what could it be? My best guess would be a change to a flatter draw, be it a flat 128 or somewhere in between that and what we have now. On a personal level I would not be particularly keen to see that, but in fairness would much prefer that to any change to either the venue or match durations. A flat draw would also work better with the switch to a money based rankings system, due to the inherent problem of ‘seeded losers’ receiving more money than players who have won matches in tournaments.
18:52: The final session of the opening day gets underway shortly as Ronnie O’Sullivan looks to claim the three frames that he needs to finish off Robin Hull, while Ali Carter starts his campaign against Xiao Guodong.
A lot of people are tipping that match as being one where we may see a potential upset, understandably so given how good an opponent Xiao is, but I have to say that I do not see it. Carter is a formidable opponent, more so here than anywhere and I wonder whether he could do some damage here, under the radar as it were.
Off the table, the ever-popular Clive Everton has paid the media room a visit here, chatting to Dominic Dale in particular who as you can see, has now reverted to a darker hair colour following the blonde look that he has sported since his Shoot Out victory back in January.
20:02: As the action unfolds this evening, I have spent some time updating the player profile pages for each of this week’s four debutants, for those of you hoping to learn a little more about Xiao Guodong, Kyren Wilson, Robbie Williams and Michael Wasley. The remaining pages will be updated during the Q School period, when there is a little bit more time to do such things.
Back on the baize, Robin Hull has continued to fight hard against Ronnie O’Sullivan, taking two of the opening three frames this evening to close to 4-8. It could have been three from three, but for a miss on the penultimate, frame-ball red, which allowed O’Sullivan in to steal the 10th frame.
As demonstrated by Robin’s pot success of 90%, the Finn has acquitted himself well out there today, he has shown no fear and despite the scoreline, has contributed a lot to the match. A few misses at crucial times, together with some clinical, brilliant snooker from O’Sullivan (95% pot success), however has ultimately proven decisive today and it looks as though it will be the defending world champion who will progress to the last 16.
Over on table two, Xiao Guodong looked to be all at sea during the opening frame, but has since settled as he trails Ali Carter 2-1 at the time of writing…
21:29: Ronnie did not close it out as quickly as he might have tonight, but he is the first man through to the last 16 this week, a comfortable 10-4 winner against Finland’s Robin Hull.
As is the norm, Robin was first in to the press room and told us the following:
“I felt alright in the most part, but didn’t quite settle down and there were a few easy shots I let go of completely. I’m not saying that they would have made the difference between winning and losing, but within the frame score.
“But there you go, I suppose it is down to a bit of experience in that department, plus I hadn’t been competing for three months. The qualifiers helped a lot for sure but definitely coming here and starting anew, it made a difference.”
When asked as to whether he enjoyed it more than his previous appearance in 2002 and as to whether he sees O’Sullivan as the clear favourite for the title now, Robin explained:
“Yeah for sure, at least I could look around this time! It was good. I felt alright to be fair, disappointed with the way I played a little bit but that’s snooker.
“I like the way he plays for sure. Saying that a lot of the players in this tournament, there are quite a few capable of winning it. Fair enough we are talking about long matches in this tournament, but it’s still only one match and I’m sure he’ll have to play his very best to win it.”
As for Ronnie, presumably doing a few bits and pieces for the BBC, but he was eventually in to see us and said the following:
“I’m just pleased to have got through. It was a tough match, I knew it was going to be hard, I knew I had to play decent to win because Robin’s a good scorer and very good tactically. I knew I had to be on my game which was good in a way.
“7-2 is a big lead to have, so it is kinda hard to get really up for it because you know you only need three frames and I knew I was playing ok. I just knew that if I stayed calm and relaxed I would get some sort of chance and be able to pick some momentum up and apply some pressure. Robin had some chances, he missed a couple of balls that could have made a difference, but you never know in this game what can happen.
“I don’t really see that there is a massive expectation. I am here to do a job and I will go about it as professionally as I can. That’s the first one out of the way and I will just look forward to the next.
Ronnie was also asked for his view as to the current debate about whether wildcards should be handed out to the likes of Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis:
“Yeah I think it”s good. It’s good for me because I will probably find myself in that position at some point, so for selfish reasons, if I was in that position and I wanted to play I wouldn’t want to have to come through Q School.
“To be able to come in at round one and still compete, I think it’s good because Steve still loves playing, he has been a great ambassador for the game along with Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry and I do believe that they should have that opportunity to compete if they want to.
“Wherever we go with our game all over the world, to have them as part of it is definitely a plus so for me I don’t see why they shouldn’t get it. If it doesn’t get pushed through I think it would be a crazy decision not to have them there. So let’s just hope that they do the right thing and give some of our greatest players that opportunity.
“It doesn’t deny anyone that is good enough to become a winner. There is nothing that can stop you, that is the beauty of our game of snooker. There is no elite class, it’s not like tennis, golf or motor racing where you need to have funding to make your way. In snooker, if you can pot balls you can come through, it’s a bit like boxing, there are no politics really, it’s as even as you can get. Any junior that wants to come through that is good enough will come through no matter what system there is.
“If Stephen [Hendry] plays 70% of what he can play he can still win tournaments. Whether he can get that form back, whether he has the desire, the motivation on the practice table, which for someone like Stephen he will have to do and I said to him the other night I don’t know whether it’s something I would relish. I’m finding it tough now and I’m competing at the latter stages of tournaments.
“As you get older, the motivation to put your three or fours hours practice in, it’s not easy. But if Stephen puts his mind to something he is very professional, very dedicated at what he does. I’m sure that he will make a measured decision and if he does decide to come on tour he will give it as good a go as he can give it.
“I think if Stephen came back, he would just want to enjoy it, see if he got the buzz and if he found a bit of form, he might take it to the next level which requires them three or four hours a day and to give up the commentating. That can take a lot of time up and also the exhibition circuit and the trips to China. It’s very hard to do it all, but that all depends on how much Stephen wants to give to it.
“But you can’t question the guy’s talent or game, or his skills, he’s the best player that has ever played this game.”
Over on table two, having opened up a 4-1 lead against Xiao Guodong, Ali Carter has now been pulled back to 4-4, breaks of 59 and 73, followed by a dramatic black-ball eighth frame settled by a foul from the Captain, enough to the damage.
I had not fancied Xiao to get the win before the match, but now that he has found his feet at the Crucible, this looks set to be yet another finely balanced match heading to its conclusion tomorrow, with Shaun Murphy 5-4 down, Stephen Maguire 6-3 down and Stuart Bingham 5-4 up on Ken Doherty, all due to finish tomorrow.