Two days down at the 2015 BetVictor Welsh Open and already we have seen the field slashed from 128 to just 32 players, during a hectic opening couple of days in Cardiff.
It has not been an event without its shocks either, as Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui headline the list of names to have fallen before the tournament’s decisive stages…
Having moved from what was a very different format at the Newport Centre in previous years, it was always going to be interesting to see the reaction of the players to the set-up at this event, particularly in view of some of the criticism directed at the UK Championship just before Christmas.
It is particularly difficult for me to judge as I am not in Cardiff this week, but from speaking with a few of the players, the reaction in the main seems to be extremely positive, with both playing conditions and the set-up being well received.
The notable exception however was defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who following his first round victory against Vinnie Calabrese yesterday was quick to criticise the set-up in a way reminiscent of one of his press conferences at the Barbican Centre just before Christmas.
His apparent lack of focus was evident as he returned for his second round match against Rory McLeod in the evening session and quickly fell 2-0 behind, before improving to come through a 4-2 winner. You would expect there to be better to come from him, particularly as the arena will be reduced to just four tables from tomorrow, which might be more to his liking as he will take on Matthew Stevens.
While Ronnie was able to survive, the same could not be said for Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui, who lost to Welsh duo Jamie Jones and Lee Walker respectively.
For Shaun, defeat came to the man who knocked him out of the World Championship at the first hurdle nearly three years ago now, after he had first survived a deciding frame finish against tour rookie Steven Hallworth earlier in the day. Jones has had a tough few years since his breakthrough year in 2011/12 but there have been signs of late that he is beginning to move in the right direction again and today’s win will hopefully give him the confidence boost that he needed.
Ding meanwhile continues his alarming run of form with a 4-1 defeat to Lee Walker, the 1997 World Championship quarter-finalist reminding viewers of his talent, despite understandable caution and nerves at times during the match.
The inquest into Ding’s latest early exit is perhaps best saved for another blog, but at the time of writing Lee leads Michael Georgiou 2-1 in his second round match and will be looking to reach the last 32 stage of a full-ranking event for the first time since the 2005 Grand Prix.
Elsewhere, there was a notable 4-0 defeat for Robert Milkins at the hands of Luca Brecel, a result that opens the door somewhat for the likes of Mark Williams and Graeme Dott to gain ground on him in the rankings as the all-important World Championship cut-off approaches.
With Williams already set to move ahead of Milkins having earned £2,500 for his victories against Lyu Haotian and Barry Pinches, while the likes of John Higgins, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott also through to the last 32, it could prove to be a costly defeat for the Milkman. Time will tell.
In terms of the big hitters, Murphy and Ding aside, there was to be smooth progress for the majority of names, Neil Robertson in particular shining with three century breaks in four frames against James Cahill, a feat later matched by the in-form Matt Selt.
Somewhat further down the rankings, there was a noteworthy win for Qatari professional Ahmed Saif today, as he defeated Anthony Hamilton 4-0 to win his first ever match at a full-ranking event. Although he would later fall by the same scoreline at the hands of Alan McManus, there were still positives to be taken for Saif.
Likewise too for amateur Ashley Carty, who having reached the last 32 of the German Masters earlier in the month, yesterday defeated both Michael Holt and Alfie Burden to repeat the feat here in Cardiff.
As those of you who are regular readers will know, as the end of the season approaches I tend to focus on the early round matches that are likely to affect those players fighting to stay on tour and this year will be no different.
One of the most notable results therefore was the defeat for Jimmy White at the hands of Barry Pinches, which not only came in a deciding frame, but a re-spotted black, always a particularly agonising way to lose a snooker match. His third loss in a week, having also lost two qualifying matches in Barnsley, it leaves Jimmy targeting a strong performance in Gdynia next week, if he is to make sure of his main tour status at the end of the season.
There was better news for Jamie Cope however, as the man nicknamed ‘the shotgun’ won both of his matches against Elliot Slessor and Anthony McGill to boost his chances of retaining his tour place, while Marcus Campbell also continued his recent resurgence with an opening round victory, before falling to Mark Selby earlier this evening.
Overall, it has so far been a hectic couple of days in Cardiff which have seen 95 matches played in all, but with the venue reduced to four tables tomorrow for the start of the last 32, we can expect to see the event calm down somewhat, before the matches are lengthened to the best of nine frames for the quarter-finals.