World Championship Qualifiers 2009: Mixed fortunes for former champions

After what I make to be 1,149 frames of snooker over the last couple of weeks in Sheffield, the qualifiers have come to an end and we now know the 32 names that will go into tomorrow’s draw for the 2009 World Championship…

Arriving at 11am to see the final five matches come to a conclusion, I was looking forward to seeing Ken Doherty begin his campaign against Gerard Greene but was horrified to see him 3-0 down already. With Steve Davis 2-0 down too it looked like being a tough day for two of snooker’s greats…

Ken Doherty 5-10 Gerard Greene

As the fourth frame progressed I could already see that while Gerard was not exactly flying, he was very solid whilst Ken looked…lost. Even his famed safety play was letting him down as he clattered into the brown and gave Greene a chance to pot a long red which he gratefully accepted on the way to a 4-0 interval lead.

Even with a possible 15 frames still to play, against an opponent as talented as Gerard he was in deep trouble already and had to to make it out of the session at no worse than 3-6 if he was to stand a real chance of turning things around. He started well, a break of 50 getting his first frame on the scoreboard, but a nice 78 from Gerard in the next restored the four frame cushion at 5-1.

Ken was just starting to play a bit better though and an 83 break to take frame seven will have set alarm bells ringing for Gerard. Wasted opportunities in the next frame though were to again prove costly as a brilliant clearance from Gerard secured at least a three frame lead going into the afternoon session and left Ken needing to win the next to stay in touch. This he managed to do at least, making a break of 73 despite a missed pink to the right-centre early in the frame.

Going into the evening at 3-6 down I was not particularly optimistic for Ken because not only was his opponent looking comfortable, but he just was not playing well enough and in truth has not done in the ranking events for the last couple of seasons.

He got off to a brilliant start though, carrying on from where he left off this morning and looking like a much more confident player on the way to a break of 122, reducing the deficit to 6-4. As can often be the case when players get older though, the consistency was not there and in the next frame a couple of shocking safeties from Ken gave Gerard the chance to build up a sizeable lead before he went in-off into the left-centre pocket when attempting to move some reds.

Ken then had a chance to clear but he was never in ideal position and it has to be said that he did not have the best run of the ball in this frame. Every time Gerard missed he seemed to leave nothing easy on while Ken’s enjoyed no such luck, particularly when attempting to pot a tough final brown which he left on for Gerard to pot for 7-4. As it turned out I think that this was the decisive frame in the match, Ken had a chance to win it, could not take it and after that reverted to the erratic player that started off this morning. Full credit to Gerard though, he made things difficult for Ken and made the most of the opportunities that came his way as breaks of 48 and 69 moved him 9-4 ahead at the break.

The writing was on the wall now for Ken who was looking desperate and despite a well-taken 65 to pull one back after the interval, a well-taken 67 from Gerard in the next proved to be enough to see him qualify for the Crucible for the first time since 2005. While I have focused more on Ken’s errors than anything else, I should again emphasise that Gerard played very well and fully deserved his victory today. Having lost his three previous matches at the Crucible, hopefully he will be able to do better this time.

For Ken though it is the latest in a series of poor performances this season and confirms his relegation from the world’s top 32. He later told Snooker Scene Blog that though he would play on next season, if he does not improve then he would consider retirement and I can see where he is coming from based on today’s showing.

As a fan of his for much of his career I would be very sorry to see him go, but while we saw his best form in flashes today, such as that excellent 122 and some quality safety shots, these flashes were all too few. Much like Jimmy White earlier on in the week in fact, he would look good in one frame, then struggle to make any sort of break for the next few. It must be hard for Ken to deal with when he knows how good his level was at his peak and I have to say, it is difficult to see where the wins are going to come from next season if this is anything to go by…

Steve Davis 10-8 Lee Spick

While Ken could not produce a memorable comeback however, Steve Davis recovered from 5-0 down against Lee Spick to ensure that he will be playing at the Crucible Theatre once again.

Boy did he make it hard for himself though as Lee started off very well with runs of 55, 61, 65 and 66 putting him 5-0 in front. I did not see a great deal of this as I was at the other side of the gallery watching Ken’s match, but I had a wander over from time to time and could see that Steve was struggling to get any sort of foothold in the match.

This he managed to do in the sixth frame though as despite a missed black to the corner giving Lee a chance to clear with two reds left, a missed pink followed by a typically brilliant Davis safety shot gave him the chance he needed for 1-5. This was a significant frame as Davis soon knocked in 74 to get another back, before what was for me the real turning point in the match in frame eight.

Having got it down to the colours again and made a few very nice pressure pots on the yellow, green and brown, he was faced with a slightly tricky frame ball blue to the green pocket. It was not a formality but he really snatched at it, hit it much harder than it looked like he needed to and left it in the jaws for Davis to knock in for 3-5. From this moment on I never really felt that Steve was in danger and as he knocked in a classy 92 to finish the session, he must have gone into the interval feeling so good about himself.

Fair play to Lee Spick though, I expected him to go down quite easily in the second session but after Steve levelled the match at 5-5, he responded well to take the next and regain the lead. Davis though managed to level again with a very nice cut-back on the pink to the left-centre, before taking the next two frames to lead for the first time in the match at 8-6.

Again though Spick hung in there and when frame 15 came down to the colours, against my expectations given a few frames earlier on in the day, he managed to hold his nerve and take it to move back to 8-7. It was a similar story in the next as he produced a very impressive clearance, the highlight being a great shot on the yellow to go up and down the table and land back on the same ball as he prepared to clear the colours. As they all went in, somehow he was right back in it at 8-8.

At this point Steve was starting to struggle again and Spick actually appeared to be gaining the upper hand in frame 17 before what looked to be an extraordinary fluke gave the six-times world champion a golden opportunity to re-assert himself. He knew how important it was and he duly made it count, doing enough to move 9-8 ahead and giving Lee another mountain to climb.

This got even steeper in frame 18 as Steve moved well ahead with the remaining reds all in fairly safe positions. Lee though to his credit pulled some cracking pots out under pressure and eventually found himself near-level on points with just one red and the colours remaining.

What followed though was a moment of madness and one that proved to be his final shot in the match. With that one red remaining, the pot was difficult so he attempted to push the red on and leave the white tucked up behind the yellow and Steve in a tough snooker. While he managed to push the red over the pocket however, he made a total mess of the position of the cue ball and left the red easily pottable. Steve duly accepted the gift and following a few more good shots, knocked in the final blue before clenching his fist and celebrating as if he had won the title! In fact that is probably a lie as he never celebrated like that when he actually did win the thing 😀

Lee will be disappointed to have lost in that manner but in truth he did brilliantly just to get this far and keep his place on the tour in the process. Obviously the Crucible dream has gone for another year but he can at least be proud of his efforts from the week when he looks back.

For Steve though it is a terrific result which not only sees him back at the Crucible yet again, but also consolidate his position in the top 32 and in the top 16 on the one-year list. He’s not scoring like he used to but as is often said, he is like granite and on a good day can give most players a headache or two.

Barry Hawkins 10-9 Daniel Wells

While Steve’s win was dramatic though, probably the most thrilling match of the day was that between Barry Hawkins and young Welsh left-hander Daniel Wells who put on a real show.

Early on it was a tight match as they finished level at the mid-session interval, Barry in particular showing his class with a fine 103 in the second frame. He should have taken the next for 2-1 as well but having not come great on the blue, he could only leave on a long pink which he missed and Daniel knocked in for the frame.

Hawkins was not to be deterred though and with friend Joe Perry watching on from the public gallery, he began to look really good after the break and with the help of a flawless break of 128, moved into a 5-2 lead. An unexpected miss in the next allowed Wells to step in but as Barry took frame nine with 67, it was hard to see him letting it slip against an opponent lacking experience at this level.

In the second session though it was a different story as Hawkins, who was quickly in and looking to make it 7-3, missed a surprising ball and Wells punished him with a break of 75 to make it 6-4. Again in the next frame it was Barry who was in with the first chance, but leading 54-6 and on a break of 36, he missed another straightforward ball and handed Wells a lifeline. Though he needed a snooker, Wells was fighting strongly and he got the penalty points he desired when Barry followed through with the white when having to swerve round a ball to make contact with the yellow. Though Daniel missed a blue when clearing up, he made up for it with an excellent pot a few shots later and at 5-6, Barry was starting to look edgy.

Unlike this morning, Daniel was getting chances from Barry and it was crucial for him to capitalise if he was to keep the pressure on. Though he needed at least four chances, this is exactly what he did and from looking to be in trouble, he was now level again at 6-6, a terrific effort.

Another twist was to come before the interval however as Wells was in again but could only make 57 before losing position when attempting to move a red from the cushion. A few shots later he went for a shot that appeared to be a little too risky and he was punished as a very impressive clearance from Hawkins given the situation edged him back into the lead at 7-6 going into the interval. The situation was really interesting now as while Daniel had done what he needed to and won three of the opening four frames to get right back in it, Hawkins has also been given a big lift by taking the 13th frame and you could see it as he waved his cue following that final black.

Barry managed to push on when play resumed, capitalising on an error from Wells by making an excellent break of 78 to move two clear again at 8-6. Surely Wells would begin to buckle now?

No chance, Wells was holding himself together well and as Barry missed a red on a break of 56, the Welshman stepped in with a tremendous clearance of 73 to show that he was still right in there. Barry again recovered well to move 9-7 ahead but Wells was fighting on and managed to force a decider with breaks of 48 and brilliantly, 85 in frame 18.

So the 19th and deciding frame, which way was it going to go? Barry had all the experience but Wells remember had already won three matches at the EISS in this tournament – all by a 10-9 scoreline. As it turned out though he was not to even have a chance as Barry produced an 80 break of the highest quality to win the match in one visit and book his place at the Crucible once again.

Well done to Barry for coming through but a big well done to Daniel too, he showed some real promise once again. It is the fifth time that I have seen Wells play this season and even though he lost, it was the most impressive showing as he remained in control of himself at all times and punished Barry when given a chance. He is definitely one to watch over the coming years and hopefully he will be able to break into the top 64 next year and continue his progression…

Rory McLeod 10-7 Ian McCulloch

No disrespect intended but given the line-up on show today, if I told you that the match of the highest quality today would be this one then would you believe me? Well it probably was you know, it was a brilliant contest between the two and one full of big breaks.

I did not see the first two frames but I am told that Ian came out of the blocks looking really sharp and from his breaks of 98 and 103 to lead 2-0, this certainly appears to be the case. Rory though was cueing well himself and with runs of 66, 40, 59 and 97 managed to turn the match around completely and now lead 4-2.

The big frame (in more ways than one), though was number seven as lasting for nearly an hour, Ian McCulloch despite being in a commanding position for much of it, managed to lose it somehow and this clearly affected him in the following frame which Rory managed to win much more quickly with the help of a 40 break. Ian did manage to take the last before the interval, but at 6-3 down had it all to do.

He started off the second session in fine form though, like Ken opening with a flawless century and putting the pressure right back on Rory. Unfortunately for Ian though, Rory managed to take the next with a brilliant yellow for 7-4 and as they shared the next two, despite playing much better than for long periods this afternoon, Ian was still three frames down which must have hurt.

I did not catch too much of the match after this point but as it turns out they continued to trade frames until at 9-7, Rory had the chance he was looking for and managed to close the match out, keeping that three frame cushion until the very end. It is a fantastic result for him as he will now play at the Crucible for the first time ever and of course gives himself a further boost in the rankings as he consolidates his position in the top 48. For McCulloch though it is a disappointing end to a disappointing campaign and it also marks the end of his stay in the top 32 as like Ken he will now have to play two qualifying matches next season.

Joe Swail 10-1 Matt Couch

When these two last met at this stage in the World Championship qualifiers, Swail ran out a comfortable winner and it was to be the same again today as he was in fact finished by 4:40pm! I hardly saw a ball of this match so it is difficult to comment, but it is another fabulous result for Joe who since that win over Wenbo in December has really turned his season around.

On the bright side for Couch, he has at least done enough to retain his place on the tour for another season and perhaps he can go one better next week.


On the whole it has been another terrific week of qualifying matches at the EISS as the season has come to a close for those players who are now out of both China and the World Championship. There have been many highlights, Joe Delaney’s win to hang on to a tour place, the sensational run of young Daniel Wells, Stephen Lee’s clearance yesterday to see off Judd Trump and of course Mark Williams’ brilliant 145 against Tom Ford.

Hopefully these can be televised in some form next year, it is long overdue now and judging by the absolutely packed public gallery today, there is certainly interest in seeing these matches. Incidentally there was a camera recording for a short while earlier this morning, for the local newspaper I am told.

Finally I also managed to bump into Snooker Scene’s David Hendon today, cunningly identifying him as a result of him being the only person in there with a notepad!


Joe Swail 10-1 Matthew Couch
80-25, 28-62, 62(40)-57, 71-42, 56(45)-5, 65-57(45), 66-42, 73(47)-59(59), 54-9, 72-0, 69(69)-21
Steve Davis 10-8 Lee Spick
24-71, 34-78(55), 6-80(61), 6-76(65), 6-81(66), 61(55)-47, 75(74)-22, 66(48)-64(45), 92(92)-0, 71-9, 24-69(42), 60-49, 46-37, 66-15, 43-59, 42(41)-59, 67(56)-33, 57-34,
Ian McCulloch 7-10 Rory McLeod
98(98)-30, 123(103)-0, 27-80(66), 0-78(40), 25-80(59), 21-98(97), 58-69(40), 6-75(40), 73(47)-0, 122(122)-9, 39-69(45), 87(81)-9, 0-133(127), 67-22, 129(125)-10, 26-63, 0-77(63)
Barry Hawkins 10-9 Daniel Wells
17-63(46), 109(103)-4, 44-55, 65-47, 69-35, 128(128)-0, 69(43)-26, 10-75(40), 72(67)-15, 14-79(75), 61-63, 45(45)-65, 61(42)-58(57), 86(78)-21, 56(56)-73(73), 71(57)-24, 0-71(48), 22-90(85), 85(80)-0
Ken Doherty 5-10 Gerard Greene
49(45)-68(42), 4-114(84), 33-67(43), 52-87, 73(50)-0, 7-114(78), 83(83)-1, 31-56, 109(73)-1, 121(116)-4, 34-67, 5-70(48), 0-81(69), 65(65)-0, 21-72(67)