Paul Hunter English Open 2009: Day One Blog

Today marked the start of the 2009 Paul Hunter English Open and as promised, here is the story of my first trip to the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds…

For those of you who have followed my Twitter updates this may seem a bit like deja vu but hopefully I can fill out some details here with the extra characters!

As is a common occurence with me driving to new places, I managed to get lost and did not arrive at the NSC until about 10:10am. I had not missed much though and having asked an EASB official which matches were on at the time, headed up the steps to the left to see the world number 24 Michael Holt take on young John Roberts.

Be it a ranking event or a pro-am like this, Michael’s body language and tendency to express his frustrations is always the same and today was no exception as he struggled to find his rhythm early on. To add to the problem his opponent was playing quite well and managed to take the first two frames to move into an strong position, before establishing a big lead in the third frame.

In his own words however, he ‘twitched’ on a shot when going for frame and match and this proved to be crucial as despite finding himself out of position a few times, Holt managed to keep potting the balls and eventually cleared the table to force a re-spotted black. Winning the toss, Roberts put Holt in to break off but within a few shots a failed attempt at a long pot into the yellow pocket left Michael with an easy chance and suddenly the momentum had swung full circle.

Holt soon brought himself level in frame four with a big break to win it in one visit (I think it was 99, hard to see at the time due to the lack of TV monitors or even referees to call the scores), and though the decider was a little more scrappy, Roberts had gone and it was only a matter of time before The Hitman secured the win.

Following this I decided to have a wander round and get a feel for the atmosphere of the club generally.  Although I have been a fan of snooker for many years, before today the only events I had been to were ranking events, qualifiers and the Premier League. As a result it really was quite a culture shock to see over 20 tables in action at the same, as well as the players performing the tasks we associate with the referee such as re-spotting the colours and calling fouls. Tony Drago took it a bit literally and called out his opponents breaks as loud as the referee would, perhaps he has another career ahead of him once he hangs up his cue 😀

Still it was not a bad thing, just a different one and I have to say that I was very impressed with the venue which is much bigger than it appears from the outside. As well as the excellent tables, in particular the ‘main’ table which is actually that which was used during 2005 World Championship and is housed in a mini-arena, the decor of the place creates the perfect environment for snooker. I tried to take a few photographs but without the flash which I did not use for obvious reasons, it was hard to get images of a good quality due to the dark setting of the club.

Anyway back to the action and the next couple of matches that I saw both involved Malta’s Tony Drago as he took on Kuldesh Johal and then Michael Wasley. Funnily enough they couldn’t have been more different as first Tony managed to see off 2008/9 professional Johal 3-0 with a break of 101, before European Under-19 finalist Wasley then put in a terrific performance to beat him with breaks of 74×2 and 67. I was quietly impressed with Wasley today and having won four matches from four, he will be back on Friday for the knock-out stages.

During the Drago match I heard the announcement that Simon Bedford would be taking on Alex Hutchins over on another table and knowing that Alex as a poster over at The Snooker Forum, decided to head over and see how he got on. Unfortunately this was not to turn out too well and it soon became apparent that it was not going to be his day, losing each of his matches 3-0. To add insult to injury he had to wait a very long time between his second and third matches, nearly three hours in fact which is not ideal.

The second match over on the main table proved to be a real battle as James Welsh and Daniel Womersley went the distance in what must have been nearly a two-hour long match. Eventually though it was Welsh who managed to come through with a nicely taken break in the decider and free up the table for Robert Milkins and then Tony Drago, the latter putting in a fine performance to cruise past Scott Raper.

One of the players that I particularly wanted to see today however was Jack Lisowski, winner of the first PIOS event of the season and the current Paul Hunter Scholarship holder. For a few hours I did not spot him anywhere but then I caught him up against Liam Clark and then Callum Waite as he demonstrated some of that huge potential that he clearly has.

While it was not a major ranking event and so played in a more relaxed manner than for example events at Pontin’s might be, I could see why he is doing so well as his long potting was strong and he looked very fluent around the table. He has much still to learn however and though too good for some of the players he came up against today, he will find it tougher against some of the professionals later in the week.

Usually at snooker events I like to get autographs and take photos but somehow it just didn’t feel right today, mainly as I would have been the only person doing it and stuck out like a sore thumb! I did however speak to Andrew Higginson who seemed like a good guy and he said that he would help me add in more detail to his profile page over at PSB, so hopefully that can be done soon. On the table he did lose his second match of the day, but recovered to take his next two and progress to the knock-out stage.

I also managed to catch Tony Drago and congratulate him on his return to the main tour, asking him if he is confident going into the new season. He replied simply with “Yes, you have to be otherwise you have no chance” which is very true indeed. Hopefully he will do well.

Finally the other player that I saw a good amount of was women’s number one Reanne Evans as she took on Stuart Bingham and Kamran Ashraf. The match against Bingham was notable for the second frame which saw the black go over a pocket with the inevitable conclusion that the reds were knocked over to it one by one until it was surrounded. After a long amount of time I think that they opted for a re-rack – either that or somebody made the quickest clearance ever while I was glancing at Lisowski’s match! Otherwise as Stuart made breaks of 80 and 71, his scoring was too strong for her and this seems to have been a common theme throughout her matches today. Against Ashraf her long game appeared to be useful but her safety game not quite there as for example one poor effort led to a 70 from her young opponent.

To conclude, it was a really different experience today to what I am used to and one that I hope to repeat. I did find it a little tough to focus on one match with so much going on and so many players that I wanted to see, but I noticed the same at the qualifiers in Sheffield and soon adapted. As I say, the venue seemed top notch and hopefully we will see other Pro Challenge evens staged there over the coming years.

To view the scores from today, please click here.