Pro Challenge: Event One, Day Two Blog

I am now back from my trip to the NSC for the second day of the Pro Challenge Series and as ever, here is my take on how the day went…

Having arrived at the venue at 10am with Ryan (crucible77 from TSF) once again, we were slightly surprised to see that the venue was very empty, though predictably this was to change throughout the day. Otherwise the NSC was much the same as during the English Open, though it was immediately apparent that there were fewer officials there, just Mike Ganley and Eirian Williams as far as I could tell.

Following a chat with Ben Woollaston’s mother who informed us that his scheduled opponent Stephen Lee had withdrawn from the event, we decided the head on up to the main table where Judd Trump, (fresh from victory in an event at Prestatyn recently), took on Mark Joyce in a repeat of the Masters qualifying final from last year.

Early on it was Judd who again looked very dangerous as he moved into a 2-1 lead, but the warning signs were there for him in frame two as when splitting the reds he failed to pot the object ball and left Joyce in for a 52 break, before a couple of failed long efforts from the 19-year-old allowed Mark to clinch the frame. As the match progressed Trump seemed to get worse and sensing this, Mark took full advantage to grind out a 4-3 win.

Following this the players scheduled to play in the second session at 11:30am began to arrive for their matches and of particular interest to me was Ken Doherty who grabbed a set of balls and began to practice. Sensing an opportunity I decided to ask him if he would mind us taking photos of him at the table during this time and he had no problem with that, even aiming into the pocket where I was standing especially. Despite having seen Ken several times I always manage to turn into a nervous wreck around him as he is a real star to me, but hopefully he did not seem to mind!

As the other players from the 10am matches began to emerge I managed to get pics of Dave Harold, Sam Baird (who was buzzing after a notable 4-3 win of Jamie Cope), Mark Joyce and Judd Trump, but some of the matches were taking their time and it looked like the officials might have a problem with the schedules at one point. Happily however, the third set of matches was not scheduled to start until 3:30pm and in the end there proved to be no real problem here.

To my disappointment the match put on the centre table for this session was that between Stephen Maguire and Rod Lawler, not a bad match by any means but I had hoped to watch Ken take on Jimmy Michie. Having watched a few frames of Stephen and Rod we managed to find our way to the Doherty/Michie match on an outside table and not knowing the score we were curious to see how they were both playing. During what would turn out to be the final two frames however, we only managed to see how one was playing as Ken knocked in a fabulous total clearance of 127 before following it with a frame-winning break of 94 to take victory.

The century in particular was a brilliant break, containing a number of difficult shots and as he potted the balls he was beginning to look something like his old self again. After the match we congratulated him and headed back up to see how the other matches were unfolding. World number two Stephen Maguire was not having it all his own way against Lawler but as the match unfolded he began to wear Rod down and eventually came through to take a 4-3 win.

Another match that I had been interested to see was that between Ricky Walden and Daniel Wells, two players who impressed last season at different levels on the tour and head into 2009/10 aiming to maintain their upward momentum. Although I saw little of the match as it was right in the corner, I understand that Ricky came reasonably close a maximum break with eight reds and eight blacks, but ultimately could not complete would would have been his first 147. Still, he did go on to win the match 4-0 and moved ominously into the last 16.

With a bit of a break now until the 3:30pm matches we managed to hang around, check up on the other scores and get a few more photos, but the time soon passed and this time it would be Ken’s turn on the main table as he faced Joe Swail in what was on paper probably the clash of the round. As it turned out though it would prove to be a one-sided affair, Ken moving 2-0 up in no time and though Joe was more competitive in the next two, it was not to be his match and he succumbed to a 4-0 hammering.

Much closer was the match between Ricky Walden and Jimmy Robertson which Ryan went off to watch and by all accounts it sounds like a cracking match. Jimmy had the better of it early on to lead 1-0 and 2-1, but despite getting ahead in what would be the seventh and deciding frame, Walden apparently managed to clear the table to win in dramatic fashion.

Even more frustrating for Jimmy (who incidentally I had a good chat with, seems nice), was the fact that in Ricky’s quarter-final match against Ben Woollaston which would take place over on the main table, he was all over the place and soon slumped to a 4-1 defeat. Ben played well though and thoroughly deserved the win, making the most of the opportunities that he was given and making Walden pay for his errors.

He will meet Stephen Maguire in the semi-finals who managed to come through against both Craig Steadman and Dave Harold, the latter match having an interesting moment when they appeared to change the balls after a couple of frames. Unfortunately I had to leave before the conclusion of the match but it appears to have been predictably tight (don’t forget that Dave won their two encounters in ranking events last season), Stephen needing to come through another decider.

Following his two previous wins today, Ken must have headed into his quarter-final with Andrew Norman in confident mood and was helped further by the length of Norman’s previous match against Sam Baird which left him with a very short break between matches. As a result it was no surprise to see Ken become the first man to make it through into the last four with what proved to be another straightforward 4-0 victory. I know that this tournament carries no ranking points and as a consequence less pressure, but I must admit that I was really impressed with what I saw from Ken today in each of his matches. He is looking confident, moving quickly around the table and looking as solid as I have seen him for quite some time. Good signs for next week I hope.

More immediately however he will play Alan McManus tomorrow, a man who I have seen little of other than a few practice drills that he carried out throughout the day. Today he managed to come through against Matt Couch, Mark Joyce and Matt Selt but his match with Ken will on today’s evidence be a different experience altogether. Having beaten him at the Crucible in the past however, he is more than capable of making it to the final.

As far as my trip was concerned there was little else to report. It was good to meet some of the new professionals for the first time such as Sam Baird and Jordan Brown, as well as catch up with players from last week and indeed previous tournaments. I know that I say this every time but they pretty much all came across well and I wish all of them the best for the new season.

The event appeared to run fairly smoothly (unlike my pen which decided to fall apart and leak after two frames, scuppering my plan to write more detailed match reports), like I say at one stage I worried that some matches may overrun but generally they managed to get away with it. I will not be there tomorrow but hopefully it will be a case of more of the same before the snooker circus moves on to Prestatyn…

Please check back later today for my exclusive photo gallery from the NSC.