World Championship 2010: Qualifiers Preview Part 3

Moving onto the bottom half of the draw, part three of my preview sees me consider the fortunes of Ricky Walden, Tony Drago, Andrew Higginson and Xiao Guodong to name just a few…

The Third Quarter


Round One Round Two Round Three Round Four
Xiao Guodong Liu Song Ian McCulloch Barry Hawkins
Tony Drago
Chris Norbury David Morris Jamie Burnett Michael Holt
Mei Xiwen
Craig Steadman John Parrott Andrew Higginson Ricky Walden
Zhang Anda
Matt Couch Jin Long Rory McLeod Gerard Greene
Winner of Prelim 4


Of the sections so far I expect this third one to be the most unpredictable with upsets not beyond the realms of possibility in all four pathways…

Third round, third round, third round, last 32 and last 32 – can Tony Drago do it again and go on another run from the foot of the draw this week or will he be found wanting over the longer frame matches? Looking at his draw it must be said that while not easy, it is not an impossible task either.

He will have to play well from the start however as his round one opponent Xiao Guodong is one of the toughest draws that he could have had and himself has recorded some notable wins including one over Jimmy White in the recent China Open qualifying event.

The winner will play another Chinese player, this time Liu Song who after a dreadful run in 2008/9 has improved somewhat this year, qualifying for the televised stages of the Welsh Open tournament earlier this year. He was also able to win his opening match at this tournament in 2009, defeating Supoj Saenla to retain his tour status and will need at least one more victory this year to do the same again.

Next up in this section comes Ian McCulloch, at his best a very capable player who memorably reached the semi-finals of the World Championship back in 2005 when he lost out to Welshman Matthew Stevens. Unfortunately however Ian has struggled for both consistency and confidence recently and like last year could be vulnerable to an early exit.

Finally the seeded player in this section is Barry Hawkins, a man who has qualified for the Crucible on four occasions now but is yet to win a match there! So far his season has been mixed, winning three of his five qualifying matches including the last two to leave himself in 20th place provisionally, though he did recently win the latest Pro Challenge event in Liverpool.

So who will qualify? It is hard to bet against Tony Drago given the considerable momentum that he has at the moment but whether he will be able to win four best of 19 matches to go all the way I am not so sure. Indeed with Xiao Guodong first up he is far from certain to progress any further than that! Overall therefore I have to go with Barry Hawkins who despite his relatively low profile is always a dangerous player, particularly at the qualifiers. Should any of his matches go to a decider then he will also be able to draw strength from his match-winning break a year ago against Daniel Wells at the same venue, an excellent break given the situation.

The man who Barry defeated to take that recent Pro Challenge title was Nottingham’s Michael Holt, a man who has not enjoyed the best of season’s to date but looks to be the favourite to qualify from this section.

His primary opposition will come in the form of Scot Jamie Burnett, another player who after a consistent run in 2008/9 has not quite been able to continue that form into 2009/10. He has however won three of his qualifying matches and I would be a little surprised to see him fall in his first match against David Morris, Mei Xiwen or Chris Norbury. All are talented players but Jamie’s experience should be a big asset during the course of a best of 19 match, particularly as those three players are all scrapping for tour survival and will have that extra pressure on their shoulders.

As a result I expect the section to come down to a last 48 match between Holt and Burnett, one that could easily go either way given the quality and the experience of both players. Having reached the Crucible in three of the past five years however, Michael has more recent experience of successfully qualifyied for Sheffield and as a result I am again going to back the seeded player here…

Probably the most interesting section of this part of the draw for me is that headed by Ricky Walden, a man very much in the hunt for a top 16 place but who must at least qualify for the Crucible if he is to hold any hope of breaking into that elite group for the first time.

Out there aiming to stop him is former Welsh Open finalist Andrew Higginson, a player who made his debut at the Crucible last season and heads into the qualifiers on the back of a very consistent season in which he has lost just one opening round match.

It will be interesting to see who Andrew will play in the last 64 this year as although John Parrott is the next highest ranked player, he has struggled for anything like his best form for a few seasons now. Last year in this tournament he was very poor as he slipped to a 10-3 defeat against Matt Couch and with either Craig Steadman and Anda Zhang set to face him this time around he will have to be on his game to progress. In John’s favour at least is the fact that both are new to the tour this year and could become nervous if John can stay in touch.

Either way, I would nevertheless expect this section to come down to a tie between Walden and Higginson, notably a repeat of their last 48 match during this season’s UK Championship which was won 9-6 by Ricky at Pontin’s. While I would not be surprised at all to see Higginson win this one, Walden will start as the favourite to edge it and that is how I see it…

Last year Rory McLeod became the first black player to qualify for the Crucible – can he do so again this year?

If he is to do so he will have to see off either Jin Long, Matthew Couch or the winner of the final preliminary match, before overcoming the consistent Gerard Greene at the last 48 stage. Looking at the draw I would expect Matt Couch to come through to face McLeod in his opening match as while Jin Long was excellent during 2008/9, he has struggled this time around to the extent that he has failed to win a single match. Matt also has a far greater amount of experience than potential round one opponent Brendan O’Donoghue and so I would be surprised to see him fall at the first fence.

From there however Couch would have to defeat two very solid opponents in the form of McLeod and Greene if he is to qualify for the Crucible. While not impossible, I again expect this section to be decided by a match involving the two highest ranked players.

If that is to be the case, who will prevail? Almost a genuine 50-50 in my mind that could go either way, I am going to back a determined Rory McLeod to outlast his more attacking opponent and earn a second crack at the Crucible. Let’s hope that he can avoid Mark King this time!

Part four will follow on Friday morning…