China Open 2011: Robertson and Hendry through, Doherty Out

Day one from Beijing has now been completed and amongst the winners was Scotland’s Stephen Hendry who secured what could be a vital win in terms of his top 16 ranking at the end of the season against the in-form Matthew Stevens…

Monday 28th March 2011 Results:

Wildcard Round

Kurt Maflin 5-3 Cao Yupeng
Marcus Campbell 5-3 Mei Xiwen
Joe Perry 5-2 Li Yan
Li Hang 5-1 Ken Doherty
Nigel Bond 5-3 Jin Long

Last 32

Stephen Hendry 5-0 Matthew Stevens
Neil Robertson 5-1 Barry Hawkins

Stephen Hendry produced an impressive performance this afternoon to whitewash arguably the tour’s form player at the moment Matthew Stevens to move into the last 16.

Hendry set the tone from the off, knocking in a superb opening red before going on to clear to the green, notching up century break number 752 in the process. The second frame was a more tactical affair, Stevens winning the initial safety battle but only making seven points from the opportunity before finishing too high on the black and leaving only a safety on. Hendry immediately pulled out an excellent pot the middle and with breaks of 39 and 24 doubled his lead.

First in during frame three was the Welshman who found an excellent pot to the middle himself, but unfortunately he could make just one before breaking down and pull further clear with a run of 93. Already the writing looked to be on the wall for Matthew and with further breaks of 75 and 62, the Scot soon wrapped up a fine 5-0 victory.

While it is only a first round victory, in the content of Stephen’s ranking this could be a hugely significant result as he moves up from 21st to 16th place in my latest provisional rankings list. He still has work to do if he is to maintain his top 16 place but with this result he has at least given himself a realistic chance. It was notable that he started the match looking just as good as he did against Stephen Maguire when he made than magical 147 but unlike then, his game did not disintegrate after the first few frames and it will be interesting to see whether he can sustain that in his second match.

For Matt meanwhile it is a chance missed to make absolutely sure of his top 16 place at the end of the season but given his hectic schedule recently, it is in my view not the worst defeat in the world as it does give him another week to prepare for the all-important World Championship at the Crucible. At the time of the draw I had fancied him to come through this one but with each passing hour at Crondon Park his chances became less likely.

Joining Stephen in the last 16 is Neil Robertson who defied my predictions of doom in my pre-tournament preview by coming through against Barry Hawkins a 5-1 winner. It was a high quality match during which both recorded a century break but having lost the first four frames it was always going to be a tough as for Barry to come back and cause a shock.

Given his relatively poor record in China it is good to see Neil firing and a good run here would certainly see him head into Sheffield as one of the form players. Much is made of the fact that players who have performed well during the China Open have not often gone on to achieve much in Sheffield but don’t forget that just a couple of years ago John Higgins followed up his run to the final in Beijing by lifting his third world title.

Elsewhere it was a low-key start for the wildcards as many fell to their professional counterparts but one notable exception was young Li Hang who ended the season of 1997 world champion Ken Doherty with a 5-1 victory. By all accounts it was a shocking performance from Doherty who has not played well at all in recent months, but as flagged up during my preview, Li is a handy player and I feel was always a reasonable bet to do something here. Next up for him will be a tough tie against 2007 champion Graeme Dott however.

As a final aside, I can confirm that Ronnie O’Sullivan is now in China and will take his place in the draw this week.