Haikou World Open 2012: Tournament Preview

As the season enters its final phase, this week sees the first staging of the Haikou World Open, an event that with John Higgins installed as top seed, is being treated as an entirely new event, despite Neil Robertson’s success in Glasgow last year. Click below for my take on the draw…

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The Top Quarter

Heading the draw in Hainan is reigning world champion John Higgins, the man who last season won the invitational Hainan Classic last season with a 7-2 final success against Jamie Cope in the midst of his seemingly unstoppable run.

A year on however and the landscape has changed somewhat as Higgins has failed to progress beyond the last eight of a ranking event during 2011/12 so far and questions are now being asked.

If that is going to change this week then he must begin with a win against Marco Fu, an opponent who has got the better of him in the past, notably on his way to his maiden ranking title at the 2007 Grand Prix in Aberdeen.  More recently John came through a 6-4 winner at the 2009 Masters, while Marco has won their last three meetings, all over a shorter format in the Championship League at Crondon Park.

The winner will meet either Martin Gould or Jamie Cope in the last 16 in a match which on paper should not see a lot of safety between two of the game’s strongest long potters. Now firmly established inside the top 16, Martin has enjoyed another productive season during which he has tended to beat those lower in the rankings than himself, before falling to those at the very top of the game.

Jamie meanwhile has struggled to run deep in the major ranking events this season, reaching the last 16 on just one occasion, with the result that he has dropped nine places in the rankings to 24th since the season’s start. For that reason I would have to make Martin favourite, although Jamie has performed well in China in the past and if he can recapture that form has every chance.

Next up comes the man in form and local favourite Ding Junhui, as the Chinese number one looks to follow up his Welsh Open success with another ranking event title. Although a winner in Beijing back in 2005, it is perhaps interesting to note that Ding has not enjoyed further title success in his homeland at a full ranking tournament, though he did win the 2008 Jiangsu Classic with a 6-5 victory against Mark Selby.

In any case, he will be favourite to come through his opening match which will come against either Sam Baird or Jin Long, the local wildcard who is by far the most experienced of the wildcards in action this week having himself been a main tour professional in recent years. For this reason while generally it is the main tour player who is the favourite for those matches, given the manner of his last 32 loss to Mark Selby in Newport, as well as his subsequent 5-0 defeat to Tian Pengfei in qualifying for the China Open just days ago, I would not be too surprised to see Jin come through that one.

Awaiting the winner will be either Stephen Maguire or Robert Milkins, who meet for the first time since the 2001 Welsh Open when Milkins emerged victorious against the then 20-year-old Scot. This time however it will be Maguire who will come into the match as favourite having recently looked back to be back to his best, only losing at the German Masters and Welsh Open to inspired performances from his opponents.

Robert meanwhile has enjoyed a relatively strong season up until now in the biggest events, though has lost his last two matches in qualifying to opponents ranked significantly lower than himself in Kurt Maflin and Liu Chuang.

The Second Quarter

Moving on to the second quarter, the action here begins with a clash between Graeme Dott and Barry Hawkins, fresh from their meeting in the final of the Snooker Shoot Out last month. That match aside it has been Graeme who has won their other recent matches at the PTC3 event in 2011, as well as their last 32 match at the Crucible back in 2009.

On form however, it has been Barry who has looked the more impressive of late, consistently qualifying for the venue stages of tournaments, most recently the China Open with a 5-0 victory against Liu Chuang last week, while coming close to defeating Matthew Stevens at the Welsh Open, only losing in a decider. Graeme meanwhile has struggled to make an impact, two last 16 appearances representing his best results of the season in full-ranking events, though defeats to Neil Robertson and Mark Selby in York and Berlin respectively demonstrate the tough draws that he has had.

If Graeme can win that one, he would play fellow Scot Marcus Campbell in the last 16 following the withdrawal of Ali Carter for medical reasons. The second time that he has made it through to this stage of a ranking event this season, Marcus will now be hoping to reach his first quarter-final since the 1998 Scottish Open.

Elsewhere in this quarter, Stephen Lee meets Dominic Dale in another Shoot Out re-match between two players in good form, while Neil Robertson will be looking to exact swift revenge upon Stephen Hendry following his 4-1 defeat to the Scot at the same stage of the recent Welsh Open. On paper Robertson will be favourite to do so, particularly having finally broken his semi-final duck in China with his run to the last four in Shanghai earlier in the season.

The Third Quarter

Turning to the bottom half, Mark Williams begins his tournament with a match against Mark King, a match that looking back over the head to head record is more intriguing than on paper it might first seem. Indeed Williams has not recorded a win against King since the 2004 Players Championship, since losing their next three meetings at the 2004 UK Championship, 2009 Championship League and 2009 China Open.

That said, it must also be pointed out that Williams did win their four meetings previously and currently ranked at number two will be favourite to progress.

If he is able to win, Williams will no doubt be relieved that he will not have to face Ronnie O’Sullivan at the last 16 stage, following the withdrawal of the three-time world champion from this event. Instead then, Mark will play either Tom Ford or local wildcard Lu Haotian, which in the case of Tom takes me back to their final qualifying round match for the 2009 World Championship in which Mark demonstrated to those of us there that he was very much on the way back from his previous slump.

Next up in this quarter is a potential match between Mark Allen and Jimmy Robertson, the latter now through to his second venue following his début at the Crucible back in April 2011. Hoping to make what will be an all-On Q battle closer than on that occasion, regardless of the result you can be sure that Jimmy will learn a lot from his first trip to China.

Either Jimmy or Mark could then have a meeting with Judd Trump to look forward to as the 2011 China Open champion lurks in this section with an opener against Andrew Higginson to negotiate. Despite his defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan in Newport, Judd nevertheless looks to be playing well at the moment and will be fancied to run deep again at this tournament. Could we see a repeat of his UK Championship final with Mark Allen early at this event?

The Bottom Quarter

Kicking off the bottom quarter will be Shaun Murphy and Ricky Walden, two players with an extensive head to head record having met eight times in total, four times within the past 12 months. Interestingly it is Murphy who has the advantage having won on seven of those occasions, though Ricky’s sole victory came in arguably their biggest match, at the UK Championship quarter-finals last December.

It is hard to know what to make of Shaun’s form at the moment as on the one hand he has enjoyed his best season in the major ranking events in recent years, as well as reaching the final of the Masters for the first time in his career to date. On the other however, he has suffered heavy defeats to Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui in recent weeks, while also having failed to qualify for the PTC Finals which he won in Ireland last year.

Ricky meanwhile will be hoping to confirm his return to the top 16 at the end of the season, an achievement that looks increasingly probable given both his recent solid form and the lack of points that he has to defend following his poor finish to the 2009/10 season.

The winner will move into the last 16 and a match against either Matthew Stevens or (wildcard permitting), Joe Perry, who as you would expect have met on a number of occasions down the years. Their most recent clash came at the 2010 EPTC5 event where Joe ran out a 4-0 winner, while Joe was also a 5-1 winner at the 2008 Shanghai Masters as he enjoyed arguably the best spell of his career to date.

More recently Matthew has made safe his position inside the top 16 with runs to the quarter-finals in Shanghai and Berlin, while he also reached the final of the PTC7 event in Gloucester towards the end of 2011. Joe meanwhile has also impressed at times with two PTC finals as well as a last 16 run at the German Masters where he lost to eventual winner Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Rounding off the draw, the final two matches involve Stuart Bingham and potentially Michael Holt, if the in-form Nottingham pro can navigate the wildcard round, as well as world number one Mark Selby who will be hoping to follow up his Welsh Open run with another strong performance in Hainan against potentially Nigel Bond.


Semis: Robertson def Maguire, Selby def Trump

Final: Robertson def Selby