World Championship 2012: Qualifying Preview – Part Two

Hot on the heels of part one of my preview of the 2012 World Championship qualifiers comes part two, as the likes of Jimmy White and recent China Open winner Peter Ebdon fall under the spotlight…

  • Click here to view the qualifying drawsheet
  • Click here to view the latest projected seedings
  • Click here to view my analysis of the rankings battles heading into the tournament

Route 9

Getting this section underway are Ian McCulloch and Luca Brecel in what is for me one of the ties of the first round, particularly after their dramatic match at the UK Championship qualifiers earlier this season. On that occasion it was Ian who came through, but not before trailing 4-1 and 5-3, as well as needing a snooker on the pink/black in the decider. On that evidence, it really couldn’t be much closer, but over a best of 19 I would favour the experience of McCulloch to see him through, particularly as the former Crucible semi-finalist needs the points if he is to remain on the main tour beyond the end of this season.

The winner will face Barry Pinches, another experienced professional in dire need of the ranking points, but unfortunately with little form behind him during the past 18 months. Indeed Barry has won just five matches in ranking event competition to date, none in a full-ranking event since last August, so will need to find inspiration from somewhere if he is to buck that trend here.

Next up comes Michael Holt, the Hitman having performed well of late by qualifying for the last three full-ranking events, as well as winning PTC10 towards the end of last year. As a result Holt will probably require no more than one win to secure his return to the top 32 seeds and on current form he would have to be fancied to get it.

The seeded player here meanwhile is Mark King, another playing for his top 32 status, but more importantly hoping to make it back to the Crucible for a fifth successive season. Though his ranking has slipped over the past year or so, Mark has enjoyed a positive campaign with runs to the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters and the quarter-finals of the Haikou World Open the obvious highlights.

Interestingly, Mark enjoys a 4-2 head to head advantage against potential opponent McCulloch, both of Ian’s wins coming in invitational events, while he has also won his previous two encounters with Holt. I fancy one of those three to come through, but am not quite sure which it will be…

Route 10

Moving on, Sam Craigie and Justin Astley kick off the next section, Sam in need of a deep run if he is to maintain his professional place while Justin has won two preliminary round matches in order to make it this far. As someone who rates the younger of the Craigie brothers as a prospect to watch, I would expect him to come through this match against a player who a year ago lost out 10-3 to James Wattana, though Justin’s comeback win against John Higgins at PTC11 showed that he is no walkover. The only previous meeting between Sam and Justin actually came in the second round of that Sheffield PTC, when Sam came through a 4-0 winner.

Next up in the draw comes Malta’s Tony Drago, always a fan favourite for both his fast playing style and pure passion for the game which is rarely more evident than at the qualifiers where he can generally be found watching among the spectators whenever he is not playing. This year however the pressure is on as down to 62nd on the projected seedings list, he will in all likelihood need at least one win if he is to retain his professional status.

On paper the signs are not good for Tony who has lost his opening qualifying match in five of the seven full-ranking events staged so far, while also struggling for consistency during the PTC events. His greater experience in the competition and of best of 19 matches should help him regardless of who he faces first, but I would fancy Craigie to run him close if the two are to meet.

Elsewhere in this section, 2008 quarter-finalist and Chinese number two Liang Wenbo will be hoping to make it back to the Crucible for the first time in a couple of years with a run here and after his annus horribilis of 2010/11, looks to be moving back in the right direction. In fact Liang has won his opening qualifying round match of every tournament this season with the exception of the UK Championship and if he can perform to his potential, I would expect him to do so again here.

Standing between him and a place at the Crucible could be Scotland’s Marcus Campbell who has now clearly established himself as a fixture among the world’s top 32 players following a consistent run of results during the past two seasons. Though he was to suffer a heavy defeat the hands of Shaun Murphy at the venue in 2011, Marcus performed well to defeat Matt Selt in the final qualifying round and has continued to be a regular at the venues in 2011/12. For reference, Marcus has won his past two meetings with Liang, though his 9-8 victory at the 2005 UK Championship was a long time ago now.

Route 11

Opening up route 11 are David Gilbert and Stuart Carrington, a match for which David will be a warm favourite with many given his unquestioned talent and form since retaining his tour status via the Q School at the end of last season. It was in fact during this tournament that he showed signs of a return to form in 2011, edging an error-strewn match with David Morris in the first round before progressing to the final qualifying round where he was to lose to eventual finalist Judd Trump.

Next up will be another man who made it to the Crucible in 2011, On Q’s Jimmy Robertson who has an outside chance of a top 48 place with a repeat performance this time around. Since then Jimmy has enjoyed a solid season, qualifying for a second major venue at the 2012 Haikou World Open, where he lost a deceptively close match 5-1 to eventual champion Mark Allen.

Also in this section is Twitter comedian and iphone app entrepreneur Mike Dunn, who is in need of a good run in order to secure a year-end top 48 place and more importantly will be hoping to make it back to the Crucible, a decade after his maiden appearance there in 2002. Mike has an interesting head to head with Jimmy, losing 5-0 to him at the 2009 Shanghai Masters qualifiers, while turning the tables to win 4-0 earlier this campaign at the PTC9 event. Mike also holds a 3-1 advantage against Gilbert, their most recent meeting seeing a 4-3 win for Dunn at this season’s PTC2 event.

If Mike can win his opener however, he will face an opponent in Fergal O’Brien who recently came back from 3-1 down to defeat Dunn 4-3 to qualify for the Welsh Open. Again there could be another potentially close match in prospect on that evidence, though Fergal will be favourite.

Route 12

Getting this section underway are Rod Lawler and Dechawat Poomjaeng, Lawler set to lose his long held professional status following a season of few highs, while Poomjaeng has not competed on the tour since the Haikou World Open qualifiers for unspecified reasons. A hard match to call, I would probably favour Rod’s experience of the longer format matches to see him through, though if I were a betting man I would be keeping my coins in my wallet.

Whoever can win will face Liu Chuang, a player who impressed during qualifying for this competition a year ago, as well as having made it to the Crucible as a 17-year-old back in 2008. While Liu has not had a bad season by any means, most notably reaching the final qualifying rounds of both the German Masters and China Open tournaments, I had expected more from him in 2011/12.

Despite that however, I would expect him to come through his opener and set up a re-match with six-time former finalist Jimmy White in the last 64, Liu having defeated Jimmy 10-9 in this event a year ago. In the days prior to the live streaming of the final qualifying round matches, I remember both players struggling for much of the first session and a half before Liu suddenly raised his game to progress.

A year on and I would expect the match to be another tight one, Jimmy having climbed back into the top 48 following a solid season while Liu has made it into the top 64 for the first time.

Lying in wait for the winner is Jamie Cope, who despite a 147 earlier in the season, has done little other than a couple of last 16 runs in Shanghai and Hainan Island, to suggest that he is back to the form that he was a few years ago when he made it to two ranking event finals. He does though remain a highly talented break-builder and it would be good to see him back to the level of 2009 when he pushed eventual winner John Higgins all the way at the Crucible before losing 13-12.

Route 13

Kicking off this section will be Ireland’s David Morris, who takes on the winless Kacper Filipiak as he looks to make it back to the Crucible for what would be the first time. While David has not set the world alight during the season to date, it would be a shock to see him lose out to his 16-year-old opponent from Poland and one that I do not expect to see.

Next up for David would be Mark Joyce, who after a mixed season will be another hoping to end it on a high by making his Crucible début later in the month. After a strong start by winning the invitational Pink Ribbon tournament, Mark’s season tailed off somewhat from there, though there has been improvement of late as he qualified for the final stages of the Welsh Open before losing 4-2 to former world champion Shaun Murphy.

Elsewhere the section sees a number of familiar names as Scotland’s Alan McManus looks to make it back to the Crucible for the first time since the 2006 season, while Shoot Out winner Barry Hawkins will be hoping to return for another crack at it following his long-awaited first win at the venue in 2011.

On balance I would make Hawkins a warm favourite to come through here, particularly as he has won his last two meetings against McManus, both in the final qualifying round of tournaments…

Route 14

This route sees the last of the amateurs get underway as David Singh begins against Thailand’s Passakorn Suwannawat in the first round.

Assuming that Passakorn can successfully negotiate that one as I would expect, he would then meet Leeds’ Peter Lines in the next round, prior to a potential meeting with the ever-dangerous Rory McLeod who having won two matches to qualify in 2011 will be hoping to do so again this time around. Previous matches between Peter and Rory have been tight, though having not met for nine years now, the form book is not as relevant as it might be.

The seeded player in this section is Andrew Higginson, who after winning his first professional title earlier this season during the PTC series, stalled slightly with opening round defeats at the UK Championship, Welsh Open and China Open qualifiers, not to mention the loss of a 4-0 lead against Ronnie O’Sullivan in Berlin.

Recently however he did return to form with a run to the semi-finals of the PTC Grand Finals tournament in Galway and will be hoping for more of the same as he bids to make it back to the Crucible for the first time since his 2009 début.

Route 15

Another pick of the round comes in section 15 as David Grace takes on Sam Baird for a place in the second round in Sheffield. Baird memorably made it as far as the penultimate qualifying round as an amateur in 2011, while this season he also qualified for the venue stages of both the Welsh Open and the Haikou World Open, defeating Welshman Dominic Dale at the former.

Without a win since that agonising loss to Mark Selby at the last 32 stage in Newport however, the question has to be asked as to whether Sam has recovered from that missed blue when in with a chance to defeat the world number one. Hoping that he has not will be opponent Grace, who recently shone at the China Open qualifiers by reaching the final round, eventually losing out 5-4 to Tom Ford.

Next up in the section will be Alfie Burden, another player who could do with a win in order to guarantee his tour status for next season, while friend of the blog Jack Lisowski will be hoping to improve upon his agonising third round defeat to Steve Davis a year ago.

Whoever can come through however will have their work cut out in the final qualifying round as recent China Open champion Peter Ebdon hopes to maintain his long unbroken run of Crucible appearances with success in Sheffield. During the first-half of the season wins were all too rare for Peter, but a run of matches in the Championship League looks to have hardened his game, culminating in his second Beijing success just days ago.

While recent success guarantees nothing in Sheffield, if Lisowski for example were to come through against a player as hard to beat as Ebdon in a match of such magnitude, then it would for me represent the most impressive achievement of his professional career so far…

Route 16

The final section of the draw begins with a clash between Adam Duffy and Lucky Vatnani, one that Adam will be favourite to win following an impressive début season on the main tour. That said, Lucky’s campaign was much delayed due to well-documented visa issues and his performances since getting up to speed have not been too bad, notably at the Welsh Open qualifiers where he won two matches before losing out 4-3 to Steve Davis.

Elsewhere in the section come Adrian Gunnell and Jamie Burnett, but the favourite to qualify looks to be former Crucible semi-finalist Joe Perry who has enjoyed a good season to date, recently making it to the quarter-finals of the PTC Grand Finals before losing out to Neil Robertson.


So there we go, that rounds up my preview for the 2012 World Championship qualifiers.

I will be at the venue for at least the first three days from Saturday, as well as the final round next weekend, hopefully the action will live up to that of previous season, indeed with so much at stake, I have no doubt that it will…