Crucible Diary 2012: Day Eight

Day eight at the Crucible as we try to digest the events of last night as John Higgins crumbled against Stephen Hendry, leaving the defence of his world title all but over. Click below for the latest instalment of my Crucible Diary…

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Arriving at the media centre ahead of the morning session, I headed in and finished off an article that I had prepared during the previous day concerning the potential return of Peter Francisco to the main tour following his victory in the recent African Championship. Stay tuned over the coming days for my annual ‘roll call’ post breaking down all of the qualifiers for the main tour in 2012/13.

Back here however, the morning session was very much a case of the calm before the storm, as with four world champions in action during this afternoon’s session, the old ‘big four’ so to speak, eyes are already looking ahead to later on.

That said, the morning session was interesting as both Joe Perry and Cao Yupeng, the underdogs in their respective matches, both claimed the opening two frames to keep themselves in contention. Maguire though soon too a scrappy frame for 12-7, before he added the next to seal a comfortable victory and his place in the quarter-finals.

Selected highlights from Stephen’s press conference:

“I think I finished the match yesterday really. Winning that session 7-1 finished the match really and today was a case of just finishing it off. I obviously wanted to finish it before the interval but even if it went 12-8 I would have had to have fell down to lose five, six frames on the spin.”

“I played ok. I think in all honesty Joe was in every single frame. I wouldn’t say I played well, I must have stole six, seven frames off him there, just like I did against Luca, which is good because it hurts the opponent, but I’m only getting in really because they are missing on 40 or 50 which isn’t good enough. If I come up against anyone knocking in 70’s or 80’s I’m not going to get the chance to clear up so I am going to have to improve.”

“If it’s Stephen in the next round it would be quite special to play him at the Crucible, I’ve never played him here, I grew up watching Stephen win all the titles, tournaments and stuff so it would be quite special to play him in the quarter-finals here.”

“I’ve known Stephen for years, I don’t think he ever comes into a tournament thinking he can’t win it and I don’t think this is any different. If he beats John tonight he is in the quarter-finals of the Worlds which are his second home. Stephen will only have one thing on his mind and that is winning that trophy. I don’t think he will be as relaxed as he maybe makes out.”

“He has won it seven times, this is the place that you don’t want to play him. I beat him in the UK but it was only over the best of 11, I’ve never played Stephen in a long haul match. I just wouldn’t be surprised if he came out for the quarter-finals of the worlds and played the way he can.”

Regarding the performance of John Higgins last night, Stephen added:

“I was shell-shocked. I have never seen John play like that. It shows you that the game is not easy and especially here at the Crucible. To see the world champion, I could see he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him last night which we’ve all had that feeling. It was quite sad to see really because we all know how good John is, what a fighter he is. It was just one of those bad nights at the office.”

“I went through a couple of years where I wasn’t beating the top eight boys as much as I would have liked to have done, but I think just winning matches. In all honesty I don’t think that I have been playing that well this season, I have just been stealing matches and I’ve not been over-powering anybody. To be honest I would rather steal matches because that hurts the opponent even more, I would rather steal frames, but sometimes it’s nice just to get in first and make an 80 break and finish it quickly, but when you steal it, it seems to kick the other guy which I quite like doing.”

“We’ve got more tournaments and if you can get a bit of a run going, the confidence comes with it. But on the other side of it, if you are struggling you have got all of these tournaments. There are guys that really are struggling now because they are playing week-in, week-out and they can’t win a game. Lucky enough for me I have managed to win a few matches and it is just confidence really.”

Stephen went on to talk about the dangers of burn-out given the long season that is in place now, as well as his approach to the PTC events which is to go out and enjoy the events, rather than to take them as seriously as full-ranking events, something that he said would give a ‘serious chance of burn out’ ahead of the World Championship or even China Open.

It was a good performance from Stephen who scored heavily when in the balls and as he described, stole a number of frames from behind against an opponent who himself did not play badly, but missed a number of balls at crucial moments.

Though he would not admit it during his press conference, he could have asked for a worse draw than Stephen Hendry (as it looks like being), in the quarter-finals and will now be eyeing a place in the semi-finals for only the second time during his career to date. Work to do yet however.

Meanwhile over on table two, Ryan Day struggled to get over a miss in the opening frame of his second session against Chinese youngster Cao Yupeng, his lead cut to 9-7 by the end of the session.

A strange match that one, on the face of it Ryan would be expected to come through this evening but given his recent form, there as to be a nagging doubt as to whether he will get the job done. There is though pressure on the shoulders of his opponent as potential wildcards aside, Cao must win this match if he is to retain his place on the main tour for 2012/13 at the expense of Barry Pinches.

Moving on to the afternoon session, the four world champions in action were given a tremendous reception as they were given what was a really special introduction given the four players involved.

The last of the players to enter the arena, it must have been extremely difficult for John Higgins who at 12-4 down knew he had no chance of victory and it showed as he quickly shook Stephen’s hand before approaching the table and breaking off, not wasting time to pour ice in his glass of water as is often seen.

First chance actually fell the way of Higgins but breaking down early he could then do little as Hendry hit a break of 64 to leave him needing a snooker. Although John did play on for it, as he fouled the blue, the handshake came and he was shortly in for his press conference, already with his coat on in anticipation of a quick exit:

“I thought that Stephen hit the ball tremendously well, in around the balls he looked back to his best, he really did. I don’t know what happened, first session I went 2-0 in front and then Stephen really didn’t miss a ball to make it 5-3 so I knew it should have been a close one but I lost the first frame last night, I could have maybe nicked it from him, that might have made a difference. But after that, I think I just brought Stephen down. I can’t put my finger on why how bad it was. but it was really bad, really bad.”

“I’ve played worse in a lot of tournaments but that was pretty bad. This place can do that to you, it can give you your best moments, but it can also give you your worst nightmares and that was just another nightmare.”

“Even with how bad I was feeling, I was thinking if I can get to 10-6, you still have a chance. Right away I got a chance and was going for the 147 and I missed on about 50-odd, then I missed a pink to the middle and Stephen dished up to make it 11-4 and then basically I thought to myself that I’m certainly not getting back into this match however well I play so that was it really.”

“I’ve come into this season, I’ve not done the right things on the table, off the table. As I said even before the tournament, you only get out of your life what you put into it and this season I’ve not done the right things so I deserve nothing out of the game. In the next year I am going to try and rectify that and try to come back a more focused player, a more better prepared player and see where that takes me.”

“It breaks my heart to come here 12-4 behind, basically you are out of the match. It is a heart-breaking moment to come into any snooker match like that. That’s what maybe drives you on, you don’t want to go through any more of these moments but we will just have to wait and see what happens.”

“If anybody knows how to win the World Championship it is Stephen and he is going to have gained confidence, not just beating myself or Stuart Bingham, but the way he is hitting the ball. He’s going to take great confidence from that. It’s only going to get tougher from now because he’s going to be playing players who will put up more of a fight up. I think that Stephen Maguire is going to put up more of a fight than I certainly did so it’s an interesting match. Maguire seems to be hitting the ball well as well so it’s a tough one to call. It should be a very good match.”

John also elaborated on the fact that he has not practised so much this season, explaining that he has always felt like he has had to put work into his game, rather than move on from tournament to tournament as is the case with the PTC events. He also succinctly described the arena as being a tough place to be when you are suffering from turmoil.

Shortly afterwards, Stephen came into the press area and explained:

“The first session was quite a high standard, from 2-0 down I played pretty well. Last night was probably one of the strangest sessions of snooker I’ve played at the Crucible. I’m fortunate in the fact that John played as bad as he has in his life at the Crucible. You feel lucky if you get one or two chances against John in a frame but I was getting four, five and six. At times I was coming to the table in shock and not knowing what to do, it was weird. But you have just got to try and win the frames whatever way you can. If someone had said that I would beat John Higgins 13-4 then I would have said that they were nuts before.”

“Normally when John Higgins is behind, I was fully expecting him to come out last night all guns blazing. When his back is against the wall, normally he plays his best snooker so I was expecting a really big session last night. I was hoping to have a lead going into the last session but for it to be very close. But in the end it just turned into a weird session of snooker.”

“Obviously he has had a poor season by his standards. This place is hard, when you get on a run of missing balls it’s really hard to get going and John has probably never played as bad as he has played last night.”

“Stephen looks very solid as usual. He is always very, very tough to beat but it’s the first time I have won two matches at a venue for a very long time so anything can happen from here on in, I’m just delighted to be in the quarter-finals.”

“I’ve not had a great record against top players so to beat John in the second round is a surprise. But then again I know what I am capable of if I do play to a decent standard. We’ll see how it goes.”

“People talk about the standard at the top, but the standard lower down is so high now that the days of me looking at who I was playing in the semis rather than the first round are long gone.”

“I’m delighted to still be involved, I don’t feel like the oldest player in the tournament, I don’t feel that at all. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been playing much competitive snooker, I keep getting beat in the first round. Perhaps I am the freshest player out there!”

Amusingly, Hendry then struggled to get out of the press room as he was in real demand with the Chinese media, but he will be happy with his day’s work and to set up a match with another Scot in the quarter-finals, Stephen Maguire.

On the evidence of what we have seen so far, as well as their recent head to head record, I would have to make Maguire a favourite, but Hendry does look to be cueing as well as he has since probably his last quarter-final run here in 2009 and cannot be discounted.

Meanwhile over on table two, the start to the match between Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan has been entertaining as you would expect, Ronnie moving 2-1 ahead with a break of 95 and looking like making it 3-1 at the interval when in perfectly amongst the reds in frame four. Surprisingly however, the three-time champion missed a pink to the corner on 56 and Williams dished with 64 to stay level at the break.

From there, Mark won the fifth to edge back in the lead at 3-2, before O’Sullivan hit back to take the next three and secure a 5-3 overnight lead.

With a couple of hours between sessions, I opted to head out for a bit of air once again but as the rain continues to fall, it wasn’t long before I decided to head back in.

This evening sees the start of the match between Judd Trump and Ali Carter, an interesting one on paper in which a lot of people are tipping a possible upset from the Captain. While I would make Judd favourite, on the evidence of their respective first round performances, a case can certainly be made for Ali who after a tough campaign has little to lose in this match, while his opponent as the bookies favourite has it all to do.

First up though, Ryan Day won the opening four frames of the evening session on table two to defeat Cao Yupeng 13-7 and progress to the last eight for the third time in his career. While I did not see the action this evening, just from the sound and speed of what was going on over the other side of the curtain, it was obvious that Ryan played to a good standard, as he confirmed during his post-match press conference.

Having largely struggled since his last quarter-final run here back in 2009, it is good to see Ryan playing back to somewhere near his best form, remember Ryan was ranked as high as sixth in the world barely a couple of seasons ago.

The reason I was not able to watch the match however is that I was in the arena over on table one for what would prove to be an interesting opening eight frames of the Trump v Carter encounter.

As I mentioned earlier, an increasing number of people have been tipping Ali to run Judd very close in this match and those predictions proved to be well-founded as the 2008 finalist dominated the early frames, his long potting looking in fine form as was the case in his opening round match, while Judd struggling to find his game.

To his credit however, Judd dug in to snatch a third frame that could have gone either way, before swiftly drawing level at the interval following some dazzling long pots.

Despite this, it was Carter who continued to look the stronger, both from distance and when in amongst the balls and it was the Captain who finished up with an overnight lead. The last frame in particular was a big one for Ali as for a moment it looked as though it would be Judd who would snatch it with a quite audacious clearance, but a missed pink would prove to be costly, despite a fluked snooker behind the black.

That match is now very nicely poised heading into the second session and similarly to John Higgins, I am beginning to wonder whether Judd is playing well enough in order to turn this one around against an opponent clearly playing well.

We shall soon see…