Wuxi Classic 2012: Tournament Preview

So here we go, after the qualifiers, the APTC1 and the Pink Ribbon tournaments, this week sees the climax of the Wuxi Classic as 32 (give or take), become one in China. Click below for my customary look at the draw…

  • Click here to view the Wuxi Classic draw in full
  • Click here to view the order of play

Full ranking event snooker in June, who would have thought it? It still seems a little strange, but as the big names prepare for their first major test of the new campaign, it will be interesting to see just who can come out of the blocks the quickest.

That said, there will be a slightly different feel to the event as for various reasons, it will be the first full-ranking event for as long as I can remember that will not contain at least one of Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or John Higgins. Having posed the question on Twitter, it has been suggested that it may be the first since the 1985 World Championship, before I was born! That said, it remains as hard as ever to pick a winner and with 7,000 ranking points as well as a £75,000 top prize up for grabs, this event is not to be taken lightly…

The Top Quarter

Heading the draw will be world number one Mark Selby, who fittingly is also the defending champion having won the tournament in 2011 as an invitational event. First up for him will be a re-match with his last opponent in a professional tournament, Barry Hawkins, who barely a couple of months ago defeated Mark 10-3 at the opening round of the World Championship.

Of course on that occasion Mark was not at full fitness, coming into the tournament sporting a neck injury which despite a number of sessions with his chiropractor, has only healed to the extent that feels he is 90% fit, according to his recent blog. He is obviously at pains to play down the significance of the injury, but his discomfort at the Crucible was obvious and we will only learn just how fit he really is when he gets to the table in Wuxi.

Even if the neck injury has fully healed, it is hard to imagine that he has practised too intensively during recent weeks and Barry is more than capable of taking advantage of any rustiness. He also has a televised win on his CV against Mark in the 2010 World Open, albeit over the best of five frames.

The winner will meet either Martin Gould or Jamie Cope in the next round, a tough match to call between two players hoping to gain some early season momentum having won just four ranking event matches between them during the second half of last season.

In Martin’s case, from the outside he appeared to struggle following his rise to the top 16 during the early part of last season. Whether this was due to the pressure of being up inside that bracket for the first time and coming into tournaments cold, Martin losing to players who played too well on the day or plain poor form, is hard to say, but down to 17th in the latest projected seedings, he needs to start recording results if he is to stay there.

Jamie is a player who himself knows this all too well, having fallen out of the top 16 himself in recent times in part as a result of problems caused by a hereditary tremor which was first diagnosed almost a year ago now. Encouragingly for him however, he has won both of his qualifying matches so far this season and I wonder if that extra match practice might just make him favourite to come through this one.

At the other side of this section are Stuart Bingham and Peter Ebdon, two players in form having won two of the last three professional titles between them. In Stuart’s case in particular, he has found his groove immediately this season, winning both the Pink Ribbon and the APTC1 events with a number of terrific, high scoring performances. Importantly, Stuart’s body clock should be adjusted to local time and he will be as match sharp as anybody in the competition.

Add this to the fact that Bingham has won his last three meetings with Peter, two in ranking events and he will come into the match as the favourite, although as Ebdon demonstrated in Beijing towards the end of last season, if the playing conditions are to his liking then he can still be a force.

Awaiting the victor will be either Shaun Murphy or the winner of the wildcard match between Ken Doherty and wildcard Lu Ning. For Shaun, this represents his first outing since his opening-round defeat to Jamie Jones at the Crucible and having kept a relatively low profile of late, it will be interesting to see how he starts the season. Unlike others, I was fairly impressed with Shaun’s performances during last season, in particular his consistency of reaching the latter stages of ranking events and being the professional that he is, I expect him to be ready for action in this tournament.

But will he play Doherty or Lu? It is easy to take the wildcard matches for granted, but Lu Ning has wins against Matt Selt, Nigel Bond, Jamies Jones and potential opponent Shaun Murphy to his name already in 2012 and clearly cannot be underestimated. Doherty meanwhile has started the season well with two qualifying wins this month, but can be hard to predict, with his form not being as consistent as in years gone by, particularly in front of the TV cameras.

The Second Quarter

Kicking off the second quarter is Australia’s Neil Robertson, a man regarded by some as the one to beat heading into last season’s World Championship before his last eight defeat to eventual champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Despite that loss, Neil remains for me one of the top four players in the world and though his record in China is not the best, I do not expect to see him slip up against either Jamie Burnett or Jin Long in the opening round.

Who he will face is hard to say, Burnett has started the season well with three qualifying wins in Sheffield and is a former ranking event finalist in Shanghai, while Long is a proven dangerman at this stage of ranking events, having defeated Sam Baird, Ding Junhui and Fergal O’Brien during 2011/12.

Whoever comes through that section will face either Ding Junhui or Mark Davis in the last 16 as those two meet for the third time in little over six months at this stage of a ranking event tournament. While those two matches were to prove real contrasts, they were both won by the local hero and with a 5-1 overall head to head advantage, he will be favourite to come through again in his home town.

Two players who have never met in a professional competition however are Graeme Dott and Michael White, who (wildcard match permitting) will change that at the last 32 stage of this event as White makes his first appearance at the venue stage of a full-ranking event. With eight wins under his belt already this season, four of those in China on his way to the last four of the APTC1 event last week, Michael has made an excellent start to the new campaign and despite Graeme’s class, could arguably have had a worse draw than against a player who ended last season on such a low note with his 10-1 defeat to Joe Perry at the Crucible.

Rounding off this section is Scotland’s Stephen Maguire, who opens with a match against either Rod Lawler or wildcard Li Hang. Despite an early exit at last week’s APTC1 event, Maguire will be fancied to come through against either, though with so many matches under his belt having regained his tour status via the Q School, Rod has been in fine form so far this season in the qualifying events and should be more match sharp than his higher-ranked opponent. Will this be enough?

The Third Quarter

No doubt relieved at the prospect of not facing Ronnie O’Sullivan at the last 16 stage of an event for the first time in a little while, Mark Williams heads into this tournament on the back of a useful week at the APTC event which sees him come into this one with matches under his belt.

He opens with a clash against Leicester’s Tom Ford, a player who with two PTC titles to his name and a number of venue appearances over the past couple of years, has now established himself among the top 32 for the first time in his career. If he is to go any higher however, he must begin to his presence felt at the venues, something that he has yet to do on a consistent basis and against a player who has enjoyed a large degree of success in Asia, he will be hard pressed to do this time around.

Awaiting the winner will be either Mark Allen or Dave Harold, subject to Dave coming through against wildcard Rouzi Maimaiti beforehand. A player who has courted controversy during the past 12 months, Mark has nevertheless performed well on the table during that time, taking his first ranking event in China at the Haikou World Open last season, as well as reaching the final of the UK Championship in December. Another we have not seen in action since the World Championship, it is hard to know whether he has been putting in the practice of late, while Dave has already had four matches behind him this season in qualifying at Sheffield.

Elsewhere in this section. World Championship finalist Ali Carter takes to the baize against either Fergal O’Brien or wildcard player Lu Haotian, still in need of crucial ranking points despite his Crucible run, though surely with as much confidence as he has had for a while. As ever with Ali, much will depend on his health and whether he has been able to practice properly of late. His head to head record with Fergal is an interesting one, the Irishman leading 5-3 overall, though Carter is 2-1 up in full-ranking events and will start as favourite.

Whoever can come through that one will face a stern test against either Stephen Lee or Marcus Campbell, Lee in particular looking ominous having come within a black ball of taking the APTC1 title in China just a couple of days ago against Stuart Bingham. His shock Crucible exit aside, Lee has arguably been the form player of 2012 to date and with match practice under his belt this week in China, I suspect he may take some stopping in Wuxi. Surprisingly, there is little by way of previous meetings between two such experienced players, three PTC contests and a clash at the 1998 Welsh Open being shared between the two.

The Bottom Quarter

The first man through to the last 16 from the final section is in fact already known as following the withdrawal of Matthew Stevens due to problems with his back, qualifier Joe Perry will receive a bye.

There Joe will meet either Ricky Walden, or potentially Michael Holt, if the Nottingham man can come through a wildcard encounter with Zhu Yinghui, who took him to a decider back at the Haikou World Open in February. Despite the 10-2 hammering that he suffered at the hands of Jamie Jones at the World Championship qualifiers in April, last season was a positive one on the whole for Ricky and one that saw him move back up into the top 16 having lost that position a year ago.

He could have been handed an easier draw than Michael Holt however as having qualified for five of the last six venues, as well as the PTC Grand Finals, the Hitman is a man with wins behind him and now looking to re-establish himself among the world’s top 32 for the first time since the 2009/10 season. As mentioned above however, Holt was pushed hard by 17-year-old Zhu in Hainan before coming through on that occasion with a break of 101 in the decider.

Rounding off the draw, Andrew Higginson will face either Robert Milkins or Chen Feilong in what looks on paper to be a relatively open section, while Judd Trump (despite reported visa problems), meets Dominic Dale in a re-match of the UK and World Championship encounters last season, hoping for a third straight win against his Welsh opponent.


Bingham def Maguire, Lee def Perry

Lee def Bingham