International Championship 2012: Qualifying Review

Over the last four days, the EIS in Sheffield has played host to the qualifying rounds of the inaugural International Championship tournament, arguably snooker’s newest ‘major’ given the significant amount of prize money and ranking points on offer. As a result, every match has counted but as far as headline stories are concerned, there is only one place to start, click below for my review of the action…

  • Click here to view the updated drawsheet for the tournament

Having remained on the main tour at the end of 2011/2012, India’s Aditya Mehta has made an encouraging start to the new season, reaching the final qualifying rounds of both the Wuxi Classic and Shanghai Masters tournaments, without being able to quite make it all the way to a venue.

This week however Aditya has been able to go one better, victories against Michael Leslie, Mike Dunn and Jimmy White once again seeing him through to the final round, where today he recorded a 6-4 win against Jamie Cope to make that elusive breakthrough.

I have met Aditya a couple of times and judging by his comments on Twitter in recent months, know that this run will mean a lot to him, not just on a personal level, but also for what it means for Indian snooker as a whole.

Prior to this season, Aditya’s professional career on paper hasn’t been spectacular, but taking a look through his results in 2011/12, it is notable that his defeats generally came at the hands of players ranked significantly higher than him, including Ronnie O’Sullivan (twice), Neil Robertson, Barry Hawkins, Martin Gould and Ryan Day. Now armed with the lessons learned in those matches and the confidence that has come from winning tournaments such as the Asian Championship this year, he is winning matches against opponents who a year ago might have got the better of him.

While Aditya’s exploits in themselves have been a tremendous boost for snooker in India, remarkably he has been joined at the venue stage of this event by compatriot Pankaj Advani. In what is his début professional season, Pankaj showed promise with a third round run at the Australian Goldfields Open, before winning three matches to reach the last 16 of the recent UKPTC2 event.

His run here in Sheffield however, including victories against Craig Steadman, Steve Davis (from 4-1 down), Alan McManus and finally Michael Holt, is without doubt his most impressive run to date and perhaps even more so than Mehta’s qualification for the venue. It is always positive to see players able to make it to the venues who have started in the very first qualifying round and all the more impressive given the fact that Advani is perhaps a player more renowned for his hugely successful exploits in the game of billiards, rather than that of snooker.

Of course, both will have to play a wildcard player once at the venue, but if they are successful then Mehta will progress to a clash with Stuart Bingham, while Advani will meet home favourite Ding Junhui in a match sure to be on the main table.

Elsewhere, there was also another strong showing from Welsh youngster Michael White, who having not made it to a venue prior to this season is now through to his second of the new campaign. Following on from his run at the Wuxi Classic, Michael yesterday defeated Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 6-2 before today ousting our most recent ranking event winner Barry Hawkins in a topsy turvy match. Having made a break of 132 to lead 5-3, it appeared as though Hawkins was a safe bet to progress, but a three-frame winning streak sparked by breaks of 64 and 70 from White was enough to see the Welshman complete the upset.

Now ranked up inside the top 48, Michael is bound to climb further still with this result and is now proving a talent that those in the game have long been aware of.  His immediate reward for this run is mouthwatering tie with Ronnie O’Sullivan at the venue, wildcard permitting of course.

White was not to be the only Welshman making it through the qualifiers, seeded duo Ryan Day and Dominic Dale also progressing with 6-3 wins against Anthony Hamilton and Paul Davison respectively. For Day it was a relatively comfortable victory, breaks of 85, 71 and 62 enough to establish a 3-1 lead, while Dale won five frames in succession from 3-1 down to prevail.

As well as India and Wales, it was also a good day for Ireland, as veteran duo Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien both qualified today, with victories against Liu Chuang and Mark King respectively. Having shared the first six frames against an opponent who had knocked out Welsh talent Jamie Jones the previous day, Ken was able to win the last three to secure a 6-3 win and a clash with Matthew Stevens at the venue. O’Brien meanwhile recovered from 3-1 down to end the run of Mark King, breaks of 72, 86, 72, 75 and 61 helping him to a last 32 match with Judd Trump.

With wins against Sam Baird and Rory McLeod in previous rounds, David Gilbert came into his match with Andrew Higginson looking to reach his first venue of the season, but top runs of 143 (the highest this week) and 108 from Andrew were enough to see him through to a venue meeting with Shaun Murphy.

Finally for the earlier matches, Marco Fu and Mark Davis ended the strong runs of Alfie Burden and Kurt Maflin respectively to qualify, while Robert Milkins finished strongly against Liang Wenbo with 50+ breaks in each of the last three frames to seal a 6-1 win against Liang Wenbo.

Turning to the evening matches, at the time of writing Nigel Bond looks good to upset reigning China Open champion Peter Ebdon, currently leading 4-1, while Ali Carter has battled back to be level at 3-3 with Dave Harold after trailing 3-1 at the mid-session interval. Cao Yupeng has taken three frames in succession to lead Tom Ford 5-3, Jamie Burnett leads fellow Scot Marcus Campbell 3-2, while Joe Perry has moved two clear of Barry Pinches at 4-2. A word for Barry though, who yesterday recovered from 5-2 down to defeat Xiao Guodong.

UPDATE: While Nigel Bond was to extend his lead against Peter Ebdon to 5-1, it was not enough to see off the former world champion as Peter won the last five frames to secure victory at around 1am. Barry Pinches too secured an early-morning deciding frame win, while Ali Carter also completed a five-frame winning streak to see off Dave Harold. Cao Yupeng and Jamie Burnett were the other successful qualifiers.