World Championship Qualifiers 2013: Whirlwind Blows, Cao Crashes

Day three at the World Championship qualifiers today saw Jimmy White make a winning start to his latest bid to make it back to the Crucible Theatre for the first time since 2006, as he defeated China’s Tian Pengfei to progress to the third qualifying round. Click below for a round-up of the action from the EIS today, as well as a brief look back to yesterday…

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Commuting from work today, I arrived in Sheffield at around 6:30pm, to find two of the afternoon matches still in progress and in the case of Alan McManus and Aditya Mehta, well behind schedule with only five frames having been played. As I settled down for what would be my seat for the next four hours, it was Aditya who immediately impressed as he drew level at 3-3 with a well-taken 92 break, before Alan took a close 7th frame to secure a narrow overnight lead.

The other match still ongoing was unsurprisingly that involving Rod Lawler and Fraser Patrick, as Rod recovered from dropping the opening frame to finish up with a 6-2 session lead, a break of 97 in the last followed immediately by Rod returning to his chair to steel himself for the next frame, only to be told that the players were being taken off for the day, with the evening session imminent.

Elsewhere in the afternoon matches, Tony Drago produced what was by all accounts a vintage spell from 4-1 down against Andy Hicks, to lead 5-4 overnight, while Jimmy Robertson opened up a commanding 7-2 lead against China’s Li Yan, hitting three 60+ breaks along the way.

All eyes however were on the evening session and I positioned myself so that I could primarily watch the match between Mike Dunn and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, with Jimmy White and Tian Pengfei alongside.

With John Virgo and Tony Drago among the usual pro-Jimmy crowd at the EIS, the six-time finalist was hoping to making a winning start to what is his 33rd World Championship, though trailing Tian Pengfei 5-4 after the morning session, it appeared as though the match might be set to go all the way this evening.

As it happened, Jimmy was to win the opening four frames of the evening, all of which seemed to come down to the colours, with Tian memorably failing with a double to the right-centre when attempting to clear in one frame, while missing a long pink by a long way in another. While Tian was very much below his best level however, Jimmy was generally solid and was particularly impressive when it came to those pressure pots and frame-winning clearances on the colours, which ultimately would prove the difference.

That said, the most impressive performance of the evening, perhaps the week on what I have seen so far, was to come from Thai youngster Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, who also recovered from 4-5 down coming into the session, to eventually secure a 10-6 victory.

Having seen Dunn hit two century breaks earlier on in the day, it would be Thanawat who looked the heavier scorer in the second session, setting the tone with a very well-taken break of 76, before adding two of the next three frames to lead 7-6 at the interval.

With a further break of 95 having put him two clear at 8-6, Mike’s last chance came in what was a scrappy 14th frame, as the reds and high-value colours made their way to the left-hand side cushion, but it was not to be his night and Thanawat eventually finished with a 70 break to book his place in the third round. With the long pots going in and some crafty, if not always attacking break-building to follow, it was a very impressive performance from a player who has threatened to make a breakthrough at times this season, losing a few deciders at the latter stages of PTC events.

For Mike, a disappointing end to a season to forget, but with a new cue on the way shortly and the chance to start afresh in 2013/14, hopefully next year will be a better one for him.

Elsewhere this evening, James Wattana responded well to a career-best 124 break from Michael Wasley to win 10-7 and join countryman Thanawat in the third round, as did Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who recorded a deceptively close 10-4 win against the struggling Gerard Greene, notwithstanding a series of close frames settled by only a point or two.

Kurt Maflin produced a trademark display of scoring from 7-6 up to see off the challenge of Craig Steadman, while last year’s Crucible sensation Cao Yupeng was to suffer a surprise 10-7 defeat at the hands of countryman Zhang Anda, who of course made it to the venue of this event back in 2010.

Looking back to yesterday, the highlight was unsurprisingly the match between Joe Swail and Pankaj Advani, which saw impressive performances from both, before the popular Swail clinched a 10-8 win at around half past midnight to keep his run alive.

Paul Davison held off a spirited fightback from the other member’s round qualifier Justin Astley, while Ian Burns did well also to repel the threat of Joel Walker, who made it a far closer contest than most anticipated.

Of course the big shock yesterday however was the exit of Luca Brecel, who from 6-5 up, lost five straight frames against the impressively solid Fraser Patrick, to ensure that there would be no repeat of his fairytale run to the venue a year ago. Still, you can be sure of course that Luca will be back sooner rather than later.

Tomorrow then sees the conclusion of the second round, while I will again be attending the evening session after work. Who will you be looking out for?