Wuxi Classic 2013: Tournament Preview

It might only be June, but already this season we have had two ‘PTC’ events and two qualifying tournaments, while this Monday we will see the start of the first full ranking event, as the 2013 Wuxi Classic is played to a conclusion.

Continue reading for my tournament preview…

  • Click here to view the drawsheet at snookerorg
  • Click here to view the latest projected seedings

Down to 64 players following three days of qualifying in Gloucester last month, the venue stages of the Wuxi Classic kick-off next week and it will be fascinating to see how  the event unfolds.

With the amount of players at the venue doubled in comparison to previous full-ranking events in China, there will be three sessions per day during the opening three days of the event, with up to six tables in action at a time.

With a mixture of the world’s top players, those further down the rankings and even a number of amateurs, including Reanne Evans, we shall see in practice for the first time just how much easier it will be for those not used to competing at the latter stages of an event like this to progress.

Without any further ado then, onto the draw…

The Top Quarter

Ricky Walden v Jimmy White
John Astley v Robert Milkins
Scott Donaldson v Gareth Green
Jimmy Robertson/Zhou Yuelong v Graeme Dott
Mark Williams v Liam Highfield
Tian Pengfei v Jack Lisowski
Ryan Day v Anthony Hamilton
Yu Delu v Stuart Bingham

Headlining the top quarter are 2012 finalists Ricky Walden and Stuart Bingham, while former world champions Graeme Dott and Mark Williams will also be looking to make a strong start to the season here.

Of the four, Williams looks to have the trickiest opener on paper, Liam Highfield having recorded some impressive wins of late, though as someone making his first appearance at an event of this magnitude, it would be all the more impressive if he were able to upset someone with as strong a record in Asia as Mark.

Others dangermen in the section include Robert Milkins, who is currently enjoying arguably the most consistent spell of his career and last week defeated John Higgins at the AT1 event in Yixing, as well as Jack Lisowski, a quarter-finalist at the China Open back in March.

Not just in this section, but throughout the draw though, it will be interesting to see how the Chinese players get on. For example Lisowski’s opponent Tian Pengfei has in the past enjoyed considerable success as a wildcard in events such as this, but due to the previous draw structure has been unable to make it back as a tour player. On the other hand, all four Chinese players in action at the quarter-final stage yesterday in Yixing were to lose out to British based players so perhaps there is not such an advantage to be gained there.

Also warranting a special mention in this section is Scotland’s Scott Donaldson, who having won 13 of his 16 matches so far this season, including making it to the semi-finals in Yixing, has made a brilliant start to his second season on tour. A player with clear belief in his ability and with perhaps an older head on young shoulders, he is very much one to keep an eye on and this week will no doubt be good experience for him.

Predicted semi-finalist: Robert Milkins

The Second Quarter

Alex Davies v Joel Walker
Chen Zhe v Ben Woollaston
Michael White v Cao Yupeng
Fergal O’Brien v Barry Hawkins
Marco Fu v Nigel Bond
Rory McLeod v Mark King
Martin Gould v Kurt Maflin
Reanne Evans/Zhu Yinghui v Neil Robertson

The standout name in the second section of the draw is of course Neil Robertson, who will open up against either Reanne Evans or wildcard Zhu Yinghui.

Shaun Murphy was one of the other big names who most would have expected to have made it through to this section, but instead we will see tour returnee Alex Davies in action, following his win against Murphy in Gloucester at the last 128 stage. Having got further wins under his belt at the recent AT1 event, Davies has every opportunity to go further still, with a clash against the talented, but inexperienced Joel Walker awaiting him in Wuxi.

Also awaiting in his section is World Championship runner-up Barry Hawkins, who with a strong showing in Bulgaria recently, confirmed that he is still in good form at the moment, while the likes of Ben Woollaston, Michael White, Cao Yupeng, Martin Gould, Kurt Maflin and Mark King could all conceivably go on a run here.

In fact for me, Robertson and Hawkins aside, it is probably the section with the most evenly poised matched matches across the board and should one of those two lose early on, could open up for those remaining in the draw. That said, I would be surprised to see that happen.

Predicted semi-finalist: Neil Robertson

The Third Quarter

Andrew Pagett v David Gilbert
Alan McManus v Ken Doherty
Joe Perry v Jamie Cope
Jamie Burnett v Ding Junhui
John Higgins v Vinnie Calabrese/Zhao Xintong
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Dominic Dale
Peter Ebdon v Xiao Guodong
Li Hang v Judd Trump

With third seed Mark Selby missing from the draw following his qualifying defeat to Andrew Pagett, you could be forgiven for thinking that this section of the draw would be a little bit easier than it is. Indeed though, with Ding Junhui, John Higgins and Judd Trump all present, as well as former worlds champions Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon, this is on paper still possibly the strongest quarter to be found.

Seeded to meet at the last 16 stage, John Higgins and Judd Trump will both have hopes of going deep in this tournament, particularly Higgins, who armed with a new cue this season, has started well with victory at the recent ET1 event in Sofia. A player who can never be written off and historically has a strong record against Judd, it is good to see him competing again and while his ranking remains lower than his true level, it will lead to a few more interesting draws like this one over the coming months.

Other form players in the section are Joe Perry and Alan McManus, winner and semi-finalist respectively in the recent AT1 event, while Jamie Cope has also enjoyed a positive start to the season as he looks to gain some confidence after a tough end to 2012/13.

What of the Chinese contingent in this section of the draw? Much is said of Ding Junhui’s record in China, justifiably so on the basis of his results outside of Beijing, but he is too good a player not to win again in his homeland and he will very much be a threat here. Xiao Guodong is another who can break build as well as most and is continuing to climb the rankings, while Judd Trump’s last 64 opponent Li Hang is a promising player who I am glad to see back on tour after his initial two-year spell.

Predicted semi-finalist: John Higgins

The Bottom Quarter

Mark Allen v Peter Lines
Steve Davis v Andrew Higginson
Liang Wenbo v Jamie Jones
Adam Duffy/Lu Ning v Matthew Stevens
Ali Carter v Alfie Burden
Lu Haotian  v Craig Steadman
David Morris v Gary Wilson
Gerard Greene v  Michael Wasley

The bottom quarter might be shorn of the presence of second seeded Ronnie O’Sullivan following his withdrawal from the qualifying stages of the event, but with Mark Allen, Ali Carter and Matthew Stevens, as well as the likes of Lu Haotian, Gary Wilson and Michael Wasley, it is not short of both quality and stories.

Favourite to progress from the section is for me Mark Allen, who opens up against the experienced Peter Lines, before then potentially facing the winner of the match between Steve Davis and Andrew Higginson. Much has been said about the opportunities for the young players that will be opened up by the move to flat drawsheets, but it is also good to see the likes of Davis and Jimmy White at another venue, as they too have seen such opportunities restricted by their falling rankings in recent years.

In the last 16 stage, Allen could face Matthew Stevens, who he of course defeated convincingly in the final of the Haikou Open earlier in the year, though the slowly returning to form Jamie Jones and Chinese number two Liang Wenbo will have something to say about that also.

Former Shanghai Masters champion Ali Carter is another who will be hoping to make a strong start to the season, while 15-year-old Lu Haotian will be looking to repeat his quarter-final run at last season’s International Championship. With a strong of hugely impressive results under his belt already during his fledgling career, he is another to keep an eye on.

Also in good form is Gary Wilson, who of the players new or returning to the tour for this season, has so far earned more points than any other thanks to his five wins to date.

Finally, it is also good to see Gerard Greene back at a venue and having struggled with his form for a long time now, his results so far this season have quietly been much improved.

Predicted semi-finalist: Mark Allen

Semi-finals: Robertson def Milkins, Higgins def Allen

Final: Higgins def Robertson