Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August Calendar Crunch

It's not even September and the snooker calendar is full enough to keep journalists covering the sport employed full-time--I'm thankful to be a volunteer. Since I last piped up from the peanut gallery, Stephen Maguire ousted Graeme Dott in the cruel first-round draw of PTC2 and went on to appear in his second successive Players Tour Championship final, falling at the last hurdle to Martin Gould who is no doubt happy to have won something with a little more substance than his *ahem* coveted Power Snooker crown from last year.

Meanwhile, there are heaps of other events getting underway this month that aren't scheduled to see a winner until later in the year and here's a brief re-cap/pre-cap on what's been/will be going down:

2012 Gdynia Open
(Click here to view the draw)

The second European Tour event gets started before the first one does with all rounds leading up to the Last 32 taking place at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield while those left make the trip to Poland in early October. Those lucky candidates have now been decided and Stephen Maguire hasn't lost a frame yet, while Andy Hicks made it through by the slimmest of margins notching 4-3 victories in his two matches. Maguire will meet Michael Wasley in Poland while Hicks faces Liang Wenbo.

Other notables include Jimmy White who was fortunate enough to receive a walkover in his opening match and came through a 4-3 winner of Andrew Norman to set up a Last 32 tie with Dave Harold, the winner of which will face Hicks or Wenbo. Neil Robertson and Jamie Jones will also meet for what I think is the first time and I expect it to be a good match over the short seven-frame format. Andrew Higginson and Stephen Lee also square off in their first meeting since Higginson upset Lee at the Crucible a few months ago. The winner of that fixture will face the winner of a match that I have no interest in watching at all between Michael White and Michael Holt.

Andy Hicks: Makes more centuries than you.
Photo by Monique Limbos
Elsewhere, it's Ding Junhui and John Higgins in the Last 32, the highest-ranking players to meet at that stage of this competition--there will be no reprieve for the winner though, as they will face Mark Selby if he can overcome Fergal O'Brien in their match. Shaun Murphy fell at the first hurdle to Alfie Burden who then proceeded to lose 4-0 to Norway's Kurt Maflin who has made a good run of things in this event and has a chance to do at least one better against Kyren Wilson. Last, but never least, Graeme Dott overcame Jack Lisowski in the first round and Craid Steadman in the second to make it to Poland and be drawn against the large-chinned and hot-tempered Tom Ford. Ford smoked Graeme pretty good in the semi-final of last year's eleventh PTC event 4-0, and managed to knock Graeme out of the Welsh Open last year 4-2. Dott still has the better record and would be expected to win, but anytime I watch these two meet now, I feel nervous.

Haphazard Quarter-finalist Predictions:
(NOTE: Predicted results are made with my head, not with my heart--but generally speaking, it doesn't make them any more accurate)
  • Stephen Maguire
  • Liang Wenbo
  • Tian Pengfei
  • Neil Robertson
  • Stephen Lee
  • Ding Junhui
  • Jamie Burnett
  • Graeme Dott
PREDICTED WINNER: Neil Robertson
HOPE LEFT THAT GRAEME DOTT WILL WIN THIS EVENT: Lots of hope, sprinkled with a dash of reason. He can beat anyone left in the draw over seven frames.

2012 International Championship - Qualifiers
(Click here to view the draw)

The biggest new tournament on the calendar has its televised stages get underway October 28th, but in the meantime, everyone outside of the top 16 is being put through the qualifying grind, some needing to win up to five best-of-11 frame matches just to get into the main draw.

As I type this, Jimmy White and Aditya Mehta are level at 3-3 and a great deal of the matches have already occurred as the first two rounds came to a close yesterday. Highlights include Pankaj Advani, a famed billiards player in India, having come through the winner in the first three of his four qualifying matches to set up one last clash with Michael Holt for a place at the venue--his 6-5 victory over Steve Davis will surely be a memorable one for him. If Aditya Mehta can get through Jimmy White, then there's a pretty good chance that India will be quite well-represented in this inaugural "major" ranking event.

Xiao Guodong: Hoping for TV without the broad cast.
Photo by Monique Limbos

Luca Brecel is no doubt itching to find the televised stages more often, but he lost out yesterday to the ol' Sheriff of Pottingham, Anthony Hamilton who faces Ryan Day tomorrow for a place in the main draw. Sam Baird got his revenge over Australia's Ben Judge 6-1 after being upset by Judge in their last meeting and being placed on snookerbacker's blacklist. However, David Gilbert was too much for him in the second round and having defeated Rory McLeod in the third, Gilbert will face Andrew Higginson to have another shot at a big run in a big ranking event. Kurt Maflin has continued a good start to the season and come through two eleventh-frame deciders against both Gareth Allen and the ever-banausic Rod Lawler. Elsewhere, Q School's Robbie Williams has had a good run to win his opening match and dispose of Andy Hicks but currently appears to be 4-1 down to Mark King.

Anyhow, before the results start rolling in, I'd better dish out the better-late-than-never predictions.

Haphazard Qualifier Predictions:
(NOTE: Predicted results are made with my head, not with my heart--but generally speaking, it doesn't make them any more accurate)
  • Barry Hawkins
  • Paul Davison
  • Ken Doherty
  • Anthony Hamilton
  • David Gilbert
  • Michael Holt
  • Marco Fu
  • Mark Davis
  • Mark King
  • Aditya Mehta
  • Robert Milkins
  • Cao Yupeng
  • Marcus Campbell
  • Peter Ebdon
  • Xiao Guodong
  • Dave Harold
PREDICTED WINNER: Marco Fu (sure, why not?)
HOPE LEFT THAT GRAEME DOTT WILL WIN THIS EVENT: Medium-to-high. Although not the biggest fan of international travel, he's won the China Open and his game can really come through sometimes on big occasions regardless of where he is in the world. Go Dott!

2012 Paul Hunter Classic 
(Click here to view the draw)

All rounds of the tournament held in F├╝rth, Germany to take the name of the late great Paul Hunter will, unlike the Gdynia Open, take place in the same country as the final rounds and it's the only one of these events where nothing has been decided as yet. It features more nations in the pre-qualifying round than any event I've watched before including Croatians, a handful from Bahrain, Icelandic snooker players, that guy from Turkey I saw Ronnie decimate once on YouTube, more than one Swiss player and a guy from Malta who isn't Tony Drago. And a special shout-out and wishes of good luck go out to Sweden's Ron Florax, proprietor of www.cuetracker.net and an exceedingly helpful fellow whose dedication to the game is unrivaled amongst Dutchmen living in Scandinavia.

Jimmy White: Cursed to lose to biblethumpers.
Photo by Monique Limbos
Last year's Paul Hunter Classic in Germany saw Mark Selby whitewash Mark Davis 4-0 in the final. If they are to meet again this year, it will be in the Last 32 round, and looking at the draw, there's no reason to expect that Selby won't make another run to the latter stages. In Section 6, Jimmy White has a relatively easy go of things until running into possibly Luca Brecel, or even Rory McLeod who recently laid a 4-0 hiding on Judd Trump in their most recent meeting. I like to hold out hope for Jimmy to make the quarters of any ranking event these days, but so much depends on what happens to Shaun Murphy in his section because I'm not confident Murphy will lose to White under any circumstance these days. He hasn't done so since 2004 to my knowledge.

After getting some ugly draws in the earlier events, Graeme Dott is offered something of a reprieve by facing a pre-qualifier in the opening round, only to end up against either Marco Fu or Stuart Bingham in the Last 64--the conspiracy to eliminate Dott from the top 16 grows. Nevertheless, if he can get through that round (and he most certainly can), I like his chances.

Haphazard Quarter-finalist Predictions:
(NOTE: Predicted results are made with my head, not with my heart--but generally speaking, it doesn't make them any more accurate)
  • Ryan Day
  • John Higgins
  • Stephen Lee
  • Mark Selby
  • Ricky Walden
  • Shaun Murphy
  • Graeme Dott
  • Neil Robertson
PREDICTED WINNER: John Higgins
HOPE LEFT THAT GRAEME DOTT WILL WIN THIS EVENT: Reasonably high--I'd be disappointed if he lost to half the players I've backed to make the quarterfinals.