Friday, 24 February 2012

The battle to Beijing

Another week of qualifying drew to a close in Sheffield today and the reward for the 16 qualifiers is a glamourous trip to the Far East.

They'll have a treat in store when they touch down in Beijing too; greeted like superstars with the red carpet laid out.

The Chinese snooker fans are the most enthusiastic in the world and know how to put on a show. This kind of fanatical entrance is probably like nowhere else in the world and it gives the qualifiers a real chance to further boost their reputation with with snooker's largest group of fans.

It's definitely exciting times. So, who made it?
Among the 16 qualifiers, 12 players from the top 32 of the rankings stole in on the final day to confirm their place at the venue.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Included in that group was seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry. He was just too good for Yu Delu as he breezed through 5-1.

The Scot may not be enjoying life outside of the elite but he'll still be getting satisfaction from winning. So many fans questioned whether he could hack it in the qualifiers. So far, the answer has been a resounding yes.

It wasn't so easy for all the veterans. Ken Doherty lost out to Marcus Campbell and Steve Davis paid the price for burning the candle at both ends, losing 5-1 to Rory McLeod in the morning session following a late-night win agaist Rod Lawler.

Elsewhere, the spoil sports were out in force. Ricky Walden ended Sam Craigie's dream while Tom Ford put a halt to David Grace's three-game winning streak. The comfort for Craigie and Grace is that if they continue to play like they did this week, they'll have no problems.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Stand-put performances saw Joe Perry beat Anthony Hamilton 5-1 while Barry Hawkins and Peter Ebdon recorded whitewash wins against Liu Chuang and Liang Wenbo respectively.

Mark King showed a touch of class to hammer Adrian Gunnell 5-1 and Dominic Dale downed young star Jack Lisowski 5-2.

There were a couple of long drawn out affairs as well with Jamie Cope and Fergal O'Brien needing the full nine frames to see off Alan McManus and Li Yan respectively.

It wasn't all one-way traffic for the seeds though.

Some players from outside the top 32 did manage to book their flight to China.

Jimmy White's win probably earned the biggest cheer of the week.

He staved off Andrew Higginson with a 5-3 win and can now look forward to a well-earned return to a major ranking venue.

The Whirlwind has enjoyed a consistent season to climb back into the top 48 but it's not been without hard work. Unlike so many other players in the twilight years of their career, Jimmy still enjoys playing the game as much as he did in his prime.

Picture by Steve Kent
His commitment to the cause means his legion of fans keep on growing. He'll absolutely love it travelling out to Beijing and it's possible he could respond to the great crowds with yet another performance reminiscent of his heyday.

Michael Holt's win was perhaps the hardest fought. He had to wait until the colours of the deciding frame to see of Mark Davis 5-4.

The Hitman is riding a wave of improved form of late with a string of venues to look forward to. The manner in which he battled to get there today will satisfy him as much as his more free-flowing wins. As he closes in on a place back in the top 32, things are looking up for him as he continues to strive in fulfilling his considerable talents.

But you've got to feel for Davis. After narrowly missing out on a place inside the top 16, he's endured back-to-back 5-4 deciding-frame defeats in qualifying.

Ben Woollaston also had to come through a decider to confirm his spot. I've said for a long time he's the real deal; and he keeps proving it.

His 5-4 victory against Ryan Day is a big one and ensures he keeps climbing in the right direction. The more venues he makes, the stronger he'll get. He's already one of the players people hope to avoid in the cubicles but I get the feeling it will not be long until he establishes himself as one of the regulars on the televsion.

The same can easily be said of Jamie Jones too. He sealed his place on the plane with an efficient 5-1 win over Marco Fu. Qualification marks a first major venue for him since the 2006 Grand Prix but, it's been coming a while.

Jamie is another of the numerous exciting young prospects who deserves his success. This might just give him the belief to kick and to do it more regularly like his ability justfiies.

Full list of qualifiers: Joe Perry, Michael Holt, Dominic Dale, Jimmy White, Barry Hawkins, Ben Woollaston, Rory McLeod, Marcus Campbell, Ricky Walden, Mark King, Stephen Hendry, Tom Ford, Peter Ebdon, Jamie Jones, Fergal O'Brien and Jamie Cope.

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