Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Long live the King

Not only are some of the top players thousands of miles from home but a lot of them look out of their comfort zone too.

There's been some notable wins for players outside of the top 16.

Add this to the the withdrawals of Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ali Carter, it means we go into second round of the World Open on Hainan Island with only eight of the top 16 left battling for the title.

That kind of return is almost unheard of when you look back at most of the major ranking events we've watched this season - but full credit must go to the qualifiers who have helped blow this tournament wide open.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Top of that list is Romford's Mark King who scored an impressive 5-1 win against Mark Williams.

No-one will be overly surprised or begrudge King of his great win.

He's one of the most likeable players on the circuit and has built a reputation in the game as someone always capable of an upset.

Williams knows this only too well. In fact, King has now won each of their last four meetings and you have to go back as far as 2004 to find the last time the Welshman came out on top in this head-to-head battle.

Everyone will remember King's famous wins against Mark Selby at both the 2008 World Championship and in the 2011 Masters when he was defending champion. Turning the bookmakers' odds on their head is not new ground for him.

King - by his own admission - isn't one of the sport's most natural players. In fact, he once described himself as the "worst break-builder in the top 16".

His hardworking attitude has seen him enjoy a career in and around the top 16, peppered with some memorable wins against the top guns. You can bed sure he would have come to China determined to do a job - and that's exactly what he did today.

Joe Perry also enjoyed  a 5-4 victory against the top 16's Matthew Stevens today. This was a result that surprised a few but, after interviewing at the start of this season, I'm never surprised.

He has such a relaxed attitude to travelling the world playing the game that after meeting Joe you quickly understand why he has the potential to do very well abroad.

Jamie Cope can also look forward to a last 16 match following a deciding-frame win against Martin Gould.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's been well-documented that The Shotgun has lost his way a little in recent seasons since his super-fast breakthrough. He still remains a frightening potter though and won the last three frames to shoot down his seeded opponent.

Robert Milkins went one better than that. He managed to win four frames on the spin to fight back to victory from 3-1 down against Stephen Maguire.

Milkins has long been regarded as one of the tour's big under achievers. He has the fast and attacking style of game to rival the best yet has a habit of dipping in and out of form.

Maguire is the exactly the kind of opponent who would allow Robert to play his natural game. With one win under his belt he could definitely be one to watch as the plot thickens this week.

We shouldn't forget Michael Holt either. He was impressive to beat Stuart Bingham 5-0 yesterday and is showing all the right signs of a man back on the rise to top form.

It's been a great week so far with China proving a happy hunting ground for players outside the top 16 to make their mark. It's not over yet. There could be more to come in tomorrow's second round matches.

Last 16 line-up:

John Higgins v Jamie Cope
Jin Long v Robert Milkins
Graeme Dott v Marcus Campbell
Stephen Lee v Neil Robertson
Mark King v Tom Ford
Mark Allen v Judd Trump
Shaun Murphy v Joe Perry 
Michael Holt v Mark Selby

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