Saturday, 16 June 2012

Making the venues

Snooker's qualifying hopefuls have been on the yellow brick road all week bidding to follow in the footsteps of Dorothy and pals by making it to Oz.

Only 16 could complete the journey and qualify for one of the most open fully-fledged ranking tournaments of all time.

Only nine top 16 players have chosen to enter this year's Australian Open in Bendigo with Judd Trump, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Mark Williams and John Higgins among the most high profile absentees.

This made the motivation for qualifiers even greater with the chance to earn big points Down Under with some top stars missing.

With the warm-up heats for the Wuxi Classic just a week earlier too, the season has been a tale of qualifying so far. They've been dominating the early action, as the pretenders get match sharp ready for an assault of the game's top order.

Peter Ebdon, Barry Hawkins, Mark Davis and Joe Perry can already look forward to playing at two venues after qualifying for China and being upgraded to a seeded position in the draw for the Australian Open to fill in for the absentees.

Then there were those who made it through qualifying twice. Michael Holt, Marcus Campbell, Tom Ford, Jamie Cope and Jamie Burnett fall into that band as well 1997 world champion Ken Doherty.

The Darling of Dublin is still one of the circuit's most loved players.

While he's already starting out in a fresh career in the snooker media his performances of late suggest he's still got plenty to offer on the table.

The back end of last season saw him arrest his slide down the order by reclaiming his place among the world's top 32 at the final rankings revision. This spurred him on to qualify for the Crucible, giving the snooker public a timely reminder of his whereabouts on the professional scene.

Wins against Michael Wild and Jack Lisowski have given him the perfect start to the new campaign as he looks to continue his revival.

All the qualifiers are desperate to get a venue under their belts at the start of the season and some will be pleased even more than others.

Alan McManus managed to duck and dive his way through the rounds to book his place in Australia, and his first ranking event for nearly two years.

Rod Lawler won the full four matches to earn a place at the Wuxi Classic after only securing his professional status for another two years thanks to victory in Q School.

Cao Yupeng, who sensationally beat Mark Allen at this year's World Championship, showed his potential again by making it Down Under while Lisowski is also there and showing signs of getting his rapid climb to stardom back on track.

Elsewhere, Michael White can also look forward to his first taste of ranking event action with success at the Wuxi Classic qualifiers.

It wasn't roses everywhere though. Mark King, Jamie Jones and Gerard Greene are the kind of players who may have been expected to be prolific qualifiers this season but are left to stew on two failed qualifying bids already. Thankfully, the season these days is long and a chance to put their early disappointments right won't be far around the corner.

Success isn't all about qualification for those players lower down the rankings. Martin O'Donnell has made a positive start to life on the tour with a win at the Wuxi Classic and two for the Australian Open. Likewise, Michael Wasley got as far as the third round for the same tournament.

Aditya Mehta and Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon have stood out already. They've a both got four wins under their belts, made it as far as a final round of qualifying and look like there could be more to come.

There have been so many plots already unfolding at the qualifiers this season and more will definitely follow, but now I'm looking forward to seeing the big boys come to the table next.

Draw for the Wuxi Classic:

Mark Selby v Barry Hawkins
Martin Gould v Jamie Cope
Stuart Bingham v Peter Ebdon
Shaun Murphy v Ken Doherty/Wild Card
Neil Robertson v Jamie Burnett/Wild Card
Ding Junhui v Mark Davis
Graeme Dott v Michael White/ Wildcard
Stephen Maguire v Rod Lawler/ Wildcard
Mark Williams v Tom Ford
Mark Allen v Dave Harold/ Wildcard
Allister Carter v Fergal O'Brien/ Wildcard
Stephen Lee v Marcus Campbell
Matthew Stevens v Joe Perry
Ricky Walden v Michael Holt/ Wildcard
Andrew Higginson v Robert Milkins/ Wildcard
Judd Trump v Dominic Dale

Draw for the Austrlian Open:

Stuart Bingham v Matt Selt
Andrew Higginson v Ryan Day
Barry Hawkins v Xiao Guodong
Matthew Stevens v Liang Wenbo
Martin Gould v Ken Doherty
Ali Carter v Cao Yupeng
Mark Davis v Jack Lisowski
Neil Robertson v Nigel Bond
Shaun Murphy v Marcus Campbell
Dominic Dale v Tom Ford
Peter Ebdon v Michael Holt
Ding Junhui v Alan McManus
Stephen Lee v Rory McLeod
Ricky Walden v Jamie Cope
Joe Perry v Marco Fu
Mark Selby v Jamie Burnett

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