26 january 2021 publish date

Maximum and absolute | WST Pro Series | 18-25 January 2021

One of the two parts of the first stage of the new WST Pro Series tournament has ended. For eight days in a row, there were meetings between players in groups M, B, G, C, K, A, L and N. The youngest professional snooker player in history, Iulian Boyko will play in this tournament in the second part of the first stage on March 9, 2021 as part of group J. The rivals of the 15-year-old Ukrainian in these competitions will be David Gilbert, Martin Gould, Elliot Slessor, Ian Burns, Peter Lines and his son Oliver Lines.

January 18, Joe Perry and Xiao Guodong became the first two players to reach the second phase of the new WST Pro Series.

Englishman Perry and China’s Xiao finished first and second respectively out of the eight players in Group M. They will return to Milton Keynes for the second stage in March, with the chance to go through to the final group of the world ranking event which has total prize money of £420,500.

Perry won six of his seven matches; his only defeat a 2-1 reverse against Rod Lawler. In the last match to finish, Perry edged out Xiao 2-1 by clearing from green to black in the deciding frame.

“I didn’t know what to expect, with this format,” said world number 19 Perry. “I just tried to win every game. There are twists and turns all day long, you just have to keep winning to give yourself a chance at the end. I’ll be surprised if all the seeds get through in this first stage.”

Xiao won five of his seven games, having lost 2-1 to Daniel Wells. Matthew Stevens went into the final round of matches with a chance to qualify, having won four of his first six, but a 2-1 defeat against Allan Taylor ended his hopes and he finished third.

Seven centuries were made over the day, Lawler topping the charts with a 140.

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Next day Kettering’s Wilson finished top of the eight-man group while Thailand’s Akani came second. They will head back to Milton Keynes in March when the field is reduced to 32 players, with four more groups of eight.

World number five Wilson won his first five matches of the day, and despite losing the last two against Yuan Sijun and Li Hang, he had done enough.

“It’s a cut-throat format but I played well though the day and I’m delighted to top the group,” said Wilson, who made five centuries in his seven matches. “All the players are adapting to the situation we are in and we just appreciate being able to play snooker. I’m still playing the game I love and earning money. I have scored heavily this season and my game is tightening up the more I play.”

Akani also won five times, and he ended up tied with China’s Pang Junxu on both number of wins and frame difference. However Akani had won the head-to-head game between those two players by a 2-1 scoreline in the first match of the day, and that result ended up being decisive as it meant the Thai was ranked higher in the final standings.
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January 20, Martin O’Donnell came through a nervy final match to book his place in the second phase of the WST Pro Series, alongside Lu Ning.

O’Donnell won his first four matches in the eight-man group to stand on the brink of qualification, but then lost two in a row to leave his place in doubt. He needed one frame in his final tie against Rory McLeod to ensure his progress, and kept his cool to win 2-0 and top the group.

“I got off to a great start, winning my first four games while the others were beating each other,” said world number 49 O’Donnell. “After losing the next two I had a dressing down from my coach. So it was good to finish it off nicely. I had it in my head from the start that five wins would get me through. So even if you lose one or two early on, you just have to keep going and try to win the rest.

“I have played pretty well this season without going deep in anything. Christmas came at a good time for me to recharge and refocus. It’s nice to come here and get off to a good start to the year and hopefully I can kick on for the rest of the season.”

Betway UK Championship semi-finalist Lu lost his second match of the day but then won four in a row which ensured him a top-two spot.

They are both through to the second group stage in March in the new £420,500 world ranking event.

World number 20 Gary Wilson, the highest ranked player in the group, made a 147 and won four of his seven matches, but it wasn’t enough.

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On the fourth day of WST Pro Series Stuart Bingham won seven matches out of seven without conceding a frame as he romped into the second phase of the WST Pro Series.

Sam Craigie also made it through thanks to a 2-0 win over Billy Castle in his final match. They both advance to the second group stage in March in the new £420,500 world ranking event.

Former World Champion Bingham knocked in breaks of 70, 90, 65, 76, 50, 134, 124, 71, 75, 89 and 87 in winning 14 consecutive frames.

“When the draw came out I thought it would be a tough group because there are four or five good break-builders in there,” said Basildon’s Bingham. “I started off well and carried on all the way through. My game is in good shape.

“Losing in the semi-finals of the Masters last week (6-5 against Yan Bingtao) was hard to take, it hurt. You either win or you learn, and I will learn from it.”

Bingham is currently 21st in the Race to the Crucible and must get into the top 16 before the  Betfred World Championship to avoid having to go through qualifying. “I’ll need to get to the later stages of a few events to get into the top 16,” he added. “It’s tough now on tour – if I have to go to the qualifiers then that’s what I’ll do.”

Craigie won his first four matches, then lost against Scott Donaldson and Bingham to leave his progression in doubt. But the world number 51 rallied to beat Castle with breaks of 55 and 70.

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Dominic Dale made a brilliant clearance in the last frame of the day to finish second in Group K and earn a place in the second phase of the WST Pro Series.

Zhao Xintong topped the group but it was Dale who provided the drama in a tense finish to his last match against Si Jiahui.

Andy Hicks could have taken second spot by beating Lee Walker, but lost 2-1. That left Dale needing to beat Si to qualify, and after losing the first frame the Welshman came from 44-1 down to take the second for 1-1. Dale then came from 41 points behind in the decider to make a superb break of 73.

Both Dale and Hicks finished the group with four wins out of seven and a frame difference of +2, but it was Dale who went through having won the head-to-head match with Hicks 2-1 at the start of the day. He joins Zhao in advancing to the second group stage in March in the new £420,500 world ranking event.

“The group was incredibly tight, every frame was so important. I was very lucky to get a chance to win in the last frame and I’ve no idea how I did it,” said two-time ranking event winner Dale. “I only had a couple of days practice before coming here. I started quite well today but then for my last four matches I couldn’t cue straight. I lost all my confidence, but just grafted away and used my experience to win frames. I made a lot of rudimentary mistakes. I don’t know how I finished second, I must be Dynamo the magician.”

This was the tightest group so far and after five of the seven rounds of matches, all eight players had either three or two wins. China’s Zhao rose to the occasion; he lost two of his first three games but then scored four wins in a row to top the group. The world number 28 made five centuries over the day including a 143.

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Triple Crown winner Shaun Murphy eased through at the WST Pro Series, winning seven matches from seven to top Group A and progress to the second phase.

Despite the Magician’s dominance, it wasn’t until he earned a 2-1 win over 1994 Masters winner Alan McManus in the second last round of matches, that he secured his progression. Breaks of 95 and 59 were enough to see Murphy seal the deciding frame win. He followed that up with a 2-0 defeat of Shoot Out champion Michael Holt.

Joining Murphy in the second phase is Leicester’s world number 70 Louis Heathcote, who recorded a crucial 2-0 defeat of 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty in his last match to claim second place in the group. Heathcote fired in a break of 113 in the decisive frame, to leave himself with an unassailable advantage over nearest rival McManus. The Scot beat compatriot Fraser Patrick 2-1 in his final game to finish level with Heathcote on 15 points, but went out on frame difference.

Murphy said: “The secret of these formats, certainly for me, is that I don’t tend to look at the situation of how you stand throughout the day. I don’t think it does you any favours. I try 100% on every shot, in every match, each time I play. Looking at tables and working things out doesn’t really do anything for me. In fact, it just puts pressure on.

“I had three centuries today, so I’ve had a good day’s workout. I think we saw how coming to the Championship League prior the Masters sharpened John Higgins up and he put in a good performance at the Masters. That sort of thing can benefit me. Living in Ireland, with the travel restrictions means coming here isn’t as easy for me. I’m not quite as well practised as everyone else is, I’ll stay here now, try to stay out of everyone’s way and get ready for the German Masters.”

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China’s world number 64 Luo Honghao won six from seven matches to top Group L and reach the second phase of the WST Pro Series.

Luo, 20, turned professional in 2018 after winning the WSF Championship to earn a place on the World Snooker Tour. However, he endured a difficult first two seasons, narrowly retaining his professional status at the end of last year’s Betfred World Championship.

He showed his talent today, securing wins in all of his first five matches to all but book a place in phase two. Luo recorded 2-1 deciding frame wins over Mitchell Mann, Leo Fernandez and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, as well as defeating Anthony Hamilton and compatriot Zhou Yuelong 2-0.

There was then a 2-0 loss to fellow WSF Championship winner Ashley Hugill, but Luo followed that up with a 2-0 defeat of Lei Peifan to end the day on 18 points.

World number 21 Zhou, who reached the semi-finals of the Betway UK Championship earlier this season, took second spot to ensure progression.

Zhou went into his final match needing to win to ensure a place in the top two. He did just that, beating Thai number one Un-Nooh 2-0 with breaks of 85 and 134. That left Zhou on 15 points, with five wins from his seven matches.

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Jack Lisowski topped Group N of the WST Pro Series with Luca Brecel second, both players advancing to the second phase by the narrowest of margins.
Brecel won the Championship League last June and enjoys the group format

In an exciting conclusion to the day’s action in Milton Keynes, five players went into the last round of matches with a chance to make it through to the second stage in March, all having won four of their first six games.

Zak Surety could have finished in the top two by winning his last match against Brecel, but he lost 2-0. Jackson Page needed to beat Michael White 2-0 to guarantee progression, but lost 2-1.

Meanwhile, Lisowski saw off Graeme Dott 2-0 and Andrew Higginson beat Brandon Sargeant 2-0. That left Brecel, Lisowski and Higginson tied on five wins each, all with a frame difference of plus four. The next criteria is the head-to-head record, and the results between those three players were:

Lisowski 2-0 Higginson
Brecel 2-1 Lisowski
Higginson 2-1 Brecel

While the trio were tied on one win apiece, Lisowski had the best frame difference in this mini-group with +1, followed by Brecel on 0, then Higginson on -1. Lisowski therefore topped the overall group with Brecel second and Higginson third. This criteria was set out in the rules before the event started.

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The £420,500 world ranking tournament resumes in March, with the next eight groups to be played from March 9 to 16, followed by the second phase, with 32 players drawn into four groups of eight. The top two in each of those groups will content the final group on March 21. The 16 players to make it through so far are:

Joe Perry
Xiao Guodong
Kyren Wilson
Sunny Akani
Martin O’Donnell
Lu Ning
Stuart Bingham
Sam Craigie
Zhao Xintong
Dominic Dale
Shaun Murphy
Louis Heathcote
Luo Honghao
Zhou Yuelong
Luca Brecel
Jack Lisowski
 

The article is based on WST.TV