International Championship Qualifiers Get Under Way
Tuesday saw the players return to Preston for the start of the International Championship qualifiers at the Guild Hall.
This is the sixth edition of the International Championship, which was once heralded as a possible fourth major as China’s growth in the game exploded.
It’s still a very important tournament, with £150,000 on offer for the champion, but whether or not it has managed to build on that early promise of becoming one of the majors is ultimately debatable.
Fans will rightly point to the welcome increase in format of best of eleven frames throughout the competition, a rare feature for modern day snooker and even rarer for having semi-finals played over two sessions under a best of 19 guise.
However, despite a thrilling start to its tenure on the calendar when Judd Trump captured the inaugural championship in 2012, the International has largely disappointed in recent seasons.
Crowd levels have fluctuated each year with an especially mute atmosphere failing to generate the type of buzz you’d normally associate with one of the big ones.
Still, it’s always a pleasant surprise these days when we can break from the best of seven mould, and the opening day of the preliminaries certainly through up a few humdingers.
The most nail-biting of the lot had Robbie Williams capture a dramatic 6-5 triumph against Zhang Anda, denying the 25 year-old a place in one of his home events by pinching the final frame shootout on a re-spotted black.
Fellow Englishmen Sam Craigie and Tom Ford were also taken the distance, emerging from close encounters with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Scott Donaldson respectively.
The majority of the other clashes were one-sided, though, with the higher ranked competitors in action dominating for the most part.
Riga Masters champion Ryan Day hammered Chen Zifan 6-1 courtesy of five half-century breaks, while former world champion Stuart Bingham recorded a similar scoreline against Sean O’Sullivan with a high break of 118.
Joe Perry beat Paul Davison 6-3 and Alan McManus secured his safe passage through with a 6-2 defeat of Rod Lawler.
This week also saw the return of Leo Fernandez to the circuit, making his first appearance after a 15-month suspension from the sport for spot-fixing.
The Irishman, with zero ranking points from his first year of a two-year tour card, will need to produce something special to stay alive at the end of this campaign but got off to a dreadful start by going down 6-1 to Michael Holt.
Meanwhile, Josh Boileau’s woes continued as he succumbed to a 6-2 loss against Andrew Higginson.
Elsewhere, Tian Pengfei compiled the day’s highest break, a 134, as he overcame former World Championship semi-finalist James Wattana 6-3, while there were victories for Mei Xiwen, Gary Wilson, and John Astley as well.
On Wednesday, the likes of Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Anthony McGill, and Jimmy White will play their qualifying fixtures.