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Boiling point…

While the UK basks in a heatwave, the unusual summer drama at the Crucible is also bubbling up as the tournament enters its final stages.

The 2020 BetFred World Snooker Championship has produced some quality drama both on and off the baize, despite the fact that no audiences have been allowed in, but the tension has still been gripping.

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Anthony McGill explains away the fracas he was involved with in his match with Jamie Clarke…

Anthony McGill came through a dramatic second-round clash with Crucible debutant Jamie Clarke on Sunday to reach his second Crucible quarter-final in five years.

Welshman Clarke was at one stage in the match 8 – 2 up on the Scot but let a lead slip after an unusual exchange where McGill complained Clarke was in his eyeline on shots. Subsequently, he confronted him off stage at the venue.

JamieClarke
Jamie Clarke did himself proud as he took McGill all the way. His win in the first round against Mark Allen showed he can match against the best…

Once referee Jan Verhaas had given them a talking to after the second session, all was well again, although McGill looked sheepish on his entry into the final session on Sunday night.

On the baize, it was nip and tuck as both players continued to come back at each other again and again. Clarke towards the end was looking a wee bit tired in phases, at around 10 – 10, but pushed on.

McGill, who played Shaun Murphy in his maiden quarter-final in 2015, told WST: “I can’t believe I won that match,” said the 29-year-old. “Especially considering the position he was in at 12-11 when he missed the pink. My scoring wasn’t there, I felt like I only had about three breaks in the whole match. The only reason I won was that I tried as hard as I could. I’m going to need to pull something out of the bag in my next match.”

 

When McGill was asked about the fracas regarding the incident, he said: “During the first session, there were three or four shots where I was shooting down towards the black end in safety battles and Jamie was standing in my eyeline. I told myself to forget about it because he probably didn’t mean to.”

 

He added: “But I decided that if it continued in the second session I would ask him if he would mind sitting down or standing behind me. A shot like that came up and I asked him politely if he wouldn’t mind sitting down, because it is distracting when someone is standing up and you can see him. He took it the wrong way and it blew into a massive thing, when it should have been resolved in about three seconds.

 

“I didn’t have any intentions at all behind it. I know people are saying I was trying to unnerve him, but that’s not the type of game I play, you can ask any professional player. A lot of people might not rate me as a player, but nobody can say anything about my conduct at the table when it comes to sportsmanship.”

McGill will play Kurt Maflin as there is guaranteed to be a qualifier in the semi-finals of the event.

25-year-old Clarke said on his performance in the tournament.

“Even though I lost 13-12, I am very proud of myself. There’s a lot of tension out there and you have to take the rough with the smooth. It has been an immense experience.”

Watch the slight fracas below…

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Norwegian Surprise…

Mighty Kurt Maflin Battled through epic to win against four-time World Champion John Higgins.

KurtMaflin
Kurt Maflin never let up against John Higgins and showed great fight to pull ahead in the final stages of the match…

Kurt “The Viking” Maflin had the eyes of a tiger in the last frames of his second round encounter with the Wizard of Wishaw John Higgins.

His dogged determination came through at the end as it was a snooker battle of epic proportions with the Norwegian snooker player passing with flying colours.

There was barely a frame between them throughout most of the match, but as the match neared the winning line, Maflin upped his gears and in the final three frames he made three convincing breaks over 50.

This is the first time Kurt Maflin has rached the quarter-final stages of the World Championship, as in 2014/15 he secured his debut at the Crucible and was drawn to Mark Selby in the first round. He led 9 – 5 at one stage but could not seal the deal and Selby won that encounter 10 – 9.

In this year’s BetFred World Snooker Championship, fans are guaranteed a qualifier in the semi-finals stages as Maflin will play either Anthony McGill or debutant Jamie Clarke.

Said Maflin, 36: “It was a really good, hard-fought, entertaining game. I enjoyed it. It had everything, and it was a high standard. It was great to be involved in.”

 

He added: “At the interval I spoke to my dad and he told me to speed up because I was taking too long over shots. He said I’m good enough and I should go for my shots and keep focused. John made it so tough, I gave it everything in the locker. I was running out of gas at 11-10 down but the reserve tank kicked in.”

John Higgins
Higgins has won 16 consecutive matches at The Crucible over three years and appeared in three World finals.

The maximum man John Higgins goes away with 55K – assuming no-one else makes a 147 before the end of the tournament. His incredible run of 16 match wins at The Crucible on the trot over three years has come to an end. Higgins appeared in three World finals on the spin.

He told WST after: “Kurt played amazing, to finish it the way he did. He bulldozed his way over the line. I’m disappointed because I had a chance at 11-10. When I come away from the tournament. I will reflect on the 147, but at the moment I’d swap that for a place in the quarter-finals.”

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Wizard Magic…

WIZARD John Higgins has racked his 10th career maximum and the first Crucible 147 since 2012.

John Higgins
It’s Higgins’s first Crucible 147…

The 36 pots of magic came in his tight tussle between Norway’s Kurt Maflin which currently stands at 8 – 8.

The 45-year-old’s perfect break is the first in the history of the Crucible to be played without an audience seeing it – as hundreds of millions would have been viewing it on TV.

He told WST: “This will probably surpass any tournament with the standard you will see. Everybody will be giving it everything for a month solid and put the tough hours in. Everybody will be hungry, there will be nobody tired or jaded. They will all be going in firing on all cylinders. I really think it could be the best tournament standard-wise. Even though we might not have the crowd, I think it could be the best.”

The last time a maximum break was made was 8 years ago when Stephen Hendry made his last swan song at the Theatre of Dreams and made it against Stuart Bingham.

Stephen Hendry was the last person to make a 147 at the Crucible before he retired in 2012.

There have been 11 147s made at the Crucible, with Cliff Thorburn making the first-ever maximum in 1983. Higgins’s is his first he has made at the Sheffield based Theatre.

The Wizard added: “Everything involved adds up to that. Mentally people will be giving it extra because the event could have been taken away from them. Everyone will be sharp as a tack. It could break all the records in terms of centuries. I definitely think there will be a maximum break. There are only a select few players that have made one at the Crucible before. I think the whole situation and the crowd gets on top of you normally at the Crucible. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t one or maybe even two this year.”

Assuming Higgins’s 147 is the only one made, and there have been a  few attempts already in the first round, he stands to pocket a total of £55K.

That’s 40K for the 147, and £15K for the high break.

Watch the magic break below now…

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Allen Stunned…

Jamie Clarke stunned top seed Mark Allen on Tuesday by booking his place into the second round of the 2020 BetFred World Snooker Championship.

Qualifier Clarke, who was making his debut at the Theatre of Dreams, joins three others who so far have qualified for the next stage of the event in Sheffield’s Home of Snooker.

JamieClarke
Jamie Clarke played some great snooker against Mark Allen…

He followed Thailand’s Noppon, who knocked out 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy, as well as Kurt Maflin and Anthony McGill also qualifying for the next phase.

Today saw the remaining matches of the first round played to a close with qualifier Martin Gould defeating Tour Championship winner Stephen Maguire 10 – 3, leading 7 – 2.

frustrated Maguire was on for a maximum in one of the four frames he won to keep his hopes alive at 9 – 2 but broke down on 96.

it was the first time since 2011 that Gould had reached the second round of the main event.

Barry Hawkins also knocked out another Crucible debutant, Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher.

The young Swiss player started off well by making a break of 54 from his first shot and won the first frame, but we soon saw the 24-year-old was a very attacking player and went for too many shots as the Hawk pounced on his inexperience.

Clarke, 25, nicknamed the Welsh Whirlwind, told WST: “Never in a million years could I have dreamed of this,” said the Welshman. “I went into the qualifiers without a lot of confidence, just hoping to win one match. After that, I got on a roll. I am in shock at the moment. I went out there today to enjoy every minute and I was loving the experience.”

 

He added: “Mark was playing well and I was just trying to hang on to him, until the end when I had a chance to win. I will keep the same attitude in the next round and my belief is growing..”

Mark Allen said Clarke played out of his skin – despite the Northern Irishman racking up five tons.

He added: “For a debutant, Jamie played out of his skin. With no crowd there, it was difficult to put him under pressure. I made too many mistakes on the safety side.”

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Lisowski Feeling Blue?…

Qualifier Anthony McGill sunk a terrific long blue and then a pink in a decider to knock out top seed Jack Lisowski on Monday.

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Anthony McGill pulled right ahead of Lisowski in the match but was pegged back…

McGill, whose best run at the Crucible was in 2015 when he made his debut, clambered over the line in a gripping decider that went right down to the colours.

Lisowski gave away 16 points in fouls unnecessarily in the decider when McGill had put him in a relatively straightforward get out snooker.

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Lisowski had chances in the decider but couldn’t take them…

The decider was poignant because the two-time ranking event winner was 9 – 6 up on Jack Lisowski but it was Lisowski who clawed his way back to 9 – 9 with a barrage of breaks.

McGill is the second qualifier to make it through to the second round at the Theatre of Dreams along with Norway’s Kurt Maflin.

He told WST after: “When I was standing behind the blue, it was horrible. I didn’t have a safety shot. I had to strike it nice and pure and hope it went in. I hit it sweet as a nut but then I wasn’t sure it it was going to drop, and when it did I was so happy.”

 

The Scot, ranked 39,  added: “I enjoyed the battle. It’s good to be in that arena in a tight match, pitting your wits against one of the top 16. I felt Jack was always on top when we were on the blue, I was just trying not to leave him a pot. I love it here. I was just praying I didn’t lose in the qualifiers because I feel when I get to the Crucible I have a chance of playing well.”

WATCH THE BLUE BELOW HERE…

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The Claps…

Enter from stage behind, the fake claps…

IT was a dramatic first weekend at the Theatre of Dreams as the 2020 BetFred World Snooker Championship got underway.

As fans began to get used to the new set-up with no audience allowed in to watch the drama unfold, the tech crew came up with an obvious idea…

David Gilbert
David Gilbert had an emotional roller coaster last year at the Crucible but this year could not see off Norway’s Kurt Maflin in Round one.

Fake crowds clapping.

As the centuries started rolling in, with Neil Robertson and Tom Ford currently holding the high break of 140 between them, the noise of the fake crowds got louder and louder. Good job.

However, watching great shots by some players go without a clap is infuriating.

Watch these, and CLAP, CLAP, CLAP…

There was also a fresh addition to the BBC commentary team. A football commentator in David Farrar, whose low-pitched voice reminded SnookerZone of Ted Lowe’s whispering dulcet tones.

What has the tech crew backstage got up their sleeve, next?

It comes as big names such as John Virgo, famous for, “where’s the cue ball going? was unable to attend the venue due to being abroad.

The sad passing of Willie Thorne a few months ago is also another dramatic loss to the 17 days of action at Sheffield’s home of snooker in what is a very strange World Championships for a number of reasons.

  • It’s being held in summer
  • There are no audiences allowed in

Despite there being no crowds, some players are still feeling the pressure whereas others are basking in playing with freedom and knocking in big breaks.

Qualifiers Dropping like flies…

The 16 qualifiers, however, are dropping like flies this year in Round One as one by one the top seeds show that little extra to book their places into the second round.

However, for top seed David Gilbert, it wasn’t a procession into the second round as the former World Championship semi-finalist of last year, bowed out in a very close encounter against Norway’s Kurt Maflin, who stuck with Gilbert all the way until Maflin went 9 – 8 in front.

Gilbert had his chances in frame 18 but could not force the decider as The Viking, as he is nicknamed by MC Rob Walker clambered over the line and is the only qualifier so far to proceed into the last 16.

Maflin told WST after: “I felt like I played pretty well and pretty solid. I feel like I could have beat Dave 10-6 or something, and I made it a little bit hard for myself. It meant a lot as I think I have grown a little bit as a snooker player. My all round game is getting stronger, I feel like I can mix it up with anyone now.

 

He added: “I think this result will take off in Norway in terms of social media. I have quite a big following and fanbase behind me. There are many people interested and sending me good luck messages on Twitter. They are a real good bunch of people and I really appreciate all the support I am getting from back home in Norway.

Enjoy the first week of action, and remember, CLAP…

 

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Changing Times…

World Snooker Tour boss Barry Hearn has confirmed that from tomorrow the BetFred World Snooker Championship 2020 will be played behind closed doors.

Although, he said, that fans with final tickets should hold on to theirs a tiny bit longer. In this new world, things can change very quickly , he said.

You never know.

Judd Trump
Judd Trump finally got to walk down the Crucible steps as defending World Champion, 15 months after winning it in 2019.

The news came as Prime minister Boris Johnson announced live at 12PM in a Press Conference with the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty that there would be a squeeze on the brakes regarding the easing of lockdown measures as the R rate in England continues to rise again – particularly in the north.

Kyren Wilson gets a walkover…

KyrenWIlson
Kyren Wilson was set to play Anthony Hamilton at the Theatre of Dreams but gets a walkover to next round.

Today, was the beginning of snooker’s Blue Ribbon event as 31 of the best snooker players battle it out over two weeks to lift the World Championship trophy and the 500K first prize.

It was announced yesterday that the 49-year-old Sheriff of Pottingham Anthony Hamilton had withdrawn from the event due to health fears – as there have been mixed views from fans and players surrounding Hamilton’s decision to not compete in the final stages having qualified for the Crucible days ago at the English Institute of Sport.

Hearn, talking to the BBC in the sunshine from Sheffield, said regarding the news that the event would now not be allowed to welcome spectators, said: It’s a kick in the lower regions, but I’ve been kicked there before, and I’ll get kicked there again, but it is what it is.”

He added that you can either go and sulk in a corner or get on with the job in hand.

“This is the World Championships, and it’s going ahead, said Hearn.”

Love him or hate him, he’s our PM and he makes the decisions…

Hearn said everybody behind the scenes had worked hard to be able to make the venue Covid-19 safe for visitors to return to the Crucible, but added regarding the PM’s decision, love him or hate him, he’s our Prime minister and he’s the boss and he makes the decisions.

15 months after Judd Trump won his first World title, he finally walked down those famous Crucible steps to the main arena on Friday morning at 10 PM to albeit a very different set of circumstances in a modest 200 plus crowd to defend his title against Leicester’s Tom Ford in Round One.

It was almost the perfect start for Tom Ford, who was on for a maximum break in the first frame but twitched towards the end and over cut a black.

Six times World Champion Steve Davis said that without crowds there might be a very different standard of snooker, as there is a different kind of pressure.

Some players may need the buzz of an audience though, he said, whereas others may not need it so much.

But from tomorrow, the experience by the next bunch of first-round players will be very different as the Crucible is without audience members.

It was a proud moment for 25-year-old Ashley Carty from Rotherham, who got to walk out to his Crucible debut on Friday morning as well to the small but enthusiastic crowd. He will have enjoyed that moment in the Sun.

 

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World Championship Draw Announced…

The draw for the 2020 BetFred World Snooker Championship has been announced.

Current World Champion Judd Trump will face Leicester’s Tom Ford, who came through the final qualifying round last night along with 7 other lucky qualifiers who get to play at the Theatre of Dreams in Sheffield to make up 16.

Judd Trump
Judd Trump kicks off the World Championships with a tough encounter with Tom Ford.

The draw was announced live on Eurosport’s live stream at just gone 11AM with MC Rob Walker announcing the names and former 1991 World Champion John Parrott picking out the numbered balls.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s the first time a World Championships will have been hosted in the summer and the first time there will be a limited crowd in to watch 32 of the World’s best snooker players battle it out for the top prize of 500K.

On Tuesday, the final eight qualifiers were revealed with the likes of more golden oldies such as Matthew Stevens, who was denied a World title in 2005 by Shaun Murphy, who was the second player to win the title as a qualifier.

Blink and you’ll miss them…

Ronnie O’Sullivan is for the first time in a while NOT the favourite of the field as he will face the tour’s second-fastest player Thailand’s whirlwind Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the first round. This is Un-Nooh’s third Crucible appearance.

Crucible debutant Jordan Brown will play the Jester from Leicester Mark Selby.

Mark Williams, who last won in 2018, incredibly won his third World title, 15 years after his second, will play golden oldie Scotland’s Alan Angles McManus.

It will be a case of youth v experience in many of the first- round encounters as the likes of Jamie Clarke, Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher and Jordan Brown et al all appear on the big stage for the first time in Sheffield.

MartinGould
Martin Gould comfortably saw off 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott in the final qualifying round at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

Martin Gould, who denied 2006 World Champion Scot Graeme Dott a Crucible place, who had only missed out on one Crucible  in 2014, will play Tour Championship winner Stephen Maguire, who’s big run in Milton Keynes secured him a top 16 spot.

Gould last night was emotional after his win with Dott and said that for him, lockdown had come at the right time when it did as he was struggling with some “demons,” but came through it.

Here’s the full list of who will be playing who in Round One.

Judd Trump v Tom Ford
Yan Bingtao v Elliot Slessor
Stephen Maguire v Martin Gould
Kyren Wilson v Anthony Hamilton
John Higgins v Matthew Stevens
David Gilbert v Kurt Maflin
Jack Lisowski v Anthony McGill
Mark Allen v Jamie Clarke
Mark Williams v Alan McManus
Stuart Bingham v Ashley Carty
Ding Junhui v Mark King
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
Mark Selby v Jordan Brown
Shaun Murphy v Noppon Saengkham
Barry Hawkins v Alexander Ursenbacher
Neil Robertson v Liang Wenbo

SnookerZone wishes the 16 qualifiers who came through all the best and good luck. 

 

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Age Counts…

They say…

Age is just a number.

And in snooker, it is.

But it also counts for a lot when you manage to get to the sport’s most iconic venue The Crucible at a ripe age of nearly 50 – as have two “golden oldies” in Alan McManus and Anthony Hamilton.

The Crucible

The World Championship qualifiers have almost concluded at the English Institute of Sport as the first eight have booked their place to play on snooker’s big stage in Sheffield at The Crucible at the end of this month and into August. It will be 17 days of sweat, tears, and joy.

The final eight will be revealed today.

It’s the first time The World Snooker Championships will be played in a summer, due to the Coronavirus pandemic which struck UK shores in March and the government was forced to shut up most things from March through to June, with strict lockdown measures.

A Swiss First…

AlexUrsenbacher
Photo screenshot from World Snooker Tour website

Among those qualifying from the first batch is Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher, who particularly shone over four rounds of qualifying with wins over last year’s semi-finalist Gary Wilson and Andrew Higginson. The 24-year-old will be making his debut at the Theatre of Dreams.

Ursenbacher told WST; “To be the first-ever Swiss player at the Crucible is absolutely amazing,” said former English Open semi-finalist Ursenbacher, who knocked out Gary Wilson in the previous round. “I have always wanted to play at the home of snooker.  I’m surprised at how well I handled the pressure in the end.

 

He added: “I don’t care who I draw, I just want to go there and play and enjoy it. I just hope I don’t start crying. I am holding the tears back now, that’s how much it means.”

Two golden oldies with a combined age of 98…

Two “golden oldies” will grace the top stage in Sheffield in Scotland’s Alan McManus and England’s Sheriff of Pottingham Anthony Hamilton.

Both ironically are just coming up to their 50th birthdays as they are both the grand ages of 49.

McManus impressively reached the semi-finals of the 2016 World Championship but lost out to an all firing Ding Junhui, but it wasn’t all Ding, Ding, Ding in that match.

Both Hamilton and McManus’s pro careers span some 30 years.

The other qualifiers from the first batch include:

  • Norway’s Kurt Maflin
  • Noppon Saengkham
  • Ashley Carty
  • Liang Wenbo
  • Elliot Slessor

 

 

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NEW – Lynch’s CueBalm: Did SnookerZone like it?…

In snooker…

Some players often get sweaty hands and sticky cues and feel nervous in their cueing and their mindset.

CueBalm

This can lead to a far from smooth cue delivery and stress on the player. As the anxiety grows, so too can the stickiness and sweat.