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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It was announced yesterday that the 49-year-old Sheriff of Pottingham Anthony Hamilton had withdrawn from the event due to health fears – as there have been mixed views from fans and players surrounding Hamilton’s decision to not compete in the final stages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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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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Belgium’s new young gun…

Belgian teenager Ben Mertens has become the youngest player to win a match at the World Championship in the qualifying rounds.

BenMertens
Following in Luca Brecel’s footsteps. Ben Mertens.

It comes as the 15-year-old demolished 24-year-old James Cahill, whom last year reached the Crucible and appeared as the first amateur and beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round but then lost to Stephen Maguire in the second.

Mertens joins in the records as his older compatriot Luca Brecel the Belgian Bullet was the youngest player to appear at the Crucible at the age of 17 in 2012.

The MC Phil Seymour, who does ITV4 snooker MCing, amongst other activities, commented on the win by the new Belgian teenage sensation.

He said: “At the Snooker Shootout last year, a few of us went to Parkrun on the Saturday morning. On our way back to the hotel at about 9:30 14-year-old Ben Mertens was stood outside the Watford Colosseum with his parents. He wanted to get inside so he could practice.

Seymour added: “Really pleased for him. Such a nice lad with a great attitude.”

LucaBrecel
The Belgian Bullet Luca Brecel won the Championship League in June.

Sweet victory…

It was a sweet victory for the young Belgian who raced into a 3 – 1 lead and then won another two after the mid-session interval at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, the home of snooker.

Cahill bounced back with a 90 break, but then a resilient and steely Mertens, mature beyond his years, held his nerve and strode over the winning line.

The cream of Devon’s Andy Hicks defeated the 12 times World Champion Reanne Evans in the first round.

14-year-old Ukrainian Julian Bolko could not beat the record now set by Ben, but fans saw a glimpse of what he could do in the EIS on the big stage.

The World Championship Qualifiers continue into day three and go on from the 21st to the 29th July. 16 players will qualify from four rounds for the sport’s main event at the Crucible from the 31st.

There will be an audience of up to 300.

Scot Stephen Maguire was the first player to win a ranking event The Tour Championship during a pandemic and lock down…

In sport…

Crowds play an enormous part in the drama. The suspense, the shocks, misses, tears, sweat and joy.

From this month small sporting crowds will be allowed back for a pilot test by the government, as announced by Prime minister Boris Johnson as he attempts to steer the country back to some kind of normality.

Will you be one of the lucky ones to be in there catching the drama?

The World Snooker Championships, set at the end of this month and well into August, a first, will play host to a small crowd, though it’s not yet known how many audience members will attend  – yet.

Snooker led the way back in June with live sport back on TV.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, fans saw the sport snooker lead the way back for live sport in June.  Snooker returned with the World Snooker Tour Championship League on June 1st behind closed doors. Other sporting events then followed suit. Snooker then staged its second event during the pandemic and lockdown, the major event the Tour Championship weeks later at the same venue in Milton Keynes.

From the 4th July, snooker clubs could technically open, but some confusion over their status led to them being opened days later than planned.

Racing, Cricket, Snooker, all trialling small crowds…

Now, in a bid to trial some normality to live sport, The Crucible will be able to host a small live crowd, along with the likes of Glorious Goodwood Racing in August.

Judd Trump
A lucky few will get to see if Judd Trump can survive the first round LIVE inside The Crucible at the end of the month.

The guidance is under the government’s stage one to five guidelines, and refers to the basic social distancing measures such as fans standing 2 metres apart if they can, and, where they cannot, standing 1 metre plus with mitigations. Presumably wearing a face-covering etc.

The strict guidance includes measures such as rigorous handwashing and sanitizers in place at the venue.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “For months, millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top class sporting event . So I am pleased that we are now able to help venues safely reopen their doors for fans.”

He added: “Although it will remain some time before venues are full to capacity, this is a major step in the right direction.”

The Crucible normally holds up to 1000 people.

 

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Snooker’s Blue Ribbon Event Hangs in Balance…

And this week’s Tour Championship in Llandudno has been postponed until July, due to the rapidly viral deadly Coronavirus outbreak.

The snap announcement came from World Snooker Tour this morning that the penultimate ranking event of the season would be potentially played later on in the year at the end of July (21-26th).

Originally, the event in Wales was going to be played behind closed doors – but government advice yesterday has changed the whole framework of sporting events for the next weeks/months.

The Crucible
The World Championships at the Crucible hang in the balance regarding whether it will be postponed or even canceled!

The statement read on the WST website: “We appreciate this is very short notice and a disappointment for the fans and the television audience, however, the assessment could only be made at short notice after yesterday’s announcement from the government which came at 5pm.

The box office at Venue Cymru in Llandudno will contact ticket holders . Those tickets will be transferred automatically to the rescheduled dates. Fans who are unable to attend in July can contact the box office after April 1st for a refund.”

Announcements on future events including the World Championship will be made in due course, with all scenarios to be considered depending on further government advice.

The World Snooker Championships hang in the balance as advice from UK government was for people to avoid social gatherings such as pubs, clubs, theatres and other venues and just go out to get food and essential items.

On the Crucible Theatre website, it says that ALL shows will be postponed until April 5th with ongoing reviews following on from government advice. The theatre also hosts the iconic snooker event played each year there since 1977.

The statement reads: “For performances from 5 April onwards, we will continue to review and follow recommendations from the relevant authorities and will keep in touch with ticket holders. There is no further news on World Snooker at this time. We continue to liaise with the team at World Snooker and will provide an update on plans for this year’s tournament as soon as it is available.”

They add: “We appreciate that these are worrying times for many people and thank you for your understanding as we continue to follow all available advice. We are sorry for any disappointment our closure will cause, but we are committed to playing our part in helping people stay safe. Please look after yourselves and each other.”