Professional Snooker - 2016 Northern Ireland Open
14th-20th November 2016 / Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland
YOUNGSTERS, ROOKIES AND OVERSEAS PLAYERS MAKING INROADS
It was an emotional Wednesday to say the least at the 2016 Northern Ireland Open.
First we had the excitement of current runaway speed train John Higgins knocking in his eighth maximum 147 break during his 4-1 defeat of Sam Craigie. Oh, and for good measure, he previously made a 137 and 130 earlier in the match too.
Then in the evening we had a real feast for the snooker romantic as Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan - two of the sport's biggest icons, clashed in a tournament where the winner gets 'The Alex Higgins Trophy'. After losing the first frame, it was O'Sullivan who went through 4-1.
What may have gone under the radar was the progress and performances from some of the tour's younger, rookie and overseas players.
With a batch of big name absentees, and an open draw (bar the seeded Top 16), there was always the potential of lower ranked players making an impact in Belfast.
Whilst it may be the 'Home Nations Series', mainland Europe is still well represented by Luca Brecel (Belgium), Kurt Maflin (Norway) and Robin Hull (Finland).
Brecel followed up his 4-0 crushing of Shaun Murphy in Round 1 with a 4-2 defeat of Jamie Cope in a very high quality affair. The Belgian has made at least a 50 plus break in every frame he has won so far.
Hull has had to come back from behind in both of his encounters, while Maflin has been relatively comfortable dropping just three frames in total.
From a little further afield, it is great for the sport to see talented Iranian youngster Hossein Vafaei Ayouri still involved after a brace of victories over Rod Lawler (4-3) and Zak Surety (4-2).
Blighted with several visa issues that have prevented him from travelling to events in the past, Ayouri is someone I have tipped as a future Top 16 player. He had a glittering amateur career which saw him win the World Amateur and Under 21's Championships. He was also the first player ever to make a 147 in the Under 21's event.
Despite Ding Junhui being upset on Tuesday, Chinese hopes are still burning with Zhang Anda, Zhou Yuelong and Yan Bingtao, although Zhang and Zhou will face the stiffest of tests on the main table against O'Sullivan and Higgins respectively next up.
Another player I have deliberately been keeping an eye on is Thailand's Akani Songsermsawad (pictured above) - a player I listed as someone to watch in an article I wrote a few months back.
He earned a pro tour card courtesy of his 2015 Asian Under 21's win, but only came to the UK to enter the World Championship last season. This campaign he has entered almost everything and has already amassed a number of victories, scalps and impressive performances, highlighted with a Quarter-Final run at the Indian Open.
This week he has seen off Cao Yupeng (4-1) and Mark Davis (4-3). It is the second time this season he has beaten Davis. On Thursday he faces Kyren Wilson, the man who denied him in India.
Fellow Thai player Kritsanut Lertsattayathorn is a rookie having won the Asian Championship earlier this year. He narrowly lost out to Ricky Walden 4-3 on Wednesday, but can be buoyed by a first half of the season with wins against players such as Rory McLeod, Michael White and Anthony Hamilton.
Australian debutant Kurt Dunham (2016 Oceania Champion), also showed what he was capable of this week. Although he went down 4-3 to the in-form Scott Donaldson in the Last 64, he constructed his first century break on the top tier with an effort of 126. This was all after his 4-2 opening round success over fellow rookie Christopher Keogan.
Closer to home, Ireland's Josh Boileau (another rookie - this year's European U21's Champion) has registered consecutive pro wins and will feature in the Last 32 for the first time.
England's Sanderson Lam has been in very fine form here. After eliminating Wang Yuchen 4-1, he produced four half centuries (one in each winning frame) to sweep aside Alan McManus 4-0. It is only the second time in his short career to have secured a Last 32 major ranking berth.
Picture above is courtesy of World Snooker
Written and published by Michael Day on the 17th November 2016