WENBOOM! 2016 ENGLISH OPEN COMMENTS
Back in April of this year, at the Crucible, Liang Wenbo led Judd Trump 7-3 during their First Round match in the World Championship. Liang went on to lose 10-8. At Event City in Manchester on Sunday evening, there would be no repeat, as China's Number 2 held off Trump to win the inaugural English Open. He becomes only the second player from his country to win a major ranking title.
Liang created daylight between himself and his opponent with 5-2 and 7-4 advantages. However, Trump, looking to bag consecutive majors in the space of just 8 days, stood on the brink of levelling the match at 7-7 before a gutsy break of 62 from the Asian put him on the hill. He duly completed the job in the next...cue the expected celebrations!
The last 12 months has really seen a resurgence for 'The Firecracker'. Back in the late noughties he qualified for a number of venues and reached the quarter-finals of the 2008 World Championship before going down to eventual winner Ronnie O'Sullivan. He also made his maiden ranking final at the 2009 Shanghai Masters (where he lost to the Rocket again), and alongside partner Ding Junhui won the 2011 World Cup for his country.
During this time he briefly entered the Top 16 in 2010, although his stay there was short lived. He did claim an Asian Tour minor ranking title later on, but he gradually slipped down the rankings, and fell behind Xiao Guodong in the Chinese pecking order. With youngsters from his country gaining exposure and success on the worldwide amateur scene, it was perhaps starting to look unlikely that Liang would be the next new major winner from the Far East.
However, coupled with some consistent results on tour, Liang reached the final of last year's UK Championship. He bravely went down to an inspired Neil Robertson, but the prize money he accumulated saw him back into the World's elite, and he made his Masters debut at the start of this year.
Liang's route to the £70,000 first prize was not easy. In all seven of his matches he faced opposition who had at least reached a major ranking final in their careers; including ex-World Champions in Graeme Dott, Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham.
He held his nerve in deciding frame thrillers against Murphy, Bingham and Ben Woollaston. His semi-final clash with Bingham on Saturday night was arguably the match of the week. Between them, there were 12 breaks of 50 or above - a hat-trick of consecutive centuries in Frames 8, 9 and 10. Powerful break building was much the foundation of Wenbo's success in Manchester, he constructed 28 half centuries (5 of those tons) throughout the week, with much of the action being short best of 7's.
Despite there being just two non-English players left come the Quarter-Finals, a lot of the buzz in the event circled around Chinese players.
Having missed the European Masters the week before, recent World 6 Reds and Shanghai Masters Champion Ding returned looking for a third straight title. After coming through the opening two rounds without dropping a frame, he was upset by Jak Jones 4-2 in the Last 32.
19 year old World Amateur Finalist Zhao Xintong maybe gave us a glimpse into the future as he rattled in runs of 130, 107 and 80 to scare O'Sullivan; before being ousted in a decider. On his live TV debut in England, he certainly created a lot of hustle and bustle amongst snooker fans who had not seen him before. Well, we will see him again soon, I'm sure.
Fellow professional rookie, and even younger, 16 year old Yan Bingtao knocked out Mark Allen on his way to appearing in the Last 16. Xiao also continued his promising start to the season when he too made the L16; beating Robertson 4-3 the previous round from 3-1 adrift.
For many years now, pundits have predicted an onslaught of Chinese talent 'hijacking' the upper ranks of the sport. It was always going to take time, but over 11 years on from Ding's emergence at the 2005 China Open, this generation of players seem to be making steady in-roads.
Ding's shock success in Beijing in '05 was inspiring, but it was always going to take a good decade for youngsters in China to make progress. Up until 2013, there had never been a Chinese player appear in the IBSF World Amateur Championship Final; 4 of the last 6 finalists have now been from that country (Zhao runner-up in 2013 & 2015, Yan winner in 2014, Zhou Yuelong winner in 2013).
The global youth scene has also recently been dominated by China. In the last 13 editions since 2002, there have been five different winners and six different runners-up from there.
Overall, I believe the beginning of this new Home Series concept was a success, despite there still being some question marks over the location of the event in terms of attendances throughout the week.
The scheduling does need some tweaking I feel, but I do agree with all 128 players going to the venue. Yes, the sacrifice is the slightly shorter best of 7's, but this is required in order to fit it in over a week. Best of 7's (with no need for an interval remember) allows there to be more televised games. This in turn gives far lesser known players the opportunity to showcase and learn in front of the TV lights – a completely different situation to the outside tables.
I discussed the idea of this 'Million Pound Bonus' to any player who can claim all four Home Series titles this campaign in an earlier blog (read here). With absolutely no disrespect to Liang, the possibility of that happening now is surely over. Had the pre-match favourite Trump won, maybe there was the smallest crumb of a chance.
I stand by my thoughts that there should be a Home Series Order of Merit with a prize for the Number 1 player, or a Grand Finals for the Top 16 or 32. On the other hand, the dreams of a seven figure windfall, maybe affected the top names – Mark Selby, Murphy, Ding, Robertson, O'Sullivan and Allen all departed before the Last 16.
The World Snooker circuit now has a rare few days off, but returns on Sunday for the 5th International Championship that has an exciting field chasing down a £125,000 winners kitty.
Keep posted with all the news on 'The Cue View'!
The initial picture above is courtesy of World Snooker
Written and published by Michael Day on the 17th October 2016