2018 Billiards World Champion and Arjuna awardee Sourav Kothari will be writing a series of special reports on the ongoing World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, England exclusively for Times of India.
Defending champion Judd Trump, 3 times World Champions both Mark Selby & Mark Williams scraped through their pre quarterfinal encounters which could have gone either way towards the end.
Pre-tournament favorite Judd Trump came to the Crucible riding high on the back of a phenomenal 2019-20 season having won a record 6 ranking events but his form so far in the World Championship has been shy of his best. Facing the supremely talented Yan Bingtao of China who seemed to have determination etched on his forehead, Judd was left with little time to get back into the swing of things as he trailed Yan 2-5 in the best of 25 encounter. However, the crucible is not always about who gets flying fastest but the one who can weather a storm and keep afloat. Over the years, champions like Trump have meticulously built their armoury to combat in the most trying circumstances and against gritty adversaries. With breaks of 58, 88, 73, 93 & 52 Judd cast away all doubts to take a resounding 9-5 lead. Down 12-10, Yan produced a magnificent break of 130 under intense pressure to come in just a frame away from forcing a decider. In such compelling circumstances, a missed mid-range red by Yan in the 24th frame saw Judd delivering the coup-de-grace with a superb break of 127 to keep his quest for retaining the world crown alive.
Selby, one of the toughest competitors in modern day snooker, was nearly ousted by Thai sensation Noppon Saengkham. High voltage drama ensued in the second session as the players were locked in at 8-8, 9-9, 10-10 and then 12-12 before Selby pinched the decider with a remarkable 124 break to book a berth in his 8th World Championship quarter-final.
The Thai snooker fraternity went delirious after Noppon created one the biggest upsets of the first round at the Crucible as he sent former World Champion Shaun Murphy crashing 10-4 in a dominating performance claimed by himself as the “Biggest win of my career”. Thousands of fans held on to their breath, praying for their blue eyed boy to continue his dream run against Selby and even though their hopes were thwarted, they rejoiced Saengkham’s epoch making performance in Sheffield and await to give him a hero’s welcome back home.
Thailand has been an unassailable power-house of snooker for many decades and the revolution was brought about by James Wattana who reached the semi-final at the Crucible twice in 1993 & 1997 and became a household name in the country in the 90’s reaching a career high ranking of no. 2 in the world. Since then they have produced scores of quality players who performed exceedingly well in the amateur circuit and others like Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Noppon Saengkham & Dechawat Poomjaeng who went on to make big strides in the professional circuit. With ever increasing popularity, passion and good coaching and training facilities available, it’s only a matter of time when the likes of the above mentioned players will inspire a whole new generation of youngsters to take the sport to lofty heights in the future.
Prompted by his lethal performance in demolishing Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the first round, most people expected Ronnie to take a runaway lead against “the dragon” Ding Jun Hui in their last -16 encounter. However, Ding who has had a fairly tepid 2019-20 season, simply becomes a different man at the Crucible holding his own to keep the match locked evenly at 8-8. Keeping Ronnie shackled in such devastating form speaks volumes about Ding’s resolve specially keeping in mind that upon arrival in England from China, he had to quarantine himself for a fortnight before getting a mere eight days to prepare for his world championship campaign.
Judd Trump, Kurt Maflin, Mark Williams & Mark Selby have booked their berth in the quarterfinal and await the winners of Martin Gould v/s Kyren Wilson, Anthony McGill v/s Jamie Clark, Ronnie O’ Sullivan v/s Ding Jun Hui, Barry Hawkins v/s Neil Robertson respectively.
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