News June 24th, 2024

Gary Wilson and Hailong Ma are the latest two competitors to advance to next week’s Stage 2 at the BetVictor Championship League Snooker, Mattioli Arena, Leicester, meanwhile it was a day to forget for four-time World Champion John Higgins, who was resigned to a 3rd place finish in Group 9


Group 9

The day started brightly for John Higgins when facing Latvia’s Artemis Zizins, the 18-year-old Latvian marking his professional debut on the World Snooker Tour. It was a harsh reality check for the young potter however, coming up against a 31-time ranking event winner who dispatched him 3-0 in under an hour.

From there however, Higgins had a lengthy wait until his next match at the start of the evening session. No.71 ranked Ben Mertens was next in line to face the Wizard. The 19-year-old delivered breaks of 68, 86 and 82 to stun the Scotsman for a statement victory – a win that would prove even more crucial in determining the final group standings.

Victory in the final match was the only way of standing a chance of qualification. Group leader Hailong Ma stood to prevent the 49-year-old, beginning his 33rd season as a professional. The opening exchanges were back-and-forth, with the Chinese 20-year-old producing a century to open the contest before Higgins roared back to level. The group was settled in the third frame however as Higgins lost out 56-54 to take away any hope of qualification – ending the day in third place. Despite a 3-0 loss to Zizins in the penultimate group fixture, Mertens finished in second place.

Group 6

Two-time Scottish Open champion Gary Wilson marked a triumphant return to the green baize on Monday with an unbeaten display. The Tyneside Terror won two of his matches against Michael Holt, Huang Jiahao, before securing passage with a draw against Joe Perry to cruise into next week’s action in Leicester.

Despite admittedly playing poorly, he returned to action with a 3-0 blitz of China’s Huang Jiahao in the opening match of the day. Michael Holt, returning to the professional scene after 18 months in the wilderness, was next up after the Hitman contested a 2-2 draw against Joe Perry. Wilson would take another victory 3-1, a break of 91 helping him on his way.

Six points in the bank meant only a point was needed against Joe Perry in the final match of the evening, with the Gentleman – a previous Welsh Open champion himself – also able to take a shot at the top spot after a 3-1 over Huang earlier in the afternoon.

Wilson was put onto the back foot early after an opening break of 71 saw Perry take the opening frame, before clawing back the second with a break of 83. The third frame was most crucial when Perry missed a black into the bottom left corner on 38 points to allow the Scottish Open champion to clean up and secure the top spot in the group.

The Championship League is the first ranking event of the new season and was won last year by Shaun Murphy. The opening tournament of the season runs until July 3rd. In the first phase, 128 players are split into 32 groups of four, with those 32 group winners going through to the next round.

The tournament takes place over three stages, starting on Monday, 10 June. Winners’ Week will run from Friday 28, June concluding with Finals Day on Wednesday, 3 July. The eventual winner will also receive an invite into the 2023 Champion of Champions this November 11 to November 17 alongside the £20,000 first-place prize.

The action continues on Tuesday (25th June), which sees seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and No.17 ranked Jack Lisowski enter as the top seeds in Group’s 2 & 12 respectively. For details on how to watch, click here.

(Photo by Zheng Zhai)

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