Judd Trump, John Higgins and Mark Williams all suffered surprise defeats in the last 64 of the XingPai China Open on Tuesday.
Defeat for Mark Selby yesterday and the absence of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen had left Trump, Higgins and Williams as the highest ranked players left in the £1 million tournament, but they are all now heading out of Beijing. Just two days into the tournament, world number seven Neil Robertson is the highest ranked player remaining.
Higgins admitted he could be an “also-ran” for the World Championship after a 6-2 defeat against rookie pro Joe O’Connor.
O’Connor turned pro in 2018 after coming through the EBSA play-offs
Four-time Crucible king Higgins has had a poor season by his standards, his only appearance in the final of a ranking event coming at the China Championship in September. This is the second time within two months he has lost to world number 84 O’Connor; they met in the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open in February with Higgins beaten 5-3.
This time, Higgins went 2-0 up but Leicester’s O’Connor took the next six frames with top breaks of 72, 66, 63 and 65. The 23-year-old, whose promising debut season was highlighted by that run to the Welsh Open semi-finals, now meets Iran’s Hossein Vafaei in the last 32.
Scotland’s Higgins will go to the Crucible later this month short of form. “Right now I’m an also-ran for the World Championship,” said the world number four. “We’ll see what happens. I might go on holiday with my family for a week, it might help me to do something different. It might give me a clear perspective.
“I missed a couple of chances today to go 3-0 in front, and after that I was really poor. Joe played well, he’s a very good player with a bright future in the game. This is a big tournament so to go out in the first round is not good confidence wise, going to the Crucible. My confidence was at a low ebb anyway so this will compound it. I’ve got one tournament left, then I’ll put the season to bed and hopefully come back stronger next year.”
O’Connor, who has travelled to Beijing with his father and grandfather, said: ” I still haven’t got over beating him at the Welsh Open so this is adding to it – it’s madness! It’s surreal, it hasn’t sunk in yet that I have beaten some top names in the last few weeks. It fills me with confidence in my game to know that I can beat anyone.
“I played well and John wasn’t at his best. After the interval I froze him out. I’m really pleased. My temperament is good so I didn’t lose my head when I went 2-0 down.”
Williams, who won the World Championship title for the third time last May, was beaten 6-4 by veteran Ken Doherty in a high quality match. Irishman Doherty, who tuns 50 later this year, compiled breaks of 76, 62, 115 and 90. Williams made 91, 53, 75 and 71 but it wasn’t enough and he will go into his Crucible defence having not reached a ranking event semi-final since winning the Yushan World Open in August.
Doherty said: “To beat the current World Champion is a great win for me. I didn’t expect to play that well. I was delighted by the way I finished off because I could have twitched in the last frame. I had booked my flight home tomorrow as a safety net so I’m going to make alternative plans now!
“Before I retire I would love to play at the Crucible one more time, to say thanks for the memories and this is my last time. It will be very tough to come through the qualifiers, but after today I’ll go there with more confidence and a spring in my step. I don’t think many players would want to draw me there.”
While in Hong Kong last week, Doherty met legendary actor and martial artist Jackie Chan. “He is one of my heroes, he is fantastic,” added the 1997 World Champion. “I was invited to have dinner with him at a charity night, then we went to sing karaoke together, than played snooker and I showed him some trick shots. He is great company, just the way you see him on screen. And he loves a sing-song, just like the Irish. It was one of the best and funniest night I’ve ever had.”
Trump has had the best season of his career, having won the Masters and two ranking titles, but he was edged out 6-5 by Robbie Williams. A break of 119 helped world number 64 Williams build a 3-0 advantage and he later led 5-3. Trump took frame nine on the black and won the next as well for 5-5. The decider lasted 65 minutes and came down to the colours. Trump trailed by 21 points when he played a loose safety on the green and his opponent potted it, later adding the brown to secure victory.
China’s top player Ding Junhui was yet another high profile casualty as he lost 6-3 to James Wattana. Thailand’s 49-year-old Wattana scored breaks of 81, 99 and 98. Ding has reached the quarter-finals of just one ranking event this season.
World number ten Barry Hawkins was beaten 6-5 by Lu Ning. From 5-4 down, China’s Lu took the last two frames with runs of 87 and 74.
Kyren Wilson top scored with 72 in a 6-1 win over Yuan Sijun while Jack Lisowski made a 105 in a 6-2 defeat of John Astley. Stephen Maguire fired runs of 128 and 103 as he beat Xu Si 6-1.
Sam Craigie made a 120 in a 6-1 defeat of Ryan Day. That result ends Day’s hopes of being among the top 16 seeds at the Crucible as he needed to reach at least the quarter-finals this week. David Gilbert’s position in 16th place in the Race to the Crucible looks more secure.