Race to the Crucible 2019: China Open Preview

  • 29th March 2019

After Ronnie O’Sullivan’s historic victory at last week’s Tour Championship there is now just one event to go before the crucial final ranking revision to determine the seeding list for next month’s Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.

As in 2018, the XingPai China Open in Beijing will see the field compete for a huge first prize of £225,000 meaning that there is still potential for some dramatic shifts in the ranking race for Sheffield. Even at such a late stage of the season, results next week could therefore prove crucial with the top 16 players seeded straight through to the Crucible stages and all remaining players needing to win three matches at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield to join them there.

On 8 April 2019 following the China Open, the world ranking list will be revised and used to determine the seeding list for the 2019 World Championship.

By the time of the revision, prize money earned from all events during the 2016/17 season excluding the 2017 World Championship will have been deducted and replaced by that from this season’s events up to that date. This has already been taken into account on the latest provisional seedings list, to show the situation as up to date as possible.

Also note that all seeding permutations below are provisional and on the basis that all eligible players enter the World Championship.

The Crucible Draw

Each year the top 16 seeded players at the World Championship are placed in the draw in a very specific manner, for example the top seed is always scheduled to meet the 16th seed in the second round, the second seed is always poised to meet the 15th seed and so on.

As it stands, the last 16 draw (if all first round matches were won by the seeded player) would currently look as follows:

Williams (1) v Gilbert (16)
Hawkins (9) v Wilson (8)

Allen (5) v Bingham (12)
Maguire (13) v Higgins (4)

Selby (3) v Brecel (14)
Murphy (11) v Trump (6)

Robertson (7) v Ding (10)
Lisowski (15) v O’Sullivan (2)

Much can still change in China though as explained below…

Battle for Number 1

Defending champion Mark Williams is already guaranteed to be installed as top seed at this year’s World Championship but he will not head to Sheffield as snooker’s world number one.

After over four years since his victory at the 2015 German Masters, the unbroken reign of Mark Selby at the head of the rankings was brought to an end by Ronnie O’Sullivan following his success at the new Tour Championship last week. Selby does however have the opportunity to strike straight back as with O’Sullivan absent in Beijing, winning the title would be enough for him to reclaim top spot heading into Sheffield.

Williams cannot catch O’Sullivan at this event, but could take second place from Selby if he were to capture the China Open title for the first time since 2010.

The Top 16

Inevitably at this time of the year however it is not the number one race that takes centre stage, but instead the battle for the top 16 with those inside the top bracket guaranteed place at the Crucible and the rest needing to survive three best of 19 frame qualifying matches at the English Institute for Sport to join them.

The current top 12, down to and including 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham are now assured of their places at the Crucible this year.

The first player who could therefore still mathematically miss out on a Crucible seeding is Stephen Maguire, who would need to lose his opening match to Xu Si and then see at least four of the following to happen:

  • Luca Brecel, Jack Lisowski reach the last 32
  • David Gilbert to reach the semi-finals
  • Ryan Day, Joe Perry or Ali Carter to reach the final
  • One of a further 23 players (lowest Scott Donaldson) wins the title

Below Maguire, Luca Brecel is in a similar position with three of the following needing to happen if he were to lose first up to Sam Baird for the Belgian to miss out:

  • Jack Lisowski reach the last 32
  • David Gilbert to reach the semi-finals
  • Ryan Day, Joe Perry or Ali Carter to reach the final
  • One of a further 23 players (lowest Scott Donaldson) wins the title

Looking to secure a Crucible seeding for the first time is Jack Lisowski, who faces John Astley in his Beijing opener. If he were to slip up in that match then two of the following scenarios would need to happen for him to be pipped at the post:

  • David Gilbert to reach the quarter-finals
  • Ryan Day to reach the semi-finals
  • Joe Perry, Ali Carter or Yan Bingtao to reach the final
  • One of a further 23 players (lowest Andrew Higginson) wins the title

The man currently on the bubble is David Gilbert, who like Lisowski above him is looking to secure a top 16 berth heading to Sheffield for the first time in his career. If he were to stumble in his opener against Indian Open champion Matt Selt, just one of the following would need to transpire for Gilbert to be edged out in the final counting event:

  • Ryan Day to reach the quarter-finals
  • Joe Perry to reach the semi-finals
  • Ali Carter, Yan Bingtao or Xiao Guodong to reach the final
  • One of a further 26 players (lowest Andrew Higginson) wins the title

The chasing pack

In both 2017 and 2018 Ryan Day occupied 16th position heading into the China Open but this year he leads the chasing pack in 17th with at least a quarter-final run needed in Beijing if he is to stand a chance of avoiding having to qualify for Sheffield.

Behind him Joe Perry needs to reach at least the semi-finals, while Ali Carter, Yan Bingtao and Xiao Guodong must go all the way to the final.

For the rest, with a bumper first prize of £225,000 to be won next week, anybody as far down as 66th placed Dominic Dale could still mathematically break into the top 16 by going all the way by lifting the China Open title.

The Top 32

Although not as important as the battle for the top 16, the race for top 32 spots is more significant than it might first appear for the World Championship as the players seeded 17-32 will be guaranteed to avoid each other in qualifying at the English Institute for Sport.

Currently in possession of the final place by just £500 is Zhou Yuelong, although Mark Davis in 34th could rise above him by winning his heldover match against wildcard Chang Bingyu. Both Li Hang and Ricky Walden are also within a single Beijing win of pushing Zhou out if he were to win, while the third round would be sufficient for Marco Fu, Liang Wenbo and Robert Milkins.

Iran’s Hossein Vafaei must reach the quarter-finals to challenge for a top 32 spot, with Michael Holt, Ben Woollaston, Stuart Carrington, Peter Ebdon and Chris Waklein needing to make the last four.

Up to eight players could break into the top 32 by making the final, while only the title would be sufficient for the remaining players qualified for Beijing.

The Top 80

With players ranked 17-80 to be seeded in the draw for the World Championship and drawn to play those ranked 81-144, for this tournament only it is the top 80 which becomes an important bracket to consider.

Currently occupying 80th position is Sam Baird, although taking into account the suspension of Jamie Jones it is Joe O’Connor who is effectively the last man inside the seeded places. O’Connor has qualified for China and so has his fate in his own hands, but would miss out if the following were to happen:

  • Mei Xiwen reaches the last 32
  • Sam Craigie, Elliot Slessor, Rod Lawler, Craig Steadman or Soheil Vahedi rach the last 16
  • Oliver Lines, John Astley, Ashley Carty or Zhang Jiangkang reach the quarter-finals
  • Thor Chuan Leong, Jamie Clarke, James Wattana, Harvey Chandler, Kishan Hirani or Adam Stefanow reach the semi-finals

For more updates throughout the China Open, follow my live blog (to be published next week) here at WPBSA.com or alternatively follow @prosnookerblog and @WPBSAofficial via Twitter.