There was a distinctly international flavour in the Bulgarian Open today as three Englishman, two Chinese, two Scotsmen and an Australian made it through to the last 16 in Sofia tomorrow.
With the increasing prospect of the Grand Finals returning to Galway next march, Ken Doherty was hoping to solidify his place in the top 25 of the Order of Merit and made a good start with comprehensive back-to-back wins over amateur opponents.
But the Dubliner couldn’t get through to the final day as World Cup winner Liang Wenbo edged out the former world champion 4-3 in a tight affair.
It ended a rare positive day for the 25 year-old, who has predominantly struggled on the tour since his spectacular breakthrough a few seasons ago, as his victory over Doherty came after an equally impressive defeat of another former Crucible king in Shaun Murphy.
Liang has proven to be a strange prospect. For so long he was challenged with the title of Ding Junhui’s understudy but has never really lived up to the mantle after reaching the final of the Shanghai Masters in 2010.
Blessed with an endearing personality, it is a shame that the public doesn’t get more of an opportunity to see him live and in the bigger tournaments but his lack of consistency has been conclusively reflected in his sharp demise in the rankings.
Some people will put it down to confidence but there comes a point where the question has to be asked whether or not Liang actually has the will to survive with the very elite in the game. This week could prove to be a turning point.
The Chinese will take on a third former world champion in a row on Sunday with John Higgins between him and a place in the quarter-finals.
Higgins, champion earlier in the week in Gloucester at the Kay Suzanne Memorial Cup, was a permanent fixture on the Eurosport featured main table today, much to the amusement (and frustration) of most of the viewing public, but had no qualms in professionally seeing off Barry Pinches and Craig Steadman – who himself had recorded an excellent 4-1 victory over Mark Allen in his rookie season as a pro.
Elsewhere, two exciting if inconsistent players in Jamie Cope and Ben Woollaston made light work of their high-profile opponents in the third round with whitewashes over Ali Carter and Mark Williams respectively.
The pair will clash with each other in the fourth round while Neil Robertson and Marcus Campbell will also do battle following 4-2 wins over Anthony Hamilton and Yu Delu.
Finally, Rory McLeod put an end to amateur Gary Wilson’s super run – he had earlier knocked out Ricky Walden – with a 4-3 win and that scoreline was matched by McLeod’s next opponent Li Yan in the 20 year-old’s triumph against Alfie Burden.
Sunday will see the inaugural Bulgarian Open come to a conclusion.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.