Higgins and Doherty Reach Riga

The Riga Masters qualifying round got under way on Friday with half the field earning their place in Latvia later this month.

John Higgins Masters 16
Higgins’ 135 is the highest break of the tournament so far.

Unlike most ranking events, the Riga Masters follows an open draw structure so there was no protection for the higher seeds in the early stages.

Arguably the match of the round then paired four-time world champion John Higgins with talented Thai Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, and their clash didn’t disappoint.

Higgins found himself 2-0 and 3-2 down but runs of 80, 68, 135 and a 111 in the decider helped the Scot squeeze through to the venue.

It avoided what would have been a rare upset for a top 16 player at qualifying this week at the Guild Hall in Preston.

Several of the competitors from the elite bracket didn’t enter the three respective events which¬†were contested, or had their matches held over to the venue, but Martin Gould is the only man from the higher echelons to have suffered an opening round loss – in the midweek World Open preliminaries.

Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Kyren Wilson, David Gilbert, Graeme Dott and Ryan Day all safely managed to negotiate their best of seven encounters and book their flight to eastern Europe.

The biggest shock was arguably amateur Adam Stefanow’s 4-1 triumph over former Welsh Open runner-up Ben Woollaston.

The Pole had runs of 94 and 69 as he recorded the biggest win over a professional of his career.

Robert Milkins was also defeated, going down 4-2 to James Cahill, continuing a below par start to the season for the Gloucester man after also losing in the World Open qualifying to James Wattana.

Meanwhile, Dublin’s Ken Doherty got back to winning ways after a 4-1 success against Peter Lines.

Doherty had lost his opening two bouts of the campaign and is sitting in a rather precarious position in the rankings, just five places provisionally above the crucial top 64 line which guarantees tour safety.

Elsewhere, twice amateur world champion Hossein Vafaei Ayouri also enjoyed a first victory this season by inflicting the same scoreline over Elliot Slessor.

The Iranian, who regularly practices in Navan in Ireland, will be looking for a strong season on his second full year on tour in order to break into that top 64.

Another young international talent in China’s Zhao Xintong also progressed after beating Itaro Santos 4-1 while German Masters runner-up Luca Brecel whitewashed Hatem Yassin 4-0.

Xiao Guodong and Noppon Saengkham advanced but Finland’s Robin Hull went down to Rory McLeod and Kurt Maflin of Norway suffered a somewhat surprising 4-3 defeat to Gareth Allen of Wales.

Among the other players to win were Chinese duo Zhou Yuelong and Tian Pengfei, while veteran Belfast potter Joe Swail beat David Grace 4-2.

Qualifying concludes on Saturday with the likes of Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham and Judd Trump in action.

Click here to view the draw.


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