Qualifying for the Riga Masters concluded on Friday with defeats for three of the marquee names at the Guild Hall in Preston.
Post holiday levels of rust were expected prior to the opening tussles of the new season, but somewhat surprisingly there weren’t too many upsets of note over the first couple of days.
Martin Gould’s 4-3 defeat to Kurt Maflin on the first morning of play had represented the biggest shock but that all changed on the final day of qualifying action for Riga, with Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen getting their campaigns off to a shaky start.
Murphy, in particular, will feel aggrieved at the luck of his draw in which he was paired with former German Masters runner-up Luca Brecel.
Despite leading 1-0 and 2-1, Murphy lost the final three frames to the Belgian Bullet, who will be hoping that this is the year that he can finally break into the world’s elite.
Northern Ireland’s Allen had a similarly tricky tie in Jack Lisowski, albeit both players struggled with disappointing seasons in 2016/17.
Allen has a huge amount of money to defend from the 2015/16 campaign and will be in danger of falling outside the top 16, particularly after Christmas, if he cannot sort out his failing form.
Lisowski fought back from 3-1 down to deny the three-time ranking event winner in a decider.
Another in desperate need of a turnaround in fortunes is Ricky Walden, whose horrible run continued with a lacklustre 4-0 loss to Cao Yupeng.
Other surprise results, albeit of a lesser note, were Nigel Bond and Sam Baird’s triumphs over Dominic Dale and Matthew Selt respectively, while amateur Ashley Carty defeated David Grace 4-1.
Young Welsh teenager Jackson Page also advanced, taking full advantage of his luck of the draw in being coupled with a fellow amateur, overcoming James Silverwood 4-1.
Meanwhile, 2002 world champion Peter Ebdon began his campaign with a 102 and duly routed Daniel Wells 4-0, while ranking event winners Michael White and Mark King enjoyed routine victories too.
China’s Xiao Guodong whitewashed Rory McLeod, aided by a tournament-high 132 century break, but countrymen Mei Xiwen and Xu Si lost out to Lee Walker and Robbie Williams respectively.
Elsewhere, the ever-improving Swiss star Alexander Ursenbacher hammered rookie Billy Joe Castle 4-0, with Elliot Slessor and Noppon Saengkham progressing with ease as well.
The main event of the Riga Masters resumes on June 23rd in Latvia when the likes of world champion Mark Selby and defending champion Neil Robertson – who both had their matches held over to the venue stages – enter the fray.
Next in Preston will be the China Championship qualifiers, which takes place from Saturday until Tuesday and features the majority of the top players.
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