Two-time World Championship runner-up Ali Carter could be consigned to the dreaded qualifiers in Sheffield later this month after suffering an early exit in the China Open on Monday.
The Englishman has struggled to perform in ranking events ever since a first-round exit in the UK Championship back in December and his poor run of form continued in Beijing with a 6-4 loss to Gary Wilson.
Carter may have compiled the tournament’s highest break so far with a terrific 139 to keep his hopes alive late in the game but it was his opponent who prevailed to progress to the last 32 in the penultimate ranking event of the campaign.
The “Captain” must now hope that other results go his way if he’s to remain in the top 16 in the world rankings and subsequently gain an automatic invite to compete in this year’s World Championship.
Carter lies in 14th place provisionally in the Race to the Crucible but must hope that the likes of Stuart Bingham, Mark Allen, and Liang Wenbo – the trio immediately behind him in the standings – bow out of the competition early on.
2015 world champion Bingham and current Masters winner Allen hold on to the final coveted spots after contrasting victories on the opening day at the Olympic Sports Center.
Bingham fought back from 5-3 down to deny Matthew Stevens in a decider and would usurp Carter in the rankings with another victory in the revamped and highly lucrative tournament this week.
Allen, by contrast, was in superb form as he rattled off a hat-trick of centuries and three other sizeable contributions in hammering Noppon Saengkham 6-1.
Belgium’s Luca Brecel could also find himself being dragged into the mix of players who are forced to sweat it out for the places in Sheffield after his desperate run of form continued with a 6-4 reverse against Cao Yupeng.
It would take quite a specific set of circumstances for the China Championship winner to drop out, though, and one would suspect that the 23 year-old would be the player who the majority of the qualifiers for the World Championship will be targeting in the first round later this month.
Early on Tuesday, Stephen Maguire’s hopes of breaking back into the elite bracket came to a disappointing and premature end after a 6-5 loss to Irish veteran Fergal O’Brien.
Meanwhile, there were straightforward wins on the opening day of action in the Chinese capital for Mark Williams, Ricky Walden, Joe Perry, and Jack Lisowski as they all moved into the second round.
Several heldover qualifying stage fixtures took place as well, with Ronnie O’Sullivan’s bid for a record sixth ranking title of the season getting off to the perfect start following a 6-2 triumph over Ross Muir.
World number one Mark Selby was involved in a tougher test but eventually emerged with a 6-4 scoreline against Wang Yuchen while home favourites Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo beat Michael Georgiou and Rhys Clark respectively.
The China Open is the first tournament outside the UK to ever provide a total prize fund of £1 million and the champion on Sunday will collect a whopping £225,000.