Mark Allen’s bid to claim a title on home soil ended in immediate disappointment as he exited the Northern Ireland Open in the first round on Monday.
In a day full of upsets, Stuart Bingham’s bid for an unlikely million pound bonus for capturing all four Home Nations trophies in the same season didn’t even get beyond the opening stage in Belfast as the English Open champion was downed 4-2 by Peter Lines.
It was a terrible day for the Scottish contingent, with John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Anthony McGill, and Graeme Dott all suffered unexpected defeats in the short best of seven frames format.
Barry Hawkins and Kyren Wilson also crashed out, with some controversy surrounding the latter’s forced involvement less than 24 hours after his engrossing 10-9 defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Champion of Champions in Coventry.
O’Sullivan was among many on social media to question the call to make Wilson, who ended up losing to Lee Walker in a match that went the distance and climaxed after midnight, play such a short period after competing at the Ricoh Arena.
While it is generally understood that the early rounds of these 128-player fields need to be churned out at a rapid pace, it would surely have seemed reasonable to delay Wilson’s fixture until Tuesday – when the remaining first round ties, including O’Sullivan’s, take place.
The crowds pay money and the majority of people tune in to watch on television to see the best players perform at their top levels so it seems only right that there should be a little protection, rather than punishment, of the players following a successful run in an event, especially when there is an immediate transition into another tournament week.
It also probably didn’t help Wilson’s cause that he was drawn to play Walker, who played to a preposterous average of 38 seconds per shot.
Is it right Kyren Wilson has to play today in Belfast? after finishing lasts nights final? Should there be a rule that allows a player at least 96 hours rest between events, so they can get focused and give the fans the best performance they can? @Eurosport_UK
— Ronnie O’Sullivan (@ronnieo147) November 12, 2018
The home support will be more concerned, though, about Allen’s early demise after the 32 year-old failed to replicate the kind of form from the last couple of weeks in a 4-1 loss to Niu Zhuang.
Allen has tended to be a streaky player throughout his career and perhaps his fantastic International Championship success has come at the expense of performing to his best in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, world champion Mark Williams was among a small selection of the bigger names who actually did manage to make it through to the second round at the Waterfront Hall.
The Welshman held off Alfie Burden’s challenge with a 4-2 win while countryman Ryan Day advanced with a 4-1 success over Snooker Shoot Out champion Michael Georgiou.
English Open runner-up Mark Davis fought back from behind to deny Noppon Saengkham in a decider while Luca Brecel and Ali Carter progressed following defeats of Raymond Fry and Paul Davison respectively.
The performance of the day arguably came from China’s Zhou Yuelong, who compiled a hat-trick of century breaks and a run of 84 in beating Lukas Kleckers 4-1.
Fellow young and exciting Chinese cueists Yuan Sijun and Luo Honghao also reached the last 64, as well as Xiao Guodong and Li Hang who both prevailed in deciders.
Among some of the others to establish an initial foothold in the Northern Ireland Open were Tom Ford, Kurt Maflin, and Liam Highfield.
O’Sullivan gets going on day two against Soheil Vahedi with the likes of Mark Selby, Judd Trump, and Neil Robertson entering the fray too.
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