AT LAST, a victory for one of snooker’s younger brigade at the Shanghai Masters with Michael White causing an upset by recovering from 3-0 down to beat Neil Robertson 5-4.
This was a comeback of which 23 year-old White should be very proud. He struggled badly early on and could easily have gone 4-0 down at the interval – effectively game over.
But Robertson would be left to rue his failure to kill off frame four. White’s attitude was superb. He remained positive, went for his shots and fought back to 3-3. For once it was Robertson feeling the heat.
The Australian won a tense seventh but White finished strongly, the Welshman completing one of the best wins of his career by taking the last two frames.
Conditions didn’t help but Robertson was unusually unable to dominate a less experienced opponent. At 3-0, a scoreline close to 5-1 looked likely but his game began to deteriorate and White improved.
He was always a snooker prodigy. At 9, he became the youngest player to make a century break. At 14, he won what was effectively the world amateur title, the event having been relocated from Pakistan to Wales because of an earthquake.
At 15, he turned professional in what we might now term the bad old days of fewer playing opportunities (2007). White missed the first two qualifiers because he was still 15. At the time World Snooker denied they had given players special dispensation in the past, even though Shaun Murphy, for instance, had indeed (and rightly) been allowed to play a few qualifiers just before his 16th birthday.
White was duly relegated from the main tour and had to spend a year re-qualifying. In 2013 he reached the World Championship quarter-finals and got to the same stage of last season’s Indian Open, although the campaign was perhaps not as fruitful as he may have hoped.
The Robertson victory is big but White will still go home disappointed if he can’t translate it into a good run in Shanghai. Ryan Day, runner-up in the inaugural Shanghai Masters in 2007, is next for him.
The other big win today was for Zhao Xintong, a wildcard who cleared with 64 to win the deciding frame and beat Marco Fu 5-4.
The wildcards remains a major bone of contention but the system is not the fault of the players who are the recipients. If Zhao can produce such a clearance against Fu under pressure then it points to someone with great potential.
Martin Gould, always a great player to watch in full flow, launched a stirring fight back to deny Joe Perry a last 16 place. Perry had led 4-1 but Gould won 5-4, making breaks of 105 and 83 along the way.
He will provide the second round opposition for Ding Junhui on Thursday. Gould beat Ding in this very tournament three years ago, but the home favourite now looks to be under less pressure on Chinese soil – winning three ranking tournaments there last season points to that.
Tucked away on table 4, Stuart Bingham and Li Hang served up a treat. Li made breaks of 136 and 141 but still lost 5-3, with Bingham running 96, 91 and 78 in successive frames.
The always cheerful, always enthusiastic Essex man’s next opponent has a similar pure love for snooker. Dominic Dale beat Judd Trump on Tuesday and, like Bingham, will be feeling he has a chance of a good run this week.
There have been some upsets but Mark Allen remains a dangerman. Allen seems to thrive when he plays on the main tables. He got past Andrew Higginson 5-3 but I’m sure would prefer to play Mark Williams in front of the cameras.
Stephen Maguire, fresh from his Six Reds triumph in Bangkok last weekend, coasted past Jimmy Robertson 5-1 and now faces Alan McManus, a fellow Scot, who knocked out Ronnie O’Sullivan on Monday.
World champion Mark Selby did what he had to against Ken Doherty and faces Michael Holt. Seedings suggest a Ding-Selby final but we know seedings don’t always count for much, neither do reputations.
It’s all on the day and, on Thursday, we’ll go from 16 to 8 as the tournament heads towards its weekend climax.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.