DING JUNHUI’S 5-1 victory over Marcus Campbell in the China Open on Monday was hard earned and could set him on a much needed run through a ranking event after a disappointing season.
Ding enjoyed great local support and they had something to cheer as he saw off the obstinate Campbell with some good potting and excellent tactical play.
The key frame proved to be the fifth – a scrappy affair of 41 minutes – which saw a long safety battle end when Ding sank the yellow from distance, holding superbly for frame ball green.
He scored well in patches and overall seemed relaxed following a run of early defeats in major tournaments. If he beats Mark Davis it will put him into the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time since last September’s Shanghai Masters – a remarkable slump for one so clearly talented and successful but perhaps now coming to an end.
But as Ding made progress, Neil Robertson suffered another close defeat. Having lost 4-3 on the final black to Mark Davis at the World Grand Prix earlier this month, he was beaten 5-4, again on the last black, by Dechawat Poomjaeng.
This time around it was more frustrating for the Australian because he had a pot on the black for victory and missed it. Poomjaeng, who had been sat in his chair shaking his head, believing the match was over, then potted it for a surprise victory.
Robertson at least has more time to prepare for the World Championship but the China Open should not be written off as some meaningless warm-up event. It certainly isn’t by Robertson, who has been in the final in Beijing in each of the last two years. It was obvious from his face at the end that he was gutted to lose in such circumstances.
Mark Selby is another player who always gives it everything and could well be given a hard battle by Mark Joyce, who was forced to become more methodical after remodelling his game after becoming the victim of a physical attack in Birmingham city centre just over four years ago.
They meet in Tuesday’s first live TV match. The second pits Judd Trump – much match hardened of late – against Andrew Higginson.
Among the various other subplots, Stephen Maguire continues to be snooker’s own King Canute – holding back the tide of players just behind him in the rankings as he attempts to secure the final top 16 seeding spot for the Crucible. Maguire defeated David Morris 5-1 to take another significant step towards this.
Robin Hull, whose career was nearly ended because of ill health, was forced to play a wildcard but now gets a bye into the last 32 because Ronnie O’Sullivan has withdrawn.
Peter Ebdon, who continues to battle, battle and then battle some more, did so until 40 minutes past midnight to finally see off Zhang Anda 5-4.
Ebdon has won the China Open title on two occasions and, such is his willpower, cannot be counted out for another good run, although even he would be hard pressed to then immediately get through three best of 19s to qualify for the World Championship.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.