End Of An Era For Hawkins And Maguire
Jak Jones earned a Crucible debut with a 10-8 success in the last qualifying round of the Cazoo World Championship, beating former finalist Barry Hawkins who had been ever-present at snooker’s most famous venue since 2006.
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Stephen Maguire had been on an even longer run of consecutive appearances, stretching back to 2004, but he was beaten 10-6 by Fan Zhengyi. Maguire and Hawkins have dropped out of the world’s top 16 and were unable to negotiate the difficult path through the qualifying rounds in Sheffield.
Jones, age 29 from Cwmbran in South Wales, was a semi-finalist at the Gibraltar Open last season but when he steps out at the Theatre of Dreams it will be the biggest moment of his career so far. From 8-8 against 2013 runner-up Hawkins, he made an excellent 69 clearance in frame 17 to go 9-8 ahead, then won the 18th by laying a snooker on the final yellow and dishing up from the chance that followed.
“It means a lot,” said the former European Amateur Champion, who made two breaks of 101 in the first session. “I didn’t play well today but Barry wasn’t at his best. My arm felt like jelly towards the end but I scraped over the line. In the last clearance, every pot was a twitch. It’s not easy to qualify, everyone is under so much pressure, it’s totally different to any other tournament.”
In the most dramatic finish of the day, Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham edged out China’s Zhang Anda 10-9 after a battle on the final black. A loose safety from Zhang handed a Saengkham a chance at a mid-range black, and he slammed it into a baulk corner.
Ricky Walden came through an exciting conclusion to beat Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-9 in a superb match which featured four centuries and ten more breaks over 50. Walden, a Crucible semi-finalist ten years ago, had leads of 4-1, 7-5 and 9-8 but could not shake off his opponent, who forced a decider. Un-Nooh then led 32-0 at 9-9 but missed a tough red to centre, and Walden punished him with an excellent 69. His attempted double on the penultimate red when he led by 29 points missed its target, but bounced into the opposite centre pocket, and he added the black which proved enough for victory.
“I’m not sure how I managed to win,” admitted three-time ranking event winner Walden. “Thepchaiya played so well from 4-1 down. His safety was better too. I was just hanging in, I wasn’t happy with how I felt, it was nerve-racking. I made some good breaks, especially the one in the last frame. I just went one ball at a time, and to make 70, I have to be proud of myself. The Crucible is the home of snooker, I’ve had some great moments there and some terrible moments. To go there and be in the mix is so exciting.”
Graeme Dott, the 2006 champion, suffered a 10-6 reverse against Matthew Selt, who is through to the Crucible for the fourth time and will be looking for his first win at the venue.
Selt, whose top break was 61, said: “Graeme knows how to win but I could tell he wasn’t fully fit today. I asked if he was ok and he said he had a shoulder injury. I felt bad for him but I still had job to do. I had copious amounts of luck, it’s been a while since I had that much good fortune and it definitely played a big part in that match.
“I haven’t played particularly well here this week but hopefully I can play better at the Crucible. I’ll be able to enjoy it and it will be a proud moment when I walk out. I need to settle, and if I do that I can play really well. I’ll be listening to the draw – there’s a couple of people I want to avoid, and 14 I want to play!”
Anthony McGill earned his ninth consecutive appearance as he beat Cao Yupeng 10-6 with a top break of 106. Glasgow’s McGill, who narrowly lost 17-16 to Kyren Wilson in the semi-finals in 2020, said: “At 3-0 down I tried to just enjoy the match and being here. These are the days you look back on, it’s an occasion. It’s a privilege to play at the Crucible, the historical venue in our sport. It’s an achievement to get through the qualifying rounds, it’s extremely difficult. I’ll have my sights set on doing some damage.”
Three up-and-coming Chinese players all booked Crucible debuts: Fan Zhengyi, Wu Yize and Si Jiahui. Former European Masters Fan saw off Maguire 10-6 with a top break of 102. Si, who won the World Snooker Federation Open last year, beat Jordan Brown 10-7 with a top run of 115. And Wu, Rookie of the Year last season, came from 5-1 and 7-4 down to beat beat Shoot Out champion Chris Wakelin 10-8 with top breaks of 140 and 100.