This week’s BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast has seen more than half of the top-16 ranked players crash out in the opening round, underlining the strength in depth of players throughout the World Snooker Tour.
The tournament started on Monday with 15 of the world’s top 16 among the field, and eight of those lost their opening match. Seven of those defeats came against players ranked outside the top 60, with John Higgins (4) losing to Rory McLeod (61), Barry Hawkins (6) beaten by Chen Zifan (89), Mark Allen (7) losing to Niu Zhuang (90), Kyren Wilson (9) beaten by Lee Walker (95), Shaun Murphy (10) losing to Sam Baird (110), Stuart Bingham (12) beaten by Peter Lines (73) and Marco Fu (16) losing to Chen Feilong (126).
World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn said: “This amazing set of results justifies the format for this event and highlights the unprecedented quality of players throughout our tour. The players ranked among the top 16 are rewarded in the fact that they are seeded in the draw so that they can’t meet another top-16 player until the third round, but it’s a level playing field which is what top level sport should be. And they are vulnerable in the first round because there are so many good players throughout the rankings. The standard this season and the number of centuries and 147s being made has never been higher.
“Snooker is a land of opportunity and only the cream will rise to the top. All sport is about chasing dreams, but new players need the opportunity to chase that dream, and we have that now. We have a progressive system which is based on talent rather than reputation. The top 16 have huge benefits because they are invited to the Masters, the Shanghai Masters, the Championship League, seeded into the final stages of the World Championship, and seeded in the draw for every tournament. But in most ranking events they start in the same round as all 128 players and that is a fair system.
“Our overall prize money has grown from £3.5 million to £15 million within the past decade, and there are more and more players earning a good wage. In our current rankings there are 56 players who have earned £100,000 or more from ranking events within the past two years, whereas at the end of the 2015/16 season that figure was just 33. We are extremely ambitious in our plans to grow the sport further and create more opportunities for every player on our tour.”