The English Open commenced on Monday in our very own Event City, and it’s off to a thrilling start
The New Home Nations Series arrived in Manchester on Monday, drawing in Snooker fans from across the country. As part of The Chairman of World Snooker Barry Hearn’s incentive to bring more exposure to the game, the Home Nation Series is a collection of the existing Welsh Open, with the introduction of English, Scottish and Northern Ireland Opens.
These events follow the newer style of play, with 128 playing down to 1 over a week, with a total of £366,000 in prize money. This modern format allows anyone to climb the ranks, removing the older seeding system and making the game fairer for fresh players.
The opinion amongst the professionals about the new format is varied. Two time world champion Mark Williams said: “Every tournament we play in at the minute seems to be best of seven and that doesn’t always give the best players the chance to get through like they normally would if it was best of nine or eleven. But saying that, I prefer any tournament where I don’t have to get on an aeroplane to get there and at least there’s plenty of them now.”
Some players however prefer the new format, as it gives them a chance to get practising early and keeping up on their game. Triple Crown holder Neil Robertson said: “You want to be playing matches early on in tournaments and building your way through an event. In tournaments like the Shanghai Masters you start out in the last 32 and you are playing someone who has already won a match so they’re pretty sharp, so I quite like the new format the way it is.”
The top seeds don’t seem to be bothered too much by the new format, with some astounding plays in the first round. Mark Williams sealed the deal in his first game against David John 4-2 after a disastrous miscue took a chunk out of his cue tip. Stuart Bingham narrowly made it into round 2 by beating Robert Milkins 4-3 after a 3-1 comeback, and a gruelling 6th frame. Judd Trump and Neil Robertson both won their games with a strong 4-1 victory, with Judd still showing his strength from his recent win at the European Masters in Bucharest, where he beat The Rocket himself Ronnie O’Sullivan. Current World Champion and World number 1 Mark Selby stormed through his first round game against Gary Wilson 4-0, and spoke about his feelings on the new Home Nations Series. “Yeah I think it’s well overdue. I mean we obviously have a few major tournaments in the UK but a lot of tournaments seem to be going out to Europe or to the Far East so it’s nice to have four big tournaments here.”
The freshness of the tournament does not seem to have affected its popularity, with packed halls with people from all over England for box office games such as the Round 1 battle of Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Jimmy Robertson. The Rocket proved he was still on top form, laying down a staggering 4-0 win over Robertson in just over 40 minutes. When asked about the format, Ronnie was in favour of the new Home Nations. “I think it’s great to have more tournaments in the UK. You know we’ve got 4 or 5 events in China, which is great, now we have 8 or 9 in the UK and a few around Europe, so there’s a nice balance to it now.” “I love it, I think they should have 256 players, really make it difficult for the players!”
With such a positive spectator turnout and all the big names turning up to play, it seems that the Home Nations Series could become a major player amongst the available snooker tournaments. And the cherry on top? Coral, the sponsors of the tournament, have put up £1,000,000 to anyone who can win all 4 tournaments. Can it be done? Mark Selby thinks only one man is up for the challenge. “To win 28 matches on the trot is more or less impossible in my eyes. If anyone could do it then it would probably be Ronnie.” Ronnie however thinks that it’s not going to happen. “If you speak to an optimist he’ll say it can be done, if you speak to a pessimist, he’ll say it wouldn’t be able to done. It depends which side of the fence you sit on really. I’m a bit of a pessimist myself, so I’m saying it can’t be done.”