This year’s Betfred World Snooker Championship is off to a flying start, with defending champion Judd Trump surviving a scare in the first round, initially 3-1 down against fellow Brit, Tom Ford, at the first interval. Going into the evening session Ford was 5-4 ahead, but Trump managed to turn it around finishing 10-8.
The tournament has not been free of drama away from the table either, with Anthony Hamilton pulling out of the tournament at the eleventh hour. Citing health concerns in relation to his asthma and the concept of spectators returning to the event, Hamilton defended his decision to withdraw. However, he has been called selfish by players such as Trump and the tournament’s director, Barry Hearn, criticised his decision and vowed to review the rules moving forward.
Whilst some were quick to criticise Hamilton, who will walk away with his world ranking points and £20,000 prize money, other players (Alfie Burden and Robert Milkins) defended his decision.
Adding to the drama of the opening day was Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivering his briefing to the nation before the first session had concluded. In the announcement, Johnson stated that the planned rollback of the lockdown measures in England were to be postponed for two weeks; this includes the piloting of audiences at indoor sporting events. Those who managed to watch today’s action unfold in the Crucible theatre were very lucky indeed.
Hearn stated that all those who had bought tickets to upcoming events have the choice to either receive a refund or swap the tickets for next year’s event but encouraged those who had tickets for the finals to hold onto them, as although that is the earliest we are likely to see crowds in the Crucible again, he is making every effort to ensure crowds can return for then.
With a day such as this, it is hard to know where to start. Those players who had come into the tournament from the qualifiers seemed to have a real advantage, perhaps because they have had more table time this year than the seeded players. This created some close calls for the previous tournament favourites.
The controversy surrounding Hamilton is an interesting one and whilst many can sympathise with the position he is in – for no one would argue against someone protecting themselves at this time – the timing of his withdrawal seems a little too convenient. It certainly leaves a sour taste in the mouths of the players he beat, who may have made it to the Crucible had he withdrawn earlier.
It will be interesting to see how the tournament develops without a crowd, as although the capacity had been greatly reduced, the audience that were present for day one brought quite the atmosphere with them. Most players should be used to playing in silence in clubs around the country, so it could have a positive impact on the game with fewer distractions, but it may make the exciting moments seem a little emptier.