The first ranking tournament of the 2019/2020 snooker season, the Riga Masters, did not get off to a flying start, since a number of leading players, including defending champion and world No4 Neil Robertson, were left stranded at Luton Airport after their flight had been cancelled.
The opponents of those who no-showed received byes into the second (last-32) round, but many of the more fancied of them were beaten by lower-ranked players. Only two who progressed to the third (last-16) round were ranked in the elite top-16: Mark Selby (No6) and Jack Lisowski (No11). But both lost their third-round matches, Selby to Stuart Carrington (No50) and Lisowski to Mark Joyce (No54).
To be fair to Selby and Lisowski, the Riga Masters is a tournament whose short-form matches inevitably generate rogue results. Its third-round ties are played over the best of just seven frames. Selby lost to Carrington 4-2; Lisowski lost to Joyce 4-3; had their matches been played over the best of 11, as last-16 matches are in most ranking tournaments, Selby’s and Lisowski’s greater ability might have prevailed.
Joe Perry (No19), beaten 4-2 by Carrington in their second-round match, greeted the news of the quarter-final line-up with a bold tweet that he soon deleted, replacing it with a politer offering that cited “intake of alcohol” as the cause of his incivility. His drink-influenced post had read “Me and Gerry Greene think this is the worst quarter-final line-up ever. Discuss?” Greene, ranked No69, had been beaten 4-2 by Ian Preece in his first-round match, and has not tweeted for five years. But Perry and Greene had a point. Six of the eight quarter-finalists had never won a ranking tournament, and some of them never will.
However, one of them, Yan Bingtao, a chubby 19-year-old from the city of Zibo, Shandong Province, China, has been touted as a star of the future for a couple of years now, and he beat Li Hang in the quarters and Matthew Selt in the semis to book his place in the final. He had played in only one ranking final before, the 2017 Northern Ireland Open, which he lost to Mark Williams, one of the greatest players in the game; this time he would be playing Joyce, who had beaten Carrington in the quarters and Kurt Maflin in the semis; a far less formidable opponent.
Nonetheless, Joyce had played well to beat Maflin, knocking in two century breaks as he did so, which is as many as he scored in the whole of last season. But in the final he could not live with the Chinese youngster, who beat him 5-2, becoming the first teenage winner of a ranking tournament since his fellow countryman Ding Junhui won the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2006.
Will Yan match Ding’s stellar exploits over the next 15 years? He may well.