A ticket to the professional circuit is on offer this week as many of the world’s most promising youngsters travel to Sheffield for a shot at World Snooker Federation Junior Open glory.
Aiming to follow in the footsteps of China’s Gao Yang who lifted this trophy in Malta in early 2020, 69 entrants representing 20 different countries are set to compete at the Ding Junhui Snooker Academy across four action-packed days in the competition’s busiest edition yet. The winner will realise their professional ambition, earning a two-year World Snooker Tour card for the 2022/23 and 2023/24 campaigns.
Open to those aged under 18 on the 31st December 2021, the field has been divided into 18 round robin groups of either three or four players. The top two from each group will qualify for the knockout phase.
We are guaranteed a new name on the professional circuit as none of the competitors have had that status before, although several of the fancied cueists are known for memorable victories in top tier tournaments.
One of those includes reigning European under-18 champion Ben Mertens. The Belgian created history in 2020 when he became the youngest-ever winner of a match in the world professional championship. More recently, the 17-year-old has recorded back-to-back semi-final finishes on the WPBSA Q Tour and sits fourth in the overall rankings. Mertens is in Group O alongside English opponents Daniel Boyes and Mason Wilson.
Reigning English under-16 champion Paul Deaville made the headlines a few months ago when he reached the last 16 of the WST English Open. Deaville will try to negotiate a group consisting of Kledio Kaçi (Albania), Joel Connolly (Northern Ireland) and Ronnie Sullivan (England).
Former Polish national champion Antoni Kowalski and current Northern Ireland national champion Robbie McGuigan – the youngest-ever winner of that long-standing title when he bettered Mark Allen’s record – are in Groups I and D, respectively.
Another former national champion at senior level to compete in Yorkshire is Ukraine’s Anton Kazakov, as too is Bulcsú Révész – who won the Hungarian championship as a 12-year-old – and Matvei Lagodzinschii, who incredibly secured Moldova’s top snooker honour when he was aged just nine.
Contenders who have claimed plenty of success on their respective domestic junior circuits include Wales’ Liam Davies – a quarter-finalist at the first Q Tour event of the season – and England’s Stan Moody – who wowed at the recent WST Snooker Shoot Out. Scottish under-21 champion Liam Graham will also be hoping to impress.
Several have made significant commitments and travelled thousands of miles in pursuit of their snooker dreams. A trio of Australians will be on the baize – national under-21 finalist Joshua Hands, national under-15 champion Xavier Daw and national under-18 girls’ champion Lilly Meldrum. At this venue a few days ago, 13-year-old Meldrum reached the final of the World Women’s Under-21 Championship during her debut on UK soil.
Others who have made long journeys to get here include cueists from Israel, Russia, South Africa and Thailand.