Preston’s Guild Hall played host to the third annual snooker World Grand Prix event, a tournament which brings together the top 32 players from a one year ranking list.

One week after Anthony Hamilton had defied the odds to win the German Masters, another underdog in the shape of Ryan Day came close to emulating Hamilton by winning his first ranking title. However, the Welshman found an inspired Barry Hawkins standing in his way, as the Hawk continued his excellent form in 2017 by claiming his first title of the season.

THE HAWK FLYING HIGH

Barry Hawkins has looked a man on a mission so far in 2017. Prior to this event, Hawkins had shown his intent with a semi-final showing at the Masters, in which he dispatched Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby with some sumptuous snooker. At last week’s German Masters, Hawkins reached the quarter-finals, losing out to eventual winner Anthony Hamilton.

At the Grand Prix, however, Hawkins looked even more focused. The 37 year-old strolled to the final in Preston, losing only six frames along the way. Hawkins swept aside more highly fancied players in the form of Judd Trump and Neil Robertson before obliterating Liang Wenbo in the semi-final.

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Hawkins saved the best for Sunday’s final, though. While establishing a 6-3 lead in the afternoon session, Hawkins fired in four centuries and a 97 break, leaving Ryan Day clinging on for dear life. The Hawk continued in that vein in the evening, building up a 9-3 advantage, and survived a late comeback attempt by Day to eventually triumph 10-7.

Indeed, Hawkins will be delighted to have survived Day’s late onslaught. The new world no.8 has lost significant leads in matches in the past, and Hawkins must have been fearing the worst again as Day rallied to win four frames in a row after trailing 9-3. But Barry held his nerve to edge a tight 17th frame to claim his third ranking title.

The Ditton-born player has so often been regarded as an underdog in big tournaments, but Hawkins’ form in recent competitions demands that his name now be uttered in the same sentence as other tournament favourites. Of course, with success comes expectation and with April’s World Championship edging ever closer, it will be interesting to see how Hawkins deals with this increased pressure from now on.

HIS DAY WILL COME

For Ryan Day, that first ranking title remains elusive. For a time, Day was an established member of snooker’s top 16 but has since found himself languishing somewhat after a few years of mediocrity.

However, Day seemed to be back to his best in Preston, and delivered some big scalps on his way to the final. Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy and Marco Fu all fell at the hands of the Welshman, who showed tremendous nerve to reach a fourth ranking final. Day even came close to making a 147 against Michael White in the second round, but agonisingly lost position on the final pink.

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It’s vital that the 36 year-old does not yet this latest final defeat affect him too much, and that he takes the positives out of a fantastic week. Day was unfortunate to come up against such an in-form Barry Hawkins in the final, but the Welshman’s comeback from 9-3 down to only lose 10-7 should provide cause for optimism for the rest of the season.

AND THE REST

Mark Selby’s uncharacteristic poor form in 2017 continued in Preston, as the world no.1 fell at the first hurdle to Martin Gould in Round One. There was similar disappointment for Stuart Bingham and John Higgins, who both lost in the first round. Ronnie O’Sullivan limped to a heavy defeat to Neil Robertson in round two, as the 41 year-old seemed to lack motivation in his 4-1 defeat.

Indeed, it was a poor showing for many of snooker’s big names. Judd Trump and Neil Robertson both looked good in early rounds, but lacked the mental toughness required as both fell at the hands of Hawkins. Shaun Murphy looked in blistering form before an untimely exit against eventual finalist Day.

Liang Wenbo and Marco Fu both continued their good form by making the semi-finals. Fu will lament a broken cue tip as he fell to Ryan Day in the semi-final, but the Hong-Kong native continues to improve tournament by tournament.

Of course, there is little time to reflect for these players, as attention turns to Cardiff and the Welsh Open, the final leg of the new Home Nations series, which takes place this week.

 

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