It’s fantastic to be in Australia for my first trip Down Under, and I’m relieved that I don’t have to play a wildcard in my first-round match. Instead, I play Peter Ebdon on Tuesday in the best of nine frames – over eight sessions! No, seriously, Peter is a great player and it will be very tough, and I’ll probably lose 5-0 now!
I lost to a wildcard in the Wuxi Classic, only the second time I’ve been beaten by such an opponent at that early stage of a tournament. This is in no way sour grapes, but I really believe we don’t need wildcards in Chinese tournaments any more. I know why they’re there, to give homegrown players a taste of playing in a major tournament and to help drum up interest in the event. But I think it’s having the opposite effect.
My match against Zhu Yinghui, which I lost 5-1, was played in front of 10, maybe 20 people at most. There were more people watching Mark Selby and Barry Hawkins on the other table, and that’s completely understandable because people want to be seeing the top players in action.
The fans want to watch the best players, there’s no value at all in watching the likes of me being beaten by a 16 or 17-year-old Chinese wildcard. If venues are rammed and there’s loads of interest, I could understand, but they’re not, so it defeats the object.
We’re pros who are trying to earn a living, but we don’t earn any extra money for playing wildcards, win or lose. I feel for the younger players who get through to their first venue and then have to face a wildcard. They’ve earned the right to play a top player.
A lower-ranked player wins four matches to qualify for a venue, and he’s had to play his best to get there. It could be his first tournament abroad and it should be an incredible experience for him. But then he has to play a wildcard and, if he loses, that’s it, game over. He’s gone all that way for nothing and he’s been robbed of the chance to play one of the top seeds. It’s a shame and, in my opinion, it’s unfair.
People will say we should be expected to beat wildcards, but it doesn’t work like that anymore. Psychologically it’s hard playing them, you’re on a hiding to nothing. They know what they’re doing these days, they know how to play the game and they do so to a very high standard.
If they must persist with wildcards, why not make them play the top eight seeds? Because that’s who the fans want to see, the best players. That would create more interest in the event and put more bums on seats. Who cares about me playing a wildcard? The press and spectators over there would certainly be more interested if one of their young, up-and-coming players was playing the world No.1.
Apart from that, life is great. I’ve really been looking forward to visiting Australia and, whether I progress in the tournament or not, I will stay around for a few days and see the sights. I’m a bit worried about the spiders though, and no matter what anyone says I’m not going to relax about it. Instead, I’m going to wear one of those beekeeper outfits all the time, hopefully that’ll keep them out!
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