This is the day Ahmed Saif has been dreaming of. Today he gets to play the world champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan, live on television before, one assumes, a sizeable crowd at the Paul Hunter Classic in Furth.
Saif is the first player from Qatar to turn professional. He did so on merit by qualifying through the Q School earlier this year.
Among those who has coached him is Mike Russell, the 11 times world professional billiards champion.
There’s talk of a ranking event in Qatar, if not this season than maybe next and Saif’s progress will be monitored closely by the snooker fraternity back home.
O’Sullivan, of course, is a heavy favourite to beat him but the result is less important than the symbolic fact of Saif being there at all.
The world is having to play catch up with the UK, which has around a century’s start on many other countries. The best way to increase participation is for young people in various corners of the globe to see their compatriots on TV and be inspired to give it a go themselves.
O’Sullivan has reportedly developed an aversion to flying and was yesterday tweeting from a train in Germany where he claimed to have ‘mooned’ a platform of passengers.
This brings a whole new meaning to the American pool term ‘bottom English.’
He lost in the last 32 of the recent Bluebell Wood Open but regardless of form, has traditionally been inspired by large crowds. He likes to put on a show and – at the risk of hexing the Rocket – I’d be surprised if he wasn’t still involved on Sunday.
The tournament is notable for being the first (as far as I know) to feature a married couple in Kurt and Anita Maflin, although Anita lost in the amateur qualifiers yesterday.
Eurosport will show six matches live today, starting from 8.30am BST.
The first four are:
Mark Allen v Mark Davis
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Patrick Einsle
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ahmed Saif
Mark Selby v Tian Pengfei
The later televised matches will be decided after the earlier rounds are completed.