Yes, I’m back, I know it’s surprisingly quickly, but after my surprisingly successful Round 1 predictions, I kicked back to watch the UK Championship (and do uni work, but that’s how it works). So here, I’m going through five key points from the tournament that we have found out.
DISCLAIMER: This is written between sessions in the UK final (Ding 5-3 Maguire), so I will not be going through the Masters draw. I will likely do that sometime over the Christmas period, and it deserves it’s own entry.
1: Lightning Strikes
Well I didn’t see this coming. Michael White has had, let’s be honest, a crap season. And he wasn’t much better last season. Between the season start in June and the start of this tournament near the end of November, can you guess how many matches the former World Number 15 had won? The answer is… 1. One match. That was also in June.
So you can guess how his match against the veteran Fergal O’Brien went can’t you? Yep, he won (6-2). It turned out that Michael had actually bothered to look like a snooker player here! After an excellent performance against a quite frankly embarrassing Mark Williams, he had an all-time classic against Mark Davis, which even sent the live scores website into meltdown (It said Mark had won the deciding re-spot, only to change it’s mind afterwards and tell the truth).
Sadly it wasn’t to be for Michael after that, despite a brilliant start against Stephen Maguire, but it was still a great run, and critical for someone who is outside the Top 64 (who are guaranteed their tour card for next season) on the provisional EOS (End of Season) rankings. Hopefully this will be just the motivation he needs to play again, because he is far too good to be down there.
2: Lay The Favourite
It was a great tournament (and as I write, still is), just not really for the top players in the game. Of the Top 16, 4 reached the Last 8 (Higgins, Ding, Allen, Maguire). Of the other 12, only 4 reached the Last 16 (Bingham, O’Sullivan, Robertson, and Selby), with only one (Bingham) losing to a player ranked higher than him (Higgins).
Especially poor were Shaun Murphy and Dave Gilbert, both Top 16 players losing in Round 1 to players ranked in the 100s (Eden Sharav #121 and James Cahill #118 respectively). Other players who disappointed include Barry Hawkins (4-6 against #55 Alan McManus in the Last 64), and Kyren Wilson (5-6 to #56 Marco Fu having lead 4-1). As for the World Champion, World Number 1, and World’s least appealing I’m a Celebrity contestant (yes those rumours have been around again!), oh boy am I going to get to him!
3: Even Stevens!
How good is it to see Matthew Stevens at the business end of majors again? The 2003 UK Champion and twice World Finalist came into the tournament off of a mediocre start to the season, but looked like business here. 6-0 against Chen Feilong was impressive. Then a rollercoaster 6-5 win against Ryan Day saw him into the Last 32, where he made a flying start on route to a 6-2 win against Anthony Hamilton, to lead to a match against Mark Selby.
A match which went on forever (a little like this blog). After a good few hours of play, Matthew eventually made the multi-time World Champion pay for a lack of ambition in the last frame, eventually winning it after midnight, an absolute granite performance.
Sadly a granite performance wasn’t enough to see off Stephen Maguire in the Last 8, losing three successive frames from 4-3 ahead a disappointing end to a great tournament. Will we see him at the business end again? Who’s to say? But once a hot young prospect, then one of the world’s best potting machines, Matthew Stevens is surely now one of the world’s best grinders.
4: The Name’s Bond… Nigel Bond… 00147
Well wasn’t this unexpected? After a few seasons of struggle and being seen as approaching the end, 54 year old Nigel Bond rolled back the years in the Barbican, producing a run which will live long in the memory. A shock 6-5 win against Luca Brecel in Round 1 was followed by another decider, this time against exciting tour newcomer Louis Heathcote, to book a Last 32 meeting with the World Champion, World Number 1, and unstoppable machine Judd Trump.
And this is where things get… interesting. After a standard first few frames, Trump went into the interval underwhelming, but still leading 3-1. It turns out that the worst thing to ever happen to Judd was the interval. As they returned he seemed unable to produce any kind of strong performance, while Nigel got stronger and stronger. After a tense final frame, Bond eventually won 6-3 against a player ranked 97 places above him in the world, to progress to the Last 16 of the UK for the first time since 2007.
When there, he overcame a 5-2 deficit against the previous round’s Century machine Gary Wilson to prevail in another decider, and reach the Last 8. There he lead Mark Allen 3-1, but seemed to struggle with the idea of being ahead at the interval, and despite a gritty performance, he eventually succumbed in, yes, you guessed it, a decider!
Bond’s run wasn’t pretty, but what it did prove was the strength of professional snooker these days. It is a sport where truly, anybody can beat anybody. Sure he didn’t win, but the performance of Nigel and of Matthew Stevens as mentioned before, prove that you are never too past your prime or too low on confidence to win.
5: Backs Against The Wall
The big question coming here was regarding the Race to the Masters. Technically about half the tour could have qualified with victory, but realistically it was three from four, with Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter, Joe Perry and Ding Junhui fighting it out.
You may have noticed that two of those names just happened to make the final. Maguire’s potting throughout the tournament was absolutely superb, and particularly against Matthew Stevens in the QF, he was absolutely immense, doing more than enough to cement his place at Ally Pally. His highlight must have been the semis though, absolutely creaming Mark Allen 6-0 to reach a 3rd UK final, 12 years after his last.
As for Ding, he came into the tournament on a rotten run of form, having reached beyond the Last 16 once in ranking tournaments this season, and twice in the last year, and needing a good run to get into the Masters. Reaching the final was just that run, including a 6-4 win against Ronnie O’Sullivan, and crucially in the previous round, a 6-4 win against his Masters rival Ali Carter.
When all was said and done, it was Ding, Maguire, and Perry who ended up in the 16, with Ali on the outside looking in. And then Ronnie pulled out of the Masters due to (lack of passion/boredom/laziness/”personal reasons”), which made the entire Race completely pointless. Thanks Ronnie!
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