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Monday, 9 December 2013

UK Championship Final + thoughts on the tournament

Neil Robertson last night joined the exclusive club who have won snookers triple crown,when he completed a stunning comeback to beat Mark Selby 10-7 and claim the 2013 UK Championship title.

This result had looked unlikely early on as it was Selby who was the quicker out of the blocks,winning the opening frame with a break of 130 and establishing a 5-1 lead with the Aussie seemingly unable to settle.
From here the last two frames of the session were going to be all important and it was Robertson who took them,to leave the arena a much relieved man only trailing now 5-3.

Into the evening and it was Selby who took the opener to go 6-3, but it was to be last frame for a while as Robertson upped a gear to take the next 5 in a row and establish an 8-6 advantage.Selby to his credit stopped the rot in the next to close to 8-7 and in a dramatic next really should have drawn level at 8-8 but he missed a crucial final black,leaving it in the jaws.Robertson tapped it home to go 9-7 up and duly won the next to secure the title.

This win secured that the Aussie would end the calendar year as the world's no.1 ranked player and such has been his consistency in ranking events in 2013,.Few could argue that he doesn't deserve that position.

For Selby he will be disappointed he couldn't defend his title.but he can look back with satisfaction of the way he defended his crown.Its probably fair to say he has yet to rediscover his best form of a couple of seasons back,but he has certainly shown enough in recent weeks to indicate it might not be far away.

So what of the tournament itself.Well as we all know this was the first time we have used the flat 128 draw for this tournament and those in favour of it will point to the fact that 14 of the top 16 seeds reached the last 16,so the best players still come through.but that for me is not the issue.

No for me the problem was the chaotic and confusing  nature of the first week of action,indeed this only started to feel like the UK Championship when we reached the two table set up last Wednesday.This may just be my old traditionalist tendencies coming out,but it is still something of a concern in what is the games second biggest prize.I contrast this with the World Championship where,thanks to the qualifiers now been broadcast on the internet,we can get gripped by that Crucible fever a week before the action even starts on the BBC.

Another problem I found last week was that thanks to the BBC,whatever its faults, this is one of the sports few terrestrial outings in the UK each year and for the first four days the casual snooker fan was"treated"to a series of either totally one sided matches between our top players and lower ranked opposition or even if it were a close match it been mainly down to a below par performance from the higher ranked player.Is this really taking advantage of one of the rare times our sport is actually in the shop window?

Anyway regardless of the complaints it appears that this format is here to stay.Lets just hope,that despite some of the bravado from Barry Hearn over the last week,that the powers that be do actually listen to the  genuine grievances some of the players have expressed..Lets also hope that,though probably inevitable, this change doesn't come to the World Championship for many more seasons.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

UK Championship Semi Final round up +Final preview.

So here we are,after 12 days of action and 126 matches played we are down to the last two men standing in the 2013 UK Championship and they just happen to be the current World no.1 & 2,Neil Robertson & Mark Selby.Who says the flat draw makes it all a lottery!

Both these men have of course very special reasons to want to lift this trophy on Sunday night.For Robertson it would mean joining the select club who have won the games three top prizes,having already added the World Championship & The Masters to his cv and for Selby it would see him joining an even more exclusive club of those who have successfully defended the UK title,this a feat only Steve Davis a Stephen Hendry have achieved in the past.

Before we get in to the final itself lets look briefly back at how they got through their semi finals..

First man to reach the final was Robertson,but only after he came through a real thriller with Stuart Bingham.
The afternoon session of this one gave no indication of what was to come as a series of scrappy frames that could have gone either way but it was the Aussie who lead at the end of it 5-3

Into the evening and Robertson seemed to be coasting to victory when he won the opening three frames to go 8-3. Bingham won the next to at least force the mid session interval but no alarm bells would have been ringing for Robertson just yet.That however would start to change in the next as with the scores close & Robertson in control of the safety battle on the colours,Bingham fluked the green out of a snooker and cleared to make it  8-5.This was the spark Bingham needed as he became a changed man,striding around the table confidently and making it 8-6,8-7 & then unbelievably 8-8.

Robertson's head at this stage must have been all over the place,so it is a measure of the man that he managed to pull together a telling contribution 59 when his chance arose and although this didn't see him fully over the line he managed to later pot the final red to seal the win 9-8.

Selby made it through to the final with a 9-5 win over Ricky Walden that will be remembered not for the quality of snooker both player produced,but for the a remarkable piece of history in frame seven.After what had been a pretty scrappy opening six frames that saw Selby hold a 4-2 lead he knocked in the opening red in the next,finished on the back and went on to complete the 100th 147 in professional snooker,the crowning moment of which was a fabulous final black to the middle pocket.The crowd rose to their feet to applaud what they had just seen as this moment of magic changed what had been a forgettable afternoon of snooker into one they'd never forget.To top it off Selby also added the last of the session to lead 6-2.

Coming out tonight then Walden knew he needed a good start but despite some good openings he just couldn't get going and Selby cruised into an 8-2 lead.Walden to his credit dug in to win the next three to make it 8-5 but Selby finished the job with a classy century to book his place in the final winning 9-5.

So what kind of final can we expect then.Well in this modern era of the game where we are told its all attack, we have two players in Robertson and Selby whose style of play would have fitted in to any era of the game.I really don't think either man this week has played at their peak,but in many ways the fact they have still both reached the final shows just how good they are.Certainly neither player will lose this final because they just gave up.

For that reason,I think we are in for a very close match that could very well require the full 19 frames to decide who lifts the trophy.As for the winner,well I just have a feeling it will be our defending champion Mark Selby writing his name in the history books,but I could be wrong!!

Friday, 6 December 2013

UK Championship Q/F roumd up

Four men remain in the hunt to be crowned UK champion this Sunday after a day  of high drama at the Barbican Centre yesterday.

Stuart Bingham showed once again that he is someone we have to take seriously when it comes to  challenging for the games big titles with a thrilling 6-4 win over Ronnie O'Sullivan. Coming in to any match with Ronnie the most important thing any player can do is get off to a good start an that is exactly what Stuart did taking the opening two frames and then going interval with a 3-1 lead.

He extended that lead to 4-1 before the inevitable O'Sullivan fightback begun.Two qucikfire frames saw him close the gap to just one at 4-3 Bingham was starting to show a few signs of nerves at this stage but held himself together well to move to the brink at 5-3.Ronnie wasn't finished yet as another century closed to 5-4 ,but Bingham had enough in the tank to seal the win in the next and record a famous 6-4 win.

This was only the second time Bingham has beaten Ronnie and he fully deserved this win.As is the case though when you reach the semi finals of such an event as this,the task doesn't get any easier and he now faces.perhaps the player of the tournament so far,Neil Robertson

Robertson was again in supreme form as he raced to a 4-0 lead over Stephen Maguire.The Scot to be fair to him wasn't enjoying the best run of the ball,but managed to at least stop the rot winning the next to trail 4-1.The next two frames were shared before Robertson sealed his place in the semi final wining in the end 6-2.

Now we are at the semi final stage f course the matches revert to best of 17 and I think that will be significant factor in the outcome of this one.As well as Bingham did yesterday to hold off Ronnie,I just don't see him been able to sustain that over two sessions against Robertson and I expect the Aussie to win this score prediction Robertson 9 -5 Bingham

On the other side of the draw Mark Selby remained on course to become only the third player in the games history to successfully defend this title in a real late night thriller with Barry Hawkins.

Selby won the opening frame in this one,but it was Hawkins,who has a good recent record against Selby  who took the next three to go to the interval leading 3-1.Hawkins.The following two frames were shared before a key moment in the next.Hawkins looked like going 5-2 up but a missed red allowed Selby to do what Selby does as he cleared up to make it 4-3.Hawkins to his credit,managed to refocus taking the next to lead 5-3.

Selby though  has not achieved the success he has had in recent years purely by playing quality snooker.but also because he has a never say die attitude which means he is never beaten until the final ball is potted.He showed that here once again,as he won the next two to level at 5-5 and force the decider.That decider was a long 50 minute affair which Selby always seemed in control of.That said there threatened to one last sting in the tail as Selby failed to get out of a snooker and left a free ball,that if converted would have allowed Hawkins to win but he missed his nominated pink and it a few shots later it was all over.Selby winning 6-5

His semi final opponent will be Ricky Walden who beat Mark Allen a a one sided match 6-2.The first two frames were shared in this one before Walden moved in to a 3-1 lead .Allen was clearly out of sorts and it emerged at the interval that he had discover problems with the ferrule just before the match.Some more running repairs delayed the resumption of play but he still could never get going and Walden quickly put this one to bed to book his semi final place.

This semi final has the look of one that could develop in to one of those close late night encounters.Walden has played some very good snooker here this week and whereas Selby has not been at his supreme best he will be hard to beat at this stage of the tournament.For that reason  I think Selby will edge this one
score prediction Selby 9-7 Walden

We are now down to a one table with the first of semi finals between Bingham & Robertson taking place today and the other tomorrow,A great weekend of snooker awaits.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Uk Championship Q/F preview + predictions

Last 16 day at the UK Championship and today we saw the games big names just start to flex their muscles but also the end of a dream run for one

Ding Junhui came into this tournament as the man of the season so far thanks to his victories in the last three full ranking events,but that amazing run came to an end today at the hands of Ricky Walden.This one ebbed and flowed each way as Walden saw his early 3-1 become 3-3 before he once again stretched ahead  5-3.Ding produced a wonderful 135 to get back within one a 5-4 before a tense 52 min frame went the way of Walden to put him through to the Quarters and a clash with Mark Allen.

Allen reached the last 8 with a 6-4 victory over Judd Trump in a match that never really reached the heights we were expecting,indeed early on,such was the poor quality of Allen's play that he was lucky to be only trailing 4-2. At this stage though the Ulsterman showed the all round player he has become as he came back to win the last four in a row and seal the win 6-4

Score prediction This is a hard match to call as both players are on their day very capable players,but I just feel Allen may have that little bit extra here and he may come through in a close finish.
 Allen 6-4 Walden

 I think its fair to say anyone watching snooker for the first time this week having heard of this Ronnie O'Sullivan character will have been wondering what the fuss was about as he has just done enough in his early matches to win,but that changed tonight as he visibly upped a gear to dismiss Robert Milkins 6-0 in only 68 mins.Really extraordinary stuff.

His opponent in the last 8 will be Stuart Bingham who brought the run of Ireland's David Morris to an end in convincing style with a comfortable 6-1 win.

Score Prediction This one will be a rematch of the recent Champion of Champions final which Ronnie narrowly won but I don't think this one will be as close. O'Sullivan 6-2 Bingham

When Ronnie was sweeping his way into the last 8 on one table Neil Robertson was doing the same on the other table as he produced a dominant display to beat Joe Perry 6-1.Robertson has been a scoring machine and will be hard to stop here as he aims to complete a career grand slam of our Major tournaments.

Standing in his way here will be Stephen Maguire who came through an all Scottish tussle with John Higgins.This one was close early on with the score at 2-2 as they went to their mid session interval,but it was Maguire who stepped it up when play resumed and he forged away to a 6-3 win,in the process moving to the top of the high break table with a total clearance of 142.

Score Predictions Another close match in prospect here with Maguire seemingly rediscovering his best form as the tournament goes on.That said though the Aussie is in superb form of late and I expect him to win this Robertson 6-4 Maguire 

Meanwhile the defending champion Mark Selby is,after what had been a slow start to the week,just beginning to move through the gears as he reached the Quarter finals with a 6-2 win over Graeme Dott.

Selby is one of those players who gets harder to beat the further in to a tournament he gets and he will have to be at his best again in the next round when he faces Barry Hawkins who eventually edged Murphy in a late finish last night 6-5. This was a real old fashioned thriller with the scores going 2-2 & 4-4 before Hawkins won a 50 minute frame to lead 5-4.Back came Murphy to draw level.but it was Hawkins who won the decider with nerveless break of 70.

Score Predictions This is another tough match to call.That said I do expect Selby to win it but he can't afford to get off to as slow a start as he has on some occasions this season.Still though I think the Leicsterman will have enough to win this one Selby 6-3 Hawkins

All in all then a fascinating days snooker ahead,I can't wait

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

UK Championship Day 8.The smoke finally clears

There is an old saying in horse racing that goes "the bigger the field the bigger the certainty" and whereas that has never really made sense to me in a gambling way,it certainly seems to be ringing true in this years UK Championship,as the starting field of 128 has whittled  its way down to 16 with the majority of the games big names still in the running to be crowned the 2013 champion.

It has been argued in places that now we are down to two tables in the main arena,that this is where the tournament really starts and it is difficult to argue with that assessment.Whatever the arguments for or against the flat 128 draw,one of the things that will have to be looked at are the congested and down right confusing opening few days where it proved almost impossible to follow what was happening even for those of us who were actually making a real effort too.I can't imagine what the casual snooker follower made of it.

So that said,what of those big names we talked of?Well coming in the games current big four of Ronnie,Ding Robertson & Selby looked to be the favourites for this and each still remain in the hunt as we reach the business end of things.It's probably fair to say none of them have played up to the level we have gotten used to recently,but in truth they haven't needed too against opponents who haven't really pushed them.That will change from now on though as the opponents get tougher.

If the title doesn't  go to one of these men,the next group .to look at are the other course and distance winners in the field and we also have four of them left with John Higgins,who has made his way quietly through to this stage away from the tv tables,Stephen Maguire who,despite his dislike of the format,has shown a real desire to stick around with a couple of good comebacks,Shawn Murphy who has started to find his game again after a poor season so far and Judd Trump who has possibly put in the best performance of anyone here this week in the last round against Xiao Guodong.indeed his match against Mark Allen looks to be the tie of the round.

In one of the rare sections of the draw that did open up following Marco Fu's shock exit in round one it is Irelands David Morris who has come through to continue what has been a really good season so far for the man who had to requalify through Q School having fallen off the main tour.His run in the Wuxi Classic during the summer proved what a talent this young man is and he is very much starting to establish himself as Irelands number 1.He faces a tough test in the next round though against Stuart Bingham,but I really don't think a result here is beyond him.

The first of the last 16 matches get underway tonight and by tomorrow evening we will be down to the final 8.By then things really will have started to get serious and the controversies of the opening few days will,at least temporarily,be put to one side as we wait to hail our  champion on Sunday.