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Snooker, like darts, is a sport that does not require athletic prowess and so evening wear and nice shoes are permitted. That means you get a lot of spare tyres and fleshy faces busting out of waistcoats and evening trousers when the guys bend over the table, faces for radio, as they say in the media. Looking at some of the current top twenty they wouldn't look out of place driving a forklift truck they are that innocuous. Without the glamour names like O'Sullivan, who is having his selfish sabbatical, and the deceased Paul Hunter, it's left to players like Judd Trump and young Lucca Brecel from Belguim to carry the sport through the next ten years. So far Judd has kept the interest but there is little else coming through to keep the game on terrestrial TV, down to just three tournaments on the BBC this season.
Ronnie says he is taking time out to be with his family and enjoy the exhibition circuit but you do feel he will call it a day soon. It was noticeable in a rather excellent ITV4 documentary how certain he looked about life now and clear to those who watched it that he only carried on playing so his recently released father from prison would actually be at the Crucible to witness a world title, which he did in this year. He loves his old man but how do you marry that with the fact he brained a bouncer and killed him? That is the real conflict in Ronnie's life.
The William Hill United Kingdom Championships couldn't have gotten off to a worse start as both defending champion Judd Trump and last years finalists in the controversial Mark Allen were dumped out in round one of the televised stages. Trump, who had become only the tenth person in snooker to hold the coveted world number one spot, lazily lost 6-5 to a bloke called Joyce after leading 5-2, and Allen bounced out by in form Marco Fu 6-3, the Hong Kong national perhaps extra motivated by the comments made by big mouth Allen against him this time last year that the 'Chinese type players are cheats'. Allen is the Joey Barton of snooker.
= = = The 10 World Number Ones = = =
Ray Reardon (1975-81, 82-83)
Cliff Thorburn (1981-82)
Steve Davis (1983-90)
Stephen Hendry (1990-98, 2006-07)
John Higgins (1998-00, 07-08, 10, 10-11)
Mark Williams (2000-02, 03-04, 11)
Ronnie O'Sullivan (2002-03, 04-06, 08-10)
Neil Robertson (2010)
Mark Selby (2011-12)
The exciting Trump had stepped up though to fill Ronnie O'Sullivan's shoes with solid ticket sales to fill those empty seats, Trump playing some thrilling attacking snooker all season, 40 centuries under his belt by the time he arrived at the York Barbican Halls for these championships, 50% more centuries than any other player, the Kevin Pietersen of the sport, the record of 58 within his grasp. The guy who beat him, Joyce, had been out of the game for two years after suffering a bad street mugging, ironically beating Trump in the same tournament in 2009 just before the incident which saw Joyce's form collapse like he did when his eye socket and shoulder were smashed up by thugs, this victory rather neat to put that one to bed.
And so it was over to dim blonde Neil Robertson to add some stardust, blowing away Tom Ford 6-1 with three tons, his opponent playing like the fashion designer. The strangely benign Aussie has a touch of the Ian Thorpe about him and always interesting to watch on TV. As the new all year program has pushed the older and married players out of the game the defensive tactical game has also departed with them, snooker going through a Twenty20 style change with the younger single lad's just whacking centuries and forgetting about the forward defensive shot. One of those chargers is young Lucca Brecel from Belgium, just 17-years-old and winning his first ever big match event here by beating world number 12 Ricky Walden 6-5. Nope, I don't know who Ricky Walden is either but an example of how the new circuit is bringing through new names.
The sloth that is Mark Williams tumbled out to Mark King 6-3 as the draw took an increasingly unglamorous look, the lugubrious Welshman threatening to retire soon after, as did Hendry when he lost like this time last year in the UK. The older pros do not like the grueling long tour and dropping like flies in the big tournaments. One man who won't give up is 52-year-old Steve Davis, who won four qualifiers to have the right to play here this week but losing 6-2 to Ali Carter, another player close to retiring after suffering Crohns disease for seven years, the one where you can't digest solids and so always fatigued.
= = = Results = = =
1 JUDD TRUMP 5 v 6 MARK JOYCE
2 ALLISTER CARTER 6 v 2 STEVE DAVIS
3 STUART BINGHAM 6 v 2 JACK LISOWSKI
4 STEPHEN MAGUIRE 6 v 2 FERGAL O'BRIEN
5 MARK WILLIAMS 3 v 6 MARK KING
6 RICKY WALDEN 5 v 6 LUCA BRECEL
7 GRAEME DOTT 6 v 5 MARTIN GOULD
8 SHAUN MURPHY 6 v 3 ROBERT MILKINS
9 JOHN HIGGINS 6 v 3 MICHAEL HOLT
10 MARK DAVIS 6 v 1 CAO YUPENG
11 MATTHEW STEVENS 6 v 1 DOMINIC DALE
12 MARK ALLEN 3 v 6 MARCO FU
13 NEIL ROBERTSON 6 v 1 TOM FORD
14 BARRY HAWKINS 6 v 4 LIANG WENBO
15 DING JUNHUI 4 v 6 RYAN DAY
16 MARK SELBY 6 v 3 MICHAEL WHITE
-The Second Round-
Little Luca Brecel moved into the quarter-finals after winning a tight match with Mark King, the thuggish looking balding Essex boy unable to put the world number 74 away. Barry Hearn chose to give the kid a wildcard to stay on the main tour after he finished outside the top 64 at the cut off point last year and he repaid that trust by becoming the first youngest into the last eight of a Triple Crown tournament since O'Sullivan. Steve Davis described him as a young small horse jumping huge fences against big and better horses. He looks the business.
John Higgins lit up the tournament with a brilliant 147 in a thrilling match when he trailed 5-2 to Mark Davies, knocking the lot in for frame eight, his seventh tournament maximum and his second this season, stroking one in the Shanghai Open Final. That would power him on to level at 5-5 but missed the easiest of pinks for the match with just the two balls left, Davis taking it and Higgins going home, another previous champion into the wilderness. Higgins body language afterwards was edgy and interesting and we will leave it at that.
The ice cold world number two and sharp suited Mark Selby, another who has recovered from a big drop in form in recent years, moved through to join the kid after beating Ryan Day 6-4. Mark can retain the top spot if he gets to the final.
-Second Round results-
Ryan Day (Wal) 4-6 Mark Selby (Eng)
Mark King (Eng) 4-6 Luca Brecel (Bel)
Neil Robertson (Aus) 6-2 Barry Hawkins (Eng)
John Higgins (Sco) 5-6 M Davis (Eng)
Stuart Bingham (Eng) 6-4 Stephen Maguire (Sco)
Graeme Dott (Sco) 2-6 Shaun Murphy (Eng)
Matthew Stevens (Wal) 6-4 Marco Fu (HK)
Mark Joyce (Eng) 2-6 Ali Carter (Eng
6 - Steve Davis (10 Finals)
5 - Steven Hendry (9 Finals)
4 - Ronnie O'Sullivan (4 Finals)
3 - John Higgins (5 Finals)
2 - Mark Williams (4 Finals)
It was one match too far for young Lucca Brecel as his luck ran out and the experience of Shaun Murphy exploited the kid's lack of safety play, winning 6-5 on the last pink. Lucca also had a pink to win through at 4-5 but the knees wobbled and it was not to be, but another Steven Hendry by the looks. The great under achiever in Mathew Stevens also fell by the wayside, his 35th major Q/F not to be, taken out 6-4 by Davis, Mark not Steve. Ali Carter rolled up Stuart Bingham 6-4 and a titanic 6 hour match saw Mark Selby sneak through to the semi-finals 6-4, amazing, really, as Robertson led 4-0 after 57minutes.
Mark Davis (Eng) 6-4 Matthew Stevens (Wal)
Ali Carter (Eng) 6-4 Stuart Bingham (Eng)
Luca Brecel (Bel) 5-6 Shaun Murphy (Eng)
Mark Selby)Eng) 6-5 Neil Robertson(Aus)
Shaun Murphy pretty much plays all year around on the new circuit set up and so has 'cased out' all the new lads coming up and so a tough as ever match player, especially over best of 9 and 11 matches. He is at the coalface and always learning and so no surprise he squeezes through most close matches, again looking down and out in the semi-final to Ali Carter at 8-4. But he popped in a century or two and suddenly it was 8-8 and down to the last yet again. He has a real equanimity about him and took his chance with an 80 break to secure his second UK Final.
Handsome and cool Mark Selby, who has the granite chin and looks to be in one of those pretentious aftershave ads in a tuxedo, faced outsider and world number 14 Mark Davis. Journeyman Mark, now in his forties, is an example of how the new tour has changed the pro game radically. Anyone who gets on to the tour proper can now move swiftly up the rankings by playing and playing. Guys like him were locked out of the old tour as the top 16 guys were automatically entered into all the big tournaments and so guys like him always dumped in the qualifiers and so very hard for these guys to break the top 16, so few tournaments offering the ranking points to do that back then. If you have to pay for all your hotels and transport then you're struggling. But now there are events all year around with ranking points and the more the precious aging top 16 pro's refused to play them then their rankings were are up for grabs.
Mark slipped into the UK Championship automatically because of fellow Essex boy Ronnie O'Sullivan going on his sabbatical and Stephen Lee suspended once again due to betting allegations. People think professional sportsmen who get involved in match and spot fixing do it for money when it's nearly always blackmail. I think guys like Mark have moved up the rankings because the game is there for the ones that haven't been rigging games, a short list of them in the public domain and suitably chastised, no doubt, a much longer list in Barry Hearn's safe. With such low rewards and prize money in recent years due to the tour shrinking it was no real surprise players like Joe Joggia and Quentin Hand did what they did to make up their money.
-The BBC coverage-
It was as intimate as usual with the likeable team keeping us all warm and cozy in front of the TV as winter rages outside. The system where the fans in the arena can listen to the commentary in the BBC box is great fun and somewhat distracting when the fans chuckle at the ex players jokes in the box when the current players are addressing shots. Hazel Irwin led the boys admirably on the couch as cheeky chappies Steve Davies and Ken Doherty kept us smiling in the intervals. Other sports are really stuffy like tennis and rugby and they could learn a trick or two from the family friendly snooker coverage.
- The Final -
Mark Selby 10 Shaun Murphy 6
Mark Selby making the final quickly reclaimed the world number one spot from Judd Trump, five of the 11 world number ones that have held top spot achieving that in the last five years. The snooker certainly wasn't top stop stuff though and the final a real grind. The firsts session was split 4-4 then Selby eased away to open a three frame lead. It should have been reduced to two in the 15th frame in the best of 19 frames final but Murphy missed the straightest blue you can imagine and that was that, Selby clearing up and taking the following frame to win 10-6, his fist UK title. He is 5-1 for the world championship now and if Ronnie doesn't take up his wild card as defending champion to Sheffield then Selby looks a good bet.