UK Championship 2010: Qualifying Preview

Premier League, PTC, Power Snooker…we have not been short on snooker events to follow recently but what we have been short of is a major tournament. Tomorrow that all changes however as the UK Championship qualifiers get underway at the Academy and below I make a few predictions as to who will be able to make it to Telford…

To view the draw in full, please click here.

The Top Quarter

I always find the early matches in the tournaments to be interesting but with the seedings having been shaken up since the start of the season, perhaps they are even more so this week as there are some unfamiliar names having to start their qualification bids from the beginning.

One such player in this position is Paul Davies, the Welshman set to face German youngster Patrick Einsle who on the tour for the second time has not quite managed to kick on and impress to date. Paul’s form however has been disastrous to date this season and it will be interesting to see whether he can come through over the long best of 17 frame format to defeat his opponent or whether he will lose a match which will almost certainly signal his relegation from the tour.

Whoever wins, they will face a tough job to qualify for the venue stage however as Matt Couch, Robert Milkins and Matthew Stevens lie ahead and all are in decent form. Stevens though has been the one consistently reaching the latter stages of the PTC events recently and I would back him to do enough to make it to Telford, particularly over the longer format.

The top seed in the second section is Gerard Greene, a player who has performed well during the PTC so far this season but lost his qualifier at both the Shanghai Masters and World Open tournaments. Whilst there are some other strong players in this area such as Tony Drago and Liam Highfield however, I cannot see beyond a Tom Ford v Gerard Greene clash at the last 48 stage and fancy Tom to cause an upset. Could go either way though.

Section three is very interesting with Barry Hawkins, Fergal O’Brien, Joe Jogia and Jamie Jones all in form and in the mix. Hawkins and O’Brien should naturally be the favourites but it has taken the might of John Higgins to stop Jogia at the most recent two PTC events and Welshman Jamie Jones was the winner of the Plate event this previous weekend. Still, my money would be on Barry to come through a long, tight match with Fergal to secure a place in Telford.

Finally in this quarter, Stuart Bingham bids to qualify for his second venue of the season and on paper he is for me a reasonably likely candidate to do so. Nigel Bond and Peter Lines are far from easy draws, remember Lines was a shock quarter-finalist at this event last season, but on paper Stuart has been performing at a higher level than both so far this season to date and I fancy him to come through.

Quarter Two

One of the more interesting first round ties sees Ben Woollaston square off against Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon, the latter having enjoyed little success during the PTC barring a record-breaking 147, but having enjoyed strong results in both of the season’s previous two major events.

Whoever is to come through that match though will face a tough task to qualify as both Anthony Hamilton and Ken Doherty lie in wait further down the draw. Ken as a former world champion who has won matches recently will be the favourite but I have a sneaky feeling that Hamilton, a quarter-finalist at two recent EPTC events, might just cause an upset. Gamble.

I will not be gambling on the next section however as for me Ricky Walden looks a safe bet to make it to Telford, with Alan McManus likely to prove his biggest threat. Liu Chuang however could be an outside tip to earn a clash with Walden however as he has been known to perform well over matches of this distance before. Walden to progress though.

Again the next section also appears on paper at least to house a warm favourite, namely Martin Gould who despite a recent dip since his heartbreaking PTC defeat to Dominic Dale remains the form player here. Jimmy Robertson could be one to watch though.

Finally as I approach the halfway point, Stephen Lee and Barry Pinches, both PTC event winners this season, may well meet at the last 48 stage in what would be a very tough match to call. Stephen would obviously be the favourite but has not been the most consistent player on the tour in recent years and Barry has the experience required to come through. If I had to place a bet however, Stephen would get my money.

Quarter Three

Six-times a UK Champion, there is no other player in the game as successful as Steve at this tournament but looking at the draw he has a tall order if he is to make it to the venue in 2010. He is likely to face either Marcus Campbell or Alfie Burden, two players who have performed well this season, in particular Marcus who of course won the EPTC3 event earlier this season.

Still though, as regular reader dannyboy has pointed on on the comments section of this blog recently, although he has not been able to convert performances into wins recently, Steve has scored well and come close to recording some notable wins recently before letting leads slip. If it is to be Marcus v Steve then I can easily imagine it becoming the longest match of the tournament, but on form I would have to lean towards Campbell.

From experience to youth as the seed heading the next section of the draw is Judd Trump, who having reached the semi-finals of the Grand Prix a couple of seasons ago has seen his career stall somewhat, could do with another run deep into a TV tournament.

While his long term prospects are less certain, I do feel that he is well placed to come through and make it to the venue in Telford with Stuart Pettman likely to provide his toughest opposition. Given his lack of involvement during the PTC events recently though it is hard to predict how Stuart will perform and whether he will have the sharpness required to overcome his young opponent. Judd to prevail.

Next up, Joe Perry and Jimmy White amongst others battle it out for the right to face Stephen Hendry in what is on paper one of the more open sections of the draw. Local favourite Adrian Gunnell is in the mix but having faltered against Steve Davis at the last 48 stage of this competition a couple of times I would be impressed to see him qualify for the venue. The romantic in me would like to see a White v Hendry clash on TV, possibly for the last time, but I have a feeling that after a poor couple of years, Joe Perry is just beginning to get his game together and fancy him to justify his seeding and get the job done. That said, he could do with a win to keep his top 32 place and he has been one to buckle under pressure in the past…

Onwards and Mark Davis I feel has a strong chance to reach yet another venue with his highest ranked opponent being the woefully out of form Joe Swail. Other threats? Bjorn Haneveer could be a handful, but I do not see either James McBain or Simon Bedford having enough to upset Davis.

Bottom Quarter

The first section in the fourth and final quarter sees Mike Dunn bidding to qualify for the venue and overhaul Joe Perry in the rankings to move up into the top 32 for the next seedings revision. Mike has not been in the best form during the PTC but he did qualify for the TV stages of both the Shanghai Masters and World Open so should not be underestimated. Potnential opponents include Michael Holt, fresh from his EPTC6 win and Scottish starlet Anthony McGill who has impressed so far this season. My tip? I’m going to stick with Dunn, Holt might be the man in form but it would not be the first time this season that a PTC event winner has then immediately suffered something of a dip.

Next up an unfamiliar name in the qualifying draw as Ryan Day drops out of the top 16 and is forced to earn in his in Telford through qualifying. With a potential tie against Jamie Burnett it is not going to be easy for the Welshman but having recorded a few more wins recently, perhaps Ryan has now reached rock bottom and is ready to rise back up the rankings again. For this reason I am going to back Ryan to continue his mini-revival and make it to the venue.

Possibly the tie of the opening round for me meanwhile is that between Jack Lisowski and Zhang Anda, two of the most exciting young players on the tour. Since his run to the Crucible and subsequent defeat to Stephen Hendry last April, Zhang has not managed to set the world alight but as he demonstrated then, he has the temperament to handle the longer format matches and could surprise again. Lisowski meanwhile has been tipped for the top for a long time and has had some impressive wins in the PTC to date.

Whoever wins though will have a job qualifying for the venue with Matt Selt, Dominic Dale and Andrew Higginson lying in wait, all players who have displayed good form this season, in particular PTC6 winner Dale. I must admit that this is the hardest section of the draw to call in my book, but if pushed I would just about back Higginson.

Last but not least, the other top 16 refugee Liang Wenbo bids to qualify for the final stages but with either Ian McCulloch or Rory McLeod likely to be standing in his way, he is not going to be up against an opponent known for his speed. Still though, this did not stop him from breezing past Dave Harold at the World Championship qualifiers last year and I would expect Liang to come through here.

So that’s my preview – what do you think is going to happen?

What else stands out? Xiao Guodong v Reanne Evans could be a decent match, although Xiao really should come through given Reanne’s record on the tour so far this season, despite pushing Neil Robertson hard last weekend.

Igor Figueiredo v Liu Chuang and Ben Woollaston’s clash with Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon also look to be hard to call.

Round Two

Looking ahead,