So the wait is over and the UK Championship will shortly get underway from a snowy Telford. Click below for my updates throughout the day once the first matches get going at 12:30pm…
Ding Junhui 9-4 Matthew Stevens
Mark Allen 9-5 Tom Ford
Stephen Maguire 9-6 Ken Doherty
Mark Selby 9-6 Ricky Walden
Graeme Dott 3-5 Martin Gould
John Higgins 4-4 Stephen Lee
Peter Ebdon 4-4 Andrew Higginson
Neil Robertson 7-1 Rory McLeod
It is only the first morning but already there are some intriguing matches ahead of us, few more so than that between defending champion Ding Junhui and the in-form Matthew Stevens. Despite winning a PTC event already this season, to me it still doesn’t feel like Ding’s season has yet got started and it will be interesting to see how he performs against a player who has already won a lot of matches this year. If Matthew can start well I can see him causing an upset here as Ding is not a player who I would back to come back from a few frames down to win all that often. If Ding is on his game though, his scoring could prove to be too strong.
Mark Allen and Tom Ford meanwhile will meet in a repeat of their World Championship match from earlier this year. On that occasion Tom did not play anything like as well as he can do and it will be interesting to see if he can improve on that today. I am not quite sure whether the match will be televised, I suspect not and this could be something that helps him. After a slow start to the season, Allen has recently shown signs that he is beginning to find some form and it would not surprise me to see him win through today. Tough one but I’ll side with the seed.
In the other matches, Stephen Maguire comes up against Ken Doherty whilst Mark Selby meets Ricky Walden. Both matches are terribly tough to call and it is quite conceivable that any of the four could win them for different reasons. I do think though that it will again be the seeds who just about come through, although Mark is not the most consistent of players out there and can often lose when you least expect him to. The longer format though will suit him.
During the first session I will be focusing on the match between Ding Junhui and Matthew Stevens and after an early safety exchange, Ding has already stamped his authority on proceedings with a fabulous total clearance of 135 to set an early target for the high break prize. And there was me thinking that he might be slightly rusty…
And more of the same in frame two, although Matthew did have a chance before a missed brown let his opponent straight back in. Looking sound both tactically and in amongst the balls, Ding will take some stopping today.
Third frame and for the first time Matthew is the one who has the first chance to score. A break of 57 has given him a useful lead but Ding is now coming back into the frame and you feel that it would hurt Matthew if he were to lose this frame. Long way to go whatever happens though, that’s the beauty of the longer format and what for me makes it fascinating…
Down to the brown and Ding’s safety play is tying Matthew up in knots at the moment, almost every time the Welshman comes to the table he is either snookered or on the cushion…and eventually it is Ding who takes it after approximately 40 minutes. Even at this early stage that could be significant and there is pressure on Matthew now to steady himself and take the final frame before the mid-session interval…
On the other tables meanwhile, Mark Selby trails Ricky Walden 3-1 whilst Stephen Maguire and Tom Ford are both 2-1 ahead. According to those watching the Selby match (well, Snookerbacker), that one is one to watch at the moment. On another note, the BBC have a new scoring graphic on the screen today, looks quite nice, never really liked the old purple one particularly.
A break of 141 brings Mark Allen level against Tom Ford at the mid-session interval, while Ding Junhui has made light work of the fourth frame in his match following a failed attempt at a red to the right-centre from Matthew, A break of 97 and a 4-0 interval lead. Dominant.
Stephen Maguire is now starting to pull clear of Ken Doherty at 4-1 whilst Mark Selby is just showing signs of getting into his match against Ricky Walden now, taking two straight frames to level at 3-3. Looking very dapper in his new suit is the Jester from Leicester.
Relief for Stevens as he gets a frame on the board to trail by three frames at 4-1. Ding just looked to be going off the boil in that frame as pointed out by Terry Griffiths. Complacency?
Not for long, Stevens had a half-chance in frame six but he could not take it and Ding has now taken advantage to restore his four frame lead and ensure that he will head into tonight’s evening session no worse than 5-3 ahead.
First to finish their opening session are Mark Selby and Ricky Walden who will head into tonight locked at 4-4. It was Walden who made the stronger start to lead 2-0 and 3-1 but Mark was able to fight back and reduce the match to effectively a best of nine later on.
Ding Junhui meanwhile has added another two frames to his lead to leave himself 7-1 up at the end of his session and needing justtwo more frames tonight. I had expected this match to be a lot closer but Ding’s play, particularly during the first four frames was the best I have seen him look since this tournament last year.
Finally, Stephen Maguire looks like going 6-2 up on Ken Doherty while Mark Allen and Tom Ford have also finished their session, Allen taking the last frame to lead 5-3.
With the first four sessions all but completed, the attention turns to the next four matches and in particular the return of John Higgins to competitive action in a major ranking event. Many have asked me on Twitter how they feel he will be welcomed. Personally I cannot see him getting anything other than a warm reception, although in any case the crowds are rather low today anyway, no doubt in part to the horrible weather out there.
As for his match I would expect John to establish a lead against Stephen Lee this afternoon, although it will be interesting to see whether there are any nerves out there.
Elsewhere, Neil Robertson takes on Rory McLeod in what I fear will not be a quick match, while Graeme Dott and Martin Gould get what looks to be a fascinating clash on paper underway – really not sure which way that one will go.
Well that’s answered some of the questions, a poor break off from John, a missed red from Lee and John fires in a century break straight away. Back in business.
Frame two and the remarkable start to John’s comeback continues as he makes a second consecutive century break to lead 2-0. Stephen did have his chances however and led the frame early on but a poor miss on a red was to let Higgins back to the table.
In the other matches, Rory McLeod had got in on the act with a century break to lead Neil Robertson while both Graeme Dott and Andrew Higginson are also ahead in their matches.
Trailing by a couple of frames, a lesser player than Stephen Lee might have wilted but his response since then has been absolutely superb as he has hit back to take the next two frames with sizeable breaks. So far this has been a match of the highest quality and if John didn’t know it beforehand, this one will take some winning.
While those two are racing through the frames, all of the other matches currently stand level at 1-1.
Neil Robertson though has after dropping the first frame, got into the groove against Rory McLeod as he has taken the next three frames to lead 3-1 at the interval. Similarly, Martin Gould has recovered from losing the opening frame in his match with Graeme Dott to lead by the same scoreline.
The quality between Higgins and Lee remains high, the two sharing the next two frames following the mid-session interval to remain level at 3-3. Stephen then took the next before failing to take his chance in the final frame of the session as John came back to level at 4-4 overnight. I must admit that I expected John to ease away from Stephen today, particularly after that first session, but Lee played as well as I have seen him in the last five, possibly ten years. Can he sustain it?
Elsewhere, Neil Robertson continues to advance, leading Rory McLeod 4-1 as the match has become very disjointed, while the other two matches are level at 3-3. Looking forward to the conclusion of these matches tomorrow…
Following a relatively brisk initial session, the second set of matches has taken some time but Neil Robertson has now completed his afternoon’s work by taking the final three frames to lead 7-1 overnight and effectively book his place in the last 16.
Elsewhere, Martin Gould was able to open up a 5-3 lead against former UK semi-finalist Graeme Dott whilst Peter Ebdon and Andrew Higginson could not be separated, sharing their first eight frames to stand at 4-4 overnight.
With the Higgins/Lee match finishing quickly, Mark Selby and Ricky Walden were able to start their session promptly and at present the score has advanced to 5-5 as they remain hard to split. I fancy that Mark will eventually manage to get the better of his opponent but as Ricky demonstrated in qualifying last week, he is capable of holding his own over a best of 19 match.
The first frame tonight was always going to be important for Tom Ford I felt and losing it to trail Mark Allen 6-3 at the moment, I think he will struggle to turn that one around now. As will Ken Doherty who now trails Stephen Maguire 7-2 and looks like spending the rest of his week on the BBC sofa…
Could that big a significant point in this match as Mark Selby knocks in a fabulous century break to move two clear of Ricky Walden for the first time to lead 7-5. Ricky must now win four of the last five frames, a tall order against any player but especially so against Mark…
First through though is Ding Junhui who despite missing a series of match-clinching chances as he saw Matthew Stevens reduce his arrears from 8-1 to 8-4, managed to take the next frame to get his title defence off to the best possible start. Matthew did not play well by any means but the first four frames this afternoon from Ding were of the highest quality and sent out a message to the rest of the field.
Also through are Mark Allen and Mark Selby, the former completing a 9-5 victory over Tom Ford while Selby saw off Ricky Walden 9-6 having earlier in the day trailed 3-1. From 5-5 tonight though Selby was excellent and a three frame burst to 8-5 was effectively the difference between the two.
The final match ongoing is that between Stephen Maguire and Ken Doherty as the Irishman is threatening to mount another trademark comeback, the scoreline now 8-6 having earlier on been 8-3…