Day Four from Telford and at the time of writing what is shaping up to be a thrilling conclusion to this afternoon’s session is currently in progress. News on the matches as the come to a conclusion…
Tuesday 7th December
Marco Fu 2-9 Stuart Bingham
Mark Joyce 5-3 Judd Trump
Stephen Hendry 5-3 Mark Williams
Shaun Murphy 5-3 Ryan Day
Ding Junhui v Mark Allen*
Neil Robertson 9-5 Andrew Higginson*
John Higgins 9-8 Graeme Dott*
Stephen Maguire 9-7 Mark Selby*
Marco Fu 2-9 Stuart Bingham*
Mark Joyce 9-7 Judd Trump*
Stephen Hendry 6-9 Mark Williams*
Shaun Murphy 9-8 Ryan Day*
Leading 7-1 overnight, world champion Neil Robertson probably did not expect to be detained for too long by opponent Andrew Higginson this afternoon. The man from Widnes however had other ideas, a string of big breaks helping to reduce his arrears to 8-5 before eventually succumbing to the man from Melbourne. After their memorable Welsh Open final a few years ago, it seems that these two always seem to produce a strange match!
Neil will now progress to a quarter-final tie with either Shaun Murphy or Ryan Day while Andrew can at least take consolation from the fact that he is now up to 23rd in the rankings with the opportunity to climb even further as the season progresses.
Early casualty: Mark Selby
The second match of the session to conclude was a thriller away from the TV cameras as Stephen Maguire took out Mark Selby 9-7, despite seeing Mark come back from 7-4 down to level at 7-7 this evening. I must admit to being absolutely torn as to who I wanted to win this one. On the one hand Mark is a person that I have a lot of respect for as more than some players, he just seems to ‘get’ what being a professional snooker player is all about at the moment. From small things like the Twitter account, the good website/blog to his regular participation in the Players Tour Championship during which he has always given his all, everything about him is right.
Stephen though is another player that I quite like and in my opinion one who has struggled during the previous couple of seasons as he has struggled to records wins over the elite players in the game such as Mark. Only time will tell but perhaps this could be the lift that the Scot needs and one that will see him back into contention for major honours again.
He will have to play well in the next round if he is to win a second UK title this week however as there he will face friend and compatriot John Higgins who survived a real battle with another Scot, Graeme Dott this evening to keep his hopes alive this week in Telford. At 8-7 down and with Graeme in the balls John looked to be in trouble but a kick brought Graeme’s break to a premature end and like Stephen Hendry yesterday, John upped his game when he mattered to take the match to a decider which he then won in some style.
As he admitted in his post-match interview with Steve Davis and Hazel Irvine, it did not take long for him to feel happy with his game again despite the lengthy lay off, he still has that ability under pressure to produce when he really has to.
The final match of the session to go to a finish was that between defending champion Ding Junhui and Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen, the latter coming through 9-8 and celebrating with a clenched fist and loud scream in the arena! Having made the semi-finals of the World Championship a couple of years ago, Mark has not quite kicked on as I had expected him to but now in the quarter-finals of this event maybe this could be his week. Next up for him, the winner of the clash between Marco Fu and Stuart Bingham, the latter currently 6-2 ahead.
In the first of this evening’s matches to finish, Stuart ‘Ballrun’ Bingham followed up his victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan yesterday with a terrific 9-2 against Marco Fu. A fine performance against a player who has started this season is solid form, winning the Asian Games recently, Stuart would appear to be at the top of his game and through to his fifth ranking event quarter-final, needs just one more win to finally break into the elusive top 16 at the expense of Mark King.
For Marco though the result does mean that he will now fall outside of that bracket at the next seedings revision and so will have to qualify for the next two ranking events.
Resuming 5-3 down against Stephen Hendry and having made a high break of just 24 during the afternoon session, Mark Williams managed to fight back to sink his close friend 9-6, although in truth the standard from both players during the match was poor. In particular Hendry, whose first round win against Jimmy White was in itself a real struggle, looked devoid of any confidence and despite being presented with several chances by Mark, rarely looked like taking any. The match was almost summed up by an amusing moment towards the end when Stephen, seeing that Mark was looking like clearing to win actually unscrewed his cue, only for the Welshman to then run out of position.
Much to ponder though for Stephen while Mark moves on to a clash with this week’s surprise package Mark Joyce, a 9-7 winner against Judd Trump. Like Stuart, it is equally impressive to see Mark not only cause a shock as he did yesterday, but then build on it by beating another very capable player. And if Williams plays like he did today then you just never know…
Finally, Shaun Murphy edged out Welshman Ryan Day in what looks to have been another tight match over on the other TV table. He will now meet Neil Robertson in one of the ties of the quarter-final round…