UK Championship 2011: Day One Blog

Day one of the UK Championship in York and as the opening matches are now well underway, I’ve managed to set myself up in the media centre. Click below for more throughout the day including post-match reaction from Ding Junhui and John Higgins…

13:13 – Nothing to separate the four players in action so far this afternoon as at the time of writing Mark Davis and Ding Junhui are locked at 3-3, while John Higgins and Rory McLeod have just come back from their mid-session interval level at 2-2.

Frame four of the Higgins/McLeod match looks to have been a crucial moment of the match as with Rory leading 2-1, but needing a snooker to avoid being pegged back, he then left Higgins in all sorts of difficulty behind the black with the green in the jaws of a corner pocket. Unsurprisingly Higgins was to miss the green and Rory then cleared to force a re-spotted black. McLeod had his chances to take it but eventually a missed double was to leave a thin cut on which Higgins was to make no mistake.

Over on the other table meanwhile we had another crucial black ball frame as Mark Davis missed the final red which would have handed him the frame, only for Ding to falter on his attempted clearance as the cue ball caught the jaws of the left-centre when coming back down for the black. Eventually Mark was to sink the black and level the match at 3-3.

View in the media centre

13:44 – The plot thickens, Rory moves 4-2 ahead with a big break, while Mark Davis edges into a 4-3 lead against Ding Junhui – upsets on the cards?

Higgins though is coming back in frame seven, but as the break hits 65 he runs out of position on frame ball. A chance yet for Rory in this frame…

Ding meanwhile leads 44-27 in frame eight of their match, in the balls with the remaining reds favourably placed. There is a great contingent of Chinese fans in the audience to support the two-time UK Champion today. I remember being here in 2006 when it was a similar story for his first round match.

Where the players will give their post-match interviews

14:09 – A word on the IBSF World Championship final meanwhile, an epic currently underway in Bangalore as Iran’s Hossein Vafaei leads Welshman Lee Walker 9-7 in their best of 19 frame match. Remember the winner as is the norm will earn a main tour nomination for next season.

14:16 – Back in York meanwhile John Higgins has shown his class with two relatively quick frames to draw level at 4-4 in his match with Rory McLeod. The BBC have just flashed up the match stats which have Higgins ahead on almost every count, though, not by much.

Davis meanwhile is a frame away at 5-4, can he upset the two-time champion?

14:41 – Drama at the Barbican as Ding Junhui takes frame ten on the black to level at 5-5 and force a decider with Mark Davis, despite a great effort from Mark in that frame before ran out of position playing from pink to black.

Mark Allen and Terry Griffiths watch the Davis/Ding decider

Meanwhile having not potted a ball for what must have been 40 minutes, Rory McLeod has opened frame ten of the other match with a useful 45…

15:41 – What a finish to both matches, both coming down to deciders which would eventually see the top seeded men progress to the last 16. First through was Ding Junhui, courtesy of a crucial fluke on the pink on what would prove to be match ball which was a cruel way for Davis to lose the match. John Higgins meanwhile also appears to have come through following a couple of flukes, though I did not see those myself as I was listening in on Ding’s press conference at the time.

Post-Match Reaction From Ding Junhui:

Following his narrow victory, Ding offered his take on the tour calendar and why he has not played in many of the recent PTC events:

“It’s travelling too much. My ranking points are ok for this year, [there are] only 6 in UK, 6 in Europe, I played four or five of them and not did well so it’s ok. Maybe next year I play more.”

The result of having not played in the PTC events however is that Ding has not has as much match-practice as say his opponent Mark Davis today and Ding agreed that this has been a problem for him:

“No I don’t think that is good, You are playing PTC September-October to December so there are no big tournaments during this time so the second half season you have a lot. China Open, Hainan, the Worlds, Welsh, German Masters, Masters, you have six big tournaments. You can move half of those to the first half of the season.”

Ding speaks to Rob Walker post-match

Ding was however pleased by the support that he enjoyed from a number of Chinese spectators in the crowd:

“Chinese students like their snooker, many years ago I come to York and have many fans supporting.”

When asked about the fortunate fluke on the pink to win the match, Ding explained that he had apologised to Mark at the end of the match:

“I said sorry to Mark Davis, I was just trying to have this shot and it was lucky to get it. When I hit the last pink it missed and white screw back to the top cushion. Sometimes you need luck.”

Post-Match Reaction From Mark Davis:

Having come so close to victory, Mark was understandably disappointed as he spoke to the assembled press just seconds after the conclusion of the match:

“It’s one that got away that one I’m afraid, I should have won. I had a great chance at 5-4 in the balls, I just took my eye off a red on 19 I think and it was a great chance to win it there and then. I had another great chance later in the frame to take it and didn’t take it. I had a chance in the last to clear up and I got a kick on the green, didn’t come right on the blue. I was still ok on the blue, just twitched it a little bit trying to hold for the pink so I could get back onto the black.”

“I got myself a good chance when he missed the black in the last and probably should have taken it there but I didn’t and it is very disappointing, gutted about it because I should have won that, I played well enough to win it.”

Mark Davis

On the fluked pink from Ding that ultimately decided the match, Mark had no complaints and pointed to his own missed opportunities in previous frames:

“What can you do? That’s part of the game – run of the ball, flukes, there’s no point in whinging about it, nothing I can do about it. I got him in a snooker which is what I wanted to do, after that it’s out of my control.”

“So that’s not why I lost the match because it was my own fault I’m afraid. Two or three balls I completely did not look at, one of them was that red in the tenth frame on 19, that was a bit unfortunate so I have got to just try and make sure my concentration is good for the whole match and not just most of it.”

“It’s very disappointing, it’s a massive tournament and I should have won really but there you go, he would have said the same as he was on 60-odd and missed a black off the spot which he wouldn’t normally have missed.”

As he told me after he had successfully qualified for the tournament, Mark is pleased with his overall game at the moment but also disappointed not to have been able to push on at a major tournament such as this:

“It’s positive overall, it has been going a lot better than most of my career there is no doubt about that, but then you want to push on and have runs in these sort of tournaments. Sometimes you just need to get through a match that could just go either way and unfortunately I don’t seem to at the venues. If I win them I have to win them properly, I can’t seem to sneak through too many.

John Higgins Post-Match Reaction:

Defending champion John Higgins was understandably a relieved man to have come through against Rory McLeod, helped by two flukes in the deciding frame:

“Two nice flukes, badly needed, I’m very lucky to be in the next round. I thought that Rory played very well, I just didn’t expect him missing that black when he was on about 30-odd in the last frame because he looked cool and calm and with his nerves under control. I managed to do a decent break to get back into it but didn’t get the best contact on a red into the middle bag, but as you say two big slices of fortune which some days go against you, some days they go for you and I’m just glad that they went for me.”

John Higgins with Rob Walker

John was though very complimentary of the performance of his opponent, labelling it as the best that he has seen Rory play in front of the TV cameras:

“I think that is probably the best that he has played under the TV lights. I know he played [Ronnie] O’Sullivan here one year and made a few breaks when he was virtually out of the match, but for an all-round performance I think that is one of the best displays he has probably had on the TV.”

Turning to his own form however, John revealed that he is currently suffering from back pain having aggravated an existing problem during the last few days:

“I’ve hurt my back just a few days before coming here. I get terrible back pain at the lower spine every so often and I have just jerked it and it has not been the best preparation every day up and down the mortorways for the PTCs and the promo day here. A few days off, maybe go to see and try to get some acupuncture done. I took some painkillers today, I don’t know, just every so often, picking something up and the next minute it just goes. It just comes back every so often, it always seems to be at the exact same part of my body all the time.”

“I’m delighted to get through because it would have been a bad end to the year going out first round here. I feel ok about my game it’s just that I’ve not really been doing that great but these are the bigger tournaments coming up so you want to start playing better for these and then up until the World Championships.”

17:27 – Back to the action, having enjoyed two such dramatic finishes in the previous matches, both Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott now look to be making short working of Tom Ford and Matt Selt respectively in the next two matches. At present Graeme is 5-1 up and on a break of 46 while Neil is one away from a whitewash against Leicester’s Ford…

17:35 – Graeme Dott completes a 6-1 win against Matt Selt to progress to the next round, his reaction to that result will follow:

Graeme Dott Post-Match Reaction:

Following his victory, Graeme was happy with the way that he played and noted that he hopes to improve on his appearance in the semi-finals of the tournament the last time it was staged in York back in 2006:

“I played really well, I can’t really think of many mistakes that I made throughout the game so it was good to finish the game off the way I did.”

“You’re always confident I think, we are all sharp with the amount of tournaments that we are playing in so I think everybody is confident”

Graeme Dott

“I’ve never really done well in the UK Championship. I wouldn’t really consider if I got to the semis to have done well, I want to try and win it. I’ve never really done well at this tournament or the Masters, I don’t know why but I would like to try and play a bit better in this.”

“I do well at the World [Championship] but I would like to do well in the other majors and unfortunately for me I never seem to play very well here, so it was nice to play better.”

Next up for Graeme looks to be a clash against Neil Robertson in what would be a repeat of their 2010 World Championship final at the Crucible:

“It should be a good game, if one of us doesn’t play very well, the other one will win. It’s hard to lose if you play as well as that but we all play as well as that. It’s all about who plays well on the day.”

“He has changed his game completely, when he first came on the scene he was going for everything, now he has gone the opposite and doesn’t go for much, keeps his game quite tight, he’s just a really solid player and one of the best in the world.”

Neil Robertson Post-Match Reaction

And shortly after Graeme spoke to us it was confirmed that his next opponent would be Neil Robertson after the Australian saw off Tom with a 6-1 win. Neil said:

It was a pretty good win, although Tom made it pretty easy for me today. He is one of these players who if he doesn’t settle quickly into a match, he struggles and unfortunately for him that is what happened today so it’s kinda hard to judge my own performance really because I didn’t have to do a great deal to win. I potted some good balls, I always do in my matches but it’s hard to analyse it.

Looking to his match with Graeme, Neil explained that he is pleased that he will be playing him under a shorter format than during their World Championship final in 2010:

“A re-match of the World final. I don’t think that it will keep you guys here until 1:40 in the morning, especially with the best out of 11 format. I think I am much more comfortable playing someone like Graeme in the best of an 11.

Neil Robertson

“Like today, if Tom got off to a good start it can be quite hard to peg back, and John and Rory. It’s not great because I think that the UK Championship has always been a long format, but on the other hand Barry [Hearn] doesn’t have many choices if the BBC are requesting shorter formats, there is not much he can do.”

18:58 – Anticipation building ahead of the evening session, battle of the Scots on one table as Stephen Maguire takes on Stephen Hendry, while Matt Stevens takes on Marcus Campbell on the other.

20:16 – Opening with a century break on his way to a 2-0 lead, Stephen Maguire was to gain the upper hand against Stephen Hendry but a good visit of 81 has brought the seven-times world champion right back into the match at 1-2.

Over on table two meanwhile, Marcus Campbell has done very well to hang on to Welshman Matthew Stevens as they head into their mid-session interval level at 2-2, both having had a century break so far in the early exchanges.

22:06 – Matthew Stevens is through to the last 16 and a clash with Ding Junhui following an impressive performance to defeat Marcus Campbell 6-2 this evening. Quite frankly however snooker was simply not important this evening following the tragic death of a friend who had travelled down with Marcus this evening and it was to Marcus’ credit that he even came out to play tonight under what were extremely difficult circumstances.

Post-Match Reaction from Marcus Campbell:

“To be honest Matthew has played really well, he has made it as painless as I wanted it to be, my nervous system was just totally gone out there. It’s a shame because I have been playing really well and it’s a double disaster today because my manager’s wife had an aneurysm last Monday and she got buried this morning as well. I wasn’t even going to come, but he wanted me to play and then what happened at lunchtime today was just unbelievable, just surreal, I don’t know what to say.”

“I did [consider not playing tonight], until I spoke to his wife and she filled me with a wee bit of confidence, after that not playing wasn’t an option.”

“To be honest when you are out there you are trying but I couldn’t get his face out of my head today, and what I’ve seen this afternoon which wasn’t very pretty. Matthew made me sit there for a long time and you are basically thinking. But to be honest well done to Matthew who played very well. I was trying to focus and I was trying to be interested but it was very difficult. I’ve never played a match like that before.”

“He has been a few times, he came to Sheffield a couple of years ago, basically I have known him for 30 years, he lived close to my auntie who passed away four weeks ago. It has just been a shitty time to be perfectly honest these last four weeks. Today if it hadn’t been bad enough with my manager’s wife which was so heart-breaking for him and everyone connected, and then that happens as well.”

“Even when I’m talking to people it’s as though I’m going to see him now, I don’t know, it’s very difficult.”

Post-Match Reaction from Matthew Stevens:

“I heard the news a few hours before. I’m a very good friend of Marcus and snooker doesn’t mean a thing after what happened to him today. I’d obviously just like to wish him all the best, it’s a horrible situation. Fair play to Marcus for playing, all credit to Marcus really.”

“I was up and down, I’ve been putting a lot of work in and I’ve been hitting the ball better than I have done for many years. I felt pretty comfortable out there, I made the odd couple of mistakes, it wasn’t brilliant snooker, but towards the end it was a lot like I have been playing in practice today. Snooker was secondary today, but happen to win nevertheless.”

“Ding’s got a good record against me, beat me here last year but I feel comfortable the way I’m playing and I’m not scared of anyone. If I play like I have been playing and practising for the last three or four months I think I have got a pretty good chance.”

22:58 – Stephen Maguire has completed a 6-3 win against Stephen Hendry to move into a last 16 tie with John Higgins. As it is getting late I will type up his quotes tomorrow, but as you can imagine he was pleased to be through and has fond memories of a venue where he won his maiden UK crown back in 2004.