Day one of the 2012 UK Championship and I am in situ at the media centre at the Barbican Centre, York to bring you all of the latest scores and post-match reaction from the day’s six last 32 matches…
Arriving at a typically chilly Barbican Centre in York for the start of the 2012 UK Championship, I made my way to the media centre to get set up for what will no doubt be a busy day with the likes of three-time former champion John Higgins in action, as well as world number two Mark Selby.
After a fight to get connected to the internet in the media centre (poor Rob Walker to my right is having even less luck with it than I am), I have managed to get connected in time to see the conclusion of the day’s opening two matches, involving John Higgins and Barry Hawkins.
First man through was Hawkins, though not without a scare as Liang Wenbo, who has quietly put some impressive results together in recent times, recovered from 3-1 down to lead the Australian Goldfields Open champion 4-3.
Barry though was able to turn the match back in his favour and was understandably relieved following his victory as he told the assembled press shortly afterwards:
“Liang hasn’t been doing great lately, though he is obviously playing a bit better now and has won a few matches. I’ve got a little bit more confidence at the moment I suppose after winning tournaments, I was a bit more confident under pressure and that obviously played a massive part in it in the end and I am delighted to win.”
“I’ve been in the top 16 once before, but then I had a terrible season. I think maybe that I am a different player now. I would like to think so, with winning a tournament as well and I feel like I belong there now. Hopefully I can keep playing well and doing well.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start really, I played a qualifying match yesterday and in the first frame I had a total clearance and in the first frame today I had a century. It’s always nice to start well, it sets you up nicely then really and you feel like you are in the game.”
“I didn’t miss much the whole match to be honest, nor did Liang. Just towards the end of the match there were a couple of balls and that made the difference in the end. I am just delighted to be in the next round and looking forward to coming back on Tuesday.”
Barry Hawkins talks to the press following his 6-4 victory
As well as being an important tournament for Barry in its own right, today’s match in particular was crucial for him in terms of ranking, with the victory moving up to 15th place provisionally, inside the crucial top 17 for the next cut-off.
Barring a number of other results going against him during the rest of the week, I would expect Hawkins to now be secure and that being the case, I decided to ask him about that during the press conference:
“That made that match even more important I think. I’ve done what I’ve had to do and hopefully now I can just keep on winning and that will take care of itself. I’ve done the hard bit there I think. I just want to keep doing well.
I asked Barry whether it would be important to him to make it inside the top bracket at this cut-off and he replied:
“Yeah it was massive, because I’ve only just got in the top 16 again and then there is another cut-off after this tournament, so I haven’t had much time to try and establish myself back in there again.
“Obviously I’d like to stay in there and not have to qualify for the few China tournaments coming up, it would be nice to just go straight there so I will be trying my hardest.”
Finally, On Q’s Janie Watkins also asked him whether the preparation for this tournament was unusual, having had to qualify for the final stages of the German Masters qualifiers as recently as yesterday:
“Yeah, it probably worked out quite good for me because I won yesterday and qualified for Germany. It couldn’t have worked out any better, a bit of match practice ahead of today.”
“Obviously if I had have lost yesterday, it would have been quite difficult to have got back up for today, but the way the schedule is at the moment I am not complaining. You have just got to play as much as you can and that is what we are doing at the moment.”
Immediately following Barry into the press room was Michael Holt, who had just succumbed to a 6-3 defeat against three-time former UK champion John Higgins in the last 32 and gave an honest assessment of where he feels he is at right now:
“It was the same old me really. I don’t quite play how I can out there, which is a bit disappointing because it’s not that I don’t look forward to it, I really look forward to going out there and it’s great to play, especially in the BBC events which just carry a little bit more prestige.”
“I just feel that I always just don’t quite play, I miss the odd ball that I don’t expect to miss. It’s frustrating because I love it. I really, really want to play well and to win and sometimes maybe I just want it too much sometimes. I don’t know, it’s the same old really, I have been at this stage of my career for about ten years. I truly believe that I am good enough when I play, I know I can beat anyone, but I want to play to challenge for events like this and it’s really frustrating because I am always that far away from just playing.”
“But what can you do. There is no magic formula, you have just got to keep plugging away. My attitude has changed over the years, I’m so much better than I used to be and like I said if there is any magic formula out there then let me know and I will buy it!”
“It’s not nerves, you are obviously nervous out there, it’s hard, but in a good way because you want it. As soon as you stop feeling nervous and you don’t want it, you might as well just chuck it in.”
“I play matches all the time that are as important. But where I have sort of hit a brick wall in my career is at the major events, the last 32, last 16. It’s not what I turned pro for but that’s my sort of little block.”
“And again it’s not that I don’t fancy it, I love it and enjoyed playing him out there. It’s an honour to play him, he’s an absolute genius, he’s amazing. It’s just frustrating because I watch players playing and I feel like i have got enough talent to compete. I believe I can win, I can beat anyone on the day, easily. It’s just doing it here, I just miss the odd ball and it costs me.”
“I missed one in the first frame and those three or four pots can make a 6-3 loss into a 6-3 win. It’s that fine, it’s not like I have gone out there and completely melted and I can’t make 12. I don’t feel like that. I feel great in the balls and it is just the odd ball here and there, they are the difference.”
“Against players like that you have got to take those opportunities, that’s what they do, that’s the difference between me and him, and us and them as in the top boys. They just make sure that 90% of the time, they make those pots.”
Shortly afterwards, John Higgins himself came along and fielded the questions from the assembled press…
“I am delighted to win, Michael has been playing well this season and I was just feeling on edge throughout the whole game. Being the first match on its sometimes not the best and the table was playing really, really slow, the cushions I think were the slowest I have ever played on. It was difficult to get used to the conditions.”
“I’m delighted I’m through because it was looking dodgy in the seventh frame, if Michael could have cleared up and won that to go 4-3 in front…my head was getting scrambled. I was getting frustrated with myself and if he had gone 4-3 in front he would probably have gone on to win.”
Having struggled for form last season, John has looked much more like his old self this term, having taken the Shanghai Masters title, as well as the UKPTC4 event in Gloucester. When asked about whether he has found it difficult to adapt to a change of cue over the summer, John explained:
“No, not really. I went to a cue maker, Trevor White and I think that nowadays when you know your own specifications, people make you new pieces of wood, it doesn’t take you that long to get used to it. I just felt, having built a new room and I just felt as if I need that fresh impetus at this stage of my career as well. It has worked out, it seems fine, I am pretty used to it yeah.”
“I’m practising more, I am putting more into my practice and if I can do that then I am going to play better and give myself a better chance of playing well in tournaments. I’m not being big-headed but it will happen in more tournaments than not that if I put the work in, I will come through and do pretty decent. But as I say if you don’t put the work in, it will soon find you out, whatever level you play at.”
John was also asked about his growing rivalry with Judd Trump and was full of praise for snooker’s latest number one player:
“I played him at the hardest match, the World Championship final and I could tell at that stage that after winning the China Open, he was looking like a special player. Obviously there was some people with a little bit of sour grapes because he’s getting all the publicity just now, but that is up to them.”
“He does play a brand of snooker that we have not seen because he does go for a hell of lot and he maybe hits them a little bit harder than anybody else, but he has rounded the edges off his game, you can see it this year he is playing more safety shots, he has got a lovely safety game as well. He’s obviously number one and he has got a chance of staying there a while because he’s a great talent.”
“If that was a rivalry that came out then that would be great because it would mean that I was doing well. But I think that he is going to be at the top of the game for say the next ten years easy, so it is up to myself to try and stay there and produce better form.”
“I think you can look at people like Robertson who are coming through and there is going to be a rivalry, but then again Neil has been there a while and is in his thirties I think. You can maybe look at young Lisowski or Luca Brecel who could be the rivalry in the same age group, but apart from that it is mainly thirty-somethings that are near the top of the game.”
Elsewhere, Ryan Day survived a flying start from Ding Junhui to repeat his Crucible victory against the Chinese number one, an excellent result following what was a high quality encounter at the Barbican Centre.
In the same session, Stephen Maguire fell 2-1 behind against qualifier Fergal O’Brien early on, before winning the next five frames to book his place in the last 16. The fourth frame proved to be the turning point, Maguire taking the final black to force a re-spot, which he quickly potted from O’Brien’s opening shot to draw level at the interval.
On their resumption though, there was only one man in it as Maguire reeled off breaks of 102, 104 and 131 to secure a 6-2 victory.
Following an adjournment to a nearby Italian restaurant for a much-needed pizza, I returned to the venue and headed on upstairs to sample the atmosphere in the arena for the first time this year. As was the case last year, it is a lovely set-up here, again with no dividing wall between the two tables, but plenty of space around both tables.
I noticed a few comments on Twitter about the good crowds in today and while true, one explanation was perhaps that this year they were refusing to let spectators sit up in the balcony, in favour of filling out the lower area to make it look better on the television.
In any case, the action soon got underway and I settled down for the first four frames of the match between Graeme Dott and Martin Gould, which would be shared as the match finished 2-2 at the mid-session interval. Despite having seen his opponent lead 1-0 and 2-1, I actually felt that Martin had looked to be playing the better of the two, only for a couple of missed pots at crucial moments allowing Graeme to keep his nose in front. Martin could in fact have trailed 3-1, but for an excellent pot on the pink in the fourth frame, to effectively draw level.
At the time of writing late on Saturday evening, Graeme has just taken two frames to level the match again at 5-5 and force a deciding frame.
Meanwhile over on table one, despite a fine ever from Welsh youngster Michael White, world number two Mark Selby was able to move into the last 16 with a 6-3 victory. It was not the best performance you will ever see from Mark, but he improved as the match progressed and finished with an excellent century break to avoid any need for any late night nerves.
Mark told the press:
“I’ve never really played Michael before so I didn’t really know what to expect, I’ve heard a lot about him and I think he’s got nothing to be ashamed of. I think he played really well, probably missed a couple of balls here and there but I’m sure he can accept that, first time live on the BBC. With me the way my season has gone so far, obviously I was under a lot of pressure coming in for my first match so even though I didn’t perform and make break after break, I’m still happy with it.”
“I don’t think I’ve done that much wrong, I probably missed a couple of balls that I should have got, but overall I played quite a decent match.”
“I caught a little bit [of Ryan Day's victory against Ding Junhui], when I was in the practice room but he obviously must be playing well to beat somebody of Ding’s class so it’s going to be a tough game on Wednesday.”
“I always go into every tournament believing that I can win it, whether I do or not is a different thing, but this tournament is going to be no different. I will come back up on Tuesday and prepare well and give it my best shot.”
Following the press conference, Mark chatted to me about his recent interview with for PSB and asked how long it was, saying that it had taken his wife about 45 minutes to read it all. Then as he headed out of the media centre he jokingly asked me across the room if I wanted another blog, but I politely declined on this occasion!”