Just a few days on from the final balls being potted in York at this year’s UK Championship, already eyes are very much fixed on the future, with the professional stages of the Lisbon Open set to get underway on Friday and the drawsheets being released for both the German Masters and World Seniors qualifiers yesterday.
Before we move on to Lisbon though, a few final thoughts from my fortnight at the Barbican Centre…
Although I have been to the UK Championship many times in the past, both when the tournament was held at the Barbican back in 2005-6 and more recently since its return to the venue in 2011, this was the first time that I have really been present for the vast majority of the tournament.
I usually tend to watch the second half of the event from home, but this year I chose to travel up to York for the business end and it really struck me just how long the tournament is now, since the change to its current format in 2013. Even looking back at my mobile phone and seeing the pictures from the first week of players like Jimmy White and so on, those days feel like several weeks ago already and for those present for the duration, the tournament does in some ways feel comparable to the Crucible.
That being the case and with the sheer amount of matches that we have seen played, despite my overall reluctance to see a reduction in frames in ranking events, we have seen that the best of 11 format is able to produce good matches, of sufficient length in order to provide the sort of story that you do not get in the best of 7 sprints seen on the European Tour.
Never was that more evident than in the match between Nigel Bond and Barry Hawkins, which saw the 49-year-old Bond hit back from 5-0 down to win 6-5 against the world number five in an evening of high drama. At the time nobody at the venue could remember such a turnaround ever having happened in a best of 11 match before and on semi-final day we were visited in the media room by statistician Phil Yates, who was also at a loss to think of such a turnaround before.
As well as being a memorable turnaround in itself for Bond himself, the victory was an extremely important one in the context of Nigel’s battle to stay inside the top 64 at the end of the season, as evident from the latest provisional end of season rankings here.
He was not the only one to secure at least one important win at the Barbican, with Marcus Campbell, Alfie Burden and Jamie Cope among the others to add to their totals with opening round victories at the tournament.
There was a match that was even more memorable than Nigel’s win however and that was James Cahill’s brilliant victory against Ding Junhui at the last 32 stage, which saw the 18-year-old come through in a deciding frame finish, having earlier raced into a shock 5-1 lead against the new world number one.
Make no mistake, Ding was far from at his best during long periods of the match and James missed balls also, but his sixth frame clearance to open up that 5-1 lead was one of the breaks of the week by anyone and his ultimately match-winning contribution in the decider was not far off, with several brave shots finding the mark.
Cahill has been keen to play down the family link to Stephen Hendry for obvious reasons, but as he said after the match that he did not want to lose by playing a safety shot, you could not help but think of the seven-times world champion. The improvement in his game has been evident to me for a number of months now, having seen him give Tom Ford a good game at the World Championship qualifiers, defeat John Higgins at the Paul Hunter Classic and give Ronnie O’Sullivan a test at the International Championship qualifiers and it was nice to see him make a name for himself in York, even if comparisons to O’Sullivan on the BBC afterwards were somewhat premature.
Aside form James, there were also career highlights for both David Morris and Anthony McGill, Morris having ousted Mark Selby early on with a convincing victory on his way to the quarter-finals, while McGill too reached the last eight with a victory against his friend and idol John Higgins.
David spoke well after his match of how the changes to the tour in recent years have helped to reduce the fear factor of the top players and after the match there was also a terrific story of how he was put up by a York taxi driver on the night of his win against Selby.
I was especially pleased to see McGill make a breakthrough at a BBC event too as having followed his career for a number of years now and heard the likes of Alan McManus say a number of good things about him, such a run has only been a matter of time and I hope that he can now go on to establish himself inside the world’s top 32.
Results aside, the first week of the tournament was of course dominated by talk of the venue and playing conditions, as I have covered in depth here, but once the tournament got down to two tables and the action on the baize intensified, such talk faded somewhat into the background.
Far more important than anything else however was the news that referee Leo Scullion is currently battling lung cancer and as someone fortunate enough to have spent a reasonable amount of time in his company at snooker venues during the past few years, I can only wish him all of the very best with his treatment and look forward to seeing him soon. Get well soon Leo.
That news aside though, it was a tournament that I personally enjoyed a lot, upsets, comebacks, plenty of stories, a brilliant maximum break and of course a dramatic final. My thanks go to World Snooker for the amazing access as ever, as well as to the usual crew in the media room who are responsible for the articles that you all read online and listen to on the radio.
In particular this week a special mention for Steve Carroll of the York Press, a genuine snooker fan who loves the game and does more than anybody to promote the tournament locally. If more tournaments were supported as well as this tournament is by Steve then it would only be a good thing for the sport.
Bring on the Crucible…