UK Championship 2013: Day One Blog

Day one of the 2013 UK Championship and already there has been a notable result from the Barbican Centre in York, as in-form Gary Wilson recorded a 6-0 whitewash against the higher ranked Jamie Jones.

Click below for my thoughts from the day as a whole, including the venue and player reaction following their matches…

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16:42: Arriving at the venue around half a hour ahead of the 1:30pm start, I headed on into the media area to catch up with the great and the good of the snooker media, most of whom I have not seen since the conclusion of the World Championship back in May.

On the face of it, the venue looks to be much the same as last year, with the Cue Zone in its usual spot and even the same banner adorning the outside of the building, but of course it is in fact all change in terms of the playing area in 2013 to accommodate the new 128 flat draw system.

To do so, World Snooker have effectively set up two arenas in the same venue, firstly the main arena, which will be in the area seen here in previous years, now geared up to fit four match tables, in addition to the ‘sports hall’ to the rear of the venue, which is in use today.

Having said my hellos and set up my laptop, I decided to head on into the hall to take in the set-up and although only in there for a frame or so, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Certainly in contrast to the Doncaster ET event earlier this season, there were notable improvements such as the ‘black end’ of the table no longer facing the spectators, the temperature no longer being somewhat tropical and there are also now boards between the spectators and tables, to some degree helping to minimise the distraction caused to the players.

Photo by Monique Limbos

The only obvious problem that I can see is that to watch the table at the far end, it is impossible to get there without walking across the other tables, as there is only one entrance into the hall. Still though, my first impressions were good and I will hopefully catch more of the action later on today.

In terms of what I did see, I caught the fourth frame of the match between Gary Wilson and Jamie Jones, Gary stealing it on the black from 58 points behind, on his way to an eventual 6-0 victory. From what I heard from him post-match Jamie was very complimentary of his opponent, while Gary, as he said to me earlier in the season, described his season so far as 50-50 in terms of results, but was obviously enjoying playing and winning, at such a big event.

It has been an excellent start to the season for Gary, who now awaits the winner of either Vinnie Calabrese or Dominic Dale, currently poised at 5-3 to the Australian number two…

18:55: And though Dale was to hit back at Calabrese, breaks of 136 and 101 seeing him force a decider at 5-5, it was to be the Australian who would join Wilson in the last 64 with a break of 70.

While his win against Mark Selby back in Doncaster might have been a bigger win in terms of his opponent, to win a match of this magnitude over the best of 11 frames must rank right up there with it and give Calabrese an important boost of confidence heading into the second half of his maiden season. As he explained in the press room afterwards, he was on the next table to Gary Wilson during his match today and is well aware of how well he played to oust Jones from the tournament.

Vinnie also elaborated on how much countryman Neil Robertson has helped him throughout his career, for example allowing him to stay at his house this season rent free as he looks to find in his way in the professional game.

Also moving into the next round was Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham, who saw off Tom Ford 6-2 in a surprise win and clearly as the media spoke to Tom following his match, he was not overly impressed with the playing conditions, in particular I understand that there was some debate as to the marking of the black spot at the start of the match.

Elsewhere, there was also a brilliant win for Sean O’Sullivan, who took perhaps the best win of his professional career to date, winning six frames in a row to defeat Anthony Hamilton 6-4, having trailed at the mid-session interval. While it might not be enough to save his tour status for next season, he should take a lot of confidence from the victory and will next play Saengkham in the last 64.

21:20: Following an afternoon session spent largely in the media centre, I decided to head on into the sports hall  for the start of play for the evening session, with a decent view of the match between Xiao Guodong and Andrew Pagett.

As during the afternoon, the crowd levels were good, with few spare seats to be had for the four tables. Though there was some noise in the hall and the view from the back rows was not the best due to a lack of elevation for the back couple of rows of seating, the experience reinforced my view that as a spectator at least, the set-up is one that works.

As for the action on the table, Shanghai Masters final Xiao Guodong proved to be the stand out player of the eight in action, racing into a 3-0 lead with a series of one or two visit frames, before adding three of the next four to become the first man through from the session.

Post match, Andrew was first into the media room and from what I could hear of his conversations with other members of the press, I rather got the feeling that he has underestimated Xiao, or in the very least was not aware of how good a player the Chinese number two is. Comparing his cue action to that of Ronnie O’Sullivan after the match however, Pagett was under no illusions as to what a talent Xiao is and explained that he has been one of a few players this season to have fallen foul of changing their cue during the course of the season.

Andrew was followed into the media room by Xiao, who showed off his silver shoes and also his surprisingly good English, certainly improved from when I interviewed him back in Gloucester at the 2011 UK Championship qualifiers. Talking about how he is trying to show everybody what he can do and how he is improving his English by talking to more English people, rather than just his fellow Chinese players, he came across well and could be a dark horse to go far in this tournament over the next couple of weeks.

Elsewhere, the other three matches were far slower going, despite proving to be relatively one sided. As Mark King, Fergal O’Brien and Jamie O’Neill progressed to their respective victories, in the media centre we took the opportunity to watch the ITV4 documentary on Jimmy White, another well put together film by the channel, following their look at Ronnie O’Sullivan’s career last year. Well worth a watch for anyone who has not seen it yet, for the clip of Alex Higgins singing ‘if I had known you were coming I’d have baked a cake’.

Back to the action however, I caught a word with Ross Muir following his defeat to Mark King, who certainly for his age handled the media treatment very well and clearly enjoyed playing at an event like this. It has been interesting to hear the different perspectives of the players of the setting depending on their ranking, at least two higher ranked losers relating it to a ‘pro-am’, while younger players such as Muir clearly enjoyed the experience.

For me, for the first of potentially seven matches on the way to taking the title, I do not see any real problems with the set-up and though part of me thinks that there should still be a partition between tables, they conditions are the same for everybody and frankly a part of the direction that snooker is now heading in.

Day one down, 12 to go…