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Monday, 10 December 2012

UK Championship final + Reflections on the week

The 2012 UK Champion is Mark Selby after he defeated Shaun Murphy 10-6 last night to add the UK title to his two Masters titles and  leave himself two thirds of the way to completing the holy trinity of major snooker titles.The last of these is of course the World Championship,but the fact he could win this title without ever playing at his best will give him confidence that if his game is up to speed come April he can claim that prize as well.

That is talk for another day though as we reflect today on what we saw yesterday as well as on the week as a whole.

In many ways it was fitting that these two players came to meet in the final.Having come through the ranks at roughly the same time they have known each other and been friends for many years,also in a time where many of their fellow professionals grumbled about the amount of tournaments & travelling the new era has brought, these two have fully embraced it adopting a "have cue will travel" attitude.Putting it simply they love the sport and fully appreciate the life it has given them.

It was also a fitting final as both men had a various stage during the week looked as if they were on the way out of the tournament only to pull the matches out of the fire.This one had the potential to be a classic but in truth it turned into a slog as maybe those earlier fights took there toll on both.

On to the match itself I suspect Murphy will look back at the afternoon session where he appeared to be in the ascendancy at 4-2 only for Selby to win the last two and make it 4-4 as the point he lost the match.

The evening session was a very nervy affair with both players missing unexpected pots but they still couldn't be separated at the mid session interval,the score now 6-6.It was at this stage though that Selby seemed to find that little bit extra to make his final push for the line.He opened a two frame lead to go 8-6 and had a healthy lead in the next when Murphy came to the table with three reds remaining.Murphy to his credit has adopted an attacking philosophy all week and a series of super pots put him within touching distance of closing to 8-7.However in a miss reminiscent of the famous Willie Thorne one all those years ago he failed to pot a straight forward blue to the middle and Selby cleared up to take the frame. The end was now not far away and he captured the next to seal a 10-6 win.

The post match interviews again showed what fine ambassadors for the game these two men are and we should be rightly proud in a world where it is anything but the norm we have a sport that on the whole is played by gentlemen.

For Murphy he seemed genuinely happy to be competing in another major final even if it did end in failure.He can take a lot of confidence from the way he played especially in the semi final and its hard to believe a man who strikes the ball as well as he does wont be in the winners circle soon again.

Selby on the other hand can reflect not just on this triumph but on 2012 as a whole with some satisfaction. In a year where at one stage his career could possibly have been threatened with a serious neck injury he has overcome that to not just win this title but to also reclaim the World no.1 ranking.He will no doubt take great confidence from this and will have learnt a lot from his previous time at the top of the ranking when it seemed  to weigh heavy on him.You get the feeling he will be more prepared for it now.

So the curtain came down on the 2012 UK Championship with A smiling Mark Selby accompanied by his wife Vicky holding the trophy aloft but what can we take from the last nine days of snooker action?

The fear of many over the last month when it became clear that World Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan would not be competing was that without him it would be a case of "Hamlet without the Prince"  and despite what some might protest he was missed. That is not to say that snooker can't continue without him,of course it can but I don't think anyone would argue that things are certainly more interesting with him around.

 That said he wasn't so lets look at what we had. The overall standard it has to be said was perhaps not as high as we would like.We keep been told that the standard keeps rising but I think we are in danger of mixing up a rise in standard with a leveling of of things. I don't see anyone at the moment capable of producing the quality that a Davis,Hendry,Higgins or O'Sullivan did in the past.

The beautiful thing about snooker though is that you don't need flawless play for it to be enjoyable,indeed it is often at its most dramatic when players are missing.That was the case last week when in the space of 4 days we were treated to some the most dramatic of games we will ever see.I still don't know how Higgins missed that pink and thats the point,it is things like that that keep us watching.

There were  of course other things of note this week.Judd Trump's attempt to defend his title fell at the first hurdle when he let a 5-2 lead slip against Mark Joyce.If Trump is to become a great in the sport he will have to become more ruthless in finishing these type of matches off..

Mark Davis finally got his reward for 21 years of toiling away on the circuit by reaching the semi final and thus securing a place in the top 16 for the first time in his career.He will now look forward to playing at The Masters for the first time come January.

Apart from Selby though no doubt the star of the week for many will be 17 year old Luca Brecel who lit up this tournament getting within a couple of missed pinks of eliminating Shaun Murphy in the quarter finals. For someone experiencing something completely new he seemed to revel in the atmosphere and it was great to see him really enjoy what he was doing.If he can replicate this form in the minefield that is the qualifiers it surely wont be long before he's knocking on the door of his first professional title.

So a week of wall to wall snooker draws to and end. As I said earlier although the standard at times wasn't what we'd expect the dramatic conclusions to so many matches served to show us one again why we love this game and we're not finish for the 2012 yet with action this weekend from the PTC in Scotland.I can't wait.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

UK Championship semi final 2

Shaun Murphy will do battle with Mark Selby  on Sunday over the best of 19 frames to decide who will be crowned 2012 UK Champion after the Leicester man  defeated Mark Davis 9-4 at the Barbican Centre in York tonight.

After all the drama of the last few days we wondered what today would bring but in truth from early on it was obvious that this one was only going to go one way.For Mark Davis ,playing in his first major semi final after 21 years on the circuit,, to have a chance he needed to settle early and that just didn't happen.Selby won the first two frames to go 2-0 and although Davis did win the next he still trailed 3-1 at the interval.

Selby was still not playing at his absolute peak but wasn't having to as Davis just couldn't find the form that had got him this far in the tournament as. 3-1 quickly became 5-1.To his credit Davis cheered on by the crowd managed to win the next to go 5-2 but Selby won the last of the session to take a commanding 6-2 lead into the evening.

Davis now needed a fast start to keep his slim hopes alive but missed an easy red when well in and Selby cleared up 7-2.The next two frames were shared to make it 8-3 and the end looked in sight. Davis did at least manage to avoid the indignity of defeat before the interval .which considering his play this week would have been undeserved.but there was to be no miracle comeback from 8-4 Selby won the next to seal the 9-4 victory

Davis will be disappointed he didn't do himself justice in this one as understandably the occasion possibly got to him.He can still reflect on a great week though that included a win over John Higgins and indeed a great season that has seen him now secure a place in the worlds top 16 for the first time.No one can say after 21 years as a pro that it is not deserved.

Selby on the other hand may well be wondering how he has gotten to the final after looking dead and buried on more then one occasion this week.. He hasn't been at his best by any means but has confirmed what a great match player his is with some gutsy displays.Although this win means he will regain the position of World no.1 he will be well aware that he needs to step up on what he has shown this week to live with Shaun Murphy in the final.

This one could be a classic and a bit of late Sunday nigh drama is what this tournament deserves after what has been an extraordinary week.

Friday, 7 December 2012

UK Championship Semi Final One

Coming into this years UK Championship there were those who feared the tournament would suffer as a result of the absence of Ronnie O'Sullivan and I think it's fair to say that in the opening few days the tournament did struggle to find it's feet.We has some decent snooker but things just hadn't caught fire.The tournament needed something and my God did it get it as since Tuesday we have been treated to as dramatic a few days of Snooker as I can ever remember.

Todays dose of daily soap opera was provided by two of  smoothest cue actions in the game as Shaun Murphy faced Ali Carter.A free flowing  game was always on the cards here and so it proved to be.

As the match started it was Ali who got the better start and raced into a 2-0 lead before Murphy came back to level at 2-2. Both players were producing high quality snooker but with the help of a bit of run and Murphy's inability to convert good breaks into frame winning ones it was Carter who lead 5-3 coming into the evening.

The night started with both players trading frames they should have lost to move the score to 6-4 before Carter made what seemed at the time a match clinching burst to lead 8-4 at the interval.Carter at this stage could nearly smell the final and it seemed there was no possible way Murphy could come back.

It was Bob Dylan who sung though that  "When you aint got nothing you got nothing to lose".Murphy came out after the interval determined to go down swinging and suddenly the balls started to fly in.8-4 quickly became 8-5,then 8-6.Carter was now becoming ,if not over negative certainly a little cautious as he tried to wait patiently for the one chance he wanted to claim the frame he needed for victory .That chance just wasn't coming though and Murphy made a century to make it 8-7 before also claiming the next to force the decider.

Carter must have been wondering what was happening so it was to his great credit that from Murphy's break off he potted a super long red to get his chance.Unfortunately for him he couldn't make it a winning one and broke down when attempting a tricky red with the rest ,Murphy got in and although he couldn't clinch it in one visit he did enough to win the frame and secure the most improbable of comebacks winning  9-8

One cannot but feel for Carter after this,to have got so close to the final only to see it so agonisingly snatched away will be hard to take for the Essex man You feel it will take a while for these wounds to heal.

For Murphy though this will be a very satisfying win and having been on the brink of exiting the tournament for a second match in a row he will possibly begin to feel his name may be on the trophy..

Tomorrow see's the second semi final as the Marks, Selby and Davis do battle.The way this week is going you wonder what more drama this tournament has left in store for us..

Thursday, 6 December 2012

UK Championship Quarter final round up.

It's a funny old game is this snooker,sometimes you get tournaments that start with a flourish in the early rounds only to fizzle out when they reach the latter stages and sometimes you get the reverse with tournaments starting slowly and building momentum as the rounds progress.I think as far as this years William UK Championship is concerned we are very much talking about the latter.

So to the action and yesterday the crowd in York were on the edge of there seats as Mark Davis scraped by John Higgins and the question was could any of todays ties match the tension.Cue then Shaun Murphy and Luca Brecel.The story of the championship so far in many ways has been the run of Luca Brecel. The question was what could the 17 year old do against Murphy.

If the young man was feeling the nerves coming out to play the biggest match of his life he certainly wasn't showing it as he took the first to lead 1-0.Murphy clinched the second to level and then  took at 2-1 lead with a classy 122 break.The tone for the match was to be set here though as Brecel won the fourth to leave it 2-2 at the interval.That would go on to become 3-3 and the 4-4 as the players traded frames and we were yet again set up for a grandstand finish

The match was now effectively a best of three and it was Brecel who took the advantage with his highest break of the match,a 64 to go 5-4. It looked as though we might be going to have an upset in the next as Brecel looked to be clearing up for victory but missed a crucial pink allowing Murphy to force the decider.5-5.

The eleventh frame was one of those frames that makes our sport what it is. Both player had chances in the last but it looked like Murphy was clearing up to win only to get a massive kick on the final red when only two pots from victory.Luca came to the table with the chance to clear for a famous win but with the adrenaline flowing he screwed back too far when potting the brown.That left him the wrong side of the blue and although he potted it he couldn't get back enough to make the pink a certainty.He wobbled it in the corner pocket ans a visibly relieved Murphy potted the pink in the  middle to reach the semi finals.

For Brecel there will be hugely disappointment the way the match finished but he can take a lot of positives from not only the way he played but the way he battled this week He has shown himself to have a fine big match  temperament and looked extremely comfortable in the big arena.The hope now having experienced the bright lights is that he can readjust to the cubicle situation of the qualifiers and make sure his appearances in the final stages of events become a regular occurrence.If he can there is a every chance we could be looking at the first World Champion from mainland Europe..

Murphy on the other hand must ready himself for a best of 17 frame semi final where his opponent will be Ali Carter.who beat Stuart Bingham 6-4 n the other table.Bingham has been riding the crest of a a wave of late and started the brighter here to take the opening frame.Carter though is becoming the man for the big occasion and played almost faultless snooker to lead 3-1 at the interval.That became 4-2 after the interval but it was Bingham who then dug in to win the next two to level the match at 4-4 and set up a tight finish.It was to be he Carter who showed the greater resolve though and won the next to make it 5-4 before sealing victory in a tense tenth frame.

The other semi final will see Mark Davis play Mark Selby after they both enjoyed victories in tonights quarter finals,

Mark Davis after 21 years on the circuit is enjoying the greatest form of his life and came into tonights match with Matthew Stevens on a high after his closely fought victory over John Higgins last evening.If there was a fear perhaps it was that he would be mentally drained after such an exhausting encounter looked as if that may be the case as Stevens started the better to lead 2-0.There is one thing however that this recent run of good form has thought Davis though and that it is not to panic.He would soon found his feet to take three in a row to lead 3-2.Stevens was now floundering and though he did show some resolve to level at 3-3 and 4-4 it was Davis who prevailed winning in the end 6-4.

The last of the quarter finals between Neil Robertson and Mark Selby had the potential to be a classic or a slog and this one turned out to be a slog though it was no less enthralling for that

.In a match where neither player got their cue arms flowing it was Robertson who made the better start winning the first four frames to lead 4-0 at the mid session interval.At this stage it seemed there could only be one winner but there is one vital thing all Snooker players need and that is the ability to win ugly when the situation calls for it. In the modern game there are few better at this art then Msrk Selby.Slowly he grinded his way back into it and although Robertson had his chances Selby leveled things up at 4-4..That became 5-4 when Selby won another marathon frame on the take the lead for the first time and he sealed the  6-4win with a fine 101 break in the last...

Tomorrow see's the arena become that little more intimidating when it goes down to one table and the matches revert to best of nines..First up will be Ali Carter and Shaun Murphy with Mark Davis and Mark Selby enjoying a day of rest before they do battle on Saturday.If they can live up to the drama of the last couple of days we are in for a fascinating weekend. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

UK Championship Rd 2 round up.

I was sitting at my computer this evening trying to figure out how I felt about this tournament so far now that we have two rounds completed and  the one thing that came to mind was an old Johnny Nash song which has a tagline in the chorus that goes "There are more questions than answers and the more I find out the less I know".I think that sums up this years UK Championship completely as although at start of play tomorrow we have only eight men remaining only a very brave man or fool would try predict who will lift the trophy come Sunday night.(needless to say I will try predict a winner at end of article)Before that lets have a look back at the round 2 action.

Ali Carter was the first man to book his Quarter final place with a 6-2 win over Mark Joyce.Joyce who of course beat Judd Trump in the first round couldn't recover from a bad start in this one and in truth Carter was never put under any pressure as he ran out  a convincing winner.

Carters opponent in the next round will be Stuart Bingham who beat one of Round 1's form men Stephen Maguire 6-4 in a high quality match.After years on the margins if the top ranks Bingham has really kicked on from winning his first ranking title in Australia last year as well as some PTC events and is currently playing like a man full of confidence..The way he wrapped up this one from 4-4 with a century and two 50 odds in the last shows us he is now someone who is not afraid to win..He will be fancying his chances of making it back to back titles after his recent Premier League win.

The other Quarter Final in the top half of the draw see's former World champion Shaun Murphy take on young Belgian sensation Luca Brecel.

Murphy reached this stage with a comfortable 6-2 win over Graeme Dott. who never really threatened to derail the 2008 winner quest for a second UK title.That said Murphy at times showed the fluent break building style that had many predicting great things from him when he burst on the snooker scene in his teens.

With that in mind who better then Murphy to know then how 17 year old Luca Brecel will be feeling listening to all the same plaudits been bestowed on him as his fairytale run in this tournament continues. Brecel who it must be remembered had to come through four rounds of qualifying just to get here shows call the signs of someone who is completely at ease on the big stage and is thoroughly enjoying himself .Today he showed his battling qualities to come back from 3-0 to beat Mark King 6-4.Whatever happens in his match with Murphy we have seen enough this week to confirm what we suspected at the Crucible earlier in the year,Luca Brecel is a name we will be hearing an awful lot of in years to come.

In the bottom half of the draw we had  battle between two men who will both feel they have under achieved in the game when Matthew Stevens took on Marco Fu.,indeed if ever a tournament summed up a players whole career it was this one for Marco Fu.In his first round match he was fabulous in beating Mark Allen but starting here he could hardly string more then a few pots together.That said to his credit he did battle back from 4-1 to 4-4.He actually looked well set to make it 5-4 but broke down when allowing Stevens the chance to counter attack,This he duly did to take the frame and then clinch the match in the seal his Quarter final place.

His opponent will be Mark Davis after a late night 6-5 thriller against John Higgins.In a match that took it's time to get going from a break building if not safety perspective Davis had a 3-1 lead at the interval.Higgins not playing anything like his best made it 3-2 before Davis cooly knocked in back to back centuries to move within one of victory at 5-2.If there is one thing we know about John Higgins though it is that he will fight until the end.In the next he delighted the York crowd by knocking in a superb 147 and followed up in the next with another big break to close to 5-4. In a tense tenth frame Davis feeling the pressure missed some good chances to win it but it was Higgins who forced the decider. At this stage you could only see one winner but to his credit Davis got in first in the last and established a 53-0 lead,Back came Higgins.and it seemed  for all the world like he was clearing to win only for him to miss the final pink.A few safety shot followed but it was Davis who cut it into the yellow pocket to secure the biggest win of his career.A thoroughly deserved win for a player enjoying the best year of his 21 year career.

We often talk in snooker about how one shot can change a players whole outlook in a game and that was certainly the case in the match between Mark Selby and Ryan Day.In an encounter where both player struggled to get going it was Day who opened up a 3-0 lead,Selby somehow ground his way back to 3-2 before the games pivotal  moment arrived.Day having missed numerous chances to seal the frame finally potted the blue to leave Selby requiring one snooker.He then rolled the pink over a pocket confident it was job done,Selby however had other idea's and played the shot of the tournament so far to get his snooker and then went on to pot a great pink and black to make it 3-3.This seemed to light a fire within him as from nowhere he found his form to knock in a 99 and a 105 to  make it 5-3. Day managed to win the next but Selby clinched a 6-4 victory to move into the next round.

Selby's reward for this win will be a mouth watering clash with Neil Robertson.The Australian has in many respects been the player of the tournament so far with two high quality displays in his first two match's moved through to the quarter finals with a 6-2 win over Barry Hawkins.He didn;t quite reach the heights of his victory over Tom Ford in round 1 here but will still will be many people idea of the winner. Selby however will be eyeing a quick return to the top of the rankings which is something he will achieve should he reach the final here,This is certainly a match not to be missed.

Thats day five over then and as I promised earlier,I gvie you my prediction for the title I think we have all seen this week why snooker is such an impossible sport to predict but going purely on form shown Neil Robertson is still the player they all have to beat.While I'm at it the player from the top half I expect to reach the final to be Shaun Murphy.I have been wrong before though!!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Uk Championship Rd 1 round up

Three days in to the 2012 UK Championship and with round one completed I think it's probably fair to say the Snooker at times hasn't been of the standard we would expect.That said it has been no less entertaining for this with some stand out performances and one major shock.

Lets get the shock out of the way first.Judd Trump came here as the man in form this season and having recently become World no.1 the defending champion was expected by many to claim another UK title. Mark Joyce having recovered from a career threatening assault though .had other idea's and battled back from 5-2 down to clinch a famous 6-5 victory.Trump will feel no doubt have had a sleepness night after this one.He was in complete control of the match at 3-0 and 5-2 but somehow let it slip.This is not the first time this has happened him in the last twelve month's and if he is to be the real "snooker great" his talent suggests he could be he will have to become much more ruthless in his finishing of match's.

The reward for Joyce is a second round match with Ali Carter who beat Steve Davis 6-2 in a match that in truth never really got going.

Stuart Bingham who is brimming with confidence following his recent victory in the Premier league negotiated a potentially tricky first round match against young York debutant Jack Lisowski.sealing a 6-2 win.He will play Stephen Maguire in the next round.Maguire produced one of the stand out performances over the weekend when he visibly upped the gears from 2-2 with Fergal O'Brien winning 6-2 with a run of three centuries and a 70.

Belgian wonderkid Luca Brecel  produced an astonishingly mature performance to reach round two with a dramatic late night 6-5 victory over Ricky Walden.Walden had lea 2-0 and 4-2 but with neither player really playing at their best it was Brecel who showed the greater composure in the end to seal the win.We do at times get these players who show promise at an early age only for things to fizzle out but I really don't see that happening with Luca,I believe we will be hearing a lot of this chap in coming seasons.His second opponent will be Mark King who again proved a thorn in the side of Mark Williams winning this one 6-3

Former UK champion Shaun Murphy showed flashes of what he is capable of with  a 6-3 win over an unwell Robert  Milkins and will face Graeme Dott  who beat Martin Gould 6-5.

In the bottom half of the draw John Higgins progressed with a 6-3 win over Michael Holt. With Trump now gone many will be looking at Higgins as favourite to win this title.He will have to play a lot better then he did in this one if he is to do that but we all know he is capable of doing that.The fact is if John Higgins is in a tournament he capable of winning it.His next opponent will be Mark Davis who continued his fine form of late with a 6-2 win over Cao Yupeng.

Marco Fu has always been one of the those player who has struggled for consistency but on his day is capable of playing the game to the highest standard and beating anyone. Sunday was one of his going days and he produced an outstanding display to beat last year finalist Mark Allen 6-3.This on seedings goes down as a shock but if Fu was to have a run here it would surprise no one.He will play Matthew Stevens in the next round who of course is another man who hasn't won the titles his talent deserved albeit he won this title in 2003 ,He reached the next round with a comfortable 6-1 over an visibly under the weather Dominic Dale.

Undoubtedly the performance of the tournament so far was that of Neil Robertson who knocked in four centuries in a 6-1 thrashing of Tom Ford. Robertson controlled the match from start to finish in form reminiscent of what he produced in the Crucible last year where he was only stopped by Ronnie playing at his peak.He was installed as favourite for the title after this result and few could argue on this evidence.Standing in his way in the next round will be Barry Hawkins who beat Liang Wenbo 6-4.

Rounding off the draw is Mark Selby who will be eyeing a potential return to the top of the rankings if he reaches the final here.He produced a solid display in beating Michael White 6-3 and will play Ryan Day who repeated his World Championship victory over two time UK champ Ding Junhui thus time coming through 6-4

So on the evidence of round 1 what can we say for the resat of the tournament? Well Neil Robertson is a worthy favourite on form but many others that are left you feel have only been feeling around the edges yet and there is plenty of snooker to be played yet.The next two days of Last 16 action should make the picture a little clearer.