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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

UK Championship preview

For all the competitive action we are spoiled with these days there are certain events still that will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of snooker fans and the UK Championship which began on York today is one of them.

The big change this year of course is that the flat 128 draw which means everyone entering the tournament at the first round stage.This is a system that is already in use in all PTC events and now in most ranking events,but it remains to be seen how it will work here in a tournament that is only second to the World Championship in terms of prestige.I do understand the logic of everyone starting on an equal footing,but I have to say,I personally am yet to be convinced it is the right thing for this tournament.

Anyway it is the way it is this year and for all the fact we will start today with 128 players in the draw it will be something of a minor shock if the winner doesn't come from the four men at the top of the betting market.

These are of course Ronnie O'Sullivan,Ding Junhui,Neil Robertson & Mark Selby

Lets start with Ronnie then.Last May,after a year out,he swept aside everyone to claim his fifth world title and just last weekend he won the Champion of Champions event playing at probably 75% of his powers.Ok this might be a slight over simplification of things but the fact is, if the Ronnie of the last two Crucibles turns up,he will be very much the man they all have to beat.

If for whatever reason Ronnie isn't at his best the player who may well take advantage is  Ding Junhui,who has been enjoying the season of his life so far,having collected the tours last three ranking titles.Ding also has two UK Championship titles to his name but he is arguably playing a higher standard now then when he won those titles.Certainly I feel he is better equipped  to deal mentally with the pressures involved  in digging out results if needs be and he will be a handful here for whoever he plays.

There was a story told by Neil Robertson last year where in a late night discussion with Stephen Hendry the legendary Scot had described Robertsons break building was amateurish.Well this certainly seems to have been the wake up call the Aussie needed as his break building this season has been phenomenal.He has already amassed a staggering 50 century breaks this season and is well on course to smash the current record of 61.This together with what was already a sound all round tactical game has seen him stretch his lead at the top of the world rankings.There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge first but a potential semi final clash with Ronnie is a mouth watering prospect.

No preview of the favourites for this event would be complete without mentioning our defending champion Mark Selby.This time last year Selby was just entering a period brief domination that would see him lift this crown and follow it up with  PTC success and then the Masters title in January,since then though he has  slightly gone off the boil and seemed to be really struggling in the early part of this season. A solid run in the International Championship last month gave a indication that he was beginning to find his form again and victory over Ronnie in the final of the Ruhr Open confirmed it. Also in his favour here are the slightly longer matches.He is one of those player who the longer he stays in an event the harder he is to beat.

As I have said,these are the men in form but it would be dangerous to dismiss out of the hand the chances of former winners John Higgins,Shaun Murphy,Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire as well as recent double PTC winner Mark Allen.

All in all we are in for an interesting 13 days of action with coverage commencing on the BBC & Eurosport on Saturday

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