FAVOURITES BATTLE FOR UK GLORY

FAVOURITES BATTLE FOR UK GLORY

Three days of frenetic action at the Barbican in York saw very few shocks as the whole of the top 16 barring Ali Carter advanced to the last 64 of the Coral UK Championship.

In doing so, they set up a fascinating final nine days as the television cameras move in and the battle for the £150,000 first prize gets underway in earnest.

Saturday afternoon’s TV matches see Ding Junhui take on Jimmy White and Mark Selby face Davey Morris.

Ding is yet to really get going this season. He lost in the qualifiers of two Chinese tournaments in the UK, has not played at all on the European Tour but did win an Asian Tour title a few months ago.

So he could either be rusty or fresher than his main rivals. Ding won this title in 2005 and 2009. He was put under no pressure by John Sutton so it was hard to assess his form based on that result but he had a good run at the Champion of Champions in Coventry and is perhaps poised to really start his campaign with a long run in this established tournament.

With points coming off from two years ago, Ding sits provisionally top of the world rankings, with a chance to become only the game’s 11th official world no.1, although he said he would rather be there at the end of the season than midway through.

As for White, there were encouraging signs for his army of supporters during his 6-2 win over Dave Harold. The 52 year-old made a century and was overall solid enough.

White won the UK Championship in 1992 and has been runner-up twice. Ding spoke admiringly of his style of play at his peak but Jimmy has not been beating the very best players in the world for some time. He used to play most of his matches on TV, nowadays it is something of a rarity, and this can only increase the nerves.

Romantics and nostalgics would of course like to see him progress further but he will likely have to produce his best performance for some time for this to happen.

 Mark Selby: new father

Mark Selby: new father

Selby has just become a father, a life-changing moment but, Mark being Mark, he has taken it in his stride.

He spent some time chatting to journalists after his press conference on Wednesday night and seemed as relaxed as ever – if anything more so now that the baby has arrived.

Morris can certainly cause him problems but his relative lack of TV experience could well be a factor although, as with Ding, it was hard to gauge Selby’s performance in the first round as his opponent, Oliver Brown, was a bag of nerves.

In the evening, Judd Trump, who had a walkover in the last 128, makes his bow against Aditya Mehta, now flying the flag for India on his own following the retirement from the pro ranks of Pankaj Advani.

Mehta is a fine talent and runner-up in last season’s Indian Open. But Trump has made a good start to the season, with a title, two more finals and a run to the semis in Germany last week.

On the other table, Barry Hawkins faces Nigel Bond, a player with bags of experience but not that much recent form to call on.

Hawkins was complaining of feeling a little flat and lacking great enthusiasm for snooker after his first round match. It’s tempting for Twitter blowhards to jump all over such comments but the fact is that anyone in employment has felt like that about their jobs at some point – it’s just that most are not interviewed by the media about it.

Another good run in a top event should see Hawkins rediscover some of his lustre for the green baize.

The Sports Hall arena has been variously described as a kitchen, a toilet and, yesterday, a church by Jack Lisowski. No doubt further sobriquets will follow as the week develops. The good news, though, is that if you’re playing in there, at least you’re still in the tournament.

 

Photographs by Monique Limbos.