FOR THE FIRST TIME in its 39 stagings, the UK Championship final will be between two non-British players.
Neil Robertson of Australia tackles China’s Liang Wenbo over 19 frames on Sunday with £150,000 to the winner of a tournament first staged in 1977.
If Robertson wins he will be just shy of £300,000 in prize money for the season already, with Stephen Hendry’s record of £740,550, set during the 1994/95 campaign, under threat.
However, the truly great players don’t think about the money. In top level sport, glory is all. Robertson will join an exclusive list if he can land a second UK title. For Liang, victory would be the crowning moment of his career.
Liang’s 6-4 victory over David Grace was hard fought. The match was low on quality but high on intrigue. It was an example of how pressure can come to bear and affect performance.
Robertson, though, was superb in whitewashing Mark Selby. He potted almost all of the pressure balls and was strong in every department. This was classy stuff from the Melbourne man.
Robertson would have been a great in any era. Why? Because he’s had to fight for everything he has. Coming from the other side of the world, nobody gave him anything. He had to work for it all. His career from outsider to world-beater is as admirable a story as snooker has ever known and he’s never lost the mind-set of a fighter.
He took Selby apart tonight, and nobody ever does that. His pressure potting was incredible. He did a job on the world no.1.
Meanwhile Liang slaved away for five hours to get past Grace in a very nervy afternoon semi-final in which the occasion quite obviously got to both players.
Liang is a combustible character who wears his heart on his sleeve so it was no great surprise that he exploded in emotion on the moment of victory.
It was especially amusing to watch players who have spent the last few weeks moaning that World Snooker are restricting their right to express themselves hammering one of their own for having the temerity to be happy at having reached the UK Championship final.
For the record, Liang meant no offence to Grace. He was just made up to win. Good. We need to see the emotions of the players if the sport is to be more meaningful to the public than merely who beat who.
Liang is a ‘character’, a commodity we are increasingly told we need in the sport. But in the era of social media, any infraction is dissected as if it’s the biggest deal in the world. It isn’t. It’s only snooker, and this maverick 28 year-old is a very good snooker player and incredibly watchable.
Even so, it would be a huge shock if Liang denied Robertson a second UK Championship title in York on Sunday. The 2013 champion is playing brilliantly in all areas of his game. He has brought the confidence gained from his Champion of Champions success to the Barbican and clearly believes he can keep on winning.
The smart money says he will on Sunday, but this has been an unpredictable UK Championship and it isn’t over yet.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.