All four Betway UK Championship quarter-finals take place on Friday at York’s Barbican Centre and as the tournament enters the business end of the event there looks to be something for everyone in the arena.
The afternoon matches see world No1 and reigning world champion Mark Selby take on the in-form John Higgins – and another former UK winner in Shaun Murphy face young Belgian prospect Luca Brecel.
Higgins does not have to worry about the Christmas shopping this year having won about £360,000 in the last month alone, after big wins at the China Championship and the Champion of Champions.
He is looking for a fourth UK title and a 29th ranking title in all, one that would put him clear in second place behind only Stephen Hendry and one ahead of Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan. Higgins, as Hendry has said in commentary this week, is one of the players not scared of winning titles in quick succession and has stated he plans to ride the wave as long as it lasts.
Selby will of course provide a major road block to those ambitions. No1 now for an incredible 94 weeks under a fluid and rolling system, it is hard to see how he can be knocked off the top before February’s two-year mark, and if he wins a second UK title it looks almost guaranteed until the World Championship at then Crucible. Whoever wins this one will know they have a great chance of another title.
Meanwhile alongside them the 2008 UK winner Murphy will take on Brecel, whose best run to date came in this year’s German Masters at the Tempodrom in Berlin when he reached the final, only to lose to Martin Gould.
Two meetings between the pair spring instantly to mind. There was a quarter-final here in 2012, when Brecel, just 17, really should have won before going down 6-5. He claims he is a better player and more rounded person now – and a recent 4-0 win over Murphy in Northern Ireland, when the senior player was blown away and managed just eight points in total, was a serious warning.
There is bound to be a cracking atmosphere in the evening for the O’Sullivan v Mark Williams match, along with Higgins the other two of the famous class of 1992 in their 25th seasons as professionals still often showing the youngsters how it is done.
Williams has won the UK twice, but the last of those came 14 years ago, and he has not won a ranking title to add to the 18 in the bag of any type for almost six years. At one stage Williams had not beaten O’Sullivan, so often his nemesis, in a ranking tournament for 12 years although that sequence was ended at the International Championship in 2014.
They had a great match at the Masters this year, won 6-5 by O’Sullivan, who is yet to win a title this season after losing finals in Romania and Coventry. O’Sullivan has made some headlines this week and not just for dropping only three frames to this point in four matches, but you would have to make him a strong favourite and Williams will have to play much better than against Liam Highfield to have a realistic chance of victory.
Marco Fu, who plays Wales’s Jamie Jones, remains in the top 16, more by dint of a Crucible semi-final this year than anything he has done this season. The Hong Kong player remains something of an enigma, his undoubted class and pedigree compromised by a huge gap between his best and his worst.
But this is a good draw for both of them, with Jones, who emphatically knocked out Ding Junhui here, not fully kicking on from his great run to the quarters of the worlds a few years back. The 28-year-old is a fan of hot yoga, techniques championed by the likes of Andy Murray and Ryan Giggs. It is a stretch to think either of these will lift the trophy, but a semi-final place is very much within their range.