It has arrived with little fanfare and a low-key start away from the television cameras. But the UK Championship of snooker got underway on Tuesday from York’s Barbican centre….and there has already been a high profile casualty.
Ding Junhui, the former world number one, has already departed the competition after losing 5-6 to Leo Fernandez, a player who has just returned from a match-fixing ban and playing with a herniated disc in his back.
So one of the fancied names has already been despatched, and you wonder with the unique open-draw format of this event how many more will follow the Chinaman out of the exit door.
The two bookmakers’ favourites, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby, could well play each other in the second round courtesy of that open draw….or they could end up meeting in a repeat of last year’s UK Championship final, which Selby won 10-7.
It’s an intriguing tournament prone to the occasional shock result, and so should make for excellent viewing for the next ten days or so (TV coverage starts from Saturday).
The Jester vs The Rocket
With the world snooker landscape as it is, there are currently two players a million miles ahead of the rest of the field.
Mark Selby has been the world number one since February 2015, and that is indicative of how he has dominated the sport ever since. Few can out-grind the Jester from Leicester, who saves his best form for the big TV events – highlighted by his haul of major trophies (3x World Championships, 3x Masters, 2x UK Championships).
Selby has the wood over O’Sullivan, to some extent, after beating him in the UK Championship final and the Worlds as well, but there is nothing quite like a Rocket scorned.
5 May – 3 years ago today Mark Selby won the world title for the 1st time. He came back from 10-5 down to beat R. O’Sullivan 18-14. #snooker pic.twitter.com/3zS5smw6F1
— Snooker Heroes (@snooker_heroes) May 5, 2017
Ronnie remains the most naturally skilled snooker player on the planet; the grace and precision in his play as he cleans up the table on a different level to any other sportsmen at the top of their game.
It is the space between O’Sullivan’s ears, rather than the action on the green baize, that tends to dictate how he performs, and while he appears to be in a better place mentally these days there are still the odd glimpses of weakness; see his early exit from last week’s Northern Ireland Open.
The short format, which is the best-of-eleven frames in the early rounds, also does not suit the 41-year-old, whose obvious class can be undone by a fast-starting opponent.
And so the smart betting money is with Selby, who represents great value at 4/1 to win the UK Championship. Remember, he is by far the greatest player on the player – and appears to have the Rocket’s number.
Consider the Formbook
In these individual sports, where positive psychology is key, there really is no substitute for winning matches.
That breeds confidence, and can often leave the individual feeling invincible – enabling them to get over the finish line even in touch-and-go situations.
As such, we’re backing a trio of other players with small each way stakes: Yan Bingtao (25/1), Luca Brecel (33/1) and Kyren Wilson (33/1).
Bingtao is an unbelievably talented 17-year-old, and he showed that there is plenty of class to go with his potential by reaching the final in Northern Ireland.
Luca Brecel, long touted as a future world champion, hasn’t quite hit those heights as yet but did reach the last four of the recent Champion of Champions event, where he beat Selby and Judd Trump along the way. The Belgian is a former UK Championship quarter finalist too.
And Kyren Wilson, the World Open finalist and former Shanghai Masters winner, who made a 147 break towards the end of October and compiled two century breaks in his first round win over Sean O’Sullivan.