UK Championship (2011) Day 1 - Higgins and Ding first into Last 16

17:38:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

Higgins defending his UK crown
First two matches of the brilliant UK Championship didn't bring too many surprises as the favourite players were the ones to win. Still, the scorelines revealed a close battle of cues and in the end, luck had very much to do with the ones who got a free pass to the Last 16 round.

The John Higgins v. Rory McLeod match started as we all expected it will, with the defending champion hitting a nice and steady 80 break and taking the opener. But McLeod fought back and won the very next one on the black (many frames would be won on the black as time would show it).

But not only did McLeod won the second frame, he also took the lead 2-1 with runs of 45 and 30. However, the mid-session interval was going to find the lads all square up at 2-2 after a re-spotted black helped Higgins pulled one back.

Rory McLeod's UK Championship dream ends here
After the mini-break, Rory entered the arena full of confidence. He started potting really nice and he kept the fluency of the game, while his opponent was cursed to seat in his chair. Breaks of 54 and 78 were bringing McLeod a great advantage of two frames over Higgins (4-2) and with only two more frame to be needed, he seemed pretty favourite for the victory.

But never say never, at least in snooker, that is. The Scot put quite a terrifying comeback with a bit of help from a series of 65, 38 and 59 to restore the balance in the match at 4-4. And he didn't stop there. No sir! He hit in runs of 40 and 57 to put his nose in front for the very first time since he took the opener. Now Rory was in trouble.

But his troubles weren't going to last too long as he managed to force a decider and also bring some panic into the arena when he got first among the balls and threatened the crown of the current champion. He was unfortunate to miss the black of its spot though as he was reaching a 31 break and so Higgins got a chance to make a difference.

A break of 52 represented John's participation in this frame as he missed to pot a tricky red. Minutes later he successfully sent the red, or should I say fluked it, followed by a clean pink to secure the frame and match and leave his opponent in need of a snooker. A couple of safety shots were played until Higgins did it again and fluked the yellow to win frame and match and remain in the race for defending his UK Championship crown.

A very unlucky Mark Davis
At a near table another tense match was being played: Ding Junhui was facing Mark Davis. A very determined Mark Davis if I may add, since the Pink Army member had no trouble whatsoever in grabbing the first two frames in no time.

However, the mid-session interval found Ding in control of the match, as the little Chinese player managed to pull back two frames and hit a great 103 in the process.

After tea and scones the lads were back and the "sharing-frames" pattern continued to be applied. This time though, the one who took the lead first was the current Masters champion, Davis being the one who dominated the match from 4-3 on to 5-4.
It was easy to see that Davis was feeling very confident, although the tension was surely affecting him too. But to be an outsider and get so close to the victory can really make wonders with your self-esteem.

Ding Junhui wins his first match with a tremendous fluke
Ding on the other hand never gives up, not even when it is clear he is going to lose. So in this case, he just kept it cool and when during the 10th frame the scoreline ended up on 60-60 with only the black left to be potted, he just took his time and sent the crazy dark ball into a hungry pocket. A decider was coming our way.

The first in was Ding but an out-of-this-world-missed-black-of-its-spot stopped his break at 61. Davis came to the table for a 49 and with 18 points left in the game, the battle was on. The blue was going to be potted by Davis as the scoreline was now 61-54 in favour of Ding and only the pink and black were still on.

No surprise to see a safety battle starting, no surprise to see snookers after snookers ... but it was a surprise to see Ding fluke the pink into the right pocket and win the match when no one was expecting that to happen. What a victory for the little Chinese player and what an unfortunate way to lose for poor Mark Davis, who had such a great run.

Well, that sums it all: snooker is not just about technique and geniality, but also about having a bit of luck. It really makes a difference at the end of the day.

The day continues with four more matches, as it follows:

Not before 2pm
Neil Robertson v. Tom Ford
Graeme Dott v. Matthew Selt

Stephen Maguire v. Stephen Hendry
Matthew Stevens v. Marcus Campbell
*all hours are UK time

TV coverage:
11:00 - 17:00 British EuroSport 2
13:00 - 14:00 BBC One
16:30 - 17:30 BBC Two
19:00 - 22:00 British EuroSport 2
23:40 - 00:30 BBC Two (the highlights)