UK Championship (2011) - a different kind of preview

15:17:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

It's that time of the year when we like to sit pretty in front of our telly and watch some good old snooker being played by the most brilliant players on the Main Tour. The UK Championship is kicking off this weekend and that cosy feeling that invades a snooker loopy heart when a prestigious event takes place is already in action.

A lot has been said about this 2011 edition of the UK Championship. The format has been shortened and by doing so the tradition has been broken. A pattern has been removed from the wall. A pattern that stood there for so many years and had seen so many generations of snooker players and snooker fans buzzing with excitement about such an event.

To be totally honest I'm not very fond of this "best of 11" format (including the quarter-finals) either, but we need to get realistic and understand that although snooker has a very traditional, classical and emotional side, it is, at the end of the day, a sport. And sport has to be sponsored and supported. Not everyone is interested in keeping things as they were if money don’t come knocking on their door. Like it or not, not everyone sees snooker as the fans do. The commercial side takes over most of the time and we can't do anything about it.

In my country we have a saying "The man saints the place" - which means that no matter what, is the man, the simple human being, the one that makes the difference. So, with "best of 11" or "best of 17", or "best of whatever", the ones that really make a difference at the end of the day, are the players. 

A tournament could never exist without the players. A tournament could never be good or bad without those crazy little men running round the snooker tables potting like machines. A tournament could never capture people's attention and imagination if there isn't for the players that keep the drama and tension alive. They are the heroes, not the tournament. Not the format. The beauty of snooker lies in what players archive and most of all, how they achieve their goal. 
The format, the sponsors or the location are just details. Not going to lie and say they don’t matter at all (because God knows they do), but bear in mind they are not everything.

Now, since we cleared out that problem, let's take a glance at the matches, shall we? Don’t worry, I won't make and predictions. My fellow bloggers did a great job, as always, so I'm just going to write some personal thoughts about certain battles of cues.

John Higgins - the defending champion
Surely that the opening match is going to bring back some memories (John Higgins v. Rory McLeod). These two met last during the second round of this year's World Championship, Higgins winning 13-7. It was a hard fought victory, after an exhausting match, but I guess that's how Rory likes to work his opponents. Don't get me wrong, I think Rory is a very good player and I kind of admire his style of messing up with other's game, but I can't watch a full match with him playing in it. Too slow for me, I'm afraid.

I'm sure Rory will try his best to get revenge, more since Higgins is the defending champion this year, but the Scot won’t be an easy target. This title means a lot to him, it was his first (if we don't count winning EPTC 5) after returning to the circuit (you remember the deal with the six-months ban) so he'll fight back and continue not to let Rory into his head. My guess? This is going to be a pretty important match.

Matthew Selt qualified for this event and if we take the time to remember the Australian Goldfields Open, then we will need to also take into account this lad. Back in July he kneeled down no more than two world champions: John Higgins (5-4) and Stephen Hendry (5-1). He managed to reach the quarter-finals where he got beat 5-3 by Shaun Murphy, but his run was truly a great one.
His first match is against Graeme Dott, the 2006 world champion. Should Dotty be afraid of the "world champions’ crasher"?

Is Hendry going to make the most of this chance?
History likes to repeat itself, or at least it likes to play tough. And Stephen Hendry v. Stephen Maguire match is a living proof of that. 
The Scots met last at the 2011 Welsh Open, in the Last 16 round. Back then Hendry hit a spectacular 147 that made the audience go mad with excitement, but sadly after that he didn't manage to fit the mould. He only won one more frame before getting beat 4-2 by a very determined Maguire, that also reach the final of the tournament.

We all know that Hendry slipped out of the TOP 16 and that he had to qualify for this event, so I'm guessing that he'll make the most of this opportunity, while Maguire will try his best to stop him from winning. It's a tough call, but is both lads will play good, I'm thinking about a very close match here.

No matter what you say, the sensation of this tournament, at least during the first round, is surely the match between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Steve Davis. 
The old king of the green baize, the one that holds no more than six world titles in his bag is due to meet the one that that ruled the years to come and still rocks around the snooker table when he feels like it. Not going to hold you a history lesson of how many times these two met and how each snooker dispute ended, but I'm going to tell you that I expect a blast from the past.

Steve Davis, leaving the commentry for some snooker
Sure, O'Sullivan is favourite to win, but after what Davis did to Higgins during the 2010 World Championship I wouldn't bet my life on the younger lad, just because he's still rocking. Strange things have happened in the snooker world and if Steve manages to defeat O'Sullivan ... well, is not going to be such a huge surprise because the "Nugget" can still play.

Another match that will be interesting to watch is Shaun Murphy v. Li Yan. Li got a place on the Main Tour after graduating from Q School Event Two and he had to go through the qualifiers to get to York. He won over Stuart Carrington, Jack Lisowski and Fergal O'Brien so he's a very determined 19-years-old little man.

On the other hand, Shaun, although won the Brazil Masters in September, he hasn't shinned too much during the PTC events. Still, it is a well known fact that players tend to approach big tournaments differently, so "The Magician" might just use his magic cue to win as many matches as possible.

Judd Trump, one of the biggest treasures that snooker has at the moment is to meet Dominic Dale during the first round and considering that Dale reached the final of the PTC 10 just a couple of days ago he's still in the zone and I believe, filled with snooker adrenaline.

Last year runner-up, Mark Williams targeting a revenge?
Still, he's facing one of the toughest opponents. Let's not get fooled by the fact that Bristol-boy lost his first PTC 10 match because he has no more than two PTC titles in his pocket this season, a China Open trophy and he's also the runner-up of the World Championship. Not to mention that he's one hell of a player.

One of the Last 32 match is the one between last year UK Championship runner-up Mark Williams and an outsider, Joe Jogia. Now, we all remember how Williams was just one step away from winning the UK crown last year and how Higgins pulled back one frame at a time to pot that amazing brown and then a blue and win the decider. I'm sure, Williams remember even better than me and I'm also sure he's going to want to take revenge for that defeat. 

Needless to say he's the favourite to win here, although Jogia is a pretty tough opponent and well known for causing several upsets, so I'm really looking forward to see this match. It is scheduled on Monday, so it's going to be a great way to start the week.

So, without any further ado here's tomorrow match schedule:

John Higgins v. Rory McLeod
Ding Junhui v. Mark Davis

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)

Let the UK Championship begin!