Like all other tournaments this season, the UK Championship is taking place at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes behind closed doors. If you do not want to read this post until the end, just know that two of the best (and most consistent) players in recent times will play the final tomorrow: world number one Judd Trump and world number three Neil Robertson. Two Chinese players had amazing runs and made it to the semi-finals: Zhou Yuelong and Lu Ning. This will be a tournament to forget for some of the top players, though, as there were plenty of early exits. Keep reading if you are curious to know how the big names in the sport performed...
All of the top 16 players secured their place in the second round: Judd Trump, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Kyren Wilson, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Stuart Bingham, Yan Bingtao, David Gilbert, Mark Williams, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Jack Lisowski. Shaun Murphy barely survived his encounter with Lee Walker, while the others had comfortable wins without the need of a decider frame. As for the highlights of the opening round: Kyren Wilson made his third maximum break and Stuart Bingham made his seventh maximum break the day after.
Things started to go sour in round 2. Seven (yes, seven) big names were unable to get through their second encounter. The reigning champion of champions, Mark Allen, lost to teenager Chang Bingyu in a decider. David Gilbert lost to Robert Milkins 6-4 and China's Yan Bingtao lost to fellow countryman Chen Zifan. Shaun Murphy suffered an emphatic defeat (6-1) at the hands of Elliot Slessor. Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh lost to Joe O'Connor. Another victim claimed by the second round was the defending champion Ding Junhui. Ding lost to David Grace in a decider. The other player to suffer an early exit was none other than the seven-time champion Ronnie O'Sullivan. He lost to Alexander Ursenbacher, who has a perfect record against O'Sullivan. I now begin to question if The Rocket has what it takes to win another ranking (or invitational) title in his career.
And more unexpected exits came in round 3. Maguire lost to rookie Pang Junxu in a decider, Bingham lost to Graeme Dott 6-2, and Mark Williams lost to Ricky Walden in another decider. If I'm counting correctly, only 6 of the top 16 remained in contention. Round 4 claimed another high-profile victim: John Higgins. The Scottish lost to Zhou Yuelong 6-2. That's it! The first 4 rounds of the UK Championship were gone. Only 5 of the top 16 players survived: Kyren Wilson, Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Niel Robertson and Jack Lisowski. The other three players who made it to the quarter-finals were Joe Perry and the Chinese Zhou Yuelong and Lu Ning. For Jack Lisowski, Zhou Yuelong, Lu Ning and Joe Perry, a place in the prestigious Masters was at stake. Notice that there'll be an audience in London for the invitational tournament, which is nice. Wish I could go.
The first match of the quarter-finals was between Jack Lisowski and Zhou Yuelong. The Chinese won 6-4. Mark Selby faced Niel Robertson. They had played each other twice: first in the English Open and then in the Champion of Champions. Niel had won both matches 6-5, but this time he managed to get his third win in much easier fashion. The scoreline was 6-2. Judd Trump played Kyren Wilson once again. I had given up watching Trump in this tournament because he had been winning so easily, regardless of who the opposition was. The intimidation factor might have been affecting his opponents. In terms of ability, Trump had the upper hand but his opponents had not even threatened him. And Trump had played quality opponents: Dominic Dale, Liang Wenbo and Ricky Walden. Kyren Wilson gave him some sort of a challenge but in the end Trump emerged victorious. The last match was between Joe Perry and Lu Ning. The Chinese prevailed.
The semi-finals had no surprises in store. Both Trump and Robertson won comfortably by 6 frames to 2. And then again, another final to be contested between the two best players of the season. A few words on Trump: he will break the record of "the player with more ranking titles" much sooner than I thought. If he keeps his rhythm, he might reach the tally of 40 ranking titles in the next 5 years. He's currently on 19 (check my previous post). As for Niel Robertson, in my opinion, he has played the best snooker of the tournament and thus is well capable of defeating his opponent. And obviously, that's his chance of avenging his defeat in the final of the English Open earlier this season. If the Aussie wins, he retakes the second spot in the rankings (which belongs to O'Sullivan). Let us see!
Featured image credit: wst.tv