Who Will Win The 2013 UK Snooker Championship?
Will Ronnie O'Sullivan claim another UK Championship? With this year's event set to begin this week, today on the blog Tim Poole takes a look at the contenders and chats with world number 24, Martin Gould.
As far as snooker goes, it does not get much bigger than the UK Championship.
The second-most prestigious event on the tour sees 128 players battle it out for a £100,000 grand prize in York next Tuesday, acting as a pre-cursor to the Masters in January, before the World Championship takes place in April. Those taking part, then, could be forgiven for displaying their nerves.
But, as World no.24 Martin Gould explains, you have to put the occasion to one side if you want to maximise your chances of success.
“You try not to think about how prestigious it is,” Gould says. “For me, it’s just a normal event until it gets to the final stages. That’s when it gets to a prestigious event. But you’ve got a lot of snooker until you get to that stage.”
The task is made harder now by a flat-128 format – which means that all 128 competitors are at the tournament from the very first round, unlike when top-16 players used to automatically progress to the last 32.
“Being a straight 128, it’s completely different. You’re lucky if you get the chance to practice on the day. In 20 minutes, you’re lucky to hit a few shots,” Gould adds.
The Usual Suspects
Could that favour some more than others? Apart from world no.2 and defending champion Mark Selby, one name certainly springs to mind for most snooker fans – and sports followers in general: that of Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Gould, however, thinks the UK is capable of throwing up one or two surprises, especially since the changes Barry Hearn imposed on snooker have came into effect.
“You’ve got the usual suspects, the [John] Higginses, O’Sullivans, [Stephen] Maguires, [Judd] Trumps; [Mark] Williams is hitting form at the right time.
“But there are so many good players on tour now. It’s not like how it used to be when you could look and say ‘one of these four are going win it.’ Now, 20 players could win it.
“We’ve got so many players coming through. Now, the qualifiers are all getting so used to it and, in most of the tournaments, you’re going straight to venues.”
Qualifiers aside, the names Gould mentions above certainly form a more than experienced group. Higgins, O’Sullivan, Williams, Trump and Maguire hold 10 UK titles between them alone, so the pressure will be nothing new to them.
The Higgins Theory
According to four-time world champion Higgins, though, there are three main favourites for this year’s UK Championship: O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson. The Scot recently told the press of his belief that the trio are the frontrunners for the event in York – and a look at the formbook tells you why.
World no.1 Robertson, for instance, made 45 century breaks throughout the whole of last season. It is only November this time around and the Australian has already surpassed that total, adding to his tally at the Champion of Champions tournament in Coventry this week.
Ding, meanwhile, is on a run of form that even the greatest players in the history of the game would envy. Higgins believes the Chinaman has matured greatly in recent months: there is perhaps no better evidence of that than the three ranking tournaments in a row he has won this year – the first player to do so since Stephen Hendry in 1990.
And when it comes to world champion O’Sullivan, little needs to be said. His talent is such that it causes pure frustration for his competitors. As Gould puts it: “Ronnie comes along and wins the World Championship and he’s a world number one.” Just like that.
But if you are looking for value, the UK Championship may just be the tournament for you.
“In the UK, you usually get a different winner, like for instance Trump a couple of years ago,” Gould says.
“Hopefully I’m going to win it! I feel like I’m playing good enough to win it. [Stuart] Bingham’s also a dark horse.”
And the list hardly ends there. As well as Gould ( priced at 151.00 with 888sport) and Bingham ( 34.00), a plethora of names realistically possess both the technical and mental ability to challenge. Ali Carter (41.00), Shaun Murphy (29.00), Ricky Walden (81.00), Barry Hawkins (41.00) and Marco Fu (29.00) all reside in the top 16 of this year’s money list. Graeme Dott (51.00), meanwhile, sits just outside in 18th.
One man who is hard to gage, however, is a certain Mark Allen (at odds of 17.00). At his best, the Northern Irishman is virtually unplayable. But, every so often, the 27-year-old lets his dark side surface.
At the Champion of Champions tournament, Allen lost 4-3 to Carter in his opening match but went on to accuse his opponent of “stooping low” to win the match. In the event, Carter had simply moved in his chair to try and catch a better glimpse of the table during Allen’s shot. His chair made a noise– yet the Northern Irishman went on to win the frame, anyway.
Allen’s fortunes in York, therefore, will depend greatly on which side of him decides to turn up.
UK Snooker Championship Winner Odds - As At 25th November
Will there be a 147?
Every major tournament, at least someone’s eyes are on a different prize: the jackpot for making a maximum break. This year’s UK offers a £55,000 bonus for successfully completing a 147 and Gould, for one, thinks that will be enough to spur the players on.
“I should imagine so [whether someone will get a 147]. I was quite surprised it never went in China [earlier this year]. I know Marco went close and I got pretty close a couple of times. At the UK, you’ve got to fancy someone.
“Depending on what mood he’s in, you can’t discount Ronnie! If the maximum’s still on, you go for it but of course it’s most important to win the frame.”
Maximum or no maximum, though, this year’s UK Championship looks to be as wide open as ever.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimothyPoole