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UK Championship Preview

The excitement is building as the UK Championship gets under way on Tuesday in York.

Neil Robertson after his 2013 triumph - photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Neil Robertson after his 2013 triumph – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

The season’s first traditional major tournament sees Australian Neil Robertson return as the defending champion and 127 other competitors striving to emulate his achievement last year.

For decades the UK Championship has been heralded as the second most prestigious ranking event behind the World Championship at the Crucible.

However, three years ago at the 2011 edition, the powers that be took the step to reduce what had always been a long format through each of the rounds.

The year Judd Trump walked away with the title the Englishman needed to win only six frames in every round up until the semi-finals.

This year, even the last four stage will be contested under the best-of-11 guise, ensuring that, like most of the other competitions on the calendar, the final with constitute the solitary elongated encounter.

Many traditionalists have expressed their dissatisfaction at this change and it’s hard to argue that the aura surrounding the tournament hasn’t diminished somewhat.

The question then must be asked; has the UK Championship lost some of its prestige?

Well, with £150,000 up for grabs for the champion, the lucrative nature will surely inspire all of the players to produce their A-game.

Similarly, nothing can change history and the winners’ list offers an impressive who’s who of the sport since its inaugural staging was won by Irishman Patsy Fagan in Blackpool.

The likes of Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Alex Higgins, Jimmy White and many more star performers have come away with the trophy.

Add Terry Griffiths, John Parrott, Peter Ebdon, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Trump and Robertson and it’s easy to understand why any professional would want to join that elite band.

That said, the shortened format does take away from the authenticity of what was once a unique event, but one that now looks a lot like the majority of other tournaments.

Even so, the alteration wont change the fact that all 128 players in the field will be doing their utmost to emerge victorious come Sunday fortnight.

Robertson’s defence begins with a clash against England’s Joe O’Connor – one of six amateurs invited to make up the numbers.

Another is Ireland’s John Sutton, whose reward is a mouth-watering meeting with China’s Ding.

A five-time ranking event victor last season, Ding has struggled to replicate that form during this campaign so will undoubtedly be determined to rediscover his winning prowess and make it a hat-trick of UK titles.

Champion of Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and the player he lost to in the final of the World Championship, Mark Selby, have been kept in opposite sides of the draw which could lead to a tempting final showdown should the pair produce the best form.

It will be interesting the see the latter’s displays early on as he makes his first appearance since becoming a dad a couple of weeks ago with wife Vikki – have the late nights hampered his preparation?

Dubliners Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien meet Mitchell Mann and Igor Figueiredo respectively while Kilkenny cueist David Morris faces Li Hang.

Despite the UK Championship’s increasing shortcomings, it remains one of the calendar’s biggest tournaments and one that captures the imagination of both players and fans alike.

York is tremendous city that loves its snooker and 2014 will mark the 10th year that it has played host city.

The first occasion was back in 2001 when O’Sullivan demolished Doherty 10-1 in the final; Will the same player be successful this time around?

It has been a staggering seven years since the 38 year’s last success in the UK Championship so, given his overall dominance of home based events in recent seasons, some might argue that a fifth crown is long overdue.

The full draw can be viewed by clicking here. 

Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.