UK Championship Last 16 Preview

From 128 there are now just 16.

Mark Selby Celebrates
Selby is a Triple Crown member having also won the Worlds and Masters – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

The UK Championship has reached the fourth round and we are approaching the business end of proceedings as the Barbican Centre transforms into a two-table arena in York.

There has already been plenty of drama in 2015’s edition of the second biggest ranking event, none more so than on Tuesday when there were a couple of considerable comebacks as well as Thepchaiya Un-Nooh’s agonising missed attempt at a 147.

Several of the star names have exited the tournament, particularly in the top half of the draw which now appears quite open, but there are still a handful of proven winners contending the latter stages.

World no.1 Mark Selby heads the list of favourites despite being very fortunate to overcome Jamie Jones in a decider in the last round.

Selby should have lost but those battling qualities to never relinquish hope despite not praciticing his A-game is what his successful career has essentially been built upon.

Selby takes on Dechawat Poomjaeng this afternoon after the enigmatic Thai pulled off a miracle win of his own on Tuesday by reversing a 5-0 deficit to Mark Joyce – eventually prevailing in a 6-5 thriller.

Poomjaeng is a charismatic competitor who has won a lot of fans for his odd behaviour mixed with some quality snooker in the last couple of years, but it will take something special for him to beat the 2012 champion.

The other afternoon clash today sees Peter Ebdon, potentially a dark horse for the title this week, challenged by the lowly ranked David Grace.

Grace has been lucky in the sense that he has avoided all the heavy hitters until this point but it has still been necessary for him to perform very consistently to reach this stage.

Ebdon will represent a step up in class for the 30 year-old, especially if the 2006 champion can replicate the kind of form he demonstrated in his 6-3 third round defeat of world champion Stuart Bingham.

Peter Ebdon Lisbon
Could Ebdon win a second UK title? – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Ebdon is fighting fit and a healthy force, to compliment one of his nicknames, and will surely begin to feel like he has a chance of going all the way given that all the top 16 players from the top half of the draw are out aside from Shaun Murphy and Marco Fu.

That pair meet this evening in a rematch of their 2008 final, which the former memorably won in a decider in part thanks to a late fluke in the final frame.

Murphy edges their head-to-head record but interestingly Fu beat the 2005 world champion at the same stage in York this time last year.

Whether that will have any baring on this encounter remains to be seen but Murphy ought to begin as the favourite at least.

Completing the schedule later today is the contest between Matthew Selt and Luca Brecel.

Belgium’s Brecel has long been touted as a star of the future but, now 20, that future is slowly but surely turning into the present, and so the expectation intensifies.

He hasn’t had a particularly good couple of seasons on the circuit and has perhaps fallen foul of an unprofessional attitude given his young stardom.

Yet, to be fair he’s just exited his teenage years and one cant have too many qualms about a kid wanting to have a little fun.

It seems he’s back on the straight and narrow for now and it showed in his 6-2 drubbing of Robin Hull in the last 32, where he knocked in a lot of big breaks.

Selt, one of the most improved players of recent times, will surely prove to be a tougher challenge but Brecel possesses a much better scoring prowess and if this is evident then he could be in line for a second quarter-final appearance in the event.

Tomorrow, the remainder of the fourth round matches take place.

Pick of the bunch is undoubtedly the clash between former champions Neil Robertson and Stephen Maguire.

Stephen Maguire world champ 2014
Maguire romped to UK victory in 2004 – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

After a rough period, Maguire looks like he has some of his mojo back and his display, and indeed temperament, against Mark Davis was vastly improved.

That said, all it takes is one bad miss or a string of ill-fortuneĀ for the Scot to experience a complete and irreversible meltdown.

Australia’s Robertson is fresh off his Champion of Champions triumph in Coventry and boasts a far superior mental approach to the game – so the safe money’s on him.

Also on Thursday afternoon is Tom Ford’s encounter with Liang Wenbo.

Liang will be wondering how he managed to overturn the 4-1 deficit to Judd Trump in the last round but most of that was thanks to his errant opponent.

Ford impressed in his 6-1 thrashing of Kyren Wilson and this constitutes a fantastic opportunity for both men to embark on a run to a major quarter-final.

Tomorrow evening John Higgins will be hoping to continue his good form when he faces countryman Jamie Burnett.

Journeyman Burnett has done well to get this far but realistically it’s Higgins who will move forward in his quest for a third ranking event success of the season.

Finally, an all-Northern Ireland clash between Joe Swail and Mark Allen was denied after Martin Gould ousted the latter in a high-quality bout yesterday.

Gould, the Australian Open runner-up, will be quietly confidence of manoeuvring his way through the rounds from here on out but he can be suspect in high-pressure situations.

Veteran Swail thrived on such scenarios in his heyday and will be hoping to keep it tight to give himself a chance late into the match.

An interesting line-up then. Who do you think will reach the last eight?

Click here for the full draw.

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