UK Championship Preview

The Northern Ireland Open isn’t even 24 hours old but thoughts already turn to the next ranking event, the Betway UK Championship, which starts on Tuesday in York.

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

Once again, 128 players descend on the Barbican Centre to contest one of the most prestigious tournaments on the calendar each season.

While we are used to seeing best of seven frame encounters in the earlier rounds of competitions these days, the UK Championship increases to best of 11 all the way until the final, which will be played across 19 frames.

Of course, this format is distinctly shorter than the tournament’s former guise which saw each match played over two sessions in best of 17s, but those days are well and truly gone and there’s not much point incessantly yearning for what is never going to return.

Despite it all, the UK Championship remains one of the most coveted titles to capture, and a trophy that would proudly bolster any player’s trophy cabinet.

Someone who has taken kindly to the updated vision of the event is Neil Robertson, the Australian having tasted success in two out of the last three editions.

This included last year’s triumph when the 34 year-old beat Liang Wenbo 10-5 with the aid of a 147 break – the first ever to be compiled during a Triple Crown event final.

Robertson takes on Peter Lines in the opening round and could face the likes of former champions Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan if he is to reach even the semi-finals again in 2016.

O’Sullivan, as always, is the pre-tournament favourite but he has failed recently to consistently replicate the kind of form which has seen him claim five UK titles in the past – the last of which in 2014.

The ‘Rocket’ has performed well in spells, even coming within a frame of emerging victorious in the European Masters last month, but he hasn’t quite possessed the aura of invincibility that often surrounds his mere presence at venues.

The 40 year-old does tend to raise his game for the more important events, though, while best of 11s should suit him – especially against lower ranked and inexperienced challengers.

Whether he can string together a run that lasts the best part of two weeks remains to be seen, but his tetchy mood in punditry in the days after losing to Kyren Wilson in Belfast would suggest that he is well and truly sick of losing – which perhaps could be ominous for future opposition.

Elsewhere, the usual band of cueists who predominantly perform strongly in major championships will be the ones to look out for.

This isn’t solely due to their pedigree on the big stage but also because they’ll literally get to play on it, rather than out the back of the venue where most of the others will be forced to ply their trade anonymously for many of the opening hurdles.

World no.1 Mark Selby meets the ever-dangerous amateur Andy Hicks, who has popped up now and then over the last couple of campaigns with decent displays.

Judd Trump is up against another old warhorse in James Wattana while Scotland’s John Higgins, winner of two invitationals this month before also making a 147 at the Titanic Centre a week ago, will play Alex Borg in the first round.

Mark King, meanwhile, will have to recover from what is likely an ongoing two-day celebration following his surprising and emotional maiden ranking event triumph yesterday, when he takes on Sam Craigie on Wednesday.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can carry forward the form that saw him produce a stunning comeback against Barry Hawkins in the final of the second Home Nations series events, but it wouldn’t in any way be shocking to see him bow out in quick fashion.

Of the Irish, Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien and Josh Boileau are all set to do battle with players from the Asian continent.

Boileau has the toughest tie of the trio as he seeks to build on his improved form of late against the 2008 runner-up Marco Fu.

Doherty, who needs more wins to help secure his place among the world’s top 64, is up against Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham while fellow Dubliner O’Brien meets Zhang Yong of China.

Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen also has Chinese opposition in Chen Zhe while Joe Swail faces young Ross Muir.

Live television coverage of this year’s UK Championship begins on BBC and Eurosport on Saturday but, before that, several online bookmaker websites as well as the Eurosport Player will providing coverage of selected streamed encounters from the last 128.

Click here to view the draw

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