UK Championship: Second Round Preview

Live coverage of the UK Championship gets under way on the BBC and Eurosport on Saturday with the second round in York.

UK Trophy
Who will be getting their hands on this majestic trophy? Photo credit: Monique Limbos

An initial field of 128 competitors has already been whittled down to 64 with defending champion Neil Robertson on his way home after a shock 6-3 loss to amateur Peter Lines.

However, the remaining top 16 seeds, bar Kyren Wilson, all managed early victories at the Barbican to ensure that the line-up continues to be very strong.

Lines’ reward for knocking out the former world champion is a meeting with Chris Wakelin, who of course made headlines during the English Open when he dispatched of Ronnie O’Sullivan in a decider.

While it’s unlikely that either Lines or Wakelin will trouble the business end of the tournament next week, there is an opportunity to earn a nice pay packet in one of the most lucrative ranking events on the calendar.

Several other contenders in the draw will be hoping to go much further than the third or fourth round, though, with £170,000 at stake for the eventual champion on Sunday week.

Five-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan began the event as favourite and certainly lived up to that billing with a sublime 6-0 first round rout that consisted of three tons and a further three breaks above 60.

The 40 year-old’s next likely victim is Scotland’s Rhys Clark, who in contrast needed all 11 frames in overcoming Li Hang.

O’Sullivan made headlines for his peculiar comments on social media surrounding his opening triumph, but the former world no.1 has previous form in attempting to detract from his performances on the baize.

In addition, the fact that the ‘Rocket’ has recently published his first novel, Framed, could also attribute to his apparently unpredictable push for publicity.

Robertson was set to be O’Sullivan’s quarter-final opponent so his exit seemingly gives the Englishman an easier route to at least the last four in York.

That said, there’s several other eager pretenders attempting to land the second most prestigious ranking event crown.

In the same half of the draw to O’Sullivan lie Ding Junhui and Judd Trump, who have both been winners on the tour this campaign.

Trump managed a straightforward victory over James Wattana at the first hurdle to set up a clash with Peter Lines’ son, Oliver.

Oliver has been widely tipped as a potential star of the future and is capable of causing an upset in this clash, but Trump’s overall form this term would suggest that he’s in the mood to become a more frequent winner.

Ding was one of the luckiest men to advance from the last 128, recovering from 1-61 behind in his decider with Brazilian Igor Figueiredo to narrowly progress with a 74 clearance at the death.

The 29 year-old, UK champion in 2005 and 2009, will be seeking a much better display when he takes on young Scot Ross Muir on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the draw comprises the likes of Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham and John Higgins.

World no.1 Selby meets much-improved Welshman Daniel Wells while Bingham faces Yu Delu – who beat Ding in the Northern Ireland Open last week.

Neither Selby or Bingham entered Belfast, instead taking the opportunity to rest following a hectic schedule that saw each feature prominently near the end of almost every event.

Higgins has enjoyed a bumper November, collecting a couple of invitational trophies and more than £300,000 in prize money, not to forget compiling an eighth 147 break in the process.

Whether the 41 year-old will be able to maintain this run of form remains to be seen but he will be expected to at least overcome Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham to reach the last 32.

Of the Irish, only stalwart Fergal O’Brien remains from south of the border, the Dubliner up against last week’s runner-up Barry Hawkins.

The pair has met once before in the UK Championship, in 2010 when the former prevailed with a 9-3 scoreline under the old format.

Antrim’s Mark Allen, a finalist five years ago, is also still in the running after producing an impressive hat-trick of tons in pulling away from 3-3 against Chen Zhe in his first bout.

Allen will need to exert patience if he is to guarantee a safe passage into the next stage when he faces Rod Lawler – notorious for being one of the slowest players on the tour.

Elsewhere, there are several other tasty ties to look out for.

For instance, the trio of talented teenagers from China all feature in intriguing contests.

16 year-old Yan Bingtao meets countryman Liang Wenbo, who went all the way to the final in a superb run twelve months ago.

Yan is in his rookie season as a professional but has already made four appearances in the last 16 of ranking tournaments.

His 2015 World Cup winning partner, Zhou Yuelong, has broken into the top 50 in the world rankings so will prove a tough opponent for Michael Holt.

Stephen Maguire meets the other Chinese hotshot, 19 year-old Zhao Xintong, who twice was a beaten finalist in the IBSF World Amateur Championship – which incidentally is currently in progress in Qatar.

Other than that, there is an all-Welsh affair between Michael White and 2003 champion Matthew Stevens while another former winner in Shaun Murphy is challenged by the always dangerous Robin Hull.

Click here to view the full draw. 

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