China Open semi-final

Preview: UK Championship

The first BBC major of the season begins on Tuesday with the return of the UK Championship to York.

Mark Selby IC (WS)
Selby beat O’Sullivan 10-7 in last year’s final. Photo credit: World Snooker

Mark Selby is the defending champion and the world number one will be seeking to make it a hat-trick of UK crowns on what is the 40th anniversary of the inaugural staging of the Triple Crown event.

The “Jester” faces Egyptian Basem Eltahhan in the opening round and it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of performance the 34 year-old puts in.

Selby, who successfully defended his International Championship crown at the start of November, looked a touch jaded in some of the recent events and duly took the opportunity for a break by skipping the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.

The UK Championship, with a slightly increased format compared to the majority of other tournaments on the calendar, albeit somewhat controversially shorter than its former best-of-17 guise, is contested over almost a fortnight.

All the heavy hitters are in action as expected, except for former world champion Stuart Bingham who is in the middle of serving a three-month ban for betting.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, runner-up to Selby twelve months ago, will obviously be regarded as one of the hot favourites at the Barbican Centre in the snooker betting odds alongside the “Jester” and commences his bid for a record-equaling sixth title against teenage amateur Jackson Page.

The Welsh 16 year-old is a late replacement for Rhys Clark, who withdrew last week citing medical isssues.

Page, the European under-18 champion, created headlines earlier in 2017 when he reached the last 32 of his home event at the Welsh Open.

Meanwhile, the UK Championship offers the last opportunity for players around the top 16 mark in the world rankings to fight it out for the remaining Masters invitations.

Neil Robertson, who meets Rod Lawler in the last 128, is currently the most high-profile contender who stands to miss out on the lucrative January invitational.

The Australian has the £150,000 he earned from his 2015 UK Championship victory coming off his tally from the two-year rolling ranking system and he’ll need a strong run if he’s to usurp one of the players ahead of him on the list.

Ryan Day is the cueist desperately holding onto the 16th and final spot, boasting a mere £4,000-odd advantage over the 2012 Masters champion.

Interestingly, the pair are in the same quarter of the draw and could potentially meet in a winner takes all quarter-final – albeit Selby and Mark Williams also feature in Day’s mini-bracket.

That is if Williams, who is featuring in today’s Northern Ireland Open final against Yan Bingtao, decides to compete amid the continued complications surrounding his wife Joanne’s health recently.

Elsewhere, Ding Junhui returns to action against Ireland’s Leo Fernandez after a spell on the sidelines and world number two Judd Trump meets the struggling Matthew Bolton.

Two-time champion John Higgins battles Chris Totten in an all-Scottish duel, Champion of Champions Shaun Murphy entertains Hamza Akbar, and China Championship winner Luca Brecel faces Iran’s Soheil Vahedi.

In-form Chinese teenager Yan, who will jump into the top 32 in the world for the first time following the climax at the Waterfront Hall – in only his second season on the Main Tour – contests an all-Chinese clash with Zhang Yong.

Ali Carter meets Jimmy White in one of the ties of the first round, while Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen plays German rookie Lukas Kleckers.

Irishman Ken Doherty is up against Gary Wilson, with countrymen Fergal O’Brien and Josh Boileau facing Akani Songsermsawad and Graeme Dott respectively.

Television coverage of the UK Championship will be provided by the BBC and Eurosport, beginning from the last 64 stage, which starts on Saturday.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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