The 2021 UK Championship commences on Tuesday with defending champion Neil Robertson and world champion Mark Selby among the star names in the draw.
Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and a host of other high-profile contenders will be looking to feature prominently at the Barbican Centre in York across the upcoming fortnight as well.
With £200,000 on offer for the champion, it represents one of the most lucrative prizes on the 2021/22 calendar, and it provides the first opportunity this term to claim a Triple Crown title.
Prize, History, and Format
Inaugurally staged in 1977, the UK Championship is the third-oldest professional tournament – behind only the other two legs of the Triple Crown, the World Championship and the Masters.
As such, there is an enormous amount of history and prestige attributed to this competition, highlighted by an impressive roll of honour that has almost never produced a shock champion.
Robertson triumphed for a third time twelve months ago when, staged behind closed doors, the Australian edged Trump in a memorable deciding-frame thriller.
The latter, a dominant force on the Main Tour for the last three years, has only one UK crown to his name and will be keen to add to his Triple Crown tally in the immediate aftermath of winning last week’s Champion of Champions in impressive fashion.
O’Sullivan boasts the all-time record with seven UK titles to his name, but the Rocket hasn’t managed a ranking-event victory since capturing a sixth World Championship in the summer of 2020.
World champion Selby and Scotland’s Higgins, who has been defeated in the last three finals this season, have enjoyed success in the UK Championship on five occasions between them.
Ding Junhui is another notable multiple winner, but with the points from the Chinese’s third triumph from two years ago coming off his tally, he’s on the cusp of an emphatic plummet down the official rankings list.
Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Matthew Stevens, Jimmy White, and five-time champion Stephen Hendry are the other former winners in the 2021 UK Championship draw.
The event’s format – 11-frame encounters at each hurdle until the best-of-19 frames final – has been the subject of major debate during the last decade or so, with many bemoaning the lack of longer matches that would perhaps be more appropriate for its status as a major.
However, the cream generally rises to the top in this tournament, and there’s no reason to think that this year will be any different.
2021 UK Championship Draw
With a seeded draw that pits the first seed against the 128th, the second seed against the 127th, and so on, the draw does tend to favour the elite players – particularly in the early stages.
Robertson will begin his bid for a fourth success against John Astley, one of several amateurs who have been invited as top-ups to make up the numbers.
Selby, Trump, and O’Sullivan also have amateur opposition with the favoured trio in action first against Ross Muir, David Lilley, and Michael White respectively.
Higgins faces former Shoot Out champion Michael Georgiou, while Masters winner Yan Bingtao will prepare to face former women’s world champion Ng On Yee.
Fellow female star Reanne Evans is tasked with a similarly difficult prospect in top-16 stalwart Barry Hawkins, who the Englishwoman lost to in the recent English Open.
Two intriguing ties involve the veterans of the competition, with Hendry and White drawn to face Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Ali Carter respectively.
While there will surely be an inevitable upset or two, the majority of the top-16 seeds will be expected to advance, which makes it difficult to map out any possible trajectory for the title at this early juncture.
On current form the likes of Trump, English Open champion Robertson, and Higgins of course stand out as the most obvious choices, but these tournaments that require seven victories can be as much about building momentum as they are about recent form.
|Neil Robertson (1)||vs||John Astley|
|Andrew Higginson||vs||Mark Joyce|
|Scott Donaldson||vs||Farakh Ajaib|
|Jordan Brown||vs||Duane Jones|
|Anthony McGill (16)||vs||Iulian Boiko|
|David Grace||vs||Peter Devlin|
|Zhou Yuelong||vs||Chen Zifan|
|Mark Davis||vs||Ashley Hugill|
|Li Hang||vs||Mitchell Mann|
|Ricky Walden||vs||Craig Steadman|
|Anthony Hamilton||vs||Allan Taylor|
|Mark Williams (9)||vs||Lei Peifan|
|Luca Brecel||vs||Xu Si|
|Tom Ford||vs||Andrew Pagett|
|Tian Pengfei||vs||Simon Lichtenberg|
|Stephen Maguire (8)||vs||Sanderson Lam|
|Kyren Wilson (5)||vs||Soheil Vahedi|
|Jak Jones||vs||Oliver Lines|
|Lu Ning||vs||Wu Yize|
|Matthew Stevens||vs||Hammad Miah|
|Yan Bingtao (12)||vs||Ng On Yee|
|Ben Woollaston||vs||Rory McLeod|
|Gary Wilson||vs||Ian Burns|
|Liam Highfield||vs||Jamie Wilson|
|Noppon Saengkham||vs||Aaron Hill|
|Ali Carter||vs||Jimmy White|
|Stuart Carrington||vs||Zhao Jianbo|
|Stuart Bingham (13)||vs||Dean Young|
|Mark King||vs||Jackson Page|
|Kurt Maflin||vs||Gerard Greene|
|Nigel Bond||vs||Robbie Williams|
|Ronnie O’Sullivan (4)||vs||Michael White|
|Judd Trump (3)||vs||David Lilley|
|Chris Wakelin||vs||Jamie Clarke|
|Joe Perry||vs||Fraser Patrick|
|Matthew Selt||vs||Chang Bingyu|
|Barry Hawkins (14)||vs||Reanne Evans|
|Lyu Haotian||vs||Gao Yang|
|Martin Gould||vs||Barry Pinches|
|Jamie Jones||vs||Cao Yupeng|
|Alexander Ursenbacher||vs||Ben Hancorn|
|David Gilbert||vs||Alfie Burden|
|Joe O’Connor||vs||Fergal O’Brien|
|Mark Allen (11)||vs||Michael Judge|
|Michael Holt||vs||Zak Surety|
|Liang Wenbo||vs||Andy Hicks|
|Dominic Dale||vs||Ashley Carty|
|Shaun Murphy (6)||vs||Si Jiahui|
|John Higgins (7)||vs||Michael Georgiou|
|Sunny Akani||vs||Steven Hallworth|
|Zhao Xintong||vs||Yuan Sijun|
|Thepchaiya Un-Nooh||vs||Stephen Hendry|
|Ding Junhui (10)||vs||Zhang Anda|
|Sam Craigie||vs||Ken Doherty|
|Ryan Day||vs||Peter Lines|
|Elliot Slessor||vs||Fan Zhengyi|
|Jimmy Robertson||vs||Bai Langning|
|Graeme Dott||vs||Jamie O’Neill|
|Martin O’Donnell||vs||Lukas Kleckers|
|Jack Lisowski (15)||vs||Sean Maddocks|
|Robert Milkins||vs||Louis Heathcote|
|Xiao Guodong||vs||Zhang Jiankang|
|Hossein Vafaei||vs||Pang Junxu|
|Mark Selby (2)||vs||Ross Muir|
How to Watch the UK Championship
Round one of the 2021 UK Championship will be available to watch on Eurosport for viewers across Europe, with the BBC then joining the fold for the Irish and UK audience on Saturday when the second round of the draw starts.
Other options for live coverage are available around the world, with more information on those global networks available over on the World Snooker Tour website.
Featured photo credit: WST