Monday, 5 December 2011

Close but no surprise

As the first round of this year's UK Championship came to a conclusion today we were almighty close to two massive surprises at the Barbican.

Joe Jogia - making his debut at the UK Championship - pushed world number two Mark Williams all the way taking a share of the first eight frames before losing 6-4.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It was far from glamorous but as a heavy second favourite Jogia scrapped, fought and grafted in a bid to take advantage of an off-colour Williams.

Mark is right up there in rankings largely to his consistency over the last year but that said, it doesn't mean we haven't seen him choke. He's lost three ranking finals within a year from winning positions and as Jogia drew level from 4-2 adrift, I wondered whether it might happen.

In the end, the Welshmen bundled over the finish line and showed experience in front of the TV cameras counts for plenty.

Dominic Dale also came close to springing a surprise, against Judd Trump. After holding a 4-2 lead over the World Championship runner-up, a huge slice of fortune in frame seven proved the turning point as the young gun turn the tie on its head to run out a 6-4 winner.

Although this win wouldn't have been a surprise on the same scale as Jogia's given Dominic's run to the most recent PTC final, Judd's ability to turn it on for the big occasion still made him a huge favourite before the match.

We've seen plenty of evidence for how lethal Trump can be when front running. Maybe today proved he's got another side of his game too, being able to tough it out when not playing his best. However good the boy is, that's a quality he'll need in abundance moving forward.

These two matches were a warning for what can happen in these shorter format matches. While it's important for the top players not to peak too early in the big tournaments, both Williams and Trump will need to improve quickly after shaky starts.

Picture by Monique Limbos
There was drama in York off the table today as well. Mark Allen hit out at Barry Hearn after his 6-3 win versus Adrian Gunnell.

Criticising the sport's supremo for lining his pockets from the game and not having the player's best interests at heart, it put a rather disappointing tint on an otherwise good win for him.

Allen has struggled with depression for the past six months but looked like he was back playing with a smile on his face and enjoying his snooker again.

I'm all for players speaking their minds but on a week of a big event like this I'd rather the snooker did the talking.

The only other game today saw Ricky Walden beat seeded Stephen Lee 6-3. This match was always going to be a tight one but resurgent Ricky did his hopes of a return to the top 16 no harm at all here.

Tomorrow sees the start of the second round matches.

Here's how they line-up:

Neil Robertson v Graeme Dott
Stephen Maguire v John Higgins
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Judd Trump
Matthew Stevens v Ding Junhui
Mark Williams v Ricky Walden
Martin Gould v Shaun Murphy
Ali Carter v Mark Allen
Mark Selby v Marco Fu

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