Thursday, 8 December 2011

Then there were four

Quarter-finals day at the Barbican served up more compelling snooker - with the the four players who made it through to the semi-finals all staking a claim for why they can win this year's UK Championship.

Leading the way was Judd Trump. He chose the perfect time to make his first century of the tournament, three in fact.

This helped him along to a comfortable 6-3 win against Stephen Maguire but this result should bare little reflection on the Scot.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Judd was just too good. He out-potted Maguire from start to finish and would have done the same to anyone else.

The way Trump keeps improving with each game is an ominous sign for his fellow title contenders. He's climbing up the gears smoothly and showing a little more each round.

Today was as impressive as it comes though, for me. He put on a masterclass of attacking snooker and continues to re-write the rules of what the correct shot is. He plays with a style of his own. As Maguire found out today, he's so hot to handle, because if a match isn't going his way, he'll create something out of nothing. He's a real aggressor at the table and perhaps that intimidates his opponents.

His long-potting is of such a high standard that maybe players are scared to even leave a sniff of a chance.

Ironically, he faces another of the games best single-ball potters in the semi-final, with Neil Robertson waiting in the wings.

The Aussie is another fearless competitor, as he showed with a ruthless 6-2 win against Ding Junhui today.

Just like Judd, Robertson is showing signs of playing himself into this tournament although his form has been pretty solid throughout with just six frames lost in his opening three matches.
Picture by Monique Limbos
It will be a different ball game in the last four though.

I'm sure Robertson hasn't forgotten how Judd brutally ended his title defence of the World Championship earlier this year.

It was one of the stand-out performances of the calendar year and must be prying at the back of Neil's mind somewhere.

I'm not suggesting Robertson will be doubting his ability to win the match but, he can't pretend the scars of that defeat have completely healed.

This match is worthy of any final but will be just as thrilling as a semi-final.

Ricky Walden also secured an unlikely place in the semi-finals - his first in a BBC tournament - with a 6-3 win against Shaun Murphy.

It's the second world champion Walden has beat this week as he continues his cool run.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Despite no longer being a top 16 player, he's shown glimpses of brilliance and evidence that he has enough about him to regain his place. Although his style is distinctly different from the rest of players in the semi-finals here, no-one should be writing him off.

Time and time again he's shown what an efficient scorer he is and how a soft touch around the table can bring rewards.

While the players around him have been busy producing fireworks, Ricky hasn't tried anything flash. He's been taking his chances, choosing the right shots, capitalising on his opponents mistakes and quietly making progress by remaining calm under pressure.

You can see his confidence slowly oozing back and he remains a danger because he's the player left in the tournament with the least pressure on him. Although ambitious Walden stills harbours hopes of adding to his solitary ranking title, three wins here means he's probably ticked the box of what he wanted to achieve pre-tournament anyway. That makes him a dangerous prospect.

With wins against Murphy and Mark Williams already under his belt, he faces another stern test next against Mark Allen, who has had an action-packed week himself.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Off the table, he's had plenty to say about Barry Hearn and has been splashed across the newspapers as a result.

It looks like in the face of adversity and criticism he's adopted bunker mentality and has come of age on the table. He's showed great flair and tenacity, providing real entertainment value along the way.

He's been somewhat of the box office attraction this week for both these reasons but his win tonight was arguably his sweetest of the tournament so far.

He showed cracking bottle to beat Marco Fu 6-5, and having to do it from 5-4 down made it all the more special..

Whether he feels he's got something to prove or is the kind of player who flourishes in the limelight, it doesn't matter. He's playing superb stuff and stands a great chance of lifting his first ranking title on Sunday night.

There's no rest for the wicked with the semi-finals underway tomorrow and a switch to the one-table set up in York.

That's always a sure sign we're into the serious side of the tournament.

The atmosphere has been spot on this week with no partition giving the kind of open feel you get in most snooker clubs.

Now with just one table taking centre stage it means the pressure is cranking up and everyone's eyes are on the players in action.

Bring on the semi-finals!

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