Saturday, 24 November 2012

Who's going to York?

There have been many twists and turns in this week's qualifiers for the UK Championship.

Fighting to reach the second biggest tournament of the season, there hasn't been an inch given from anyone.

We've enjoyed some superb matches, seen two fine maximums and watched as stars both old and new have plotted their path to York.

Every player on the circuit wants to play at the BBC events and 16 secured that privelige in Sheffield.

Here's a run-down of who will be strutting their stuff in front of the television cameras in a week's time.

Mark Joyce

Two hard-fought victories against Jamie Cope and maximum man Andy Hicks have earned the Walsall potter a return to the tournament where he enjoyed his best ever run at a ranking event. Joyce reached the quarter-finals of the UK Championship in 2010 after he beat Judd Trump and Ali Carter at the venue in Telford. Mark Williams eventually halted his progress. Ironically, he will meet Trump again here in York. As world number one and defending UK champion, Judd comes as a completely different proposition two years down the line.

Steve Davis

The Nugget would have travelled to York whatever happened in qualifying, but now he's assured himself some time on the baize instead of being confined solely to the commentary box. The six-time UK champion had to battle back from 4-0 down against India's Pankaj Advani to win 6-5 in his first match and then beat Jamie Burnett 6-2 to secure qualification. Again, Steve proved he's still got it and will get a hero's welcome by the crowd when he meets Carter at the Barbican.

Jack Lisowski

A BBC event debut for one of the game's most highly rated up and coming stars. Jack hit a 147 in less than seven and a half minutes during his 6-2 win against Chen Zhe before beating experienced Joe Perry 6-4. A tie against Stuart Bingham awaits and you get the feeling this will be the first of many matches in the sport's premium tournaments. Lisowski is a classy young cueist who is being tipped for a long stay at the top of the game.

Fergal O'Brien

The Ferginator made a safe and easy passage to York winning his one match 6-2 against David Gilbert. His measured, and often slow approach, isn't universally appreciated but with more than 20 years of experience as a professional he's more than a match for the younger players around him. He'll play Stephen Maguire in round one.

Mark King

The Romford potter went into his match against Xiao Guodong as a slight favourite and surprised a few with the ease of his 6-0 win. Essex's experienced cueman taught the young Chinese star a rough lesson in the cubicles and will face Mark Williams in York.

Luca Brecel

The Belgian Bullet showed his class again this week winning four matches to book his place at the UK Championship. He beat Scott Donaldson, Peter Lines and Liu Chuang to reach the final qualifying round where he met former world champion Peter Ebdon. A lot of people thought experience might catch up on the 17-year-old but instead he breezed to an impressive 6-1 win. Belgium's young star has now qualified for both the UK and World Championship in 2012 and looks like a player capable of bringing his best to the biggest events. His class is there for all to see. He's got a superb cue action and temperament way beyond his years. Ricky Walden will need to watch his back.

Martin Gould

The Pinner potter is back in the qualifying scene after dropping from the top 16, but he hasn't lost his touch. He first earned his place in the elite for consistency of making the venues and his 6-3 victory against Ben Woollaston proved he's determined to bounce straight back. Gouldy is an attacking player everyone enjoys watching. When he completely wins back his confidence he'll be massively dangerous again. Graeme Dott awaits.

Robert Milkins 

This is already the fourth major venue Milkins has qualified for this season as he continues his good form. The Gloucester man has qualified for all three venues in China and will be glad of the shorter trip to York. A tightly contested 6-5 win against Rory McLeod earns him his first round match with Shaun Murphy, who beat him earlier this season in the quarter-finals of the UKPTC3.

Michael Holt

The Hitman went into his match against Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in danger of being caught cold against momentum. His opponent had won three matches to reach the final round, but Holt produced a good display to win 6-1. Michael has reached the last eight at the UK Championship twice before but has John Higgins standing in his way first up.

Cao Yupeng

Everyone's enjoyed watching Cao's rise to stardom this year. Qualification for the UK Championship completes an excellent venue treble for 22-year-old. He's already made it to the World and International Championships in 2012 and won both first round matches. After beating Dave Harold, Liam Highfield and Marcus Campbell, he'll face Mark Davis in York and has a realistic chance of making the last 16 again. The way Cao has played over the past seven matches means he can credibly claim to be China's second biggest star right now. I expect him to keep climbing the rankings and support Ding Junhui in bringing snooker success to the country.

Dominic Dale

There was a cruelness about Dominic's qualification for York. He entered in the final round of matches and dashed the hopes of Ian Burns, who already had three wins under his belt. But that's the reality and reward for your world ranking. Dale is arguably the most underestimated player in the top 32. Burns didn't quite make his first venue but can take a lot of positives from the week, especially for beating Anthony Hamilton who reached the semi-finals of the UKPTC4 just a fortnight ago. Next up for Dominic is fellow Welshman Matthew Stevens.

Marco Fu

Fu beat Rod Lawler 6-2 in a repeat of this season's UKPTC3 final. After losing to the Liverpudlian in Gloucester, this is a good way to gain revenge. Getting to the venue for the UK Championship presents a real opportunity for Fu as he bids to get his form back on track. He reached the final of this tournament in 2008 and looked like getting back to somewhere near his best when he progressed to the last four in Australia this year. Last year's runner-up Mark Allen is waiting for him in York.

Tom Ford

The Leicetser cueman is having a good time of things at the moment. He made an impressively clinical maximum at the Bulgarian Open and was dominant in his 6-1 win against Yu De Lu to make it to York. He meets Australian Neil Robertson at the venue, which presents the kind of stern test that will severely judge his credentials for a charge towards the top 16.

Liang Wenbo

For those who believe Cao is China's number two player, Liang offered a timely reminder that he is still Ding's right-hand man according to the current world rankings. He produced the performance of the entire qualification campaign to beat Andrew Higginson 6-0. He scored heavily and made some outrageous pots. His ability has never been doubted but a run to the business end of a big ranking tournament is long overdue. He faces Barry Hawkins.

Ryan Day

I've been quietly noticing improved performances from Welshman Day. All the signs since his run to the quarter-finals at the Crucible are that he is ready to begin realising his potential again. He needs to turn that form into a decent run where everyone stands up and takes notice. He beat Matt Selt 6-3 to earn a tie with Ding Junhui, who he beat in round one at the World Championship in April.

Michael White

There are plenty of experienced Welsh stars on the tour but White is by far the one to watch in the future. I can find very few faults in his game. He mixes an exciting attacking game with dependable safety. He played solid stuff to beat both Craig Steadman and Ken Doherty 6-3. He should become a regular at venues. His reward this time is a match with Mark Selby.

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