Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Looking at Luca and looking ahead

We head into the quarter-finals of this year's UK Championship with a fascinating line-up - but there's one young man who has dominated the headlines in York this week.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Belgium's wonderkid Luca Brecel, aged just 17, is taking his chance to show the entire snooker world what he's capable and beat Mark King 6-4 from 3-0 down to become the youngest ever UK quarter-finalist.

Brecel's unbelievable ability has never been questioned. Everyone who has seen him play regularly believes he will one day go on to be world champion. He's that good. In fact, he hasn't played anywhere near his peak yet at the Barbican.

His ability to scrap and keep on fighting has has helped him to win matches of fairly low quality against Ricky Walden and King this week. But this is just another string to Luca's fantastic bow, and proves he is rapidly progressing into a complete player.

He is improving with every match and probably growing in confidence with each televised win. Even since playing Stephen Maguire at the Crucible back at May, he has come so far and already looks a more rounded. He has played with great maturity.

The beauty about Brecel playing in the biggest match of his career next in York is that the result is only actually of minor significance. This run is all part of his development. He isn't expected to go on to win the trophy here. So, he can afford to enjoy the occasion and play his game without huge worry.

His quarter-final opponent, Shaun Murphy, obviously comes into the match under more pressure. You have to go back more than 18 months to his last major ranking event win at the PTC Grand Finals in 2011.

A piece of silverware is long overdue for the man who won the World Championship aged just 22. He has been cueing the ball sweetly at times this week but more telling is that he looks more confident than I've seen in ages. Murphy won the UK Championship back in 2008 and would love to claim it for a second time on Sunday.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Also bidding to win a second UK title is Welshman Matthew Stevens. He hasn't reached the last eight at the event since his year of triumph in 2003. He swept an unwell Dominic Dale easily aside in round one but made tough work of Marco Fu after leading 4-1.

He was outclassed by Ronnie O'Sullivan in the semi-final of the World Championship earlier this year and is lacking in recent experience of playing in the biggest matches. This is the challenge in front of him now. He'll have to stand up to the pressure.

Next up for him is Mark Davis. He won an absolutely epic match against John Higgins to reach this stage. He played almost the perfect gameplan to lead 5-2 but then had to watch the Scot charge back to 5-5, including a splendid maximum break.

The match looked to be meandering towards a predictable ending but the final twist saw Davis nick the decider on the final pink. He will now go into this match feeling he can go all the way. This win was so significant in a match that will be remembered for many years to come, it has to breed confidence.

There's an Essex battle to look forward to in the next round as well.

Stuart Bingham is playing the best snooker of his life right now. He's come to York fresh off the back of winning the Premier League and is oozing confidence.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He has never been the kind of player to fear his opponents. He knows he can beat anyone in the world on his day, but now others are beginning to believe it too.

His 6-4 win against Maguire was hugely impressive. He knows his time is now and will be desperate to make it count. No-one would deserve success here more than Bingham for all the dedication he's shown to the game in a long career.

This year's World Championship finalist Ali Carter isn't likely to be intimidated by Stuart's form. He's a man for the big occasion and bundles brings of fighting spirit to the table.

He is still suffering from the effects of Crohn's disease but looks to have found a way of staving it off and continuing to play snooker. Ali is flowing nicely and showing off his classy technique. His two easy wins mean he's fresh for the business end of the event.

The other match in the quarter-finals is arguably the juiciest of all. Mark Selby admits the weight of expectation of being world number one was heavy. He hasn't enjoyed the best season so far and has recently been knocked off the top by Judd Trump.

Ironically, he can reclaim number one with a run here after Judd suffered a shock early exit. That won't be on his mind too much. Instead, he knows victory here would be up their with his very best. A neck injury has made times tough but he's over that now and is playing well again.

His mixture of break building and tenacious safety play make him one of the toughest match players around. He beat Ryan Day from 3-0 down to reach the last eight, but was gifted a route back into the match.

A tougher test is definitely ahead against Neil Robertson. The excellent Aussie has enjoyed a very safe passage so far. He's so good right now it takes great performances to give him a fight. He is in the same mould as Selby where he can compete with a number of different playing styles.

This means the match will have several different layers to it and different departmental battles. They will be trying to pot better balls, score more and tactically beat each other. It could be a classic.

Full quarter-final draw:

Ali Carter v Stuart Bingham
Luca Brecel v Shaun Murphy
Mark Davis v Matthew Stevens
Neil Robertson v Mark Selby

1 comment:

  1. always nice to read your summaries - perticularly because they match nearly evreything going round in my head!
    Keep this on - good value, really!

    Frosty greetings from Germany - looking forward to BERLIN!!!