Friday, 30 November 2012

The UK Championship: A look back

The UK Championship is renowned for its great prestige.

Here are a selection of some of the event's great winners to get you in the mood for this year's tournament:

Ronnie captures the title in 1993 aged 17:

Steve Davis OBE wins his first of six UK titles:

Trump wins the title a year ago:

An emotional third UK victory for John Higgins in 2010:

A 147 from Stephen Hendry en route to his UK win in 1995:

Thursday, 29 November 2012

BIG UK Championship preview

The UK Championship is a tournament where down the years the best players have usually come to the fore.

The second biggest ranking event on the calendar begins on Saturday in York and all the top stars will have their eyes on the prize.

This fantastic event - now in its 36th season - has an incredible history, fantastic prestige and the BBC cameras out in full force.

For many fans of the sport, this is the first slice of action since Ronnie O'Sullivan won his fourth World Championship at the Crucible back in May.

In fact, a lot has happened on the baize since then, such is our ram-packed schedule nowadays. But despite a calendar bursting with tournaments, the UK Championship remains one of the real jewels in the crown of the campaign.

As people tune back in to watch the snooker next week live on the BBC, one of the big discussion points will be world champion O'Sullivan's absenteeism, but the game is about far more than just one man.

There is a whole host of great players thinking big and plotting to win one of the sport's premier prizes.

Judd Trump returns to York as defending champion and boosted by some wonderful performances this season which have seen him climb to number one in the world rankings.

His capture of the title nearly a year ago was a landmark win for this great young player as I reported here on the blog. Judd is a different proposition 12 months down the line. He remains a young, exciting prodigy but he has built on his success and carries an even greater fear factor.

Trump has the ability to grow into one of snooker's real greats like Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and O'Sullivan, who have all enjoyed career highs at the UK Championship.

The Bristolian is maturing with each and every tournament and will take some stopping here.

Three-time UK champion John Higgins - another of the greats - has proved this season he can tame tenacious Trump. The Scot is back on song and playing snooker somewhere near his very best. He has a habit of stepping his game up when the biggest tournaments come around. He's in a motivated mood and alongside Trump as the biggest contender for the silverware.

But the fight won't stop there. Mark Allen reached the final a year ago and loves the big occasion. He has been lighting up the circuit in recent weeks with a series of stellar performances. He is another out-and-out attacker who breathes fresh air into the game.

He'll walk out into the packed Barbican venue determined to strut his stuff and put on a show. Northern Ireland's gem looks ready to make a big breakthrough in his career. It could be now.

Australia's Neil Robertson will be on the tips of the tongues of the game's tipsters too. He is the modern-day all-rounder; a formidable match player and competitive animal. There isn't any part of his game left lacking. He is a fine left-hander who can pot long balls, make big breaks and mix it up with safety. He is quite the package and always a contender.

I've been impressed with world number two Mark Selby recently as well. He's another great fighter but also one of the very best century-makers around. His injury problems are well behind him and he is likely to have a sting in his tail as he fights to get back to the top of the rankings.

I'd be surprised if the winner next week came outside of this circle of five players, but you can never say never with the competition so fierce. Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Mark Williams and recent Premier League winner Stuart Bingham have proved in the past they know how to win.

The tussle for the title is likely to be enthralling, but there will be many more plots to play out in York.

The list of qualifiers through to the venue this year are excellent on paper.

Luca Brecel, Belgium's 17-year-old starlet, attracts plenty of press attention. He's now qualified for both the World and UK Championship in 2012 and has another chance to show off his god-given gift. He's one of the best shot makers I've ever seen, who is at an age where he has the luxury of playing without consequence. He can frighten a few.

China's superb Cao Yupeng will also complete the prestigious World/UK double. He plays the game with great craft.

Jack Lisowski is ready for his BBC debut. He's a fine cueist with a bright future and the kind of young player who is great for the game. Welshman Michael White has similar promise. He's a deadly scorer and will be a handful for years to come.

It's not all about the pretenders to the throne. Six-time UK champion Steve Davis OBE has made it to the last 32 and will get a chance to hit the baize and roll back the years as well as provide a backbone to the BBC media team.

Let the battle commence.

UK Championship draw:

Judd Trump v Mark Joyce
Ali Carter v Steve Davis
Stuart Bingham v Jack Lisowski
Stephen Maguire v Fergal O'Brien
Mark Williams v Mark King
Ricky Walden v Luca Brecel
Graeme Dott v Martin Gould
Shaun Murphy v Robert Milkins
John Higgins v Michael Holt
Mark Davis v Cao Yupeng
Matthew Stevens v Dominic Dale
Mark Allen v Marco Fu
Neil Robertson v Tom Ford
Barry Hawkins v Liang Wenbo
Ding Junhui v Ryan Day
Mark Selby v Michael White

Monday, 26 November 2012

Premier prize for Bingham

Snooker-mad Stuart Bingham could hardly be happier after becoming the 2012 Premier League champion.

Picture by Monique Limbos
His 7-2 victory against Judd Trump in the final in Grimsby was thoroughly deserved and rich reward for the man who lives and breathes the game.

The Premier League is an event carrying great prestige. This is why Bingham has always had a burning desire to compete in it. His maiden ranking event win at the Australian Open earned him his place and now he's Premier League champion in his debut campaign.

His performances in the final four matches during the run-in to lifting silverware means no-one can argue against his success. He earned a place in the play-offs courtesy of back-to-back 6-0 wins against Mark Selby and Neil Robertson in Guildford, forced his way to the final edging out John Higgins 5-4 and then finally landed top prize with a demolition job on Trump.

Bingham leaped for joy and so he should as he proves his name belongs alongside the very best in the sport right now.

It's quite fitting that Bingham's win came in Grimsby, a Lincolnshire town that loves its snooker as much as him.

Even when Stuart wasn't dining at snooker's top table, his attitude to playing the game was as exemplary as it is today.

There was a discussion on Twitter last night about which of his big titles ranks most highly. The Premier League is a fine competition and has been for many years, but I'll always back a ranking event against it.

You might disagree, but the debate is void anyway. Bingham has experienced both great highs and doesn't have to choose between them. He has been dreaming of winning big titles all his career and now he's living his best years.

He has always loved playing snooker, but probably never more than right now.

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.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Maximums and more...

Two maximum men have lit up this week's UK Championship qualifiers.

Andy Hicks and Jack Lisowski have both produced 147 breaks as the game's professional tally of perfect frames edges closer to the magic 100.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Devon's Hicks is a star of yesterday, but mustered a timely reminder of his remarkable talent with his maximum. Many consider Andy to be on the sport's biggest under-achievers.

He's played in semi-finals of all the big events; the UK Championship, the Masters and the World Championship. This record is better than many who have played the game but still a disappointment for a player who in his early 20s had so much promise.

Certain readers of my blog compared Hicks with Jimmy White earlier this week as far as talent goes. At his best, he was fluid and a pleasure to watch. Many believe his progress was stunted by interference from coaches. As a result, he will always be regarded as one of the game's 'nearly men'.

Lisoswki on the other hand is a star of tomorrow and has the whole of his career in front of him.

No-one can doubt Jack is a brave young lad. He may only be 21 but he already has a successful fight against cancer behind him, which is bound to give anyone courage.

He is rapidly beginning to realise his massive potential. He reached a PTC final earlier this season, but this could be just the start. Fans who watch the matches before the televised stages of events reckon Lisowski is a sure top 16 player and ranking event in the making.

Hicks and Lisowski have potted their way into the headlines already this week, but who else could come out of Sheffield having made the snooker world talk?

Luca Brecel looks more and more likely of capping off what would be an amazing 2012 with one final flourish. He has already bravely battled his way through the qualifiers this year by progressing to the Crucible. He's been at it again this week. Victories against Scott Donaldson, Peter Lines and Liu Chuang mean he's just one match away from a famous double. Peter Ebdon is his final hurdle en route to York.

The Belgian Bullet isn't the only one to have come through every round so far this week. Ian Burns is eyeing his first major venue. He's enjoyed wins against Michael Leslie, Kurt Maflin and Anthony Hamilton but now faces a final test against Dominic Dale. Then there's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. He's knocked down Passakorn Suwannawat, Barry Pinches and Jamie Jones in a blistering run and looks to finish the job against Michael Holt.

Steve Davis is no stranger to the plaudits. His 6-5 victory against Pankaj Advani from 4-0 down showed his notorious gumption. If he can beat Jamie Burnett he'll be back in front of the TV cameras to the delight of his legion of fans.

Bring on the final day.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Barry Hawkins EXCLUSIVE: "The Australian Open has made me hungry to win more"

It's been an excellent year for Barry Hawkins so far.

Picture by Monique Limbos
He started 2012 with the capture of the Shootout title in Blackpool, went on to beat the world number one Mark Selby at the Crucible, won his first ranking event title at the Australian Open this summer and most recently sealed his place back in the world's top 16.

This success is no surprise to those who know the game well.

Hawkins is a good player to watch. He has always scored heavily and, at his best, boasts great long-potting ability. In fact, people in and around the circuit are surprised it's taken him so long to get his hands on major silverware.

Barry's victory Down Under is reward for a career which has seen him put everything into the game. He is one of the genuinely likable characters on the tour. He treats the game with great respect and isn't a moaner. He just gets on with it. That's why no-one will ever begrudge him of the achievements he's enjoyed this year.

He can now look forward to a seeded place at the upcoming UK Championship and then the prestigious Masters.

Barry took some time out from snooker to talk exclusively to OnCue about his excellent year...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Trump marches on

Judd Trump's super form is showing no signs of subsidence as he beat John Higgins 4-0 to win the Bulgarian Open.

The new world number one is sky high with confidence and bulldozing his way through tournaments right now.

In the past two months he's reached four finals and won two trophies - at a time when people say no-one can dominate.

In fact, Trump has met Higgins in a final for the second time in a week after their meeting in Gloucester on Wednesday. I am reliably informed that it's the first time the same two players have met in consecutive ranking event finals since 1995 when Higgins did the same with Steve Davis.

This victory in Sofia will be particularly sweet for Judd. He's been playing sensational snooker for a short while now - yet as I blogged here Higgins was proving to be his achilles' heel.

Trump beat Higgins for the first time in five meetings here to win the fourth European PTC of the season and was well worth his win. Higgins couldn't get near him. This kind of performance against a player who has caused him much trouble comes as a timely boost with the defence of his UK Championship crown now less than a fortnight away.

Judd is a dangerous beast at the best of times but, so rich in confidence, he's capable of blowing away the entire field.

John is the kind of player who won't let defeat deter him. He knows he can beat anyone - including Judd - and is the playing the game again with renewed vigour and a hunger that will ensure results follow.

Trump and Higgins will be the out and out favourites in York and have proved why over the past couple of tournaments. Today, they are the two best players in the world.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Talking Snooker with...OneStepSnooker

It's that time of the season again when OnCue takes a look back at some of the baize action we've enjoyed in recent weeks, with another helping of Talking Snooker.

Joining the debate this time is Brett, who operates under the Twitter account OneStepSnooker. A keen fan and tipster, he shares his snooker insights on the blog.

We talk Ronnie O'Sullivan, our world number one Judd Trump and the new International Championship...

OnCue: Thank you for joining me Brett. I've been reading lots of your tweets over the past few weeks. Some of your tips have brought me a bit of luck as well, so thanks very much.

Let's kick off with Mr O'Sullivan, who has got everyone talking again. He says he won't be playing again this season. What did you make of that news? Were you surprised?

Friday, 16 November 2012

So here is Sofia

Bulgaria is enjoying its first taste of live professional snooker this weekend with the fourth European PTC event of the season being held in Sofia.

The Bulgarian Open is another tournament and another new market being explored by the game.

Once again, snooker has been welcomed with open arms and the crowd look as if they're loving it. This hardly comes as a surprise when you look at how competitions elsewhere have been received on the continent in Belgium, Germany and Poland.

Europe as a whole is a market ready for snooker to tap into. There's a definite appetite for the game and, as always, Barry Hearn is determined to explore it.

Say what you like about our large-as-life supremo Bazza but while he's in charge of the sport he will never let it stand still. He is ambitious, brave and always thinks big.

Bulgaria could easily be another of his success stories.

The popularity of the small European events over the past two and a bit seasons have, in my opinion, gazumped the success of the entire PTC series. I'm all for snooker players being given the chance to play regular competitive matches. But taking the game to new countries to test the water is actually a venture with even greater potential reward.

Barry's next big challenge should be to convert one of these European tournaments into a full-fledged ranking event. This would be a statement of intent and a big sign of progress.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Higgins has got Trump's number

Judd Trump may be playing snooker that looks untouchable - but John Higgins continues to have the beating of him.

The Bristolian has scored 10 centuries over the past two days at the Pink PTC in Gloucester. Still it wasn't enough to land the title.

That's because of one man. Higgins has his number. Tonight he beat him 4-2 to land the trophy.

I admire Trump because he approaches every event, big or small, in the same way. He has a young fearlessness and an ambition to win every tournament he plays in. He enjoys the buzz of competing and rises to the challenge of winning.

When Judd is playing at his best, like he his now, he looks unstoppable. He has reached three finals within the past two months, but twice Higgins has been his undoing.

The Scot is playing in the twilight years of his career and is finding a way to contain and pick off Trump. His experience is clearly playing a part but I also believe he is motivated by the challenge of testing all his old tricks on the newest and most exciting talent in the game.

Trump is at the stage of his career where he will keep coming back for more. His positive attitude is unwavering. He has great belief in his ability, and so he should as the world number one.

He has time on his side to build on his success. But for now, Higgins is proving he can still come out on top.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Shoot-Out draw announced

The new year will bring a return of the popular Shoot-Out event at Blackpool Tower Circus Arena.

The exciting one-frame knockout event gives the game a feelgood factor and one-off injection of fun.

The random draw was made last night on TalkSPORT. A few top names are missing - including Judd Trump and Neil Robertson - but it's still an excellent draw.

Here's how they were pulled out...

Joe Perry v Michael White
Mark Williams v Mike Dunn
Adam Duffy v Jack Lisowski
Tom Ford v Mark Allen
David Gilbert v Ricky Walden
Mark Davis v Yu Delu
Aditya Mehta v Mark Joyce
Marcus Campbell v Matthew Stevens
Stuart Bingham v Anthony Hamilton
Jamie Jones v Mark King
Alan McManus v Fergal O'Brien
Rob Milkins v Ali Carter
Steve Davis v Barry Hawkins
Peter Ebdon v Dominic Dale
Jamie Burnett v Michael Holt
Mark Selby v Ken Doherty
Paul Davison v Ben Woollaston
Tian Pengfei v Jimmy Robertson
Kurt Maflin v Jamie Cope
Martin Gould v Rory McLeod
Graeme Dott v Matthew Selt
Dave Harold v Rod Lawler
Gerard Greene v Alfie Burden
Peter Lines v John Higgins
Shaun Murphy v Liu Chuang
Liang Wenbo v Stephen Maguire
Andy Hicks v Andrew Higginson
Jimmy White v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
Anthony McGill v Barry Pinches
Nigel Bond v Cao Yupeng
Xiao Guodong v Ryan Day
Ding Junhui v Robbie Williams

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Ronnie takes a break

Ronnie O'Sullivan made the headlines again today as he announced he will not play on the main tour again this season.

This means he will not play in the UK Championship or The Masters and, more crucially, he will not defend his world title at the Crucible.
Picture by Monique Limbos

His decision has been prompted by yet more personal issues and World Snooker released this official statement earlier.

As usual, Ronnie's decision has been greeted with criticism and cynicism but, in fact, it is probably the right one.

O'Sullivan's battle against glandular fever has been long and troublesome. His fight to win access to his children has allegedly not been easy either. Health and family life are things Ronnie values dearly.

And while snooker is not the cause of his problems, it certainly doesn't help.

So Ronnie has decided to take a break from the sport. He has given the it so much. He owes it nothing. He has won everything there is to win and has enough money to ensure a comfortable lifestyle. He has made a decision that will ultimately take off the pressure and make him a happier man. This deserves admiration.

O'Sullivan's absence will be a sore loss, make no mistake. His manager Django Fung alluded to the fact that he may never return to the game, but again this is a decision he should be allowed to make freely.

The severity of today's announcement may have shocked many but it puts an end to the 'will he or won't he withdraw' debate that arises before every ranking event. His intentions are clear and everyone knows where they stand.

Ronnie has won more in snooker than most ever will. Sure, many people believe he could have won even more, but his place as legend was secured long ago.

If he does choose to take his place back on the baize, he will be as popular as ever and welcomed with open arms. The challenge of having to fightback from potentially outside the top 32 of the world rankings may be the challenge he craves, or it could trigger him to call it a day.

What will Ronnie do next? Is this the end of an era?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Trump leads the way

Judd Trump continues to show he is snooker's brightest young star.

His 10-8 victory against Neil Robertson clinched him the first International Championship title and proved in a week when the focus was all about the future - that he is leading the way.

Judd is bold and he is brave on the table. He has instant star qualities but you can add ability to perform under pressure to his growing list of attributes.

When the Aussie led the final 8-6, you feared he was about to be outfoxed by the classy all-rounder and final specialist. Robertson had lost just one competitive final before today.

But when it mattered most, Trump found an extra gear and reeled off four straight frames to secure the £125,000 top prize and another trophy for his cabinet.

Judd has had largely his own way this week. Fergal O'Brien and Aditya Mehta rolled over easily. Mark Allen came out all-guns blazing, which suits him a treat and Peter Ebdon failed to serve up the resilience predicted. 

Robertson managed to ask Judd some difficult questions, but again he had the answers. He stuck by his game, went for his pots and, importantly, played some of his best safety.

Trump has been accused in the past of being a one-trick pony but here he has shown a completeness that will help him retain his number one status for the long haul.

Some people suggest Trump must show his opponents more respect, but this would be losing his approach to the game that makes him so special.

Judd plays the game with a youthful fearlessness. It's an absolute joy to watch because he has the ability to pull it off.

I hope he never changes because he's box office at its best.

Well played Judd.

Friday, 2 November 2012

On top of the world

Judd Trump became the new world number one today - and he did it with his stylish touch.

Needing to reach the final of the International Championship to overtake Mark Selby at the top of the rankings, he was brutal in his 9-1 demolition of Peter Ebdon in the semi-final.

It was everything we have come to expect from Judd in its delivery. Fast, furious and entertaining.

Picture by Monique Limbos
This is a big milestone in Trump's inevitable rise to becoming one the greats. He's still a world title or a few away from becoming a legend, but the way he audaciously plays the game means he's already well on the way.

He's already is great company. He is only the tenth player to occupy the number one spot in the rankings since they were designed in 1976.

His name goes next to Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby. This is a stellar list but his name is certainly not out of place. I'd expect him to be in or around top spot for man more years to come.

There is much to admire about Trump.

Since his breakthrough to stardom winning the 2011 China Open, he's won the UK Championship, reached the final at the Crucible, picked up points all over the place and put on a show at every opportunity.

His outrageous shot-making ability, unwavering temperament, unshakable confidence and enviable good looks make him a ready-made star, but he appreciates he must work for his success.

Unlike lots of young players, Trump appears to see the bigger picture. He has an admirable work hard, play hard attitude and is always keen to keep improving putting in long hours on the practice table. He's clearly motivated by winning the most prestigious titles and entertaining the crowds on the biggest occasions, but this doesn't disrupt his consistent dedication.

I'm not saying he's perfect. He's had plenty of critics; more than he deserves. But this is part and parcel of being a such a phenomenal and a sure sign of his dramatic rise and continuous success.

Encouragingly, Judd hasn't let it put him off doing what he does best.

The tag of being world number one could easily weigh heavy round the neck of a player so young, but I can't see this being a problem for Trump. He's taken everything he's achieved so far in his stride, but always stays grounded.

In today's press conference he talked down his new ranking position insisting he still has a job to do in Chengdu and that his primary aim is to become world champion.

Judd has been a star in the making for many years. He has good people around him and has had plenty of time to prepare for the limelight. These have clearly been factors in helping him to handle life at the top.

He does so many things well and plays snooker in a way you can't help but enjoy. He is a complete breath of fresh air.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The final four

Snooker in China has come of age this week.

The first International Championship has brought prestige to an event in this part of the world like never seen before - which bodes really well for the future.

An impressive £125,000 top prize has focused the minds of most of the top players and the reward for the fans is a truly exciting semi-final line-up.

Such has been the quality of play this week, like at all big events, you can't reach the final four without being bang on form.

That's why we've arrived at this stage with four great champions still standing, who all have a realistic shot of landing the silverware.

OnCue assesses the performances of the semi-finalists so far and why each of them could land the top prize....

Peter Ebdon

Brush the sweeping, and unfair, public opinion of Ebdon to one side and you have one of snooker's best professionals and champions. Ebdon is no longer in the top 16 but still arrives at the biggest events capable of going home with the trophy, just like he did at the China Open. He may have lost the fluidity of his game but he's as tenacious as ever and a match for any of the big boys. He's beaten Stephen Maguire and Ricky Walden this week for the loss of just one frame. Don't write him off.

Judd Trump

The man in the field carrying fear factor. Judd has been in scintillating form making big breaks quickly and knocking in all kinds of long pots. His 6-3 win against Fergal O'Brien flattered the Irishman but he followed it up with a quickfire 6-0 demolition of Aditya Mehta that showed the kind of punishing mood he's in. He was involved in one of the games of the season today as he beat Mark Allen 6-5. The standard was through the roof. It was worthy of any final. This showed he's got the nerve to back up his vast quality. He's playing confident snooker - banishing thoughts of his dramatic defeat to John Higgins in Shanghai - and he's won back the love of everyone. Victory in the semi-final would take him to number one in the world rankings for the first time. That's a great incentive. The clear dangerman in the field.

Neil Robertson

The Aussie is the man for the big events. Last season he won the Masters, reached the UK Championship semi-finals and got to the last eight at the Crucible. The International Championship is now one of the big ones and here he is again at the business end. His 14-year-old opponent Lu Haotian has a great all-round game for someone so young, but came up against the master in that department. Robertson can win matches no matter how they play out. A great potter, a fine break-builder and happy to fight it out. That's quite a package. It's a while since Neil performed in China, but he was always bound to come good. Now he's established himself in this tournament, he'll take some budging.

Shaun Murphy 

The Magician brings a touch of class to proceedings. As much as his first round 6-0 win against Andrew Higginson was comfortable, his second round victory against Ding Junhui was clinical in its conclusion. He led Ding 4-1. But after pegged back to level terms, he produced two fine breaks to cross the line. Shaun is the first to admit he enjoys the buzz of the bigger events much more, but he's been waiting quite a while to go all the way. He's been showing glimmers of his best form sporadically over the last couple of years, but the level of control he's showed this week has been the most impressive aspect of his game. He stepped up a gear when he needed to against Ding and hit four frames on the bounce when he trailed Marco Fu 3-1 in the quarter-finals. That's a sign of comfort on the table.