UK Championship 2017 – Day 9

It was another memorable day at the Barbican, especially the evening session where Sunny Akani and Ronnie played a very close match, intense, full of twists and turns. It went to a decider and Ronnie won it, but Sunny Akani made himself proud and surely gained a lot of fans. Right after the match, the reactions on social media were overwhelmingly positive. This was snooker at its best, not because both players played faultless snooker – Ronnie certainly did not – but it was dramatic, hard-fought, and yet played in excellent spirit.

Pictures courtesy of Thai Chengzhe, thanks Tai!

Both players had positives to take in their press conference after the match

There were three other matches played yesterday of course, but none reached such dramatic intensity. Shaun Murphy easily beat an out-of-sorts Ricky Walden. I watched this match too and, honestly, Shaun made a lot of mistakes in that match too but they were easily forgotten because Ricky was unable to punish them. I didn’t see the other two matches, but Martin Gould admitted that he struggled out there and had to win “ugly”.

Here are the reports on Worldsnooker:

Afternoon session

Shaun Murphy eased to a 6-1 win over Ricky Walden to set up a quarter-final with Mark King at the Betway UK Championship.

Murphy has had an excellent first half to the season, winning the Champion of Champions as well as reaching two other finals. And the world number six will be determined to go all the way to the £170,000 this week in York and add to the UK title he won in 2008.

Capitalising on mistakes from his opponent, Murphy needed just two hours to end the challenge of Walden, making breaks of 51, 55 and 114. He will now meet King on Friday evening.

I’m delighted to get through but on another day that match could have been a lot closer,” said 35-year-old Murphy. “Ricky missed a couple that he wouldn’t have in matches earlier on in the week. It’s just up to me to try and take my chances.

“It was a good match although I lost control of that little white ball every now and then. We all want to play one visit snooker knocking lots of centuries in but sometimes the game just doesn’t go that way.

“It doesn’t get any easier. Mark King is a completely different animal now since winning in Northern Ireland last year. He knows how to win. I know he’s been working a lot with my coach Chris Henry on the mental side of the game and you can see the effect it’s hard on him. He doesn’t always get the plaudits he deserves.

“I would dearly love to win this title again but having already won it I suppose the pressure is not as strong as it could be.

Asked why he thought so many of the top seeds have been knocked out of the tournament, Murphy replied: “Everyone’s so bloody good! The flat 128 draws aren’t new any more. The lower ranked players are all great snooker players. There are seven billion people in the world and we’ve got the best 128 snooker players here. These results may shock you but they don’t shock me.

Martin Gould reached the quarter-finals in York for the second time in three years by beating China’s Xiao Guodong 6-4. Londoner Gould has been on an impressive run of form having reached the semi-finals of the International Championship and the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters.

Today’s win also gives Gould a boost in the race to the Masters though he must still win his next match against Ronnie O’Sullivan or Sunny Akani on Friday afternoon to have a chance of a spot at Alexandra Palace.

In a tight match today the first eight frames were shared, Gould making the highest break with an 82. The Englishman took the ninth with a run of 69 then made a calm 66 clearance in the tenth to secure victory.

“It was a weird game. Apart from the first frame where I made an 80 break and I had to draw on my battling qualities to get myself through,” said world number 18 Gould. “We both struggled a little bit. Sometimes you’ve got win ugly. It’s nice to be here in the quarters and hopefully I’ll still be here at the weekend.

“Apart from the Crucible, this is one of the best venues we’ve got and we’ve had good crowds here all week. If I do play Ronnie tomorrow the crowd will be 99% on his side. I’m going to try and enjoy myself because that’s when I play my best. You can’t discount Sunny though, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the crowd tonight.

Evening session:

Ronnie O’Sullivan narrowly avoided one of the biggest shocks in Betway UK Championship history, winning an epic tussle with Sunny Akani 6-5 to reach the quarter-finals.

World number 84 Akani, playing a televised match in a Triple Crown event for the first time, came within four balls of beating his illustrious opponent in the tenth frame when he led 5-4, but was unlucky to knock the blue in when he potted the green. Victory for 22-year-old Akani would have been arguably the most surprising result in this tournament since Marcus Campbell beat Stephen Hendry 9-0 in 1998.

Instead, O’Sullivan took the last two frames and he will continue his quest for a sixth UK title when he faces Martin Gould on Friday at 1pm. World number four O’Sullivan is also aiming for his third ranking title within two months having won the English Open in October and Shanghai Masters in November.

Thailand’s Akani dominated the opening frame then made a break of 74 in the second to lead 2-0. O’Sullivan hit back with 121 and 98 for 2-2 but his opponent was clearly enjoying the occasion and converted excellent long pots on pink and black to win the fifth frame, then added the sixth with runs of 49 and 38 to lead 4-2.

O’Sullivan won a scrappy seventh and made a 61 in the eighth for 4-4, then Akani regained the lead with a superb 128. In frame ten, Akani had the chance to clear the colours, but in potting the green to a baulk corner he tried to nudge the blue away from the cushion, only to send the blue into the opposite corner. O’Sullivan took green, brown and blue for 5-5.

Chigwell’s O’Sullivan led 60-0 in the decider when he missed a red to a centre pocket. Akani clawed back to within 35 points with two reds left, but a loose safety gave O’Sullivan the chance to add 16 points and cross the winning line.

“Sunny deserved to win, I feel like I robbed him,” said 42-year-old O’Sullivan. “It was my lucky day and I’m happy to live to fight another day. I just tried to play a decent snooker match. Sunny is a great character, a beautiful lad and I hope he has a fantastic career.

Asked about his previous record against Gould, O’Sullivan added: “I don’t care whether he has beaten me before or not, or whether he comes out with three heads tomorrow. If I play like I did tonight I’ll be lucky to get a couple of frames.

Akani said: “I really enjoyed it, I am happy.  In the tenth frame I knocked the blue in – I can’t do anything, it happened. Afterwards Ronnie gave me some advice and told me I played well.

Meanwhile, Mark Joyce saw off Lyu Haotian 6-4 to set up a match with Ryan Day. It will be the sixth ranking event quarter-final of Joyce’s career – and second at the UK Championship – and he is yet to reach a semi-final.

Breaks of 55, 59, 59, 71 and 62 helped world number 42 Joyce build a 5-2 lead. China’s Lyu fought back to 5-4 but Joyce got the better of frame ten to seal the result.

I was under pressure at 5-4 but I showed a bit of experience and made sure I didn’t miss anything easy,” said Walsall’s Joyce, who knocked out Neil Robertson in the last 32. “In the past I’ve beaten big seeds and then lost in the next round so I didn’t want that to happen again. I want to kick on and keep winning. I have never been to a semi-final so I’m trying to cross that hurdle.

Quarter-final line-up
Ryan Day v Mark Joyce
Shaun Murphy v Mark King
Stephen Maguire v Joe Perry
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Martin Gould

There’s a few comments I’d like to make about this report. Claiming that, had Ronnie lost yesterday, it would have been one of the biggest shocks in the tournament history is simply preposterous: Sunny Akani arrived in the last 16 having beaten Fergal O’Brien, Michael Holt and Barry Hawkins in the previous rounds, so it was obvious that he can play and is playing well, very well even. Fergal is about as hard a match player as you can find on the tour, and Barry Hawkins is a top 16 player. He might be struggling, he was swept away by 6-0 which is a very severe beating however you look at it. In this tournament only we had two far bigger shocks IMO: Ding being beaten 6-5, from 5-1 up, by Leo Fernandez, who is struggling with his game and suffering back injuries is frankly hard to understand. And Mark Selby going out, by 6-3, to Scott Donaldson who came in this tournament without winning a match this season is also certainly surprising.

Videos of interest:

The evening session preview

Ronnie vs Sunny – the match:

the post-match with Hazel (BBC)

Ronnie and Sunny interview and their match review (ES)


5 thoughts on “UK Championship 2017 – Day 9

  1. Fantastic match. There were so many times when Ronnie could have mentally imploded, and I was impressed at how well he kept his mind in the game and never gave up. His performance was clearly very frustrating for him, and it’s interesting to think that Sunny’s positive demeanor might have actually helped Ronnie in some ways. If Ronnie had played that way against some with more of a “killer instinct” (like Mark Selby), Ronnie wouldn’t have had any fun at all and probably would have succumbed to frustration. But maybe Sunny’s positive vibes kept Ronnie from collapsing altogether…

  2. I kniow, I suspect they need to have this kind of narrative – or the think they do. And yes, everyone will remember that blue, because it was in such a crucial moment, but Ronnie had bad luck too, so in the end I think it evened out, except perception will make some more memorable than others.

  3. I’m genuinely pleased for Sunny for his performance, although he does seem a bit too ‘happy’ after losing a match which he could have won.

    Since I first saw him play (in Berlin and then Pond’s Forge) I had been very concerned that a big TV exposure might result in some very severe comments on social media regarding his technique. For instance, if he had played poorly and lost 6-0 last night. This might have been damaging to the young man. Fortunately, it worked out differently, and he appears to have won the support and respect of the snooker community with that performance.

    I can see that he has made some changes – the ‘elephant’s trunk’ routine with his right arm is much less pronounced now. The technique with the rest is still there, but there are certain shots which he would have to play overarm, so it is likely he is working on alternatives.

    As for Ronnie, I’m hoping each day is a new day. As a Liang Wenbo fan, I want Ronnie to get to the final, which would allow Liang to qualify for the Masters. Also, it would be good to see a Ronnie-Murphy ‘revenge’ match on Sunday!

  4. I was rolling my eyes at that comment too: Sunny Akani played well in the tournament and in this match and in any case, had he not potted the blue by mistake he would have won 6-4 which is not a shock comparable to Hendry losing 9-0. And yes, Ding’s and Selby’s exit was much more surprising. But it feels like they need to make big statements. Yesterday on BBC when Ronnie was down 2-0 Hendry said that many said Ronnie would win 6-0, 6-1, but now it might be that Akani would win 6-0. Sure, he played well and started strong, but after 2 frames to visualize a blowout might be premature. They stick to a narrative they think they must employ.

    • Yes, Akani potted that blue accidentally but it wasn’t sheer bad luck either. If he didn’t intend to move the blue from the cushion, then he overlooked the possibility of this to happen, and if he intended to move it – which he probably did because he needed that blue – then he misjudge the strength of the shot. In both cases it was a mistake as much as bad luck. You could say that Ronnie was massively unlucky in frame 5 as well when he snookered himself on the last pink and went on to lose the frame. Akani played extremely well, if he had won I would have no complaints, I’m a fan anyway. But all those “shocks” nonsense get on my nerves.

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