Mark Williams described his performance as “awful” but did enough to beat Fraser Patrick 6-2 in the first round of the Betway UK Championship.
Williams has taken a break from the tour in recent weeks, deciding not to enter the World Open and Northern Ireland Open. His return to action was successful as he top scored with 133 and 124 in a comfortable victory in York, setting up a last 64 clash with Michael White or Fergal O’Brien.
But his demeanour was unenthusiastic in his post-match press conference. “I felt nervous, probably because of a lack of match practice,” said Welshman Williams, who won this event in 1999 and 2002. “Fraser struggled and made it easy for me. If I play like that I will lose in the next round, no matter who I play. Apart from the two centuries it was awful. I’m not expecting much.”
Selby Back In Form
Mark Selby has suffered early exits at this event in each of the last two years, but looked in great shape this time as he thrashed Andy Hicks 6-0 to reach the last 64.
Selby lost to James Cahill in the opening round in 2018 and to Scott Donaldson in the second round in 2017. He has regained form and belief in recent weeks, particularly in a 9-1 win in the final of last month’s English Open, one of the best performances of his career.
And today the 36-year-old looked in the mood to add to his tally of two UK titles.
Hicks had first chance in each of the first two frames, but couldn’t take advantage. A 78 clearance gave Selby the opener and he took the next on the colours. Hicks scored just one point in the last four frames as Selby cruised to victory with top breaks of 134 and 114.
“I was nervous at the start because this is a big tournament,” said Selby, who now meets Liam Highfield or Mike Dunn. “Andy seemed to be the same. When he missed chances in the first couple of frames, that settled me down.
“Winning the English Open gave me a lot of confidence. I have won a lot in the game and hopefully there’s more to come. Getting back to world number one is one of my aims.”
Max Means Festive Joy For Hawk
It was a memorable day for Barry Hawkins as he made the third maximum break of his career and beat Gerard Greene 6-2.
The 147 came in the fourth frame and Hawkins also compiled runs of 91, 68 and 80 during a fine display.
“It was a good maximum because I was always in position,” said Hawkins, who will win the £15,000 high break prize unless his target is equalled. “To make a 147 in a big arena at the UK Championship is fantastic. I was feeling it on the last few balls. I had to take a deep breath when I got to the blue. I didn’t realise the prize was so high – that will go towards a nice Christmas.”
Sick And Injured – But Maguire Through
Stephen Maguire battled through a virus and fractured ankle to beat Billy Castle 6-4. Maguire’s top break was just 55 but he did enough to book a second round place and boost his hopes in the Race to the Masters.
The Scot suffered the ankle injury during the recent World Open in China and now has an unpleasant illness. “I feel awful. I was spewing all the way down on the train yesterday,” he said. “I went to bed at five last night and woke up at seven this morning.
“The kids are off school back in Scotland and I’ve obviously caught something from them. I’m going to stay down here now and hopefully shake it off by the weekend.
“I’m in quite a bit of pain with the ankle. That match lasted too long for my liking. That’s the most I’ve been on it for a while so it was tough, but it’s getting better. I don’t want to be playing too many matches that go 6-4, I’d much prefer to get them over with quickly.”
Ding Junhui also kept himself in contention for a Masters spot by beating Duane Jones 6-2 with a top break of 103. Marco Fu was in superb form in a 6-3 win over Craig Steadman, knocking in runs of 92, 50, 67, 93, 117 and 85.
Fight-back of the day was made by tour rookie Louis Heathcote as he recovered a 5-2 deficit to beat Iran’s Hossein Vafaei 6-5.
Peter Ebdon won a 30-minute decider 57-36 to beat John Astley 6-5 in a match which was pulled off at 5-5 at the end of the afternoon session. Ricky Walden fired runs of 104, 120 and 115 in a 6-3 win over Xu Si, while Gary Wilson made a 103 in a 6-3 defeat of Bai Langning.
Ok … these are my thoughts based on what I’ve been able to watch.
In the morning I was only able to watch the first four frames of Ding’s match. It was 2-2 at the MSI but there was a very noticeable change in Ding’s attitude as compared to recent months. He was focused and playing the rigth shots. Ding is a beautiful player to watch when on form and I was very pleased to see him give it his best at the table.
In the afternoon, I watched Mark Selby and Andy Hicks first. Mark Selby did play well, but truth to be said, he wasn’t challenged at all. After losing the second frame, despite a 50 break, Andy Hicks was non-existent in the match. The match was quick enough for me to watch the whole post-MSI part of the Barry Hawkins v Gerard Greene match. Barry had four breaks over 50 before the MSI including this 147:
He must have lost a bit of focus after these heights because he didn’t impress in the second part of the match. Gerard Greene won the first two frames after the MSI and after that Barry did enough to get over the line, but without spark.
Other than that, two matches in the afternoon session needed to be pulled off because they were over-running: Sunny Akani v Lee Walker and Peter Ebdon v John Astley. Lee and Peter are two of the slowest players on the tour with only Rod Lawler and Amine Amiri “beating” them in the snail race.
In the evening, I watched Willo … who was indeed terrible. There is not much to add to that damning assessment.
Matt Selt, Mark Joyce, Andrew Higginson and Hossein Vafaei were the top 64 casualties on the day. Hossein lead 3-0 and 5-2… Rookie Louis Heathcote is clearly one to watch this season.
And, of course, because of the strict seeding, the closest matches were played on the non-television tables although they are available to watch in China.
Here are a few dramatic finishes, thanks to Nikolay
Mammad Miah missed the last green in the decider, allowing Yaun Sijun to go through
Jackson Page, who had potted match ball, goes in-off the green, giving Noppon Saengkham the 4 penalty points he needed and Noppon clears to win.
Nigel Bong sends Luca Brecel home with a cool pink. (that was on the first day). Luca had missed the last red.
So today, Ronnie starts his title defence. As pointed out by both Mark Williams and Mark Selby, the first round matches are stressful for the top players. They are expected to win and there is a lot at stake. Ronnie will probably feel nervous as well. Also, I’m certain that some members of the press will remind him that, on this day, 26 years ago, he won his first ranking event, the 1993 UK Championship, beating Stephen Hendry by 10-6. He was still only 17.
Good luck today Ronnie!