The 2021 UK Championship – last 32

The trend continues in York, as more top players crashed out over the last two days, most notably, John Higgins and Judd Trump seen by many asthe tournament favourite.

Here are the reports by WST:

Monday afternoon

Higgins Crashes To Zhao Defeat

John Higgins let slip a 5-3 lead and lost 6-5 against Zhao Xintong in the third round of the Cazoo UK Championship, becoming the latest big name to be knocked out in the early stages of the tournament in York.

Defeat for Higgins means that seven of the world’s top 12 players have been eliminated, as he joins Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui, Yan Bingtao, Mark Williams among the casualties. Seven-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is still going strong as he scored a 6-3 win over Mark King.

Zhao’s best run in a ranking event came at the 2018 China Championship when he reached the semi-finals

China’s Zhao is widely recognised for his raw talent and break-building class, but he also showed tactical nous and resilience today to beat one of snooker’s all-time greats. The 24-year-old goes through to the last 16 to face Sam Craigie or Peter Lines.

Higgins led 2-1 with a top break of 80, then in frame four he trailed 76-0 with five reds left but got the snookers he needed and eventually cleared the colours to extend his lead. Zhao pulled one back and had chances in frame six, but a safety error on the final pink allowed Higgins to pot the pink then execute a clever cocked-hat double on the black for 4-2.

A break of 110 gave Zhao frame seven, then Higgins made 67 in the eighth as he went 5-3 ahead. World number 26 Zhao pulled one back, then in frame ten Higgins had an early chance but made just 22 before running out of position as he split the pack. Zhao replied with 59 and when he thumped in a long pot on the penultimate red it was 5-5. A rare safety error from Higgins in the decider handed his opponent a chance, and Zhao grasped it with a superb 83.

I played very well,” said Zhao. “In the last frame, John gave me an easy chance and I took it. I like this venue and I get support from the local fans, it’s very exciting. When I was 3-1 and 5-3 down I just tried to take it easy and play one ball at a time. It’s my biggest win and it gives me more confidence.”

Higgins said: “He was by far the better player, I was just hanging on, I nicked a couple of frames that I shouldn’t have nicked. If I’d have won that game, I wouldn’t have deserved it. Zhao has got so much ability and you can see that he’s trying to round his game a little bit more. He’s super talented and a joy to watch when he’s floating round the table.’’


O’Sullivan is into the last 16 of this event for the 21st time

O’Sullivan, who won this title in 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2014, 2017 and 2018, scored breaks of 108, 70, 84, 52, 63 and 53 as he got the better of King. The Rocket now faces Noppon Saengkham or Stuart Bingham.

Barry Hawkins saw off Cao Yupeng with a top break of 103. Three-time ranking event winner Hawkins said: “If I feel confident in my game then I know I can give anyone a run for their money. I’ve faltered a few times when it comes to the business end in these Triple Crown events but if can keep getting in the thick of it the door might open.”

Andy Hicks won 6-5 for the third consecutive match, beating Dominic Dale to reach the last 16 of this event for the first time since 2004.

Zhao’s win realy came as a surprise to me as he’s not had a lot of success against “tactically savvy” players and John Higgins is one of the best, if not the best in that category. But Zhao has improved in that respect and he’s a joy to watch.

More about Ronnie’s win can be found here.

Monday evening

Bingham Crushed By Noppon Effect

Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham won an incredible match with Stuart Bingham by a 6-5 scoreline to set up a fourth round clash with Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Cazoo UK Championship.

Former World Champion Bingham came from 5-0 down to 5-5, only for his opponent to make a break of 121 in the deciding frame.  Saengkham is through to the last 16 of this tournament for the first time and will face O’Sullivan on Wednesday or Thursday, while Bingham becomes the eighth member of the world’s top 16 to be knocked out of the event in York.

Saengkham is based at Ding Junhui’s academy in Sheffield

Saengkham seemed in total control in the first part of the match as breaks of 61, 131, 53, 64 and 56 put him 5-0 ahead. The momentum swung Bingham’s way as he took five in a row with top runs of 52, 72 and 69. But the Englishman didn’t get a chance to complete the fight back as Saengkham won the decider in a single visit.

World number 45 Saengkham said: “At 5-0 up I was very confident and enjoying it. At 5-5 I went to the toilet and told myself I am always happy to play against a World Champion, even if I lose. I believed I could win and just wanted one chance.

My target was to play Ronnie because I want to learn something from him. If I am good enough I can beat him, I hope I do well. When I started watching snooker, Ronnie and Mark Selby were my heroes so I am very excited.

I practise for ten hours a day and I have Ding Junhui and my coach Steve Feeney to teach me. They have helped me to learn about cue ball control, safety and how to become a big name. I learn something every day.

Fifth seed Kyren Wilson was pushed hard by tour rookie Wu Yize but came through 6-3. China’s Wu made a break of 89 to go 2-1 up before Wilson took three frames in a row with a top run of 115. The next two frames were shared to leave Wilson 5-3 ahead, and he enjoyed two huge slices of fortune during a battle on the colours in frame nine, as he fluked the green when escaping from a snooker, and later fluked the brown which got him over the winning line.

I fell over the line,” admitted Kettering’s Wilson, who has never been beyond the quarter-finals of this event. “I’m pleased to get through but I need to play better.

He now meets Ben Woollaston, who came from 3-1 and 4-3 down to beat Liam Highfield 6-4. Leicester’s Woollaston is through to the last 16 of a knock-out ranking event for the first time since the 2020 Northern Ireland Open.

Jack Lisowski came from 2-1 down to beat Graeme Dott 6-2 with high scores of 54, 74 and 110. “The longer the match went on, the more I settled down and felt relaxed,” said Lisowski, who now meets Xiao Guodong or Hossein Vafaei.

Wu Yize showed good things but he’s still very raw. I thought that he handled the main table, on telivision,  very well considering he’s a rookie on tour.

Noppon is a very solid player. He’s had a difficult time last season and I’m glad the see him playing well again. I would be a shame if either he or Theppy fell off the tour, not just because they are both good, even very good, but because they are important for the future of snooker in Thailand.

Tuesday afternoon

Selt Elated To Knock Out Trump

Judd Trump admitted his performance was “so poor I deserved to lose” as he went down 6-3 against Matthew Selt in the last 32 of the Cazoo UK Championship.

Selt, a former Indian Open champion, described the victory as one of the best of his career and sealed the result superbly with a century in the last frame as he earned a meeting with Barry Hawkins in the last 16. Ten of the world’s top 13 players have now been eliminated from the field.

World number two Trump arrived in York full of self-belief having won the Cazoo Champion of Champions just days earlier, but failed to click into top gear at snooker’s second biggest ranking event. Since winning this title in 2011, he has been runner-up twice but in every other year has been knocked out before the quarter-finals.

From 2-1 down, Selt reeled off three frames in a row with breaks of 55, 55 and 60. Trump pulled one back, and in the crucial eighth frame he got the snooker he needed on the final green, and had a chance to clear for 4-4 but ran out of position and missed a difficult thin cue on the black. After a brief bout of safety, Trump left the black too close to a top corner and Selt slotted it in for 5-3.

World number 35 Selt finished the match in fine style with a break of 128 to reach the last 16 of this event for the third time in his career.

It is a very satisfying win, probably the best of my career because of the circumstances,” said Romford’s 36-year-old Selt. “That last break, I just tried to make it as quick as I could, I don’t normally play that quickly. I felt like I played pretty solidly, I could have scored a bit heavier, but overall I’d give that performance an eight or nine out of ten.

Judd struggled a bit today which was delightful for me, partly due to my safety being pretty good, but he missed a few balls that he normally doesn’t.

My confidence is really high, my game has been good for a while. I changed cue a year ago and since then I have been making a lot more 50s, 60s and frame winning breaks.

I’m hoping it will be a good match in the next round, it is the last 16 of the UK Championship so regardless of who you play it is a big occasion, and Barry is a fantastic player.”

Trump said: “I had my chances at the start should have been 3-1 up but after the interval I was poor so I deserved to lose. I felt flat. It’s a venue that I don’t play well at. Even in the year I won it I should have gone out, I was lucky.  The tournament start to finish is just so long and I am not a big fan of waiting around in between games. Everyone has their venues that they don’t perform well at.

I prefer playing the top players because I always seem to get up for the game, and this season I have struggled a little with lower ranked players.”

Gilbert won his first ranking title earlier this season at the BetVictor Championship League

David Gilbert enjoyed one of his best ever fight-backs as he came from 5-2 down to beat BetVictor Northern Ireland Open champion Mark Allen 6-5. Gilbert will reach the quarter-finals of this event for the first time if he can beat Andy Hicks.

Allen built a 5-2 lead with top breaks of 75 and 78, but he missed several match-winning opportunities in the last four frames. Gilbert clawed his way back to 5-5 and secured victory with a break of 63 in the decider.

I’m over the moon,” said Tamworth’s Gilbert. “Obviously it wasn’t pretty, far from pretty from both of us. At 5-2 down and struggling with my game, I felt like I could hang on if I could just keep the magic going on as long as possible. It was a fantastic break in the last frame, that will give me confidence moving forward.”

Gilbert has raised over £2,600 for Movember and added: “I’ll 100% be keeping the ‘tash until we’re done with the competition. I hope it stays until Sunday. And if I win the competition, I promise you it will stay until the end of the season!

Anthony McGill was also involved in a thrilling finish and clinched a 6-5 victory with a century in the decider. McGill trailed Zhou Yuelong 4-2 and 5-3 but came out on top, and over the match the Scot fired breaks of 133, 61, 60, 96 and 135.

That results blows open the Race to the Cazoo Masters as McGill is sure of a spot at Alexandra Palace in January but China’s Zhou is in 16th position and can’t add to his tally. Gilbert leads the chasing pack but all players outside the top 16 in that race who are still in the field in York have a chance to climb into the elite.

Peter Lines is through to the last 16 of a ranking event for the tenth time in his 30-year career as he beat Sam Craigie 6-3. From 3-1 down, Leeds cueman Lines won five frames in a row with a top break of 75 to set up a match with Zhao Xintong.

Judd Trump’s defeat only came as half surprise to me because, frankly, he has not been at his best since the Gibraltar Open last season. Of course he won the Champion of Champions but he was helped by a very easy group draw, and uncharacteristicly poor Kyren in the SF, and facing an exhausted Higgins in the final. He also had rest days between his Group, SF and Final performances. What surprised me however is that Matt Selt was able to hold it together in the latter stages of the match. To his own admission, he’s not renowed for performing well on the TV table.

Judd Trump said that the rournament is “so long” and that he struggles with idle time between matches. That doesn’t bode well for the Crucible then.

The Allen v Gilbert match was frankly bad. Credit to Gilbert though for fighting it through.

Tuesday evening

Brecel – I’m Not Afraid To Win

Luca Brecel believes he is playing well enough to win the Cazoo UK Championship as he whitewashed Stephen Maguire 6-0 to reach the last 16.

Brecel’s highest break in the match was just 50 but he did enough to dominate his opponent and win six frames without reply. He goes through to the fourth round to face Anthony Hamilton on Thursday. Defeat for Maguire means that 11 of the world’s top 13 players have been knocked out in York.

Brecel’s only ranking title came at the 2017 China Championship

It’s nine years since Brecel reached the quarter-finals of this event as a 17-year-old prodigy, and the Belgian ace insists he is a far better player now having improved his safety and shot selection.

It’s unbelievable to win 6-0 tonight,” said world number 40 Brecel. “There were not many big breaks but I potted a lot of good balls towards the end of frames and got him in snookers. Stephen missed a few easy ones.

I am a very different player now to what I was nine years ago. The way I prepare for tournaments is so different. I am only 26 but I have got so much experience at this level, it’s crazy. I’ve got 20 years now to fulfil my full potential. I try to look at other players like Neil Robertson and learn from them in terms of being disciplined and professional. In the past I went to for too many shots, now I use my safety game more.”

Asked if he is playing well enough to win the £200,000 top prize this week, Brecel added: “Definitely. The one thing I have is that I am not afraid to win when I am under pressure and I have to make a clearance. I have got a lot of bottle and that’s what you need to win a tournament.

Hamilton is into the last 16 of this event for the first time this millennium

Hamilton felt he “behaved like a spoilt brat” against Ricky Walden but he came through 6-4 to reach the last 16 of this event for the first time since 1999. Veteran Hamilton, age 50, came from 4-2 down to score a gritty victory. The tenth frame came down to a respotted black and after a long safety exchange, Walden had a golden chance to make it 5-5, but missed a short range pot to a centre pocket. Hamilton converted a thin cut on the black to the same pocket to secure the result.

It’s a relief to win but the standard was so bad,” admitted Hamilton. “I couldn’t play, but luckily for me Ricky was a bit worse. We are playing for big money and pride. I let my problems get to me, I’d had enough of it. I behaved like a spoilt brat which was disappointing. At least I can try to redeem myself in the next round. I’m looking forward to playing Luca, he’s exciting and plays unusual shots. It would be great for snooker if he was winning tournaments.

Iran’s top player Hossein Vafaei continued his fine run as he beat Xiao Guodong 6-2 with a top break of 69.  World number 63 Vafaei is through to the last 16 of a Triple Crown event for the first time and now meets Jack Lisowski.

Jordan Brown, enjoying his best run since he won the Welsh Open in February, beat Mark Joyce 6-3 with top breaks of 128, 53, 62 and 61.

Last 16 line-up:

Jordan Brown v Anthony McGill
Anthony Hamilton v Luca Brecel
Kyren Wilson v Ben Woollaston
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Noppon Saengkham
Matthew Selt v Barry Hawkins
David Gilbert v Andy Hicks
Zhao Xintong v Peter Lines
Jack Lisowski v Hossein Vafaei

Only two of the top 8 remain in the tournament – Kyren and Ronnie – and should they win today, they are set to meet in the quarter-finals. It’s been a strange one so far!.


3 thoughts on “The 2021 UK Championship – last 32

  1. Zhao’s win over Higgins was unexpected, given Higgins’ recent form. But Higgins might be excused at being a bit jaded. Actually it’s a cliché to say Zhao has no tactical game – it’s not that bad. The correct stereotype is that he lacks focus, and makes mistakes. It could equally be a missed pot as a butchered safety. Also, Higgins isn’t as good a safety player as he used to be – he’s been regularly outplayed by 21-year old Yan Bingtao.

    But as well as Zhao, this tournament is a great opportunity for players like Wilson, McGill, Lisowski, Brecel and Vafaei.

  2. Should be a decent shake-up to the Top 16 rankings after this event, and for The Masters next month.

    I’m hoping for a Luca/Ronnie and Gilbert/Xintong semi-final line-up. A Ronnie v Xintong final would be amazing.

    Or something truly bizarre, like a combined age of over 100 final, of Anthony Hamilton v Peter Lines. I’m sure the BBC would love that.

  3. Ah, Judd, always so gracious. Tournament is too long, too much rest, struggles to get up for it.

    I’m not a professional snooker player and appreciate we don’t see things behind the scenes, but I struggle to see how someone can get ‘up for’ the Gibraltar Open behind closed doors twice but not for the UK Championship where all the top seeds are dropping like flies and the only other 2 Top 8 players are people Judd has both thrashed this year! The total opposite approach to all the other greats of the game…

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