This tournament continues to spring surprises. It’s a weird, but interesting one!
The two highest ranked players still in the draw after the last 16 round, Ronnie and Kyren Wilson, are pitted against each other in the QF. Stephen Hendry says that this tournament is Ronnie’s to lose. I disagree. Ronnie has not been the best player here in York, and hasn’t really shown his best form since his 2020 Crucible victory.
There are 5 players aged 30 or less at the quarter-finals stage which is a rarety nowadays, but it’s really good to see. Maybe it’s a sign that the change of guard is finally coming.
Amongst those is Zhao Xintong. Zhao has been seen as very hot prospect for about 5 years already but has often disappointed. He is now 24, he seemed to have matured a lot and he has been brilliant so far this week.
Luca Brecel as well is in good form. His problem since turning pro has always been consistency though.
Anthony Mgc Gill, who, to his own admission finds it hard to motivate himself for the small(er) events, is clearly up for this one and playing well. He is dangerous.
Barry Hawkins is playing well too and I expect him to reach the final. I can’t see Zhao Xintong or Jack Lisowski outsmart him.
The veteran in the QF draw, Andy Hicks, is 48 years old and currently ranked number 102 in the world… he could still get in the top 16 by winning the title. The prize money/ranking system is that top heavy!
Here are the WST accounts on the last 16 matches at the 2021 UK Championship.
O’Sullivan Digs In To Beat Saengkham
Ronnie O’Sullivan admitted to feeling nervous during his clash with Noppon Saengkham at the Cazoo UK Championship, but came from 3-2 down to win 6-3 and reach the quarter-finals.
Thailand’s Saengkham crucially missed chances to go 4-2 ahead when he looked to have the momentum, and O’Sullivan punished him as he made his way to the last eight of this event for the 18th time. He will meet Kyren Wilson or Ben Woollaston on Friday.
Saengkham knocked out Stuart Bingham earlier in the week and posed a serious challenge to O’Sullivan’s bid to win this title for an eighth time. The Thai took the opening frame, then world number three O’Sullivan made a break of 76 for 1-1. Saengkham regained the lead with an 83 before O’Sullivan’s 98 made it 2-2 at the interval.
In frame five, Saengkham trailed 57-6 when he converted a fantastic long pot on a red which was close to a side cushion, and that set him up for a 59 clearance to give him the lead for the third time. The world number 45 had clear opportunities to extend his advantage in the sixth, notably missing the third last red to a top corner when he led 48-14. The frame came down to the colours and a missed yellow from Saengkham allowed O’Sullivan to clear and level at 3-3.
That proved the turning point as O’Sullivan won the last three frames in just 29 minutes with top breaks of 74 and 120.
“At 3-2 down I nearly gave up, I was struggling,” O’Sullivan told BBC Sport. “But I dug in and kept applying myself. I should have gone 4-2 down, but when I won that frame something clicked and I was off and running again.
“I get butterflies, I get nervous. I’m under pressure in every match, you just try to disguise it and try to stay calm and relaxed. Everyone feels pressure, even the greats – I’ve heard of some of them being sick in the dressing room before going out. Maybe that doesn’t happen in team sports, but snooker is a tough one.
“I prefer watching snooker and talking about it than actually playing it. But I have to force myself to get a bit more juice out of playing. It’s going to end at some point but I’ll get as much out of it as I can. I used to hate watching it, but once you start doing punditry you start to enjoy it and get excited. I play for a hobby, not for a job.”
O’Sullivan first won this title 28 years ago and he turns 46 on the day of the final on Sunday. He added: “I no longer think my best is better than everyone else’s. Will I be comfortable with that? Winning is not so important. If I can be the best 46-year-old and compete with Higgins, Williams and people in that category, that’s enough. It’s only a matter of time before the younger guys start winning tournaments.
“I’m comfortable with losing and still having a smile on my face. Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis couldn’t accept that, while Jimmy White and I are fascinated by the game and just enjoy playing.”
Zhao Xintong booked his place in the quarter-finals with a 6-4 win over Peter Lines. China’s 24-year-old Zhao took a 4-1 lead with a top break of 122. Yorkshireman Lines battled back to 4-4, only for his opponent to take the next two with runs of 92 and 67.
World number 26 Zhao continues his best run in this event having never previously been beyond the last 32. His next opponent is Jack Lisowski or Hossein Vafaei.
“It was a very difficult match, Peter is a great player,” said Zhao, who is based in Sheffield. “When I was 4-1 up I thought I would win quickly, then he came back at me. I was under big pressure at 4-4 but I played well for the last two frames. I knew I had to keep my style and pot balls, I knew if I played slowly I would lose the game. It’s a very important win for me. It will give me more confidence if I win the tournament.”
Wilson Sets Up Rocket Clash
Kyren Wilson beat Ben Woollaston 6-3 at the Cazoo UK Championship to equal his best run in the tournament – but now finds Ronnie O’Sullivan in his path.
World number five Wilson is into the quarter-finals of this event for the third time and will face O’Sullivan on Friday at the York Barbican. It’s a repeat of their 2020 Betfred World Championship final battle, which O’Sullivan won 18-8. But Kettering’s Wilson has beaten the Rocket before, notably 6-5 in the semi-finals of the 2020 Welsh Open, and will go into battle with determination and confidence.
Breaks of 66 and 58 gave Wilson the first two frames tonight and he stole the third from 64-0 behind with a 66 clearance. He went on to lead 4-0, then Woollaston staged an impressive fight-back after the interval, closing to 4-2. In the pivotal seventh frame, Woollaston led 56-32 when he missed a tricky pot on the last red along a side cushion, using the rest. Wilson punished him with a 31 clearance.
Leicester’s Woollaston pulled one more back with an 87 in frame eight, only for Wilson to settle the tie as he made a 65 in taking frame nine.
“At 4-0 I felt really in control, then I lost concentration and allowed Ben back in the game,” said Wilson, who turns 30 later this month. “I’m usually good at crossing the line and finishing matches off, but that has not been the case this week for whatever reason.
“It’s all about getting through these matches – that’s the most important thing because as long as you’re still in it, you can improve.
“It is going to be a huge match against Ronnie. I always look forward to playing him, and to do that in the quarter-finals of the UK Championship is massive. If I turn up and produce my best against the very best, I give myself a chance.”
Anthony McGill was also a 6-3 winner, beating Jordan Brown. The Scot’s only previous appearance in the last eight in York came in 2014 when he lost to O’Sullivan. This time he will take on Luca Brecel or Anthony Hamilton.
Breaks of 117, 77 and 68 helped McGill to a 3-2 lead, then Welsh Open champion Brown took frame six to square the match. But Glasgow’s McGill was the stronger player in the closing stages and took the last three frames with a top break of 80.
“Overall I played well, I feel good,” said world number 16 McGill. “I’m playing a bit better in each match. I fancy playing well, but maybe the other guy will just be too good. I’m just happy to be in the hat.”
Lisowski And Brecel Into Quarters
Jack Lisowski and Luca Brecel, two of snooker’s most flamboyant and attacking players, scored impressive wins on Thursday at the York Barbican to progress to the quarter-finals of the Cazoo UK Championship.
Lisowski scored a 6-4 victory over Hossein Vafaei to reach the last eight of this event for the second consecutive year. In 2020 he lost to Zhou Yuelong, but this time if he can beat Zhao Xintong on Friday evening he’ll be through to the semi-finals of a Triple Crown event for the first time in his career.
World number 15 Lisowski made a poor start to the season, suffering early exits in the first three ranking events, but has found a groove in York, winning four matches to get this far. The Gloucestershire cueman has had pep-talks from former World and UK Champion Peter Ebdon to prepare himself mentally for the challenge of competition.
The first two frames today were shared, then Iran’s Vafaei had a chance to go 2-1 ahead but missed a straight-forward brown when leading 59-48. Lisowski cleared to take the lead then made a break of 82 for 3-1. Vafaei’s superb 115 saw him claw one back, before Lisowski’s 88 gave him a 4-2 advantage.
World number 63 Vafaei took two of the next three frames to close to 5-4. In the tenth, he was 44-54 behind when he went for a tough pot on the last red along the top cushion, dismissing the option to play safe. But the red wobbled in the jaws, handing Lisowski the chance to clear to the brown which proved enough for victory.
“We both felt pressure and missed shots, but we also put on a good game and the crowd seemed to enjoy it,” said 30-year-old Lisowski. “Hossein is a lovely guy and if he does well it will be great for snooker. On the red in the last frame, I could see in his eyes and his body language that he was going for it, he wasn’t playing safe. Maybe I would have gone for it as well. Some of the top players would have snookered me, like Robertson, Selby and Trump. I was hoping he went for it because I could see it was a tough pot. Luckily for me he missed it.
“Zhao Xintong is my favourite player to watch, he goes for all his shots, he’s fast and he doesn’t play any safety. We will play it on our terms, the analysts will be saying which shots we should be playing, but that’s not going to happen. We’ll be going for everything, it will be a pot-fest. This was a big match for me in terms of the rankings and getting into the World Grand Prix. It’s a good opportunity to kick on from that.
“I got Peter Ebdon’s number and spoke to him for a couple of hours. He’s a winner and it’s great to have someone like that in your corner. He has given me things to think about. I’ll chat to him later and ask him what he thought of that match.”
Belgium’s Brecel thumped Anthony Hamilton 6-1 with top breaks of 72, 72 and 69 to reach the quarter-finals of this event for the third time. World number 40 Brecel has shown consistent form this season and also reached the last eight of the BetVictor English Open. His next opponent will be Anthony McGill.
“Safety is always massive in such a big game and I didn’t really do a lot wrong today on that side,” said Brecel, whose only ranking title came at the 2017 China Championship. “Today was the best I felt in the whole tournament. Since being 5-4 down against Tom Ford I’ve won 14 out of 15 frames. I’m feeling good, confident and relaxed.
“It would be good if me or Jack Lisowski could win more tournaments because we have a nice style, I think, we play crazy shots sometimes. I’m not busy with entertaining, I’m a real winner, I hate losing so I just try to win. When I go for shots some people say I’m pushing the boat out, but it is just the way I play and I am confident in my shots so that’s why I play them.
“There’s still some very good players, Anthony McGill next, then Ronnie O’Sullivan or Kyren Wilson. Ronnie is obviously the big favourite to win it, but I can beat anyone. I’ve proven that over the years so we’ll see what happens.”
Hicks Keeps Epic Run Going
World number 102 Andy Hicks won a fourth consecutive match by a 6-5 scoreline, beating David Gilbert to reach the quarter-finals of the Cazoo UK Championship.
Hicks was one of snooker’s leading players in the mid-1990s, reaching the semi-finals of the World Championship, UK Championship and the Masters, but other than an appearance in the semi-finals of the Shoot Out in 2017, this is his best run in a ranking event since 2004. The 48-year-old is now guaranteed £24,500, his biggest pay-day since the 1996 Masters.
Devon’s Hicks has scored win over Liang Wenbo, Michael Holt, Dominic Dale and now Gilbert in York, each time getting the better of the deciding frame. Hicks, by far the lowest ranked player left in the field, will now face Barry Hawkins, who scored a 6-3 victory over Matthew Selt.
The first four frames tonight were shared, Gilbert making breaks of 81 and 54 while Hicks fired in 67 and 88. Frame five came down to a safety battle on the brown, and Gilbert converted a clever double to a centre pocket before adding the blue to edge ahead. Hicks won two of the next three frames with breaks of 67 and 82 to level at 4-4, then got the better of a scrappy ninth to take the lead. Frame ten was another fragmented affair and Gilbert built a 51-10 lead, then an excellent long pot on the third last red helped him to 5-5.
A missed red to a centre pocket from Gilbert early in the decider let Hicks in for a fine run of 56. World number 22 Gilbert battled for a chance to counter, but Hicks picked off loose reds and eventually took the frame 75-0.
“I’d like to say I’m losing my hair but that happened many years ago!” said Hicks, who, away from the baize, runs a business painting houses. “In the deciding frames I have just tried to take my time and not do anything rash or silly.
“Last season I needed to beat Reanne Evans in the World Championship qualifiers to keep my tour card. I won that match and it was still touch and go, but in the end I got the two year card. That took the pressure off because I know I have got two years. If I had fallen off the tour I definitely would have retired. Here I am, still punching.
“My aim was to have one more big run. My expectations of winning tournaments have gone down over the years but I’m really pleased just to have a chance, and there are not many bigger tournaments than this one. I try not to look at the money, but it does give me a bit of security.
“Barry probably thinks it’s a good draw for him and he’s a great player, but I’m going to be trying my very hardest.”
Hawkins came from 3-1 down to win five frames in a row against Selt, reaching the quarter-finals of this event for only the second time in his career and first since 2013. The Londoner has conceded just seven frames in the tournament but was in danger of being knocked out when he started slowly tonight.
Selt led 3-1 at the interval with top breaks of 73 and 88, then Hawkins pulled one back with a run of 99 and added the sixth to square the tie. Frame seven came down to the last red and Hawkins missed a mid-range pot to a top corner, but Selt then failed to convert a tough pot to the opposite corner and soon found himself 4-3 behind.
In the eighth, Selt made 27 before running out of position as he attempted to split the pack, and Hawkins later converted a long red to initiate a break of 103 which put him two up with three to play. Selt had an early chance in the next but after potting an opening red he missed a tricky blue to a baulk corner, and that proved his last shot as world number 14 Hawkins sealed victory with a run of 92.
“I was all at sea in the first four frames,” admitted 42-year-old Hawkins. “I’m really pleased because I stuck to my task and got stronger as the match went on. I felt as if I was going to score heavily and I hope I can take that into my next game. According to Stephen Hendry we should just give the trophy to Ronnie O’Sullivan, but everyone still in it can play.
“It’s fantastic for Andy, I have always rated him highly and he has a good temperament. If it goes 5-5 I might as well shake his hand!”
Anthony McGill v Luca Brecel
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Kyren Wilson
Barry Hawkins v Andy Hicks
Jack Lisowski v Zhao Xintong