Jack Lisowski edged out Jackson Page 5-3 in a quick-fire encounter at BetVictor German Masters qualifying, to make the final stages in Berlin.
Victory for Lisowski sees him immediately bounce back from a cruel defeat in the semi-finals of last week’s UK Championship. The Englishman went on a fine run to reach the last four for the first time, but was denied a place in the final after a 6-5 loss to eventual champion Mark Allen.
This afternoon’s tie lasted just an hour and 40 minutes, with Lisowski marginally getting the better of an entertaining encounter. The six-time ranking event finalist fired in breaks of 73,119, 63 and 74 on his way to victory.
China’s Xiao Guodong held his nerve to edge out Iran’s Hossein Vafaei 5-4 and earn a place in Berlin. Xiao crafted a match winning break of 80 in the deciding frame.
Ali Carter secured his progression with a 5-2 win over Robbie Williams. The four-time ranking event winner, who is a former runner-up in Berlin, top scored with 139 on his way to the victory.
Amateur Ross Muir booked a place in the final stages with an impressive 5-3 defeat of Liam Highfield, while Elliot Slessor edged out Sanderson Lam 5-4.
In the morning, Ben Woollaston beat Stuart Bingham 5-2 to reach the final round of qualifying. He now faces Chris Wakelin, who defeated John Astley 5-2.
Andy Hicks progressed after defeating David Gilbert 5-2. With Hicks leading 3-2 and set to move 4-2 in ahead, Gilbert shook hands and conceded the tie.
I’m not sure what determines which matches are reported on or not but clearly the evening session matches are often overlooked. A late schedule however can’t be the reason why there is no mention of another good performance By Joe Perry who beat Oliver Lines by 5-3 in a match that featured 6 breaks over 50, including a 102 by Perry in the last frame.
The evening session featured some good matches and one really terrible performance.
Ding Junhui, the UK Championship runner-up, beat Jordan Brown by 5-1, finishing with a 143, currently the highest break of the tournament. Luca Brecel also won, beating Chang Bingyu by 5-2. Robert Milkins got the better of Graeme Dott; he won 5-3, despite Graeme scoring breaks of 100, 117 and 81. Unexpectedly it was Rob who won all the close frames. That’s for the good ones…
Then we have Matthew Stevens beating Stephen Hendry by 5-0 without playing particularly well. Stephen had chances and played a few good shots in the first two frames. He really should have won frame 2. Hendry missed too many balls, but also, IMO, his shot selection was too aggressive considering where his game stands right now. After that, basically,Stephen was a beaten man and Matthew just did his job. I know that players must play the shots the way they see them, but surely Hendry should know that his own form is not great AND that the mid-ranked players nowadays are much, much better than they were in the early 90th. You can’t afford to give them 3 or 4 chances. I don’t know if Hendry refuses to compromise on his all out attack philosophy or if he just doesn’t know another way to play but this isn’t working at all.
Finally, young Ben Mertens was beaten by 5-4 by veteran Barry Pinches. Barry is a very hard match player and hopefully Ben will learn something from this match. I doubt he enjoyed it though.
As for Gilbert … if WPBSA/WST are consistent with their “punishments” he should be in for a very hefty fine.
PS (for Kathrin): Ali is indeed a German Masters runner-up (2017), but he’s also a German Masters winner (2013). Some of us are old enough to remember. Some were even there in 2013 actually …
Jimmy White continued his excellent recent form to earn a place in Berlin for the final stages of the BetVictor German Masters, beating Martin Gould 5-2 in the last round of qualifying.
The Whirlwind also qualified for the final stages of the recent UK Championship, coming through four rounds of qualifying. It was the first time since 2010 that White had reached the last 32 of the event. He was afforded a standing ovation when he walked out into the two-table setup in York, but was beaten 6-2 by Ryan Day.
White appeared to have maintained his momentum in the opening round this week, when he defeated Mark Joyce 5-2. The 60-year-old backed that up this afternoon with his 5-2 win over former German Masters winner Gould, making breaks of 63 and 68 during the tie.
Newly crowned UK Champion Mark Allen suffered a shock defeat at the hands of China’s Zhao Jianbo, who scored a 5-0 whitewash victory.
Northern Ireland’s Allen enjoyed a momentous victory at the weekend, beating Ding Junhui 10-7 in the title match to secure a maiden UK crown. However, breaks of 85, 58, 61 and 77 helped Zhao to beat Allen and take the place in Berlin.
World number four Neil Robertson secured his progression with a 5-2 win over Alexander Ursenbacher, while BetVictor European Masters champion Kyren Wilson beat David Lilley 5-0. Wilson knocked in breaks of 119 and 109 in the opening two frames, before strolling to the whitewash win.
Allen came later on twitter, saying that he had nothing left in the tank after his efforts at the UK Championship.
Of the six players who qualified for Berlin yesterday, two are not mentioned in this report, and both are Chinese. Surely an unfortunate random thing… Yan Bingtao beat David Grace by 5-2, and Peng Ysong came from 4-1 down to beat Ian Burns in the decider. It’s all the more bizarre because Peng, who hadn’t won a professional match before the UK Championship earlier this month, has now won 3 of the last 4, and is heading to Berlin, having beaten two very experienced players in Mark Selby (no less!) and Ian Burns. Surely this is one of the stories of the week and I’m sure that it it had been a UK youngster doing this it would have got the exposure it deserves.
The debut season of The 900 is coming to a close on Wednesday night and after making quite the impact on the amateur snooker scene, we can expect to see plenty more of it in the future.
The late-night, fast-paced action has been cracking entertainment, from Dennis Taylor rolling back the years, to talented teenage prospect Alfie Lee shining on television for the first time.
We’ve also been treated to seeing the likes of fan favourite Tony Drago, star of disability snooker David Church, Emma Parker and Maria Catalano representing the women’s game and a host of recognisable names who have fallen off the professional tour.
It is no surprise that there has been plenty of interest from amateur players with each weekly winner picking up £1,500 and those eight players returning this Wednesday for a crack at the £10,000 top prize.
The force behind The 900, Jason Francis, explained: ‘It’s the biggest prize ever in amateur snooker.
‘£10,000 for the winner and £1,500 for the runner-up on Wednesday, so at some point one shot is going to cost an amateur snooker player £8,500. As long as you’re not involved, it’s the sort of sporting drama you love!’
For the still uninitiated, The 900 is similar to the Snooker Shoot Out on the professional tour, with 15 minute frames, a 20 second shot clock and a few other tweaks like a spotted cue ball and ball in hand for a foul.
The weekly contests are played Monday-Wednesday from 10pm-1am live on Sporty Stuff TV, hosted by the excellent team of Rachel Casey, Neal Foulds and Lee Richardson, with the likes of Reanne Evans and Ali Carter also popping in.
The champion each Wednesday books their spot on Finals Night and one of those players to come through was former world number 32 Martin O’Donnell, who has been thoroughly impressed with the tournament and the opportunities it is affording amateur players.
‘It’s a good set-up, I enjoyed playing in it,’ he told Metro.co.uk. ‘There’s no crowd but it’s exciting. Having a clock on it makes people a bit nervous and there’s good money at stake for it. It’s a great event.
‘When you’re off tour as an amateur, you’re feeding off scraps a little bit, we all have to do something on the side because it’s hard to earn a living, pretty much impossible really until this came out. So whoever picks up the winner’s cheque on Wednesday night will be very, very happy.
‘This is a bonus that came out of nowhere, none of us were expecting it. What Jason, the sponsors and Sporty Stuff TV have done is amazing, it’s given people a real buzz.’
Adding The 900 to the calendar has made amateur snooker suddenly more viable, with the Q Tour, the English Amateur Tour and Pro-Ams returning after Covid making life off the pro tour an encouragingly busy one, and one that can be profitable.
O’Donnell explained: ‘I got £1,500 for winning my week, which is brilliant. I got £2,500 for winning a Q Tour event, winning my week of The 900 would be more than runner-up on the Q Tour, which is our other biggest earning opportunity. It’s really helpful.
‘The opportunity to play for £10,000 is unheard of as an amateur. What Jason’s doing and what he’ll do in the future will change the amateur game. It will change players’ mentalities because you are a bit lost when you come off tour, you don’t think there’s much around. Now you know that this is going to be there, it might not be as big a deal as it once was, dropping off tour.’
The 900 Finals Night Draw
Martin O’Donnell vs Aaron Canavan Ben Hancorn vs Andrew Higginson Philip Williams vs Andrew Norman Ant Parsons vs Alfie Lee
The success of The 900 so far is going to see the return of a second season, while there are plans in place to create a junior and a professional version.
Francis is excited about it all, but is keen to keep expectations under control as demand increases.
‘I think it’s exceeded my expectations, but in some ways I feel a responsibility now,’ he said. ‘There feels like a huge expectation on me to get amateur snooker on television.
‘So many people are asking when the next one is, can they play, will I do it for kids, for women. So, now I have to realistically see what else I can do because amateur snooker players have loved the opportunity.
‘I’m passionate about it all, but it feels a little bit like I’ve created a monster, but I’ve got to make sure that monster doesn’t get out of control.’
On what is next for The 900, he explained: ‘A junior one is next, the challenge we’re going to face is that the TV station is betting-led and clearly you can’t bet on children’s snooker, so it’s going to have to be self-funded.
‘I’ve already had quite a few people come forward and want to be involved. I’m trying to set it up a bit like the IPL. A company comes forward to fund a team to represent them.
‘The pro one, I’m inundated with professional players wanting to play in a pro series. It’s going to be about finding a date that fits in on the World Snooker calendar. They cannot appear on television while there’s a WST event on and their calendar is pretty busy. I think that’s the easiest one to do because there would be a lot of interest in people wanting to follow that and bet on it.’
When the different versions will emerge is yet to be seen, but we can expect another season of The 900 next year, with Sporty Stuff TV very pleased with the product so far.
‘I’ve had no specific numbers yet, but we’ve heard that it’s been as popular as anything they’ve ever had on that channel,’ said Francis. ‘Specifically in that time slot.
‘We’re already talking about how we structure season two and how that will look.’
A vibrant amateur scene is crucial for the sport to thrive and grow, The 900 has brought something to the party and it should finish Season One with a bang on Wednesday night.
Iconic referee Michaela Tabb left the professional tour back in 2015 but has been really put to work again this year at The 900, not made any easier by running her own business at the same time.
The pioneering ref became the first woman to take charge of a World Snooker Championship final in 2009 and again officiated a Crucible final in 2012.
She has now been off the main tour for seven years, but has had to get used to a new challenge over the last few weeks at the hectic, fast-paced and late night event, The 900.
Not only has she been refereeing from 10pm-1am Monday-Wednesday, but running her successful Blackball Tables business from her Reading hotel room while flying back and forth from Scotland.
‘It’s been quite challenging,’ she told Metro.co.uk. ‘Getting used to the hours of 10pm-1am, then needing a bit of time to wind down, then a nap and getting up in the morning to work, then going to work again at 7.30pm, it’s been quite bizarre but I’ve loved it.
‘I fly down on a Monday and back on a Thursday morning. Those Thursday’s are challenging, it’s tiring. Thursday afternoon I’m in the bath with a book and zonked.
‘I wasn’t concerned or worried, but I was questioning how I was going to stay awake and work those hours. I’m not a late night person to bed anyway, so to start work at 10pm, what the hell?
‘But because the matches are so quick, you find it’s the quickest three hours of the day. We do two games each, me and the other referee Mark, but we score for each other. Before we know it we’ve done four, half way through, it disappears. It’s a perfect format, it’s been amazing.
‘Being part of the team here, from start to finish, seeing it through, it’s been fabulous.’
Tabb’s business, selling pool tables and various snooker and pool accessories went from strength to strength in lockdown, and she hasn’t missed her opportunity to work her magic while donning the white gloves again.
‘We sell snooker and pool accessories so it all merges into one a bit. I’m down here selling snooker balls to a player, not while I’m in a match! But it’s who we are, that’s why we love it,’ she said.
Tabb has never hung her gloves up entirely, staying involved with refereeing since the days of being one of the most recognisable faces in snooker on the main tour.
‘I stopped the professional tour in 2015, but I’ve always reffed for Snooker Legends since 2010,’ she said. ‘I do the Seniors Tour and a lot of exhibitions with Jimmy [White], Ken [Doherty and Ronnie [O’Sullivan]. They’re fun nights. I’ve kept my hand in and I can make it work around my job.
‘I do [miss it] at times. It was long hours and difficult at times. When the World Championship comes round every year it is difficult, obviously I was there for every year bar one, when I was having my son, when I was working on the tour. It’s always like, “Aww, would have been nice to be there.”
‘But things change for a reason. Obviously now I’ve got a very successful business, which couldn’t have happened if I was still on the tour.
‘I do still follow it and there’s still so many people there who were there when I was there, still doing well, and it’s nice to see the young guns coming through as well.’
Tabb was a big name in snooker while she officiated on the pro tour, but even transcended the sport to an extent due to her position as the first female ref at the top of the game.
She was happy to shoulder the burden of pressure that came with that role, but did not quite see how much pressure was coming with it.
‘I didn’t expect it,’ she said. ‘I started on the snooker because I’d refereed the American pool on TV, four years before they came to me with the snooker.
‘I hadn’t appreciated the significance of the history I was making when I started on tour. Then there was actually a lot of pressure on my shoulders because I was representing the whole female population.
‘Let’s be honest, if one of the guys made a mistake, commentators and people at home would say, “That man made a mistake” but if I made a mistake it was “Michaela made a mistake” because I was the only one.
‘So there was quite a lot of pressure there but in hindsight I was probably the right choice for it because I was married and had a family. I wasn’t a young girl, I had responsibilities at home, a bit more mature, a level head on my shoulders, so probably the right kind of person to make that change.’
While she was forging a path, many have followed, with a range of female referees working on the professional circuit now and in recent years.
‘I love it now,’ said Michaela. ‘I look and see all these young ladies out there reffing and think, that’s because of me. I love it.’
In her World Championship final days, were there any approaches to work away from the green baize: ‘Never offers to go on reality shows,’ she said. ‘I was probably a celebrity in the world of snooker, but refs are supposed to keep their head down really…but I’d have probably done it! Maybe not the jungle.’
Tabb’s exit from the professional tour was somewhat controversial at the time, as she claimed sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and breach of contract against World Snooker, and the two parties came to a settlement over the matter.
On the matter, she said: ‘I suppose, in summary, we had a difference of opinion with regards to my employment contract. I wasn’t happy with the terms that were being imposed and decided it was time to go my own way. That was the long and short of it.
‘It just wasn’t right for me and I couldn’t carry on under the circumstances. It happens to a lot of people in different walks of life, I was just quite prominent as the only female.
‘From my point of view it was stressful. We ended up in an employment tribunal and I wouldn’t have gone there if I didn’t believe I’d been mistreated, but we came to a settlement and we both were happy to walk away. It was time to draw a line and move on.
‘I believe what’s meant for you doesn’t go by you. What’s happened since has worked for me and my family.’
Clearly loving her time at The 900 and enjoying her great success in business, it all appears to have worked out well for her.
Defending champion Zhao Xintong will be in Berlin for the final stages of the 2023 BetVictor German Masters, after defeating Pakistan’s Muhammad Asif 5-1 in the last round of qualifying.
China’s Zhao emphatically won the title earlier this year, beating compatriot and close friend Yan Bingtao 9-0 in the final to get his hands on the Brandon Parker Trophy.
Zhao made breaks of 71, 108, 102 and 58 on his way to this afternoon’s victory over Asif. The 2021 UK Champion needed just 69 minutes to wrap up the win, averaging a rapid 15.4 seconds a shot.
Anthony McGill stormed to a spot in the final stages with a 5-0 demolition of Allan Taylor. Former Crucible semi-finalist McGill dropped just a single frame during the qualifying process, having recorded a 5-1 defeat of Jamie O’Neill yesterday. This afternoon’s tie saw two-time ranking event winner McGill compose breaks of 73, 58, 96 and 61 en route to victory.
Tom Ford earned a trip to Berlin with a 5-1 defeat of 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty. Ford continues his fine form, which saw him make the semi-finals of last week’s UK Championship.
Sam Craigie also carried his momentum from York, where he made the UK Championship quarter-finals. Craigie beat Jamie Clarke 5-2 to make the final stages.
Former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson progressed with a 5-2 win over Jak Jones, while Tian Pengfei beat Michael White 5-2 to qualify.
The evening saw one of the shocks of the season so far, with tour rookie Peng Yisong defeating four-time World Champion Mark Selby 5-4. A steely break of 72 in the decider saw Peng move one match from the final stages. He faces Ian Burns up next.
In the morning session, some of snooker’s big names booked places in the final round of qualifying. Newly crowned UK Champion Mark Allen beat Peter Lines 5-2, Neil Robertson defeated Bai Langning 5-2 and Yan Bingtao scored a 5-2 victory against Rod Lawler.
Zhao fell short in his defence of his UK Championship title, exiting the competition early, but he played really well yesterday. Asif’s game probably suited him. Both attack and play an open game. They provided a fast entertaining match.
I don’t like the way the word “shock” is over-used in sport but Peng beating Selby, and beating him in a deciding frame, was totally unexpected. Peng is not the most fancied of the young Chinese players but he is improving. This win can only boost his confidence and motivation. Mark Selby looks happier than he was last season but his game is not in great shape at the moment, to say the least.
The other surprise yesterday was Jimmy White’s 5-3 win over Mark Joyce. This currently brings Jimmy to the 4th place in the season’s “one year rescue lost”.
On Monday, we had a couple of “mild” surprise results as Sam Craigie demolished Stephen Maguire by 5-2 and Michael White beat Ryan Day by 5-3. We also had two matches that really went to the wire. Jak Jones beat Lyu Haotian by 5-4 and Alan Taylor beat Yuan Sijun by the same score. Lyu and Jak set a few “targets” during their match. Lyu scored a 137 in frame 6, the highest break in the tournament for now. Their deciding frame lasted 92 minutes and 26 seconds, the longest of the season so far.
Yesterday, Zhao Jianbo, who replaces the suspended Liang Wenbo, beat Ashley Hugill by 5-1, an unexpected scoreline. Ashley was extremely slow all match, his AST was close to 40 sec at one point.
There is no announcement by WST at the time of writing, but Ronnie was supposed to play Oliver Brown, in match 66 of the qualifiers, on Wednesday evening. His name is no more in the draw and Oliver is now due to play Ross Muir.
Mark Allen completed one of the great Cazoo UK Championship final fight backs as he came from 6-1 down to beat Ding Junhui 10-7 and win the title for the first time.
In a thrilling conclusion to the tournament in York, the Pistol reeled off nine of the last ten frames with two centuries and five more breaks over 50 to take the trophy and £250,000 top prize – his biggest career pay day. It’s his second Triple Crown title having won the Masters in 2018.
Allen lost in the final at the Barbican in 2011 and 2018 but made it third time lucky as he recovered from a slow start to bury China’s Ding, a three-time winner of this event. On his path to the final, Allen had trailed by at least two frames in all four matches, but each time came back to win, then saved his best come-back of the week for the last day.
The pattern of the match echoed last month’s Northern Ireland Open final when he came from 4-1 down to beat Zhou Yuelong 9-4, and stands alongside the best UK Championship final comebacks, notably Alex Higgins’ 16-15 success from 7-0 down against Steve Davis in 1983, and John Higgins taking the last five frames to edge Mark William 10-9 in 2010.
It’s the eighth ranking title of his career, bringing him within one of Shaun Murphy, Peter Ebdon and John Parrott who have nine apiece. The 36-year-old from Antrim is in a fabulous run of form as his victory in Belfast in October followed a runner-up spot at the Cazoo British Open. He is up from ninth to fifth in the world rankings and holds a vast lead at the top of the one-year list with £380,000 to his tally.
The left-hander has faced personal problems over the past two years, including divorce and bankruptcy, but reveals that he has come through the worst of those troubled times, and also lost five stone in weight over the summer. Unburdened by mental and physical pressures, he is now playing to his full potential.
Ding, champion in 2005, 2009 and 2019, missed the chance to become only the fourth player to win this event on four or more occasions, after Ronnie O’Sullivan, Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry. He was cruising at 6-1, having made three centuries, but couldn’t regain the same fluency in the concluding session, and Ding remains on 14 ranking titles, the last of which was that 2019 success in York. The 35-year-old from China banks £100,000 and jumps from 38th to 19th in the world.
Trailing 6-2 after the first session, Allen got the perfect start tonight as breaks of 60, 93 and 132 closed the gap to 6-5. He was on 56 in the next when he went in-off, and Ding clawed his way back into the frame, getting the two snookers he needed. But Ding then missed the green and Allen took advantage to square the match.
After the interval, Allen kept his momentum going, making a 59 as he took the lead for the first time at 7-6 then taking the next in one visit with a 109. Having lost seven frames in a row, Ding regained the initiative with a break of 105. In frame 16, Allen made 42 before running out of position, but soon got back in with a thumping long red and added 32 to go 9-7 ahead.
Frame 17 was a scrappy affair and looked to be going Ding’s way when he led by 35 points, but Allen pulled out a fantastic clearance from the penultimate red, underlining his capacity to hold his nerve in the biggest moments.
“I knew Alex Higgins had come from 7-0 down to win a UK final, I guess that shows us Northern Irish never say die and we have plenty of bottle,” said Allen. “I never let my head drop, even at 6-1. When I got back to 6-3 something changed and I felt great. By the time it was 6-6 I felt as if I wasn’t going to miss, and that’s a great feeling to have in a big final. It was my positive mental attitude that got me through and I’m really proud of that.
“It was pure relief when the last pink went in. It has been such a tough nine days and I would have been devastated to lose today. I want to build a legacy for myself in this game. I am two thirds of the way to the Triple Crown now. I know how tough the World Championship will be. But if I keep doing what I’m doing then I will be confident when I go to Sheffield.”
Ding said: “Mark was very strong when he came back at me. He’s always been a good come-back player, so I didn’t relax. I didn’t make that many mistakes, he just potted long ones, made big breaks and centuries. At 6-6 I lost a bit of feeling, he played much better in the second half. I didn’t make any breaks and suddenly he was in charge of the game.
“In the last frame I had a chance, maybe if it was 9-8 then anything could have happened. I’m disappointed, I had this great chance to win a title. But it’s always the best player that wins the trophy. I’ll stay confident, keep my head up and work hard. There’s nothing I need to change. Things are going well. I can’t get everything back in one week, I can only try and win more tournaments.”
Mark Allen has been the player of the season so far and I have no doubts that looking after himself better and getting fitter has been a big factor.Well done to him on and off the table!
Neil Robertson will begin the defence of his Cazoo Masters title against another Triple Crown winner, Shaun Murphy, in the opening match of the tournament at Alexandra Palace in London in January.
The draw for the tournament has been made:
1 Neil Robertson v Shaun Murphy: Sunday January 8th at 1pm 8 Kyren Wilson v Stuart Bingham: Wednesday January 11th at 7pm 5 Mark Allen v Barry Hawkins: Tuesday January 10th at 1pm 4 Judd Trump v Ryan Day: Wednesday January 11th at 1pm 3 Mark Selby v Zhao Xintong: Sunday January 8th at 7pm 6 John Higgins v Jack Lisowski: Monday January 9th at 7pm 7 Mark Williams v Yan Bingtao: Tuesday January 10th at 7pm 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan v Luca Brecel: Monday January 9th at 1pm
Robertson and Murphy have met twice in the final of the Masters – in 2012 when the Australian won 10-6 and 2015 when Murphy took revenge with a 10-2 success.
World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will be up against Luca Brecel on Monday January 9th at 1pm, while Judd Trump will take on Cazoo British Open winner Ryan Day on Wednesday January 11th at 1pm.
The schedule after round one is:
Thursday January 12th 1pm: QF4 (Williams / Yan / Ding v O’Sullivan / Brecel) Thursday January 12th 7pm: QF3 (Selby / Zhao v Higgins / Lisowski) Friday January 13th 1pm: QF2 (Allen / Hawkins v Trump / Day) Friday January 13th 7pm: QF1: (Robertson / Murphy v Wilson / Bingham) Saturday January 14th 1pm: SF2 Saturday January 14th 7pm: SF1 Sunday January 15th: Final
The Cazoo Masters, running from January 8 to 15, is snooker’s biggest invitation event and has been staged every year since 1975.
There are two more events to be played before the Masters and many feel that they should count towards the Masters qualification. I agree, but it’s the BBC dictating how this works… That said Yan Bingtao who is ranked 16th has a cushion of 29000 points that separates him from David Gilbert who is 17th. It’s not safe but it’s “safish” …
Ding Junhui survived a late rally from Tom Ford to win 6-3 and reach the final of the Cazoo UK Championship, boosting his chances of becoming only the fourth player to win this title on four occasions.
Many millions of fans in his native China will tune in on Sunday when Ding takes on Mark Allen or Jack Lisowski in the final in York. First to ten frames will lift the trophy and bank a record £250,000 top prize.
Victory would make Ding the only player other than Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven titles), Steve Davis (six) and Stephen Hendry (five) to win this event four times, putting him ahead of all-time greats John Higgins and Neil Robertson who have three UK titles apiece.
Ding will be playing in his 21st ranking event final and aiming for his 15th title. Since he beat Stephen Maguire in the 2019 final here in York, Ding had reached only one ranking event semi-final, prior to this week. He is currently number 38 in the world so this run at the Barbican is a remarkable return to form for the 35-year-old.
He had to win two qualifying matches just to make it to the venue – and if he goes on to lift the trophy he’ll be the first qualifier to do so since his own 2005 triumph. The title would also come with a return to the top 16 and the added bonus of a place in January’s Cazoo Masters.
Having thrashed Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-0 in the quarter-finals yesterday, Ding came into today’s tie on the crest of a wave, and swept into a 5-0 lead. Ford recovered to 5-3 but it was too little and too late for the Englishman, who is still seeking his first ranking title.
The first frame came down to a safety battle with two reds on the table. Ding laid a tough snooker behind the yellow, and from the chance that followed he cleared for 1-0. A break of 55 in the second doubled his lead. Ford had a clear scoring chance in frame three but, with the balls at his mercy, he ran out of position on 26. He later missed a difficult black to a top corner when he trailed 27-33, handing Ding the chance to add 24 and extend his advantage. A break of 84 made it 4-0 at the interval.
In frame five, Ford made 46 before missing a straight-forward pink to a top corner. Again that proved costly as Ding made an excellent 62 clearance for 5-0. Then came the fight-back from Leicester’s Ford as breaks of 77, 64 and 64 got him back to 5-3. He looked set to pull another back as he potted eight reds with blacks in frame nine, only to miss a red to a top corner on 64. Ding countered with 37, then took advantage of a botched safety from his opponent on the penultimate red to secure victory.
“I did feel pressure in the end when he got back to 5-3, and in the end I was lucky that he left me a red,” said Sheffield-based Ding. ”I wasn’t making big breaks so I just scored as many points as I could then played safe and waited for the next chance.
“I have confidence to win. I’ll keep my eye on the shots and concentrate fully. I’m enjoying it and feeling good. Tomorrow is a different day but I think it helps that I have played in the final three times before. I know how to play in a final. Jack and Mark are both great players, they are quick and attacking.
“It’s been tough for me in the last three seasons. My fans are waiting for me to win a tournament – and so am I. It’s a great chance.”
Ford said: “I was terrible out there, Ding didn’t play great himself, but he played the better of us. I just couldn’t control the white, it was rolling just a little bit extra and when I was falling out of position it was just getting harder and harder. From 5-0 I was just trying to get a respectable score line. I could have won that last frame to make it 5-4 and then all of a sudden, it’s a different game. I’ve got to take the positives that I’ve done well this week getting to the semis.”
Speaking to Ronnie and Radzi after the match, Ding said a few important things about the format. He insisted that this tiered format definitely helps the lower ranked players, giving them a more winnable opening match and allowing them to perform better at the main venue because they are under less pressure. They have already secured some money and ranking points, they have already won at least one match in the event and they know where they stand with their game. Of course all this is only relevant if the qualifiers are played just before the main event. It was also mentioned that Ding’s only run to the final at the Crucible came when he was a qualifier. That time he completely froze in the first session of the match: lost the first six frames of the match. Hopefully this won’t happen today.
Mark Allen won a breath-taking deciding frame on the last black to beat Jack Lisowski 6-5 and set up a Cazoo UK Championship final against Ding Junhui.
A tremendous semi-final, the best match of the tournament in York so far, came down to the last few balls. Lisowski earlier led 5-3 and had chances in the decider, but couldn’t get over the line and Allen produced a typically gutsy clearance from green to black to snatch victory.
The Northern Irishman is through to the final of this event for the third time, and having lost to Judd Trump in 2011 and Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2018 he hopes it will be third time lucky. Victory would give Allen his second Triple Crown success, having captured the Masters in 2018.
Allen is in a fabulous run of form, having reached the final of the Cazoo British Open and won the Northern Ireland Open within the past eight weeks. The 36-year-old is through to his third consecutive ranking event final and 16th of his career, and the silverware would give him an eighth ranking title.
First he’ll need to beat China’s Ding, who has already won this event three times and looks close to his best form. First to ten frames on Sunday takes the trophy and a record top prize of £250,000, which would be a career high pay-day for either player.
Breaks of 58 and 77 put Lisowski 2-0 ahead, and he made 60 in the next before narrowly missing an attempted double on the penultimate red. Allen later converted an excellent pot on the last red to a centre pocket and cleared to halve his deficit, then made a 63 in the next for 2-2. In frame five, Allen trailed 25-29 with three reds left when he over-cut the black to a top corner, letting Lisowski in to regain the lead.
In the sixth, Lisowski got the snooker he needed on the yellow, but then played a weak safety on the yellow, gifting Allen a pot to centre for 3-3. A run of 54 helped put Lisowski back in front, and he took frame eight after getting the better of a safety battle with two reds left. World number nine Allen pulled one back with a 115. Lisowski had two early chances in frame ten but mustered only 17 points, and Allen’s 74 made it 5-5.
Allen had first chance in the decider and made 36 before playing safe, then Lisowski countered with 57 before failing to dislodge the last red from a side cushion. It came down to the yellow and Lisowski potted it to a centre pocket before missing a tough green. Allen knocked in an equally difficult green to a baulk corner and seized his opportunity to clear the table.
“My performance was really poor, but I stayed patient hoping something would change,” said Allen, who is sure to climb to fifth in the world rankings. “Throughout the match I felt I got the better of the safety battles so when it came down to the last red in the decider, I felt I would get a chance.
“Getting over the line in these big matches is tough and Jack hasn’t done it in these big tournaments yet. I always felt there was a chance he would miss. His time will come but this will be a sore one for him. He was the better player tonight and probably deserved to win.
“You only play your best a handful of times in a season, so you have to win when not at your best, like Selby, Higgins and Robertson do regularly. I’m in such a good place mentally which helps me get through these matches.
“I need to improve tomorrow. But I’ve done better than 142 of the players who started this tournament. I’m doing lots of things well, just not well enough. As long as I’ve got my cue in my hand and breath in my body, I’ll be giving it everything. It would mean so much to lift the trophy, these are the type of tournaments I want to win in my career.”
Lisowski said: “I did well to get back into the last frame and just didn’t move the red off the cushion. After that I played a bad frame. It’s really disappointing, I wasn’t good enough tonight.”
I would have loved to have Jack in the final, but Mark was the strongest player yesterday night. Not the best, but the strongest mentally.
Because BBC insist on that, the draw for the 2023 Masters will be made today. This is completely wrong in my views because there are two more ranking to be played between tomorrow and the Masters. The top 16 by then, in more than 6 weeks time, may well be different from what it will be tonight. Also, whilst Mark Allen will stay fifth no matter what happens today, Ding, currently out of the top 16, would climb to tenth if he wins and Yan Bingtao would then miss out.