Scottish Open 2019 – Day 1

The last ranking event of the decade got underway in Glasgow yesterday. Mark Allen is the defending champion.

Here is the trailer:

Here is the report by Worldsnooker on yesterdays action:

John Higgins defeated Jamie O’Neill 4-1 to progress to the second round of his home event, the 19.com Scottish Open in Glasgow.

Scotland’s four-time World Champion has enjoyed plenty of success in this tournament since its inception in 2016, but is yet to lift the Stephen Hendry Trophy.

Higgins reached the inaugural Scottish Open final, but was defeated by Marco Fu 9-4. In 2017 he bowed out at the semi-final stage against Neil Robertson and last year he fired in the ninth maximum 147 break of his career in a 4-0 win over Gerard Greene.

The Wizard of Wishaw wasn’t at his best this afternoon, failing to register a break over 50. However, he dug deep and still managed to comfortably see off the less experienced world number 110 O’Neill.

From 2-1 up Higgins claimed a scrappy fourth frame, before stealing the fifth on the final black to emerge a 4-1 victor. Next up he will face Switzerland’s Alexander Ursenbacher, who whitewashed Michael Holt 4-0.

Higgins said: “He let me off the hook a few times there. I didn’t play great myself, but a win is a win and I am happy to get through.

“My son was here, with my mum, a couple of mates and my father in law. That is the good thing about being here. You get a few friends and family and they can shout you along.

“I’ve done alright here in the past. Obviously I would love to put my name on that trophy, but it is pretty difficult nowadays.”

Defending champion Mark Allen recovered from 2-0 down to defeat Andy Hicks 4-2 in their opening round encounter.

The Pistol claimed the title here last year after a thrilling 9-7 win over close friend Shaun Murphy in the final. However, despite appearing in five ranking event semi-finals since then, he hasn’t registered any further silverware.

Former Masters winner Allen turned today’s match on its head with breaks of 88, 55 and 64 on his way to four frames on the bounce to secure victory. Next up Allen faces Louis Heathcote.

Graeme Dott produced a blistering display to whitewash Brazil’s Igor Figueiredo 4-0.

Scotland’s 2006 World Champion averaged just under 20 seconds a shot, while compiling breaks of 69, 125, 71 and 137 to wrap up an impressive win.

Dott will now face either Ben Woollaston or Chen Zifan in the second round.

Dott said: “My brother Billy was here and I don’t think he has actually ever seen me play live before. He will probably think the game is unbelievably easy and that I play as well as that all of the time. However, it isn’t normally that straightforward.”

World number 78 John Astley emerged with a shock 4-0 win over three-time ranking event winner Barry Hawkins.

Mark Selby booked his place in the second round courtesy of a hard fought 4-2 defeat of Mark Joyce, while Neil Robertson beat Ken Doherty 4-1 to secure his place in round two.

This report is obviously focussed on the Scottish players.

However the main talking point was an incident that occured during Mark Allen’s match. Here is the account on that by Eurosport:

‘You can’t do that!’ – Controversy at ‘VAR’ decision in Mark Allen win

Technology intervened during Mark Allen’s clash with Andy Hicks at the Scottish Open.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Mark Allen came back from a two-frame deficit to beat Andy Hicks 4-2 at the Scottish Open… but only after there was a bizarre VAR-style incident.

The odd moment occurred midway through the second frame when the Pistol, hampered by the jaws of the middle pocket, feathered the white ball as he attempted to roll the blue to the opposite middle pocket.

Initially, referee Leo Scullion missed the incident but after being prompted by marker Marcel Eckhart, he reviewed the footage before awarding Hicks five penalty points.

Hicks, the world number 143, needed two visits but eventually took the frame. It would be his last.

‘YOU CAN’T DO THAT!’

The Eurosport commentary box insisted Allen was not to blame, with Alan McManus questioning the decision to belatedly award a foul.

Alan McManus: “Mark wouldn’t have felt it but I think he did touch the cue ball.”

Phil Studd: “He inadvertently cued the white before he actually did; there is no way Allen would have known of that because he would be the first to hold his hand up. But in the event he has missed the blue anyway. I think the marker Marcel Eckhart is going to bring that Leo Scullion’s attention.”

Alan McManus (after the referee had reviewed the incident): “It is all after the event, you can’t put the cue ball back to the middle pocket so… you can’t call a foul now because he has played a foul. What are you going to do? Call a foul after a shot has been played? Doesn’t make any sense to me!

“He has effectively played a shot after a foul and then a foul has been retrospectively called. You can’t do that!”

‘I HAD NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE’

Mark Allen in the Eurosport studio post-match: “I had no idea. Ideally if I had been called on a foul I wanted to leave the cue ball on the jaws.

“I didn’t really know why they had stopped play… I had never seen that happen before but at least the right decision came of it!”

Alan McManus: “The sequence of events went as follows: myself and Phil saw in commentary and then Marcel Eckhart, whose wired up, he heard us mention ‘oh there’s a foul’, so he has then put his hand up and brought it to Leo’s attention, who has come over and then said: ‘oh, there was a foul’ but this was after Mark has missed the blue. So, really he has called a foul retrospectively, which you can’t do.”

Jimmy White: “We are all very proud in out sport that we declare our fouls – very rarely do you see someone pull a stroke or try to cheat. But when you are on a leather pocket sometimes you can touch it without knowing it, you know? Sometimes it feels different.”

Whether it was the right decision, strictly by the rules, I’m not entirely sure, but Mark Alllen wouldn’t have been happy to learn that he had fouled and that the penalty points had not been awarded to his opponent. We all remember how devastated Ronnie was when he found out about the incident against Sunny Akani at the 2018 English Open.

Most top players won, but appeared tired. Mark Allen actually said it in the studio. Having this event right after the UK championship isn’t ideal. The  only top 16 player to fall yesterday was Barry Hawkins who was whitewashed  by John Astley. After the match Barry admitted that he wasn’t enjoying his snooker at the moment and didn’t intend to play in the qualifiers next week. Sounds like burnout to me…

Ding Junhui is your 2019 UK Champion

After more than two years without winning a title, after months looking dispirited and demotivated, Ding is back with a bang! He won the UK Championship for the third time yesterday evening. Quite incredibly, as Ding is only 32, it cames ten years after the second!

It’s fantastic to have Ding back, he’s a beautiful player, and, by my own experience a nice guy who remained modest despite his natioinal star status.

Ding played very well in the latter stages of the tournament and he’s a delight to watch when on form.

Congratulations Ding Junhui!

DingUKC2019Winner

Here are the reports by Worldsnooker:

Afternoon session: Ding 5-3 Maguire

Ding Junhui leads Stephen Maguire 5-3 after the first session of the Betway UK Championship final in York.

Ding took an early 4-0 advantage before Maguire recovered to take three of the next four frame to keep his hopes very much alive going into tonight’s concluding session, when the trophy and £200,000 top prize will be up for grabs.

Ding captured this title in 2005 and 2009 and is aiming to become the fifth player to win the UK Championship at least three times, joining Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven), Steve Davis (six), Stephen Hendry (five) and John Higgins (three).

The 32-year-old from China is targeting his 14th ranking title and first since the 2017 Yushan World Open.

Glasgow’s 38-year-old Maguire first landed this title in 2004 and is looking to become the tenth player to win it more than once. His only other Triple Crown final came at the 2007 UK Championship when he lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan. The Scot is looking for his sixth ranking title and first since the 2013 Welsh Open. He has won seven of 13 previous matches with Ding.

Both players would go to ninth place in the world ranking with victory, and 15th with defeat.

Ding started strongly, taking the opening frame with breaks of 47 and 48. Maguire looked nervy in the early stages and Ding punished him, compiling runs of 56, 105 and 128 to extend his lead to 4-0.

After the interval, Maguire got the better of a scrappy fifth frame. Ding had first chance in the sixth and made 49 before missing a red to a top corner, letting his opponent in for an excellent 67 clearance.

Maguire kept his momentum going as runs of 42 and 30 gave him to seventh. But Ding took the last of the session with a break of 66 to keep himself ahead.

Evening session Ding 10-6 Maguire

Ding Junhui won his first Triple Crown event for eight years by beating Stephen Maguire 10-6 in the final of the Betway UK Championship.

Maguire went 4-0 down early in the match and, despite a bold late rally, couldn’t get back on level terms. China’s Ding took the £200,000 top prize and the fourth Triple Crown title of his career, having won the same event in 2005 and 2009 as well as the Masters in 2011.

He becomes the fifth player to win the UK Championship on three or more occasions, joining Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven), Steve Davis (six), Stephen Hendry (five) and John Higgins (three).

It’s his 14th career ranking title and first since he won the 2017 Yushan World Open, 27 months ago.

Since then, Ding has produced only occasional flashes of his brilliant best. It has been a turbulent time for him away from snooker – he lost his mother to cancer in 2017 then became a father for the first time in 2018. His priorities in life may have changed but, on tonight’s evidence, his talent remains very much intact.

Ding arrived in York a fortnight ago on a poor run of form; in recent weeks he had lost in the early stages of ranking events against Zhao Xintong, Dominic Dale, Michael Holt and David Lilley. But the 32-year-old’s confidence has come surging back, and since beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last 16 he has looked destined for the silverware. He leaps seven places to ninth in the rankings.

Glasgow’s 38-year-old Maguire banks £80,000 as runner-up but misses out on a sixth ranking title and second UK crown, having won the title in 2004. He finishes the event 15th in the rankings.

A high quality final in York featured seven centuries and six more breaks over 50. Those tons took the total for the tournament to 139, beating the record of 137 set last year.

Ding led 5-3 after the first session and extended his lead in the opening frame tonight with a break of 83.  Maguire could have taken the next from 45-0 down but missed a tough red to a baulk corner on 53, letting Ding in to take a 7-3 advantage.

A run of 103 from Maguire gave him frame 11 and he had first chance in the next but ran out of position on 27. Ding countered with 67 to make it 8-4 at the interval.

Back came Maguire with 103 and 124 to close to 8-6. Early in frame 15, he missed a tough red to a centre pocket, and Ding punished him with 131 to go three up with four to play. And yet another century, 103, was a fitting way for Ding to wrap up the last Triple Crown event of the decade.

I have had to wait a long time to lift a trophy again, and this is a big one,” said Ding. “It has been an amazing week and I have played fantastic snooker. It means everything to me. When Stephen came back to 8-6 he looked strong, but I stayed calm and waited for my chances.

“I believe in myself. All week my head has been clear and strong and happy. I still want to win the World Championship but this is also a big one. For the last two years people have doubted me, asking whether I would win again. Now I believe I can win more, and this is a good start.

“I believe more and more parents in China will watch snooker and follow my matches, their children might not know snooker yet but they will get interested and want to play.

Maguire said: “I tried going hell for leather, but it’s difficult when Ding is also in scoring mood. The way he finished the match off was fantastic. At 8-6 I felt I could make more clearances. It’s a tough school. I lost the match by going 4-0 down. I had nerves at the start, I didn’t settle. But I still enjoyed it.”

 

Inter-sessions news … Masters 2020 draw and Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters.

The draw for the coming 2020 Masters has been made during the MSI of the UK Championship 2019 first session and here is the draw:

Masters2020Draw

Remember: the top eight are seeded with the remaining eight drawn randomly against them. The 2019 UK champion will face Joe Perry whilst the runner-up will face Neil Robertson.

Also a new tournament, the Saudi Arabia Snooker Master has been announced

Kingdom Adds Snooker to Grass Roots Sports Portfolio

Saudi Arabia has announced it will host a World Snooker Tour event for the first time in 2020.  The event, part of the 2020/21 World Snooker Tour calendar, will run from the 4th-10th October 2020 in Riyadh.

The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be a world ranking event with all 128 tour players in the field.

A structured draw will see players seeded 65th to 128th compete in the first round. The 32 winners will face those seeded 33-64, after which the top 32 seeds will enter the draw in the third round.

The tournament also showcases four local players competing against four Tour players seeded 65thto 128th competing in the first round, drawn at random. All players will be required to win at least one match for prize money to count towards their world ranking. Total prize money will be £2.5 million.

The newly formed partnership with World Snooker kick starts a ten-year deal, throughout which the Kingdom aims to raise the profile of snooker at grass roots level.

World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn said: “This is a giant leap forward for our sport. We have enjoyed tremendous global expansion over the past decade, particularly in Asia and Europe and we are thrilled to stage a new and momentous tournament in the Middle East.  We have a packed calendar throughout the year which creates a competitive marketplace for new events.  Snooker has grown to such an extent that we are now creating exceptional tournaments at this level.”

Hearn added: “For the fans in Saudi Arabia it is a wonderful opportunity to see the best players in the world competing for a huge title. We look forward to working with our partners on delivering a huge event.”

WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson added: “One of our biggest ambitions is to bring snooker to every corner of the planet so this is a step of huge significance. It gives us a firm footprint in the Middle East and we believe this will be the beginning of a boom for our sport in the region.”

Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki AlFaisal Al Saud, Chairman of the GSA, said: “This partnership adds further to our hosting of a diverse range of international sports in Saudi Arabia. Having held motorsport and boxing events in recent months, and with tennis and equestrian events to follow, we are thrilled to add the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters, which will see world class snooker played in Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2020.

“Our aim is to provide opportunities to those in our country and region to see the world’s best, in a bid to inspire and encourage participation and spectatorship. Part of this ten year agreement sees a commitment from Matchroom to host clinics within universities and schools prior to each tournament to educate and encourage our youth to try snooker.”

Carlo Boutagy, CEO of CBX, the official promoter of the event in Saudi Arabia said: “CBX is delighted to introduce snooker at world level to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The union with World Snooker and GSA provides the perfect template to bolster the popularity and awareness of snooker at a grass roots level in Saudi Arabia.  We look forward to working with schools and clubs throughout the Kingdom in building snooker as the exceptional sport it is.  This competition provides the perfect motivational platform for aspiring snooker players throughout the Kingdom.”

He added: “We are extremely proud to begin a new association with Matchroom and World Snooker.  Our organisations have a dynamic wealth of expertise in delivering world class sporting events and I’m confident this will be a truly exceptional partnership. The history of the sport, combined with the vision CBX shares as a promoter, means the fans, aspiring future snooker players and current Tour players can look forward to what will be an exceptional tournament.”

£500000 for the winner is huge, and I suppose that only countries like Saudi Arabia can afford to offer that kind of money for one tournament. There are a couple of interesting aspects here, well worth noting:

  • We have a return of the tiered system
  • The first round losers will get paid, although their money won’t count towards ranking. Similarly, players seeded who lose their first match will get paid, but won’t get the ranking points.

So then, it seems that with enough money on offer, Barry Hearn is totally ready to diverge for his “principles”. No doubts the sponsors have insisted on such structure to make sure that the top players are all present in the latter stages. So then … (sarcasm alert) … top players will be “protected” (*) and “mediocrity will be rewarded”.

I have no doubts that other sponsors will follow suite and insist on a similar structure for their events. Personally, I’m all for it. Everyone wins: the sponsors, the organisers, the lower ranked players who get more winnable first matches, and get paid for their efforts win or lose, the top players who aren’t forced to play qualifiers in not-so-great venues in front of three men and a dog, and viewers who are guaranteed to see all the top guys at the venue. What’s not to like?

(*) Actually, seeded players are not protected at all: they potentially face tougher opponents right away, and get no ranking points should they lose.

It’s Ding v Maguire in the Final of the 2019 UK Championship

UK2019FinalLineup

This is how we got here … reports by Worldsnooker

Afternoon session – Ding beats Yan

Ding Junhui remained on course for a third Betway UK Championship title by beating Yan Bingtao 6-2 in an all-Chinese semi-final.

Ding fired five breaks over 50 in a comfortable victory as he set up a final meeting with Stephen Maguire or Mark Allen in York. First to ten frames on Sunday will win the trophy and £200,000 top prize.

I need to win. It has been a long time,” said Ding, who hasn’t won a ranking title since the 2017 Yushan World Open, 27 months ago. “I need to get my confidence back. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. I just want to win. That’s my dream.

Ding, who captured this title in 2005 and 2009, will be aiming for a 14th ranking title and fourth Triple Crown victory as he also won the Masters in 2011.

The 32-year-old hadn’t previously reached a ranking semi-final since February 2018 and has become a father for the first time in that period. He now looks to have regained his focus on snooker and form on the table.

In the first ever all-Chinese semi-final in a Triple Crown event, world number 16 Ding took a 3-0 lead with breaks of 68, 85 and 60. Frame four came down to the last red and 19-year-old Yan potted it and cleared to the blue to get off the mark.

Ding won a scrappy fifth frame before Yan, the first teenager to reach the last four of a Triple Crown event since 2007, compiled a run of 95 to close to 4-2. But Ding closed out the match by taking the next two frames with breaks of 53 and 60.

“I played well today and put Yan under pressure in the first few frames,” said Ding. “He’s young, he’s a good talent. But if you put anyone under pressure they will make mistakes. My long potting was good and if I can do that and play good safety I will be dangerous.

“I like this tournament, it’s very exciting. I am concentrating, still believing in myself, just doing the right thing all the time. At the start of the season I didn’t look too confident or strong. I disappeared sometimes. This time I have come back strongly and I have beaten some good players, especially Ronnie O’Sullivan. Of course, there is a lot of pressure as I really want to do well, however I try not to think about it.

“Yan is still young , he’s done very well this season, he has won one tournament (the Riga Masters) and reached semi-finals of the UK. He’s a great player.”

The result means that Yan misses out on next month’s Dafabet Masters – he could have jumped into the top 16 by winning today’s match.

Ding played well all tournament. Yan was solid in the tactical department but didn’t score enough especially in the last two or three matches. Ronnie was quite harsh on him in the Eurosport studio. I don’t think that was deserved. Of course he does not play the type of snooker that Ronnie appreciates. Ronnie is a big fan of Zhao Xintong, and said that Yan is “limited”. Time will tell and Zhao might indeed be more talented, probably is, and more exciting to watch, but, for now the simple facts are that Yan, at 19, has won a ranking event, reached the final of another one (NI Open 2017) and the semi final of this UK Championship. Zhao is 22 and has done nothing close to that, nor have any of the other young players in that age bracket actually.

Here is the review by the ES pundits, with interviews of both plzyers.

Evening session – Maguire beats Allen

Stephen Maguire white-washed Mark Allen 6-0 with what he described as an “unbelievable performance” to reach the final of the Betway UK Championship.

The 38-year-old Glaswegian will face Ding Junhui in Sunday’s best-of-19 frame final, with the trophy and top prize of £200,000 up for grabs.

Maguire needed just 89 minutes to dismiss Allen in a match which most expected to be a closely-fought battle. Breaks of 95, 129, 72, 50 and 100 helped him to an emphatic win with a near-flawless display.

Having won this title back in 2004, he is aiming to become the tenth player to win the UK Championship on multiple occasions. His only other Triple Crown final came at the 2007 UK Championship when he lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Maguire is aiming for his sixth ranking title and first since the 2013 Welsh Open. He has won two invitation events already this season – partnering John Higgins to World Cup glory for Scotland, and beating Higgins in the final of the Six Red World Championship.

Just six weeks ago, Maguire fractured his ankle while travelling to the World Open in China, and must have feared he would need a spell on the sidelines to recover. He continues to walk with a slight limp, but his game is razor sharp.

“That was an unbelievable performance, I felt strong from the start,” said Maguire tonight. “I felt as if I was going to pot everything. The ones I went for all went in.

“I want the title badly. I’ll enjoy it if I settle down and get involved in the game. I know how it is out there in a final. It’s all about getting off to a good start. These big finals don’t come by that often. I’m pushing 40 now so I might not have that long left.

“It would be special. My son keeps asking me when I’m going to win a tournament. He thinks it’s quite easy! I’d love to bring a trophy back to show the family.

“Ding is different class. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and I love the way he plays. I’ve got my work cut out. I’m going to attack and open the reds up. If he scores better than me then he’ll win but if the reds are there I’ll fancy potting them.”

Maguire was simply sensational yesterday, and watching him, I couldnt help to wonder how he’s not won much, much more in his career, how he’s not played to the potential he showed 15 years ago. He went missing for years. The answer is probably that, too often, he let his emotions get the better of him, anger and frustration.

As for Mark Allen, it’s a bit of a concern that it’s the fith time already thise season that he loses in the semi finals. After his previous match, he admitted that he struggled with the favourite tag, he’s notoriously under-performed when playing “at home”… Maybe there is something there that needs to be addressed: a lot of snooker is won or lost in the head.

If both play to their strengths we are in for a real treat.

Ronnie explains why he decided not to enter the Masters 2020

Speaking in the ES studio Ronnie has explained why he’s not entered the Masters 2020

here is the article on the ES site

Ronnie O’Sullivan has explained that he did not want to give a half-hearted performance at the Masters and that’s why he has chosen not to enter the event.

O’Sullivan’s non-entry to the Alexandra Palace tournament, which starts on January 12, was announced earlier today with Ali Carter, the world No 17, named as his replacement.

However, the seven-time Masters champion has clarified his January plans, suggesting he wanted someone with more passion for the sport to take part.

“The personal reasons were news to me!” said O’Sullivan, a pundit on Eurosport this week at the UK Championship after being knocked out by Ding Junhui.

“I’ve just decided not to enter the event.

“Everything is fine. I think it’s just a mistake on World Snooker’s part. Maybe they felt they had to put something out.

“Putting personal reasons I felt was a little bit strong so hopefully they will correct it and say it was a slight mistake.

“It’s a fantastic tournament but I just didn’t want to really play in it this year. I’m looking forward to doing some other stuff.

“The Masters is such a great tournament that I just think that spot should go to somebody that is really dedicated to the game, loves the game and will give 100 per cent.

“At the moment, I’m just playing to enjoy it and I just think the place is better off going to someone else.”

 

Ronnie will not play at the Masters 2020

Worldsnooker has just posted this:

Ronnie O’Sullivan has pulled out of next month’s Dafabet Masters for personal reasons.

The tournament at Alexandra Palace in London runs from January 12 to 19.

The world’s top 16 players qualify for the event. But O’Sullivan has decided not to take his place.

The player ranked 17th, Ali Carter, will now qualify.

The draw for the first round will be made on Sunday afternoon during the mid-session interval of the Betway UK Championship final, televised by BBC.

It’s of course disappointing for us, fans, but Ronnie had said earlier this season that he might not play in it. I still expected him to enter, obviously I was wrong.

I just hope there is nothing bad or wrong with himself or those close to him.

 

York Barbican – Day 10 at the 2019 UK Championship

It was quarter finals day in York. Here are the reports by Worldsnooker:

Afternoon session:

China’s 19-year-old Yan Bingtao strengthened his reputation as the best teenager on the planet by beating John Higgins 6-3 in the quarter-finals of the Betway UK Championship.

Yan set up a meeting on Saturday with Ding Junhui, who saw off Liang Wenbo 6-2. It will be the first time that two Chinese players have clashed in the semi-finals of a Triple Crown event.

Defeat for three-time UK Champion Higgins means that 12 of the world’s top 13 players have now been knocked out, with number seven Mark Allen the highest ranked left in the field.

Yan won his first ranking title earlier this season at the Riga Masters, becoming the first teenager to win a ranking event since Ding in 2006. He had never previously been beyond the last 32 of a Triple Crown event but, in what seems to be his breakthrough season, he is thriving this week on the big stage in York.

In fact Yan was far from his best today – his top break was just 43 – but he took advantage of numerous errors from Scotland’s Higgins.

Three scrappy frames before the interval all went Yan’s way – Higgins taking the other with a run of 78. The next two were shared then a 43 from Yan put him 5-2 ahead.

Higgins sparked into life with a 123 in frame eight and had a clear opportunity in the ninth, but only made 31 and his opponent punished him with 40 and 35 to clinch victory.

“This is one of my best ever wins, although neither of us played well,” said Yan. “It was very scrappy with lots of balls missed. I didn’t expect to beat Neil Robertson (in the previous round) or John Higgins. This gives me a lot of confidence. When I looked at the draw before the tournament I never thought I would go this far. I’m looking forward to playing Ding – we have never met before in a pro tournament and the first time will be in the semi-finals of the UK Championship. I hope it will be a good match.”

Higgins said: “When you play as badly as that it’s pretty soul destroying but I get used to it. Yan dealt with the conditions a lot better and he only took chances on which he was favourite to get. His safety was top notch, he had me in all sorts of bother. The best man certainly won. He’s got a great all round game. He maybe has to score a little bit better to get right to the very top of the game but I’m sure that will come. He’s a lovely young boy as well, fair play to him.”

Ding Back On Track

Ding outplayed Liang in a Chinese derby to reach his first UK Championship semi-final since he won the the title for the second time in 2009.

It has been a barren two years for Ding since he won his 13th ranking title at the 2017 Yushan World Open – this is his first ranking event semi-final for 22 months. He has become a father for the first time during that period which has undoubtedly affected his priorities in life and form on that table. But the 32-year-old has shown signs this week of a return to his best.

Breaks of 79 and 101 helped give him a 4-1 lead over Liang. A 33 clearance gave Liang frame six, but Ding hit back to win the seventh then sealed the result in the eighth with a run of 76.

“I’m very pleased with the way I played,” said Ding. “I’m just trying to learn. Everyone is different at finding the best way to deal with the pressure. I don’t get upset or think negative thoughts, I just play the simple shots, play everything the same.

“If you don’t wake up and feel good it’s tough, but sometimes you feel very good. I just want to play like I did today, that was enough for me.

“Yan has talent and he is flying up the rankings. He has won a tournament already this season so he must be very confident. I think he’s ready for the top level.”

Liang’s hopes of a Masters place are now gone, but Yan still has a chance if he can reach the final.

The match I watched was Yan BIngtao v John Higgins and I’m very pleased with the outcome. It is true that John Higgins was nowhere near his best, but Yan’s safety game, and mature approach of the match were exceptional, especially for someone so young. To beat John Higgins without a single break over 50, but outplaying him in the tactical department is remarkable.

Evening session:

Nigel Bond’s brilliant run at the Betway UK Championship came to an end at the quarter-final stage as he lost an exciting battle against Mark Allen 6-5.

Bond had knocked out the likes of Judd Trump and Gary Wilson and looked like he might extend his run when he led 3-1. But Allen fought back for victory and he’s just one win away from his third UK final, having been runner-up in York in 2011 and 2018. On Saturday evening he’ll face Stephen Maguire, who scored a 6-4 win over Matthew Stevens.

Northern Ireland’s Allen, the highest ranked player left in the field at seventh in the world, is aiming for his second Triple Crown title having won the Masters last year.

But his hopes looked to be fading tonight as 54-year-old Bond took a 3-1 interval advantage with a top break of 74. Allen stepped up a gear to win the next three frames with top runs of 89 and 98 to lead 4-3. Bond won the eighth with a run of 87 then Allen regained the lead with a 69.

A scrappy tenth frame went Bond’s way to make it 5-5, but a safety error from the Englishman early in the decider let Allen in for a run of 69. Bond battled for snookers, but when he missed a tough blue after potting the penultimate red he offered the handshake.

“I was very edgy all day, it’s not often you are big favourite to win a match at this stage of a major tournament,” said 33-year-old Allen. “I didn’t handle it well and I nearly became another notch on Nigel’s belt. I’m very proud of the way I played from 3-1 down. I hit some balls during the interval to try to get some rhythm  and after that I played better. In the last frame I felt very calm.

“When I play Stephen Maguire we will be trying to batter each other off the table. We will both go for our shots because we don’t know any other way.”

‘Angry’ Maguire Comes Good

Maguire’s aggressive style of play paid off as he came from 4-3 down to win the last three frames against Stevens.

Glasgow’s Maguire won this title in 2004 and has since reached the final in 2007 and the semi-finals on four other occasions, but is yet to hold the trophy again. He is targeting his first ranking title since 2013.

A break of 135 put him 3-2 up tonight before Welshman Stevens stole frame six with a 60 clearance and the seventh by doubling the final blue to a centre pocket. But 2003 UK Champion Stevens scored just nine points in the last three frames as Maguire knocked in runs of 123, 83 and 66.

“At 4-3 down I decided to go for my shots because I was getting dismantled, losing all the close frames,” said 38-year-old Maguire. “I was angry because I gifted him a couple of frames. I would rather go out swinging. If the shots I had gone for didn’t go in I could have lost 6-3.

“I’m just going to attack now. My safety isn’t as good as some of the other players so it’s better for me to try to make matches into a scoring battle.

“Mark Allen is tough, gritty, he scores fast and he can grind frames out. He’s in the top eight for a reason. I have lost a few semi-finals here so I’m determined to reach the final this time.”

Maguire is now sure of a place at the Dafabet Masters, while Stevens is out of the running. If Yan Bingtao reaches the final in York he’ll be among the top 16, otherwise it will be Joe Perry at Alexandra Palace next month.

I watched the Allen v Bond match up to 3-3. By then it was past midnight where I am. Nigel Bond lost eventually but what he achieved here, in York, is truly remarkable.

In fact both matches showed one thing: in an era where it seems it’s all about centuries and big breaks, tactical, methodical players can still win, derail their opponents by breaking their rhythm and propose a different style of game that’s just as enjoyable! (*)

Thank you Nigel. You’re a Legend, and an example for every aspiring professional.

As for today, I expect Ding to beat Yan, mainly on experience and scoring power. After watching yesteday’s match, I believe that Stephen Maguire has a good chance to beat Mark Allen who doesn’t seem to handle pressure so well when being the favourite.

Ronnie is back to the ES studio today.

(*) If I’m honest, when I first got interested in snooker, I didn’t understand that side of the game, so I didn’t understand it. It takes time and knowledge of less immediately obvious aspects of the game.