The 36th UK Snooker Championship gets underway from the Barbican in York on Saturday. The event itself is steeped in history and is usually won by one of the big names of the sport, Judd Trump (4.25) becoming the 19th man to claim victory last season in a great final against Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen (13.00). Looking at the list of champions, the man at the top is Steve Davis (300.00), who first won it in 32 years ago in only the fourth event of its kind. This makes it all the more remarkable that he is still competing at this level and has again qualified to the main venue itself.
Judd is back to defend his title and is in the middle of a fine run of form having won the most prestigious event of the season so far, The International Championship, as well as finishing runner-up to John Higgins (7.50) in the Shanghai Masters. Higgins is also in good shape: he has already bettered what was a poor period for him last season and looks almost back to his old self again. Whilst these two will be seen as the form horses going into this, Barry Hawkins and Ricky Walden are both main ranking event winners this season too, whilst smaller events have been won by the likes of Neil Robertson (8.50), Mark Selby (11.00), Mark Allen (13.00), Stephen Maguire (20.00), Martin Gould (75.00) and Premier League King Stuart Bingham (21.00).
Amongst the qualifiers joining Davis is Belgian Bullet Luca Brecel (65.00), who also qualified for the Crucible last season. He’s shown some very impressive form in coming through four matches to get here, including a 6-1 victory over former UK and World Champion Peter Ebdon, who misses out this time. Michael White (200.00) and Jack Lisowski (100.00) - two young players that are tipped for greater things in the future - also line-up in the last 32. White’s rise up the rankings in particular is making people take note of him.
In the top quarter, Trump’s stiffest tests may come in the shape of Ali Carter (35.00), who beat him in a bad-tempered encounter at the Crucible in April and Scotland’s Stephen Maguire (20.00), who has made a solid start to the season. Maguire has had a couple of weeks rest to prepare for this event and I think at his sharpest he may have Trump’s measure.
The second quarter is what I would class as the weakest of the four but still fiercely competitive with Mark Williams (20.00), Shaun Murphy (15.00) and Ricky Walden (45.00), a semi-finalist at this venue last season, all involved. Williams is yet to fire on all cylinders this term and Murphy has trouble keeping his form sustained for the duration of events. I fancy an outsider to emerge from this quarter in the shape of Walden, who has broken into the top 16 and is already a ranking winner this season.
For me the winner of this event will come from the third quarter and I can’t see past this being either John Higgins (7.50) or Mark Allen (13.00). You could do worse than to hedge your bets on these two as it would take a shock result to stop them meeting in the quarter-finals. On recent form you’d have to fancy Higgins but Allen raises his game for the big events and has broken his ranking event duck now so will be in the hunt or more silverware, with the best years of his career still ahead of him.
Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui (15.00) and Mark Selby are all involved in the bottom quarter and I would expect Robertson to face either of the latter two in the quarter-finals. Of Selby and Ding I would favour Ding as Selby is not yet back to his best after a neck injury sustained in China last season. There are still too many question marks over his form to back him with a great deal of confidence. Ding is also yet to flourish this season but tends to have at least one strong run in a main event a season. I’d plump for him to emerge from this quarter.
Four against the field:
Higgins at 7.50
Allen at 13.00
Maguire at 20.00