12bet.com UK Championship Preview (part 2)

by Timmy Evans

In the second part of my preview, I profile the chances of all sixteen top half players in their bid for glory this December.

Ding Junhui:
Winner: 2005, 2009

The defending champion’s hopes of retaining the crown he deservedly won last December don’t appear too hectic. He remains a quality player who I fancy to build form as the season progresses, but recent dire performances in the Premier League don’t bode well. Despite winning a PTC, Ding has a lot of work to do as far as pushing himself forward as a major contender is concerned, and although I back him to do it, it’s too early to predict ranking success at this point.

He opens with a potentially tricky game against Matthew Stevens, who is going through a minor resurgence of sorts with decent PTC form, and though I feel Ding will come through, my confidence in him isn’t unshakeable. A run to the quarter-finals would be seen as a decent result, I can’t see him seriously challenging for the title, but a good showing to restore confidence is likely.

Verdict: Quarter-finals

Matthew Stevens:
Winner: 2003
Runner-up: 1998, 1999

Stevens hasn’t been spectacular, but surprisingly consistent in going about his business in the PTCs. He will come into this event with a bit of confidence, and the questionable form of his opening opponent Ding Junhui suggest he may be there for the taking.

A winner of this event in 2003, Stevens’ form in longer events (traditionally his forté) have nosedived badly since losing the 2005 World Final, and on that basis I feel Ding will have too much quality for him over seventeen frames. I’d be quietly optimistic for Stevens, but an early exit still looks the most likely result.

Verdict: First round

Mark Allen:
Northern Ireland’s finest hasn’t been at the races at all of late. A quality player on his day with the game to beat anyone, his 10-4 hammering of opening opponent Tom Ford at the Crucible is unlikely to be as one-sided this time.

Allen, a bit like Ding, has a lot of work to do and faces a man who has had the boost of winning a minor ranking event in recent months. A narrow opening round loss looks a real possibility.

Verdict: First round

Tom Ford:
Despite a late resurgance of sorts, Tom Ford’s Crucible debut was for the most part a humiliation. His opponent Mark Allen was in sublime form and never once looked under serious threat from Ford.

Things could be very different this time. Ford has shown strong form in the PTCs, and even managed to win one outright for good measure on his way to securing a finals berth. He could make amends for his anti-climatic display in Sheffield.

Verdict: Second round

Marco Fu:
Runner-up: 2008

After a nightmare season last term, Marco Fu has put in some hard work and has earned a place at the PTC Finals. Nothing spectacular from the Hong Kong man, but he will gladly take what has come his way thus far considering how abysmal he was throughout 2009/10.

A former finalist, Fu is an adept enough player over longer formats, but faces a very tough opening opponent in Barry Hawkins. It should be an interesting tussle, one in which I feel Fu will come off second best.

Verdict: First round

Barry Hawkins:
Always a player I like watching, Hawkins has a habit of pushing quality opponents but ultimately falling short. Hawkins is a very good player in my opinion, and a win or two here wouldn’t surprise me at all.

He takes on Marco Fu in the opening round, a game I feel he should win, and though a quarter containing Ronnie O’Sullivan is unlikely to end with Hawkins as a winner, expect a very decent showing from the left hander.

Verdict: Second round

Ronnie O’Sullivan:
Winner: 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007

Fresh from his 7-1 demolition of Shaun Murphy in their Premier League clash on Sunday, O’Sullivan comes into this event as a serious contender. He may not be playing as much snooker as we’d like him to right now, but he has shown good form and a return to winning tournaments, even if it is in a shot clock environment, is a welcome return to old ways.

With a PTC & World Open runner-up to his name this year, he looks sharper than this time last year. He isn’t my first pick for the title, but he can still go deep in his pursuit of a fifth UK title.

Verdict: Semi-finals

Stuart Bingham:
His 2010 appearance at Telford will be doing well to last fifteen frames. Bingham is never a player I enjoy tuning into watch, adept certainly, exciting certainly not.

With the exception of his stunning win against Hendry at the Crucible in 2000, Bingham is not normally a man to pull out a surprise result against top opposition, and anything other than a first round exit next week will be seen as a major surprise.

Verdict: First round

Stephen Maguire:
Winner: 2004
Runner-up: 2007

A revelation when winning this title six years ago, it’s been a dreary journey for Maguire from there to where he is now.

Maguire has a very respectable record in this tournament, making it as far as the semi-finals on four occasions and winning two of those clashes. He has appeared in the last four three years on the spin, but that run is likely to end in the event of facing Mark Selby in round two.

His record suggests he should win his opener against Doherty, but form would tell us anything further than that is bonus territory.

Verdict: Second round

Ken Doherty:
Runner-up: 1994, 2001, 2002

Three times a UK runner-up, Doherty’s days of contending for majors are well behind him, but is still a player that most wouldn’t enjoy taking on.

He faces a tough task in the shape of UK specialist Stephen Maguire, and a win would be seen as a major result for the Irishman. Expect a decent effort as per usual though.

Verdict: First round

Mark Selby:
Selby is a man who frustrates me. The question of whether or not he has the game to beat the best doesn’t arise, yet his distinctly average record in ranking events doesn’t do him justice at all.

His game suits longer tournaments, in spite of his lack of success, his form in the PTC was strong in securing second place, and his game is far too good for his drought to continue. A mouth watering semi-final with O’Sullivan beckons, he’s good enough to win that, and good enough to take top honours.

Verdict: Winner

Ricky Walden:
A very enjoyable player to watch, Walden faces the unenviable task of taking down one of the top players in round one.

Walden is more than good enough to cause Selby some serious problems, and may be little more than two or three frames off doing so, but a win may be a little bit beyond him.

Verdict: First round

Graeme Dott:
Gaining much respect after another sterling show at the Crucible, Dott boasts a renewed confidence and enjoyment in the game.

He takes on the impressive Martin Gould in round one, in a game that really could divide opinion as far as choosing a winner concerns. I feel Dott will take it, has the potential to make the quarter-finals, but second-round looks more likely.

Verdict: Second round

Martin Gould:
It’s been an interesting year for Gould. The former casino croupier has gained many admirers for his positive and more than adept attacking game. I enjoy watching him play, and his laid back attitude endears him all the more.

However, he’s had a pair of results that will be tough to overcome. His 13-12 loss to Neil Robertson from an 11-5 lead was a bitter pill, and losing out on his maiden tour title against Dominic Dale was cruel in the extreme considering Dale needed snookers in their decider.

Will run Dott close, but should ultimately finish second best.

Verdict: First round

John Higgins:
Winner: 1998, 2000
Runner-up: 1996, 2009

Making his long awaited return to mainstream ranking event action having been cleared of match fixing allegations, anyone doubting this man’s ability to mix it once again at the top have already been made look foolish. A win and a runner up in his first two events back was an extraordinary achievement.

Make no mistake: he is good enough to win this event out, no question. He isn’t my pick for the title, but he will put in a strong, strong showing in front of the cameras.

Verdict: Quarter-finals

Stephen Lee:
Having been embroiled in a betting fiasco himself, Lee was inevitably drawn against a man involved in one of the game’s most divisive scandals.

Considering that Higgins should be nervous on his return to televised snooker, Lee should put up a strong showing an push him relatively close. Expect the quality to prevail though, and an early exit for Lee, in spite of decent PTC form.

Verdict: First round

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