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The "Pukka-Pies" UK Open Championships??? Oh how snooker has fallen from grace. Pukka-Pies to me is that ubiquitous and faded advert you see in the chip shop next to the Mushy peas, the one with the young atractive couple in bed enjoying the said pie, presumbly after great sex (up north, before sex, of course), not the people who should be sponsoring our second most presitigious snooker championships.
To lower the tone even more all the players were given some tasty 'Pukka Pies' pies to enjoy during the tournament and duly obliged, Mark Williams, by the look, managing to get through all of the other players pies before being knocked out in round two. Now theres someone who has let himself go. The winner would get their weight in Pukka Pies to go along with their cheque.
The tournament has had many different sponsors over the years including Super Crystalate, Coral, Tennents, StormSeal, Royal Liver Assurance, Liverpool Victoria, PowerHouse, Travis Perkins, Maplin Electronics, products aimed at the retired who enjoy emproving their house like they enjoy snooker, that demographic reflected by the venues the tournment has been played at, Bournemouth, Blackpool and Preston rest home central. This years venue of Telford is hardly sexy. Snooker was never glamarous but its pretty dull today.
The game is in upheavel right now, Sir Rodney Walker and his right hand men recently usurped as head of the game in a rowdy annual meeting. Because three guys were voted off the board, Steve Davis and Barry Hearn will take over the game in the intrim and face a vote on December 16th.
The rebellion is over shringking Prize money and the sponsors all but dissapeared, the smoking ban and banking collapse to much for the game to deal with and so the players have had had enough with Walker, hoping magic man Hearn can roll the back the years and bring back the good times. Hearn is the man who has even made fishing popular on cable TV!
Davis is talking big and calling for the game to be more global,which could mean the World Championships going to China and so much bigger prize money, this issue believed to be at the heart of the players concerns over Walkers five year plan. They wanted to sign with China for the World Championship but Walker patrioticly went with the BBC.
The first UK Championships was held in 1977 with £2 grand for the winner and the way its going now it could be back to that level very soon, only 70k for the winner last year. The lesser players are saying they cant live on their wages anymore and starting to get part-time jobs like they did in the 1970s. If you are bombed out early in the big four events your season is screwed if your not top 16.
After Cliff Thorburn won the World Championships in 1981 the UK Championship was still Brit`s only and so could no longer ignore the serge of Commonwealth talent. In 1984 it became an open event, the decision coinciding with snookers peak.
Over the years its been dominated by Davis in the 1980s and Hendry in the 90s (the two meeting in the first round this year), Davis winning six out of his nine finals, Hendry six out of his eleven, but the latter over nearly two decades. O`Sullivan is next with four wins. One of the greatest finals ever was when Alex Higgins recovered from 7-0 down to win 16-15 on the final frame against Davis, stopping the Romford potting machine winning six on the spin.
-The 2009 First round-
Davis v Hendry kicked things off, the 12 times winners going head to head for some pure nostalgia. It was Hendry that prematrely ended Davis domination of the game by beating the Nugget convincingly in the 1989 and 1990 finals and the same here. Both would make surprise finals in the later years, Davis memorably in 2005 against Ding Junhi, the only ever foreign winner, Hendry in the 2006 final, losing to Peter Ebdon. But 52-year-old Davis would lose to 42-year-old Hendry 9-6 last Sunday week. Davis was in the frame at half-way with the scores level at 4-4. But Davis top break was 41 to get to that point in what was a dire match. Hendry blitzed the second session 5-2 and that was that. It really is time for Steve to retire and concentrate on running the game alongside Barry Hearn, the real issue where he can make good, like they used to. Its sad watching his and snookers demise.
Ronnie O`Sulivan turned up in the mood this time and had a tough draw with Mathew Stevens. The problem for Ronnie is even if hes only at 75% he will win his games and that gets boring so he likes to create dramas to test himself. One test is to find perfection on the table whilst the other is to wind the opponent up to make them play harder so to taste stiff competition. Life can be tough for a genious sometimes, but Stevens swept away 9-3. Ronnies post match conference duly delivered a choice commnt or two, claiming most pros on the tour are not worthy of Barry Hearn.
Stephen Maguire of Scotland enjoyed a 9-6 win over Michael Holt, which in itself is nothing remotely important, but for the fact he is allowed to play still. The police and World Snooker will not be pressing charges for the alleged fix match he played against his fellow Scot Rob Burnett, even though the evidence was damming, but the CPS not passing a file and that was that, they saying no one really got hurt here as most of the bets were never paid out and the bets placed were made by untraceable Eastern Europeans and so no real proof the fix was in. Looks like the snooker plays are being treated just like MPs! How many more dodgy results have been covered up like Agassis drug tests seemed to be in tennis to protect the good of the game?
-1st Round results-
Result: Allister Carter (Eng) 9-7 Rory McLeod (Eng) Result: Ding Junhui (Chn) 9-5 Mike Dunn (Eng) Result: Marco Fu (HK) 3-9 Peter Lines (Eng) Result: Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 9-3 Matthew Stevens (Wal) Result: John Higgins (Sco) 9-7 Ricky Walden (Eng) Result: Mark Allen (NI) 8-9 Stephen Lee (Eng) Result: Stephen Hendry (Sco) 9-6 Steve Davis (Eng) Result: Peter Ebdon (Eng) 9-4 Judd Trump (Eng) Result: Mark Selby (Eng) 9-8 Jamie Cope (Eng) Result: Joe Perry (Eng) 4-9 Stuart Bingham (Eng) Result: Neil Robertson (Aus) 9-3 Tom Ford (Eng) Result: Ryan Day (Wal) 3-9 Liang Wenbo (Chn) Result: Mark Williams (Wal) 9-2 Graeme Dott (Sco) Result: Mark King (Eng) 9-2 Anthony Hamilton (Eng) Result: Shaun Murphy (Eng) 9-5 Gerard Greene (NI) Result: Stephen Maguire (Sco) 9-6 Michael Holt (Eng)
-- 2nd Round--
O` Sullivan versus Ebdon was the highlight in round two, the two producing a memorable encounter a while back when Ebdon tried to psyche out Ronnie by playing really slowly. There was none of that nonsense this time around and Ronnie powered into a 6-2 interval lead. The evening session saw just three frames as Ronnie won out 9-3. Other big names to fall were Hendry and Shaun Murphy. The big shock was little known Peter Lines win over Mark Williams on the last frame, the Englishman's first appearance on TV in seven years. He is one of a growing number of those professionals who have had to find other work to stay in the game and has done everything from driving a cab to working in a shop to make the bills between tournaments. John Higgins also squeezed through on the final frame in his match.
---2ND ROUND RESULTS---
Peter Lines (Eng) 9-8 Mark Williams (Wal) Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 9-3 Peter Ebdon (Eng) Shaun Murphy (Eng) 3-9 Ding Junhui (Chn) Stephen Lee (Eng) 5-9 Allister Carter (Eng) Neil Robertson (Aus) 8-9 John Higgins (Sco) Mark Selby (Eng) 9-5 Stephen Hendry (Sco) Stuart Bingham (Eng) 3-9 Stephen Maguire (Sco) Liang Wenbo (Chn) 9-2 Mark King (Eng)
It was a refreshingly young line up for the last 8, John Higgins the oldest on show at 34, Ronnie the second oldest at 31. But there were no problems for either, Ronnies third succesive 9-3 win against some very good players, Maguire and Ding Junhui joining them, three of the worlds top four ready to do battle.
Ding Junhui (Chn) 9-8 Allister Carter (Eng) Peter Lines (Eng) 5-9 Stephen Maguire (Sco) John Higgins (Sco) 9-2 Liang Wenbo (Chn) Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 9-3 Mark Selby (Eng)
Ronnie O'Sullivan v John Higgins
Stephen Maguire 3 Ding Junhui 9
Theres something about Ding that doesn't sit right and his slide down the rankings suggested somethings not right in his life. It my be camera shyness or homesickness, but it is odd for a guy with so much roar talent. But he was level-headed here and put away Mcguire with ease, his first major final for a while. The biggest match of the season so far was O`Sullivan V Higgins, the Scott one player who is not intimidated by Ronnies genious. If Ronnies not at least 90% Higgins is the type of player to steal it at the end. But it was Higgins that swept into a 6-2 interval lead and when he went 8-2 that looked like that, his emaculate safety a weapon Ronnie couldn't deal with, Higgins as good with his sword as he is his shield. But the match squrimed and turned when Ronnie couldn't escape from a snooker, failing seven times for 34 in penalties. It wasn't called a miss those seven attempts by the ref as the shot was too tough to make, meaning Higgins could not pot a colour instead of the reds and so kept replacing the ball, so Ronnie deciding to feather the ball (or he claimed to) and foul on the 8th attempt, meaning it now was called a miss, the que ball and play postion now at a disadavantage to Higgins from a dominant position due to an obvious loop-hole. The ref seemed to call the foul wrong and Higgins was visibly shaken as he stared at referee Jan Van der Housen, assembling the extension on his que with menace like a snipers rifle about to take him out, losing the frame and then the next five, an incredible tie at 8-8, all on the last. But the likeable Scot held his nerve and made the final. Ronnie was just happy somebody pushed him, why he still plays the game.
John Higgins 8 Ding Junhui 10
Higgins has not been outside the worlds top five for 12 years, not quite a Davis or Hendry but certainly equal to O`Sullivan in big wins. But the UK Championship is not Higgins most productive ranking event, this his first final for nine years, beating Mark Williams 10-4 in 2000, The Wizard of Wishall appearing in three finals in four years, but nothing since. The three times world champion has scored 5 maxiums in competition and so has the nerve for more wins. Higgins has also help set up the players first union, the ASP, the Association of Snooker Professionals.
His opponent Ding Junhui made his name on prolific break building, equaling Ronnie for the fastest hundred hundreds as a pro, taking just five seasons (currently 154 tons in total). He did beat Ronnies youngest ever televised maximum in 2007 (he has two in competition). He won the World Under 21 championships at just 15. Both he and Higgings are the only two teenagers to win three ranking titles each before their 20th birthdays. Bizarrely, and very Chinese, he enrolled in the University of Shanghai in 2006 to do a concurrent three year buinsess and administration degree with his snooker? He also holds the new record for most unanswered points in an official tournament, 495 in the Betfair Premier Snooker League against Hendry. Guess who held the recored at 494? Yep, John Higgins!
It was always going to be a very close final and I couldn't call it. But it was Ding Junhui that would squeeze the win in a boring final, goin gup against the X-Factor and the BBC Sports Personality night, something Ding wont be winning any day soon. I reckon this win will be the big breakthrough though and he will win the World Championship for the first time next year.