The first round of the UK Championship concludes inside the Barbican Centre in York on Tuesday when the eight players in the third quarter of the draw get their campaign underway in the opening Triple Crown event of the season.
We have had to wait a while to see the former champions John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson but they are all on the schedule on what has all the potential to be the best day of the tournament to date.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Anthony McGill
The main table will be greeted by the greatest player of all time as Ronnie O’Sullivan launches a bid for another UK title when he goes up against the impressive Anthony McGill in one of the feature matches in the first round.
It will be interesting to see how O’Sullivan performs in this match. He recently pulled out of the Champion of Champions citing his mental health and had his documentary premiere last week so the practice table might not have been hit as hard as it normally might in the lead up to this tournament. McGill comes into this one off the back of impressive wins over He Guoqiang and Anthony Hamilton in qualifying where he scored relatively well without anything spectacular. He might not get a better chance to beat O’Sullivan if the Rocket is undercooked but a concern would be that he was tamely beaten when these two men met at the International Championship and you wonder if he is someone who is beaten before he takes to the table. That’s enough for me to sit this one out.
John Higgins vs Joe O’Connor
The match over on the other table will see another member of the ‘Class of 92’ taking to the scene when John Higgins opens up his campaign against the Scottish Open finalist of last season in the form of Joe O’Connor.
O’Connor has already seen off one Glaswegian having beaten Stephen Maguire to qualify for this tournament and now he’ll be looking to beat another one here. O’Connor is actually level at 2-2 in career meetings with Higgins so that suggests the Scot might not be the certainty people might think. Higgins is going well this season but keeps finding that hurdle that he can’t get over, often because he has coughed up a number of leads this term, although to be fair to him, in the main that happens against the best in the game in later rounds of tournaments than this. I think Higgins will have too much here but O’Connor is good enough to be respected so I’ll sit this one out.
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Neil Robertson vs Zhou Yuelong
The final session of the first round begins on the main table with the former champion Neil Robertson embarking on the journey to what he hopes will be a fourth UK Championship title when he takes on the Chinese qualifier Zhou Yuelong.
It must be said that the last 12 months have been very bleak for Robertson and he has spoken about having a much needed extended break after this tournament and you wonder whether his head will already be in that rather than this. The Australian has lost to some players he would never lose to this season such as Wu Yize, Sanderson Lam, Liam Highfield and Daniel Wells and Zhou is better than all of those. The issue Zhou has here is he has taken some heavy beatings by Robertson in his career so he will need to put those out of his mind but he scored pretty well in qualifying and if Robertson continues to be off of his game then the chances to score will come the way of Zhou here. I think given the form of the Australian the 6/4 on Zhou has to be taken really.
Robert Milkins vs Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
Over on the other table at the same time we have a match which shouldn’t take long even if it goes the distance as two of the fastest players in the game meet when Robert Milkins faces the Thai player Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.
Milkins hasn’t had the best of starts to the season and so it probably isn’t a surprise that he is the only seeded player this week who is the outsider to win his first round match. Thepchaiya has played some seriously good stuff at times but as ever he leaves himself wide open if he is just slightly off it, however the Thai has a wonderful record against Milkins in their career which will give him some added confidence. Thepchaiya has twice beaten Mark Allen this season and scored brilliantly in qualifying so his price is probably justified but he’s too short for me to invest in. I’ll sit this one out too.
Back Z.Yuelong to beat N.Robertson for a 3/10 stake at 2.50 with Coral