The second round of the UK Championship concludes on Thursday when the bottom half of the draw play down to the quarter final stage on a day where four excellent looking matches will keep us entertained inside the Barbican Centre in York.
We saw one member of the ‘Class of 92’ make it through to the quarter finals on Wednesday and on Thursday the other two will look to progress too. We also have the world champion on show on a quality day of action.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Robert Milkins
The match on the main table in the afternoon session sees the former champion Ronnie O’Sullivan looking to make another UK Championship quarter final when he goes up against the man who won the Welsh Open earlier in the year in Robert Milkins.
Milkins battled hard in the opening round to make it through to this stage. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh really laid it down to the Milkman but you could tell that Milkins has much more confidence in himself since he won that Welsh Open and he found it in himself to come back and come through a deciding frame in style. O’Sullivan wasn’t tested at all in the first round when it has to be said he looked there for the taking. You would imagine O’Sullivan will come on for the run though after he pulled out of the Champion of Champions and wouldn’t have done much practicing last week while his premiere was on. Even though he was nowhere near sharp against Anthony McGill, O’Sullivan still made a couple of 80 breaks and a 90 so with a bit more sharpness we should see his heavy scoring come to the party here. Milkins scored well against Un-Nooh and doesn’t really have a lot to lose here. He has pretty much secured his spot at The Masters and can give this a real good go. I’m a little surprised we can get a 1.5 centuries line on this one. Their last three meetings were over the best of seven frames with O’Sullivan winning 4-1, 4-0 and 4-2 with the first and third of those matches yielding more than 1.5 tons. With the extra frames here and the tables playing lovely I expect a couple of centuries here too.
John Higgins vs Zhou Yuelong
The other member of the ‘Class of 92’ will be in action on table two on Thursday afternoon when John Higgins looks to make it through to the last eight when he takes on Zhou Yuelong, who has dumped one former champion out and will be looking to do the same to a second.
Higgins looked very good in disposing of Joe O’Connor in the opening round but Zhou probably put in the best showing of anyone in the first stage when he took care of Neil Robertson with a real barrage of scoring. If both men play like they did in their opening game then this should be a cracker of a contest. Higgins looks in really good touch at the minute but he still worries me with a lead. You always see professional sportsmen struggle to back up near perfect performances and that is something Zhou is going to have to do here. I think Higgins will win the match but I could do without sweating on him with a lead for an odds on pick so I’ll leave this one alone.
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Zhang Anda vs Luca Brecel
The match on the main table on Thursday evening sees the International Championship winner from last month in Zhang Anda taking on the world champion Luca Brecel, who is looking to win the two biggest ranking events in the sport in the same year.
Brecel made it past Yuan Sijun in the opening round but you couldn’t really say he was particularly good and you sense he will really need to improve, if not to win this match but certainly to win the tournament. Zhang wasn’t fantastic in that first round but when his chances to score came he took them and he has been scoring well all season. Brecel never shuts an opponent down so you would imagine the Chinese player will get the opportunities he needs to win this match but whether he takes them on a stage such as this remains to be seen. I see no reason why Zhang won’t win this one but he is probably only a fair price and I’m on him outright so I’m happy to let that one ride.
Hossein Vafaei vs Matthew Selt
The only second round match which features two qualifiers gets played out on the other table on Thursday evening when the former Shootout champion Hossein Vafaei takes on Matt Selt who is looking to make the quarter final of this event once again.
Both men saw off ranking event winners in 2023 in the opening round. Vafaei proved too strong for Shaun Murphy while Selt overcame the in form Ali Carter so both are entitled to think they have it in themselves to win this match. You would imagine the fact that both came through qualifying and have seen their quarter open up a little that this will be a keenly contested match. I think overall Vafaei is the better player but he probably hasn’t been a favourite for a match of this magnitude very often and Selt might relish the role of the underdog. If I had to bet on this match I would take over 9.5 frames but having been done up on that on Wednesday I’ll give that one a miss.
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