williamhil.com UK Championship Final preview
By Hector Nunns, snooker correspondent for The Times
World No1 Neil Robertson against defending champion and world No2 Mark Selby is a supremely fitting final for the williamhill.com UK Championship, and all eyes will be on the Barbican Centre in York today to see who will lift the famous trophy and pocket the £150,000 winner's cheque.
Both semi-finals were memorable for very different reasons, Australian Robertson surviving an astonishing fightback from 8-3 down from Stuart Bingham to edge through 9-8 in a classic, while Selby's 9-5 win over Ricky Walden contained that piece of history, the 100th 147 maximum break in professional competition. It will be worth an extra £59,000 to the Leicester Jester unless we get another one from Robertson today. Stranger things have happened.
These two have played a lot of big matches in the past 18 months, not least in this tournament 12 months ago when Selby won 6-4 after trailing 4-0. He also beat Robertson 10-6 in the Masters final in January but the left-hander, who learns from every match, believed he had recognised an area for improvement and has since tried to speed up his pace of play against Selby.
Since then Robertson has beaten Selby in the three ranking tournaments in which they have met in 2013 - the World Open, the China Open and the Australian Open.
Robertson, the reigning China Open and Wuxi Classic champion, was my tip in this column for the UK title at 8-1 before a ball was potted, so I have to stick with my man now. The predicted semi-final against Ronnie O'Sullivan never materialised after the Rocket failed to find overdrive against Stuart Bingham in the last eight.
But Robertson almost guarantees punters a decent run for their money these days, at the very least until he meets another one of the big guns in the draw - the one notable exception being the early exit to Rob Milkins at the Crucible in April.
The one doubt over O'Sullivan for me at the Barbican Centre, because he too appealed at a tempting 9-2 before the tournament, was that the Rocket has had big wins this year at the World Championship and November's Champion of Champions while fresh.
The difference for O'Sullivan in York may have been that he had actually played, for him anyway, a lot of snooker in the previous few weeks, having flown to China for the International Championship, and also contested European Tour events in Germany, Belgium and Gloucester as well as going to the final at the Ricoh Arena. Maybe he just ran out of steam, but I believe that Robertson would have given him a run for his money even if had reached the last four.
Selby's 147, when it came on Saturday afternoon, was quite simply a glorious sporting moment, all the more so because the 100th maximum in professional competition looked as it would elude him on more than one occasion on the colours, not least the black.
Having had a decent punt there would be a 147 made in this tournament at 13-8 before the start, I had given up hope. When players get to the latter stages the prospect is less likely, with the £150,000 first prize money on offer heavily factoring in to the ‘risk to reward' calculation.
I expected the bumper £59,000 on offer to go early here more than anywhere else, with the 128 players there were some easy ties for the top players that yielded real opportunities without jeopardising the result. A reminder though that this is snooker perfection we are talking about, and only made a semi-regular occurrence by the level of skill on show.
Williamhill.com go 4-6 Robertson and 5-4 Selby to win the match, with 10-8 Robertson at 7-1 looking a tempting correct-score offering. I don't expect it to finish early, or either player to be overwhelmed by the other so maybe the 6-4 on 17.5 frames or over is also worth a look.