williamhill.com UK Championship Final Preview
Preview of the williamhill.com UK Championship final
By Hector Nunns, snooker correspondent of The Times
The final of the 2012 williamhill.com UK Championship will be a fitting climax to a dramatic tournament in York's Barbican Centre, featuring two of the world's top four players in Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy - the first all-English final since Jimmy White beat John Parrott 16-9 in 1992.
While world No4 Murphy was enjoying a day off on Saturday Selby secured his place in a first UK final with a straightforward 9-4 victory over Mark Davis, a win that also guaranteed he will grab back the world No1 ranking from Judd Trump, who knocked him off the summit five short weeks ago.
Anyone assuming that the 29-year-old Selby will already be satisfied with his week's work has not been listening to what he has been saying during a York run which has seen wins over Michael White (6-3), Ryan Day (6-4), Neil Robertson (6-4, from 4-0 down) and then Davis in the last four.
Selby's first spell as world No1, which lasted 14 months, was characterised by not winning a major title during his tenure, and then a neck injury sustained in the build-up to the world championships that badly hit his confidence to play all the shots required in comfort.
This all provoked plenty of comment that irked Selby of a ‘he's consistent, but not a winner' variety, and his job here is half-finished, with points to prove.
Earlier this week, he said: "It would be huge for me to win the title, what I have gone through with the neck injury, form, not being able to practise enough to give myself a good chance.
"I do think only two ranking titles is a bit light, and it is something I want to put right."
The head-to-heads are certainly interesting, and the pair - good friends off the table - have not played each other as much as might have been expected in major tournaments given their regular presence in latter stages of events, and never in a major final.
Sunday's showpiece will be over the best of 19 frames, and in the only match they have contested over longer distance - a world championship semi-final at the Crucible in 2007 - Selby prevailed, edging a classic 17-16 before going on to lose to John Higgins in the final.
Overall Murphy holds an 8-5 advantage. Those looking for pointers to a Murphy win might prefer to consider a 6-2 win at this year's Masters, rather than a recent 5-1 win in the Premier League, with its 25-second shot-clock.
Murphy has often been a bookmakers' friend and let down plenty of outright supporters in recent years, given that his talent and proven ability in major tournaments always sees him attractively priced at the outset in the bracket of players outside the hot favourites.
And this year's tournament was no exception, with Murphy available at 16-1 before a ball was potted in York.
His progression has not been smooth, following up relatively straightforward victories over Robert Milkins (6-3) and Scotland's Graeme Dott (6-2) with final-frame thrillers against Belgian prodigy Luca Brecel, and then Ali Carter in the semi-finals.
He does have four ranking titles to name, including the recently established Players Tour Championship Grand Finals in Dublin in 2011 - but 14 semi-final defeats tells its own story.
A 15th loss at the last-four stage was avoided with a stunning comeback to win 9-8 from 8-4 down against Carter in one of the greatest matches seen at the williamhill.com UK event.
And having also escaped against teenager Brecel in the quarter-finals, twice within a couple of balls of going home and grateful to the pink ball for saving him both times in a 6-5 win, Murphy will go into the showpiece very confident this is his time once again.
Giving a clear insight into his motivations, Murphy said on Saturday: "I have lost a lot of semi-finals which is not what you are looking for - even in such a tough and competitive era.
"Of course it makes you think how much you could have won. I don't want to be a grandfather one day and tell my grandkids I was consistent and got to loads of semi-finals.
"I want to tell them I won loads of titles, and show them pictures of me holding up loads of trophies."
However, in an aside that may prove telling, backed up by the stats with four out of seven, he added: "Luckily the finals I have actually got to, I have a decent strike rate - much better, anyway - and have won the two biggest tournaments out there, including this one."
Selby has been installed as a slight favourite at start of play, explained in part by his easier passage at the semi-final stage, and has been an altogether different presence in the arena, displaying the light-hearted air that earned him the nickname ‘The Leicester Jester' in the first place - an outlook that had been absent in recent months.
In his favour Murphy was up against a stronger player in Carter in the semi-finals, and had to play much better to get through to the final, resulting in that scintillating five-frame burst to roar back and win.
At the prices I would marginally side with Murphy, but without huge confidence and consideration should also be given to correct score betting and the handicaps. It is certainly a final to enjoy, and a feast of snooker can be expected.