Ronnie O’Sullivan primed for Betway UK Championship defence

At the start of any major snooker event, one name springs to the minds of fans around the world as the star attraction and to bookmakers as the major threat. The televised stage of the Betway UK Championship gets underway in York this weekend and defending champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan is the clear favourite.

As the official data partner of World Snooker – Sportradar will cover the Betway-sponsored event for the eighth successive season and Venue Co-ordinator Neil Tomkins, the company’s resident snooker expert and former professional player looks at Rocket Ronnie’s chances of landing a record-breaking 7th UK title as well as assessing leading challengers and outsiders who will be hoping to make their mark at one of the game’s biggest events.

O’Sullivan has adopted a limited playing schedule that has seen the five-time world champion play just four of eleven events so far in the current campaign but has still played more snooker than three-quarters of the 128 players currently competing on the World Snooker Tour.

After his first-round win in York, the Rocket has won 20 of his 22 matches, suffering rare defeats at the hands of Mark Davis in the semi-final of the English Open and Judd Trump in the final of the Northern Ireland Open.

After beating world number one, Mark Selby in a classic semi-final in Belfast, Ronnie was self-critical, saying: “Maybe I’ve gone back a little bit and I’m not the player I was and [I] have to accept that and play for the love of the game. You don’t know what you’re gonna get from one day to the next”. The five-time world champion went on to say, “I’ll never stop working and trying to improve. I try not to analyse my game, I just take what comes.”

Ronnie might not analyse his game, but a quick look at the Sportradar data suggests he is performing better than he might think. In years-gone-by there has been a certain unpredictability in Ronnie’s performances, arguably adding to his appeal, but those days seem few-and-far-between now.

If Ronnie fails to repeat his win of 12 months ago, there are another 63 players cueing up for the title. History shows the UK Championship is not an event where outsiders excel.

Since 2010, no player seeded outside the top eight has lifted the coveted trophy although there has not been a top-seeded winner since Stephen Hendry won the last of his five UK crowns in 1996. That is a pattern O’Sullivan will need to overcome if he is to walk away with the £170,000 this time around.

World number one since 2015, Selby was probably the main threat and was second favourite with the bookmakers but is out of the equation after suffering a shock 6-3 loss to amateur James Cahill in round one.

Judd Trump is the second-favourite after claiming the Northern Ireland Open last week. Beating an in-form O’Sullivan in a major final could be the perfect entrée to a UK main course for the 29-year-old Bristolian. York also holds special memories for Trump as the scene of his first major success in 2011. Since then, he has established himself as a regular winner and after ending a 13-month winless run in Belfast, back-to-back successes are a real possibility.

Neil Robertson is a prolific scorer, making more century breaks than any player this season and will be many people’s choice to claim a third UK title. Following victory in the Riga Masters and a run to the final of the International in Daqing, the Australian looks back to his very best.

Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski continue to establish themselves among the world’s leading players and it’s surely a matter of time before they take home ‘Blue Ribbon’ silverware. Wilson is already a winner this season after landing the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany and reaching the Champion of Champions final. The 26-year-old will be match-sharp in York, having won 26 of 34 matches since the start of the season.

Lisowski reached the final of the season opener in Riga , before losing out to Robertson. Close friend of Trump, and fellow-leftie, Lisowski has played more competitive snooker than anyone on tour during the 2018/19 season.

Of the bookies’ favourites, it is hard to rate the chances of John Higgins after his run of recent poor form. The four-time world champion appears to have lost his scoring touch – making just 43 breaks over 50 in almost 150 frames. That said, nothing has kept the Classmates of ’92 – messrs O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Williams – down for long.

World champion Williams has by his own admission not “put the work in” to prepare well for this event, but the same could have been said in the lead up to the World Open in August where he was the last man standing. Two-time UK champion in the past, the Welsh veteran has plenty of class to fall back on and maybe land number number three.

England’s David Gilbert and Martin O’Donnell could also cause a stir. Gilbert lost in the final to Williams at the World Open and O’Donnell has reached back-to-back quarter finals in major events in China. Thai compatriots Noppon Saengkham, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Sunny Akani will also be ready to make a move.

World Snooker introduced player’s Average Shot Times (AST) using data supplied by Sportradar in 2018, and it is worth noting that all winners this season are under 24 seconds.

Sixty-four players will be reduced to one in little over a week and Sportradar will be there shot for shot.

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