Luca Brecel - Zhao Xintong
That'll do us
Thanks for your company, but most of all thanks to Xhao Xintong and Luca Brecel. They gave us one of the great days of snooker with their semi-finals yesterday, and contested a high quality final today. If the future of the game is in their hands, then it's in very safe hands; and in Zhao Xintong, we may well have seen a player destined for greatness.
Stevens overpowers Maguire to reach British Open last 64
Night night, and take care out there.
A Word for Ding
It's Zhao's night of course but wherever he is tonight, I hope Ding Junhui has something of a proud Dad smile on his face. He won this tournament for the first time in 2005, at just 19 years old; he went on to win it twice more, bagged the Masters, 11 other ranking event titles and reached the top of the world rankings. James Wattana, who won three ranking events in the nineties, took baby steps to drag snooker out of its Commonwealth clique, but Ding definitively and irreversibly forced the issue in the new millenium.
Recent NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber once said of meeting Charles Barkley when he was a high school student: ‘you can’t be something until you see it.’ Ding is a trailblazer for players not just in China, but all over the world. He didn’t just open a door for snooker players outside of the UK and Ireland, he booted it off it’s hinges. Yan Bingtao is the current Masters champion, and now Zhao Xintong has claimed the UK Championship. Even if Ding never gets his hands on the world title, his career has been inspirational and vital. With Brecel appearing in this final alongside Zhao, it's been a landmark day for the global profile of snooker.
Zhao gets the trophy, raises it high, and parades it around the confetti-strewn Barbican Centre to huge cheers. We could have a new crowd favourite on our hands here; if you're not besotted with Zhao's game, you surely can't love snooker.
As an addendum, aside from the trophy, the cachet and the 200 large, that's put Zhao through to the Masters to face John Higgins, who he beat earlier this week in York. What a match that promises to be.
Zhao Xintong is the UK Champion
Brecel is gracious in defeat in his interview; what a week he's had too, and no one should lose sight of the fact that he's a staggering talent in his own right. Zhao is absolutely chuffed to bits - beaming smile, telling York he loves them and drawing huge cheers. He has absolutely thrilled this crowd today, and he's lit up this tournament all week. Snooker's Federer? I'm not going to question Ronnie O'Sullivan's eye for a player. If we are watching the maiden victory of one of the great's of the game, it's captivating to imagine what he might go on to do in the future. Zhao wasn't quite at the level of performance that blew away Kyren Wilson yesterday, but it says everything about him that he was still utterly spellbinding at times today.
We've seen the future, and it works.
Zhao 10-5 Brecel
On 99 Zhao misses a double on a red for the ton, but who cares. There are few things more thrilling in sport - hell, in life - than seeing raw talent ascend to greatness.
Zhao Xintong is going to be a megastar.
Zhao 9-5 Brecel (70-0)
It's pink to bottom right for the title...and it's there! What. A. Player. Another red follows to make sure Brecel won't be coming back. This has been majestic. Can he round off with a ton? The York crowd are loving the carefree, joyous game of this young man.
Zhao 9-5 Brecel (56-0)
It's another touch for Zhao, but he who dares Rodney. In going into the pack a red careers towards the left middle, hits the knuckle and sits up perfectly for Zhao to disaptch into the bottom left. He's made a half-century and counting now, this could be it.
Zhao 9-5 Brecel (27-0)
Brecel breaks off; can he possibly prolong the argument here? Zhao clearly wants it done quickly as he puts a stunning long red, clean as a whistle into the bottom left, to come off the bottom cushion for the black. My days, that was effortless. He's moving smoothly around the table again now, racking up points quickly, and you wonder if Brecel has played his last shot. If Zhao can tickle the pack open soon, it's looking ominous.
Zhao 9-5 Brecel
A black pushes the break to 37 and leaves Brecel needing snookers. Zhao then drops the second to last red to close the book on this, and an eventual 43 has put him one frame away from the UK Championship title.
Zhao 8-5 Brecel (50-19)
Brecel considers his plight for over two minutes, and then opts to bash his way out off two cushions. The cue ball clatters the pink, balls go all over, but amazingly it doesn't leave Zhao a pot to go at. To the amusement of everyone, he asks referee Ben Williams to put the balls back. Brecel escapes with his second attempt, but this time he's left Zhao in and he's also freed the black. A swift 22 takes Zhao to 50 for the frame, and he's not far away now.
Zhao 8-5 Brecel (22-19)
Zhao clatters in a long red but can't add to it. A high quality safety exchange follows, with both players making the cue ball figure eight around the table and land deep in baulk on successive occasions. The deadlock is broken when Zhao tags in a long red to the bottom left, a brilliant shot as he was hampered by cueing over the yellow. For good measure, he sticks Brecel right in behind the yellow near the jaws of the green pocket, and this is big trouble.
Zhao 8-5 Brecel (20-19)
At the start of frame 14 Brecel throws his cue at a red to the bottom right but it coughs out, goes orienteering around the table and sits up over the right middle. It's a chance, but a poor positional shot off the black leaves him stuck to two reds and it's end of break on 20. That's a let-off for Brecel, and are these signs of nerves from Zhao? He misses a wild red to the bottom left, and Brecel is left with a mid-ranger. All of a sudden, both seem to have the yips; Brecel misses the red by a mile, and Zhao misses a subsequent red to yellow pocket by an even wider margin. Blimey. Brecel's in now though, but in getting to 19 he comes perilously closes to going in-off in the bottom right, which leaves him on nothing.
Zhao 8-5 Brecel
What a shot from Brecel! Faced with a difficult cut on the brown to land on any of the four reds for frame ball, Brecel snicks it in, comes off two cushions and takes two reds away from the pink and into the open. Stunning! He then secures the frame and has a bit of fun, thumping in the last two reds as doubles on the way to an 81 that pegs a frame back. If he wins the next one too, this could get very interesting.
Zhao 8-4 Brecel (13-56)
Brecel splits the pack early, and then converts a fiendishly difficult cut on a red to left middle to stay on the black. That's a great shot under huge pressure. He quickly piles on 40 and counting, and has a great chance to win a quick frame and reduce his arrears here.
Zhao 8-4 Brecel (13-16)
It's a chance for Brecel at the start of frame 13 as Zhao leaves a red on over the bottom left. In it goes, and he's on the black. On 16 though he misses a routine red with the rest, and he's left it on the right jaw of the bottom right. Zhao plants another red onto it, pots it, and goes up for the blue. He overruns position on a red to bottom right though, and in trying to pot it with a trace of side he's left it in the jaws. What a reprieve for Brecel, who has a chance to capitalise.
Zhao 8-4 Brecel
Here we go then, there's somewhere between two and seven frames left. In the break, both Angles and the Wind were absolutely gushing about Zhao's ability on the baize. Yesterday Ronnie O'Sullivan compared him to Federer, tonight Jimmy White has just labelled him a genius. We might be witnessing an ascension to greatness in York tonight but Brecel, who's been brilliant these last twelve days, will empty the tank trying to keep this argument going.
Zhao 8-4 Brecel
Brecel's ill-fortune continues, as he cuts a red into the bottom left but inadvertently collides with the green and dumps it in its own pocket. He concedes immediately, and that's the interval. Zhao has dominated this evening, and is two frames away from the title.
We'll be back in 15 minutes.
Zhao 7-4 Brecel (63-6)
After a brief safety exchange Zhao gets a look at a long frame ball red, and jams it into bottom right before putting the green safe. Brecel needs two snookers, and it's a horrible table.
Zhao 7-4 Brecel (62-6)
It's another rapid-fire half-ton for Zhao, but it's getting harder by the shot. Five of the remaining seven reds are awkward, and in trying to force position off the pink he misses the pot high on the knuckle of the right middle. Brecel has a chance to fire back, taking red-blue and then playing what seems a low-risk double to the right middle. It spits out off the knuckles, and amazingly drops over the yellow pocket for a tap-in for Zhao. Can he close it out? Not yet; he takes red-blue, but can't get on one of the remaining four reds.
Zhao 7-4 Brecel (21-0)
Zhao survives a sloppy break-off in frame twelve, played with far too much pace but canoning the blue and brown to slow the white down. Zhao then fails to pot a mid-range red after Brecel catches the knuckle of the middle again, and a safety exchange follows before Brecel gambles everything on a long red to bottom left and misses. The white had no chance of getting up the table, and Zhao picks off a tough red to left middle to land on the blue. It's a messy table, but he's quickly over 20 in this break.
Zhao 7-4 Brecel
He needed this; Brecel drains the final red and a few more balls to peg back one frame. We're one away from the interval, and this is massive.
Zhao 7-3 Brecel (27-64)
The loose reds go, but off the final one he hits the awkward reds but can't bring them far off the cushion. No matter; a nervelss thin blue lands him on one of them down the rail, which he converts followed by the black. With only 35 left out there, Zhao needs a snooker. Brecel then misses the final red to the green pocket, so Zhao will go looking for the snooker he needs.
Zhao 7-3 Brecel (27-34)
Well now, is this a window for Brecel? On 27 and having opened the reds, Zhao misses a routine pink to the right middle. What a chance for Brecel, and these have to go, surely. Amid the tension, there's time for some giggles as an extraordinary gurgling noise from backstage causes Brecel, Zhao and the crowd to lose it for a few seconds. Brecel then takes the lead in the frame with the black. There are three open ones still available, and two tied up on the right rail.
Zhao 7-3 Brecel (20-0)
As brilliant as Zhao is, he's had the run of the balls today too and gets it again here, missing a long red and leaving the cue ball in the jaws of the green pocket, perilously close to going in-off. Brecel isn't so lucky from his safety; he catches the upper knuckle of the right middle on his way back up the table and he's left Zhao in a red in the middle of the table. In a heartbeat, he's 20 ahead and counting. Brecel is in serious bother here.
Zhao 7-3 Brecel
The second to last red is bulleted into the green pocket, with the frame long since banked, and Zhao turns this break into a ton effortlessly. He empties the table for a sensational 120.
We really could be witnessing the first calling card of a great, great player here.
Zhao 6-3 Brecel (55-9)
It's another fluid half-ton for Zhao, who is moving the cue ball around as casually as someone bouncing a yo-yo. This is wonderful to watch, and within 20 minutes Brecel's task tonight just got exponentially harder.
Zhao 6-3 Brecel (23-9)
As a minimum you'd think Brecel would need to split this mini-session to have a chance of landing the title, so this is already a big frame. Here's the first chance; Zhao commits to a long red to bottom left, misses, and he's left Brecel in. It's a good look, but he hits across a bullet straight pink to the bottom left and misses it. That's end of break on nine, and he's dropped a chance into Zhao's lap. It needs a visit to baulk to get the cue ball under control, but he's in position at the south end of the table now. Zhao splits the pack off the pink, and options fall around the cue ball.
Zhao 6-3 Brecel
'As a snooker player all my life it's wonderful to see such talent,' notes Fouldsy to Dave Hendon in commentary. Seconded (apart from the being a snooker player bit). A swift 87 chalks up another frame for Zhao.
Zhao 5-3 Brecel (60-0)
The half-ton is quickly sorted, as Fouldsy in co-comms assesses Zhao's technique of bridging on the stretch and balancing precariously on one foot. It looks like it shouldn't work, but the balls are going in and that's all that matters. We've only been going a few minutes tonight and Zhao is on the brink of a three frame lead here.
Zhao 5-3 Brecel (37-0)
He started the first frame of the day with a brilliant long red from his first shot, he came back after the interval this afternoon and potted a brilliant long red with his first shot and...well, you get the script. Zhao buries a long red into the bottom left and he's back up for the blue. He's got reds to go at and this is a good early chance; even when he loses position slightly, he glances in a red with the rest to recover it. The pack are soon open off the black too, and he looks in fearless mood so far tonight.
Here we go
Rob 'The Talker' Walker brings the players into the Barbican Centre, which is jumping tonight. Let's get at it then, and sort out the destination of this title.
Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)
By the way, for whoever needs to hear it – what are you, 15 years old or something? Phone off please.
We’ve had the best part of a fortnight of action in York, and it all comes down to this. Zhao needs five, Brecel needs seven; we’ll be here for at least five frames and maybe as many as 11 until it’s all sorted out.
We’ll be re-baizing these boys shortly for the denouement of the 2021 UK Championship.
Thanks for your company this afternoon
We'll see you from 6.45pm to see how it all pans out.
Zhao Xintong leads Luca Brecel 5-3
What an intriguing and often enthralling session that was. In the first three frames it looked like both players might swing the haymaker of heavy breaks at each other all day until one fell over, but the enormity of the occasion slowly became a factor and there were some tense, twitchy frames thereafter. Zhao is worthy of his lead, but Brecel is right in this and we should be in for an absorbing final session tonight.
Zhao 5-3 Brecel
Brecel gets in to pick off 16, but from another subsequent red he can't add the black to it and turns it it. Zhao has a two-frame lead going into the evening session.
Zhao 4-3 Brecel (78-0)
There goes frame ball blue, and a red to the green pocket to follow draws a line under this frame. It's a 78 in total for Zhao, and Brecel is playing on even though he needs five snookers.
Zhao 4-3 Brecel (53-0)
It's a half-century for Zhao, who stuns in the black and splits the remaining reds perfectly to open the door to a frame-winning break. If he can keep it together for a few more shots, he'll have a handy lead going into the denouement this evening.
Zhao 4-3 Brecel (31-0)
Zhao gets another huge slice of luck in the eighth, missing a long red by a huge margin but leaving Brecel welded to the brown in baulk and unable to get a clear line to an easy red to the bottom left. He tries to play a deadweight safety on it instead, but it's a poor attempt and he's left it on to the bottom left. Zhao steadily puts a break together, during which a phone goes off repeatedly, much to the annoyance of everyone. Every heard of airplane mode? Back on the table, Zhao calmly ploughs on with his break, which is at 31 and counting.
Zhao 4-3 Brecel
That could be a big chapter when the story of this match is recounted in the future; Brecel clears up to the pink, and there's one in it.
Zhao 4-2 Brecel (47-40)
Brecel mops up 27 from what's routine, but a poor shot off the blue leaves him a tricky red along the top cushion to the yellow pocket. He turns it down, but his safety isn't good and he leaves a red on to the bottom right which Zhao drills in. The pink doesn't follow though, and Brecel's back in, taking red-blue to leave a tricky red along the rail to bottom right. It's a huge shot... and it's in! The pink follows, and if he can clear up to the pink he'll steal the frame.
Zhao 4-2 Brecel (46-0)
Zhao splits the pack off the blue, and lands on one to the left middle. It looks the key ball for the frame, and he thumps it in emphatically to land on the pink. Hello though, what's this - Zhao misses a black off its spot just as the frame looked a certainty! What a swing this could be, as Brecel has a chance to dish and nick this.
Zhao 4-2 Brecel (25-0)
It's up-table safety at the start of frame seven, and when Brecel leaves a red on to the left middle Zhao calmly drops it in to land on the yellow. He's not hanging about, and there's a load on here plus an inviting looking pack to go into. This could be a crucial frame in the match, because if Zhao can win it he'll definitely take a lead into the evening session.
Zhao 4-2 Brecel
Zhao clears up to the blue, and for the first time today there's a clear gap between these two.
Not long ago, the draw for the first round of the 2022 Masters was completed, and the winner of this will face the great John Higgins in the first round.
Zhao 3-2 Brecel (53-40)
This, as they say, is a right touch, another one for Zhao. In trying to play safe off one of the reds he clips it off the green, off the side rail and flukes it into the yellow pocket! Crikey, he's had the run today. From his safety that follows, Brecel then serves the final red up over the left middle, and that should be it.
Zhao 3-2 Brecel (49-40)
Zhao clangs the stray red into the green pocket, and is soon chiselling away at Brecel's lead. A nice cut on a red to right middle keeps him going, before he comes to negotiate the final two awkward reds over to the left of the table. It's gone awry though, as he misses one to the bottom left with the rest. Once more, fortune smiles on him as he's not left anything for Brecel.
Zhao 3-2 Brecel (14-40)
He might be in the lead, but Zhao's game is loose here. He goes all out for a difficult red to the bottom right, misses, and leaves the world on for Brecel. This is a good chance, and Brecel is quickly about it. He turns down a chance to go direct into the pack off the blue, instead trying it off two cushions two shots later and only leaving a difficult red to the green pocket. That rattles out, and it's a chance for Zhao.
Zhao 3-2 Brecel (14-0)
That felt like a big frame for Zhao, as he was a bit ragged at the end of it but dragged it over the line. He's off first in frame six now, with a mid-range red to the bottom left and then a pink at pace into the right middle. This is a decent chance, with the black on to both corners. An attempt to run through the pack that doesn't come off forces him to switch reds and try and jab one in with a high bridge to the bottom right, and he's missed it. Fortunately, there's nothing on for Brecel.
Zhao 3-2 Brecel
Zhao as three looks at frame ball red from distance, but can't pot any of them. He also misses a fourth to the green pocket initially, and almost screws the white into the bottom left, before the red traverses around the table and drops into the yellow pocket! My word, that's a touch. Zhao can't pot the black to follow though, so Brecel plays on needing one snooker. It's over now though; Brecel leaves a red on to the green pocket, and Zhao empties the table with 35 to take the lead again.
Zhao 2-2 Brecel (56-12)
This is some effort from Zhao, who thin cuts in the fourth to last red from above the black to move to 45. There are three awkward reds remaining, near the lower right rail, and he needs one of them . In screwing back from the yellow he tries to dislodge them but can't connect, and we've got a safety battle incoming.
Zhao 2-2 Brecel (33-12)
It's Brecel's turn to jaw out a long red to bottom right, and it's left Zhao an easy starter. The black is tied up, but he quickly gets the pink available to corner and middle pockets so a sizeable score is possible here, if not a frame-winner.
Zhao 2-2 Brecel (9-12)
Zhao takes on a long red to the bottom right, which wobbles furiously in the jaws and stays out. He'd fully committed to that shot, and he's gifted Brecel an easy starter. Once more though he loses position after potting the blue, and he's on nowt. His safety leaves a red on to the bottom right too, which Zhao drills in without landing on a colour. A bitty start to frame five so far.
Zhao 2-2 Brecel (8-6)
We're back, and Zhao starts this mini-session like he started the first one, draining a long red with his first shot. The black follows, but he loses position slightly and misses a red to the left middle as a result. Brecel fires back with a red into the green pocket, but he loses position after his first colour too and can only play back to baulk.
Zhao 2-2 Brecel
These could be big moments early in this final. Zhao picks off red and blue, but misses a thin cut of his own on red to bottom right. Brecel is back in, and has the chance to close this out and go to the interval level. An assured 39 from what's in the open leaves Zhao needing snookers, before Brecel drops in the last but one red along the rail and into the bottom left. A 47 in total makes it all square, and the players troop off for the interval.
We'll be back with you in 15.
Zhao 2-1 Brecel (13-33)
Both players are slightly off the boil here, missing long pots by some way, until Brecel cracks a mid-range red into the bottom right to get in. It's a messy table, but pink and blue are free to work with and there are points on for him. On 33 though he tries to get the black back on it's spot by thin-cutting it into the bottom left; he's missed the pot, left it in the jaws, and left Zhao in.
Zhao 2-1 Brecel (13-0)
A prolonged safety exchange opens the fourth frame, but eventually Zhao gains control with a shot to nothing into the bottom left before tucking Brecel in tight behind the brown. It's a brutal snooker, and from two attempts at trying to play off two cushions and rest on a cluster, Brecel catches the pink. On the third attempt he escapes, leaving nothing, but Zhao is in control at the moment.
Zhao 2-1 Brecel
It's a game effort from Brecel to get the snookers he requires, but Zhao eventually glides the final red into the bottom left to end the argument in the third. A swift 23 does the business.
Zhao 1-1 Brecel (67-25)
Brecel gets in, but can only take pinks with the three reds he pots and now needs three snookers. He gets one on the final red, hoping to elicit a miss and a free ball. He gets the former but not the latter, so it's two snookers required.
Zhao 1-1 Brecel (67-0)
Brecel can't see the red that's over the yellow pocket, forcing him into a long red to bottom left which he can't convert. Zhao picks off the easy red, but doesn't land nicely on the black and opts to put it safe. A few shots later he thunders in another red, and he's on the green. That goes too, frame ball red follows and Brecel returns to the table 67 behind with 59 on.
Zhao 1-1 Brecel (61-0)
A mid-range red to bottom right recovers position that Zhao lost temporarily, and off the black that follows he brings up a half-century and nudges more reds out of the pack. There's still a bit of work to do to win the frame though, and on 61 he misses a long red to the yellow pocket to bring Brecel back to the table. there's still 83 points out there.
Zhao 1-1 Brecel (22-0)
Drama at the start of frame three here, as Zhao leaves a red over the bottom left from a safety but covers the path to it with the brown. Brecel plays a containing safety in response, but it leaves Zhao the chance to plant one red onto the gimme available, and he makes it. He's up to 22 and counting in no time, as this continuous highlights reel of a match continues.
Zhao 1-1 Brecel
Brecel sorts the frame, and then turns his break into his fifth century in the last seven frames that he's won in York. In all, it's a magnificent total clearance of 133.
If you're wearing a hat, I suggest you hold it onto your head today.
Zhao 1-0 Brecel (0-56)
A deftly judged red to the bottom right with the spider lands Brecel on the black. This break has needed very precise position given the placement of the reds, but it's slowly opening up and Brecel is up over a half-century and looking good for the frame. So far, this final is everything we hoped it would be.
Zhao 1-0 Brecel (0-21)
A safety exchange starts the second frame, in which Brecel forces an error from Zhao and is handed a tap-in to the right middle to get going. There's a good spread on here for Brecel, can he tap into the seemingly bottomless well of scoring he went to so often yesterday? He's quickly up to 21, and if he can get the black back on its spot it'll be on to both corners.
Zhao 1-0 Brecel
Wow, Zhao. A 79 secures the frame before he flies in-off trying to cut in a red. Brecel plays on for one shot, but then folds it. What a start!
Zhao 0-0 Brecel (55-0)
Someone will have to get a flip chart and a pointer, and walk Zhao through the concept of big match nerves. He's absolutely strolled to a half-ton here, opening the reds and serenely picking off balls with all the languid calm of a man strolling over the road to fetch a pint of milk.
Zhao 0-0 Brecel (27-0)
What a start from Zhao! Brecel breaks, and immediately Zhao hoses a long red into the bottom right and comes back up for the blue. He's flying already here, on 27 and counting already. We've only been going a few minutes, but this bodes well for the day ahead.
Here we go...
Our MC Rob Walker introduces the players into a heaving Barbican Centre in York. What an occasion this is, let's get it popping. We'll have eight frames in this first session.
On the table
They will be shortly, but here’s what’s on offer:
1. The UK Championship (obviously) and a cool 200 large
2. A place in the Masters in January
3. Qualification for the Champion of Champions next season
Plenty to play for then, and we'll get about it shortly.
Zhao won the most recent match between the two, a 4-2 victory in the first round of the Welsh Open earlier this year. Prior to that, Brecel has bested Zhao twice, at the 2016 German Masters and 2018 China Open.
Sling that form book out of the window however, as this is something unique. It’s best of 19 for one of snooker’s majors; an unlikely final that no one predicted but that everyone is now salivating about. Time will tell but it has just a whiff of Ronnie O’Sullivan versus John Higgins in the 1995 Masters final about it, with a well-publicised prodigy in one corner and another ascending to greatness alongside him.
By contrast Zhao is ranked number 26, another misleading stat that will evaporate shortly. He is a genuine prodigy, and within the game eyebrows have gone north at the fact that he hasn’t yet landed a ranking event title. His dismantling of Hawkins last night with six 70 plus visits was devastating, but equally telling was coming from 5-3 behind to pip John Higgins in a decider in the last 32, backed up by his beatdown of Jack Lisowski in the quarters. That’s Federer-esque behaviour alright.
Angles has forgotten more about this game than all of us know collectively, so if he’s saying Brecel’s performance yesterday was the apex of a best of 11 match, that’ll do for me. It’s hard to argue; given the stakes, to hit breaks of 130, 105, 59, 102, 97, 80 and 112 against an opponent playing as well as Kyren Wilson is quite something. Prior to that, Brecel has also walloped Stephen Maguire, Anthony Hamilton and Anthony McGill in York. As his been noted his current world ranking of 40 is ludicrous given his ability, but it won’t be staying there for long.
Welcome to snooker’s new frontier
Go on, admit it; your interest in the UK Championship started to wane when Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy were eliminated one by one before the final weekend, didn’t it? That’s understandable. Snooker relies on its star power to thrive – just look at how it’s marketed and televised – and in sport generally upsets loose their oomph if they happen too frequently. In York in the last fortnight the seeded players have been dropping like extras in a spaghetti Western, and we knew by early Friday evening that there would be a new name on the UK Championship trophy this year. Then, through the chaos, came Saturday.
Our two semi-finals yesterday might just have changed the weather in the whole sport. Going into them, the smart money would have been on today’s final being between Kyren Wilson and Barry Hawkins. They are two multiple ranking event winners, twice Triple Crown finalists and were the higher ranked player in each match. More often than not, experience tells in the last four; thrillingly, it was pure, raw talent that won the day instead.
Wilson and Hawkins were put away in emphatic style, by Luca Brecel and Zhao Xintong respectively, with contrasting scorelines but in the same concussive manner. A barrage of explosive, heavy and unanswerable breaks sorted both matches in one of the most memorable and exhilarating days of snooker in recent history. Luca is 26, and Zhao is 24; they are the new school, the alpha talents of snooker’s Generation Z. It might seem ludicrous to suggest that two men with a combined age of 50 are the voice of youth, but this is a seasoned pro’s game, and it takes time to be heard.
Yet this is so much more than snooker’s fearless youth final. In the future we may well look back and realise that this was the day where, finally, snooker went truly global; where it stopped being so rooted in Britain and Ireland and started to belong to the world. Brecel was the first ever player from mainland Europe to win a ranking event and is now the first to reach a Triple Crown final. Zhao is another sensational talent from China inspired by the trailblazing work of the great Ding Junhui, a three-time winner of this event. Yan Bingtao won the Masters in January, and Zhao now has the chance to win the Triple Crown that bookends the calendar year. He’s a devastating talent, talked up for years by those in the know and now putting substance with style. Ronnie O’Sullivan, who knows a player, has called him the Federer of snooker. Game recognise game.
The great and good have recognised Brecel’s game too; Angles McManus of this parish called his performance against Wilson yesterday the best he’d ever seen in a first to six. If these players can possibly replicate the form that they showed yesterday, or somewhere close to it, then we could be in for a final for the ages. That’s a tall order, but it would be fitting for what feels like a landmark occasion for the game. You might think we’re overegging the pudding here, but if you weren’t giddily thrilled by yesterday and the possibilities exploding from it, you’re not really draining the maximum from following this sport.
In short: get comfy, and don’t shift. Welcome to snooker’s new frontier; the boys will be baized presently.
Good morning and welcome to our live coverage from the Barbican in York where it's the final day of the 2021 UK Championship with Luca Brecel facing Zhao Xintong.
Getting underway at 13:00 UK time, it is a surprise final between two players few would have seen making the Sunday showpiece.
We have reached the final of the UK Championship, and a new name will be on the trophy as Luca Brecel takes on Zhao Xintong.
Big names such as Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and John Higgins fell during the course of the fortnight, and there are two rising stars on show.
Brecel booked his place in the final with a 6-4 win over Kyren Wilson, and wrapped up the victory with a clearance described as ‘filthy'.
His opponent will be Zhao, who crushed Barry Hawkins 6-1 in the semi-finals on Saturday evening.
- Battle of new names as Brecel takes on Zhao - UK Championship final preview
- 'Best player in the world potentially' - O'Sullivan praise for Zhao Xintong
‘He is about 70% of the player he can be!’ – O’Sullivan on Federer-like Zhao
- Venue: Barbican Centre, York
- Start time: 13:00 GMT and 19:00 GMT
- Frames: Best of 19
- Odds: Brecel 10/11; Zhao 10/11
- Prize money: Winner - £200,000
How can I watch the UK Championship final?
Stream the UK Championship final and much more top snooker action live and on demand on discovery+
Brecel route to the final
- Round 1: 6-2, vs Xu Si
- Round 2: 6-5, vs Tom Ford
- Round 3: 6-0, vs Stephen Maguire
- Round 4: 6-1, vs Anthony Hamilton
- Quarter-finals: 6-2, vs Anthony McGill
- Semi-finals: 6-4, vs Kyren Wilson
Zhao route to final
- Round 1: 6-4, vs Yuan Sijun
- Round 2: 6-5, vs Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
- Round 3: 6-5, vs John Higgins
- Round 4: 6-4, vs Peter Lines
- Quarter-finals: 6-2, vs Jack Lisowski
- Semi-finals: 6-1, vs Barry Hawkins
‘Would have beaten anyone!’ – White lavishes ‘unorthodox’ Brecel with praise after Wilson win
Brecel career highlights
- 2015 Welsh Open - semi-finals
- 2016 German Masters - final
- 2017 China Championship - winner
- 2017 Champion of Champions - semi-finals
- 2017 World Open - semi-finals
- 2019 China Open - semi-finals
- 2020 Championship League - winner
Zhao career highlights
- 2018 China Championship - semi-finals
- 2019 Welsh Open - quarter finals
- 2020 World Grand Prix - quarter finals
- 2020 German Masters - quarter finals
What has been said...
Luca Brecel: “I was crying a little bit at the end when I potted frame ball. I am confident, I have won a lot of games this season, I am relaxed and I have a different mindset.
“It is amazing and now it would be fantastic if I can win it."
Zhao Xintong: "I am just happy, very happy. It is my first time in a final. It is an important match for me. It is very close to being champion and I hope to get it.
"Luca is a great player, he played perfect and I hope we can play a beautiful game."
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