Luca Brecel is exactly the sort of player snooker needs.
Just 17, he is a talent improving all the time. He is also shaping up to be the great hope of continental Europe, a territory where interest in snooker is high.
The Belgian plays Ricky Walden in the first round of the UK Championship at the Barbican Centre in York tonight.
Brecel struggled early last season but his rookie campaign came to life when he qualified for the Crucible. He has now come through the qualifiers for another major and is surely going to continue in an upwards direction.
It’s 20 years since Mark Williams was in this position. In his first UK Championship in 1992 – at 17 – he qualified to play Stephen Hendry and came from 8-3 down before losing 9-8.
Williams, who has won this title twice and been runner-up in two further UK finals, was playing brilliantly two years ago when John Higgins pipped him 10-9 but has not been the same since losing the 2011 Shanghai Masters final to Mark Selby in bizarre circumstances.
He’s still in the top eight and still produces performances of the highest quality but to win an event like this he needs to string a series of these together.
Williams faces Mark King tonight, a player who has beaten him six times out of 12. Williams last beat him in 2004.
King has had some very good results of late in the qualifiers. He reached York by beating Xiao Guodong 6-0.
First up it’s Neil Robertson, one of the favourites, against Tom Ford and Matthew Stevens, who won this title in 2003, against Dominic Dale.
Last year’s two finalists are already out following first round defeats yesterday for Judd Trump and Mark Allen.
Trump led Mark Joyce 5-2 but lost 6-5. Many people said he had taken too many liberties against the Walsall man but I think the truth may be more simple.
All players, even the two greats, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, have experienced peaks and troughs of form. Trump was excellent a couple of months back but poor in the Premier League play-offs and it may be that he needs the Christmas break before he gets going again.
Here is what he told SportsBeat after the match:
Allen was just outplayed. Only Trump has made more centuries this season than Marco Fu, who made two more and several other sizeable breaks in beating him 6-3.
At the official media day last week Allen had the chance to take back the unfounded slur he made against Fu at the Crucible last season but chose to stand by it. When the press accurately reported his comments and that the WPBSA had written to him asking for an explanation because they had fallen within his three month suspended ban period it led him to Twitter to write the following:
“Why don't people realise its not me who wants to talk about the past. The press' job is to write crap about me. Gullible people believe it!!”
Well, it’s good to see that World Snooker media training was money well spent.
As someone who has spent 15 years writing professionally about snooker I can tell you that this broad brush characterisation of the sport’s press is inaccurate.
It’s true some journalists over the years have treated players unfairly but they have been in the minority. The regular snooker press comprises a small group of people who have worked long hours to try and promote the game, usually with little thanks from anyone, least of all players.
Fu has never said anything bad about any other player, either in public or, whenever I’ve been with him, in private. He can be very satisfied with his performance, although it does underline his wild inconsistency. If he could play like this more often he would win more titles for sure.
Stuart Bingham has started to do just that. A week on from his Premier League defeat of Trump he beat Jack Lisowski 6-2 to reach the last 16.
You can see the confidence in Bingham now. He is not only a top player but believes he’s a top player, which makes a huge difference.
There was to be no fairytale for Steve Davis, who struggled to produce the sort of form needed to beat Ali Carter. Carter duly came through 6-2. He isn’t a player many have tipped pre-tournament but the same was true at the Crucible last season and he reached the final there.