By Simon Kendal-Williams
Two intriguing all-Welsh battles are in prospect this weekend as the second round of the Betway UK Championship gets underway.
Six Welshmen made it through the first round in York this week – and the draw has ensured that at least two of them will take their place in the last 32 of snooker’s second-most lucrative ranking tournament.
Former UK champion Matthew Stevens and two-time ranking event winner Ryan Day meet tomorrow evening (Saturday), and on Sunday, two generations clash when former world champion Mark Williams takes on 29-year-old Michael White.
Stevens enjoyed the most straightforward passage of any of his compatriots at the Barbican Centre, restricting China’s Chen Feilong to just 67 points in a 6-0 whitewash, while Day saw off Soheil Vahedi 6-3.
It was a rare show of resilience from the 39-year-old Pontcymmer man in what has been a disappointing start to the season.
Having shared the first six frames with the former world amateur champion, Day rattled off the next three frames – which included a 127 break – to reach the second round for only the third time in nine events.
It is Day who narrowly leads Stevens 5-4 in the head-to-head stats, and he prevailed in their most recent meeting at the German Masters three years ago.
But 42-year-old Stevens has produced flourishes of heavy scoring in recent matches and is in the better form, so it would be no surprise to see their tenth meeting go the distance.
Williams cut a frustrated figure even by his standards following his 6-2 win over Scotland’s Fraser Patrick.
While it’s not unusual for the ‘Welsh Potting Machine’ to portray a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude, he appears to have genuinely fallen out of love with the game which he has graced for the last 27 years – adding more weight to the hint dropped last month that retirement may not be far away.
“I really struggled, but somehow Fraser struggled more than me,” said Williams, despite making breaks of 124 and 133.
Asked to assess his season so far, he replied: “It’s going alright – I’m enjoying myself on the golf course.”
When pressed on his snooker, his response was simply: “Hate it. I’m just enjoying playing golf more.
“The next round is going to be a struggle.
“I’ve got no expectations. If I play like that, I’ll get beat and be home on Sunday or Monday.”
Perhaps he could give Gareth Bale a ring.
Given his record against White, there is good reason for Williams treating their clash with trepidation.
The Neath player has won both previous encounters – a 10-6 victory on his world championship debut in 2013, and the semi-final of the Indian Open two years later on his way to landing his first ranking title.
And in the first-round against Fergal O’Brien, White reeled off four 60-plus breaks – and four frames in a row – to complete a 6-2 win.
Cwmbrân’s Jak Jones has the chance to shine in front of the TV cameras when he faces former Masters champion Mark Allen.
The 26-year-old continued his impressive season with a 6-4 victory over Andrew Higginson, in a high-quality match which featured no fewer than nine half-centuries.
Jones rallied from 3-1 down to level at 4-4, crossing the winning line in style with a 104 clearance.
Daniel Wells completes the Welsh line-up following his 6-3 over Zhang Anda.
The 31-year-old from Neath faces Israel’s Eden Sharav after the world number 121 caused the biggest shock of the tournament so far, defeating world number eight Shaun Murphy.
Saturday, November 30:
1pm: Stevens v Day
7pm: Wells v Sharav
7pm: Jones v Allen
Sunday, December 1
7pm: Williams v White