UK Snooker Championship

Tour Championship Preview: Big guns set for Crucible rehearsal

  • Gary Moss
  • 5:00:00 min read
Ronnie back at world number one

"The 24-year old Chinese star has very much enjoyed his breakthrough professional season, winning his first ever ranking event at the UK Championship and then quickly following it up with another piece of silverware the German Masters."

Back Zhao to win @ 2.255/4

Our snooker guru Gary Moss gives us the lowdown on all four opening round matches at this week's Cazoo Tour Championship...

The Tour Championship may only be four years old but has quickly become one of the most popular events on the snooker calendar.

Positioned just before the start of the sport's prestigious World Championship, played with longer-format matches throughout and reserved for the top eight players on the one-year ranking list, this is the perfect appetiser ahead of the Crucible.

The stars of the season are ready and so are we. Here's a look ahead to the first-round matches to be played in Llandudno.

Zhao Xintong v John Higgins

While there may be a seismic gulf in experience between these two, the head-to-head record couldn't be closer and it's actually Zhao who arrives at this tournament as the number one seed.

The 24-year old Chinese star has very much enjoyed his breakthrough professional season, winning his first ever ranking event at the UK Championship and then quickly following it up with another piece of silverware the German Masters.

Zhao has earned more than £300,000 in prize money this season and sits at the top of the one-year ranking list. Higgins on the other hand is the proof of how tough it is to qualify for this event. He has reached three ranking event finals this season and was still sweating on his place as the eighth seed late on Saturday night, when Robert Milkins won the Gibraltar Open to stop Kyren Wilson snatching it from his grasp.

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Both players can take positives from the campaign as they go into this contest and the business end of the season. They've also become familiar foes on the big stage this season, meeting in both of the Triple Crown major events with a win apiece. Zhao fought back from 5-3 down to beat Higgins in York en route to his famous UK win, while the Scot took revenge with a 6-2 victory at Alexandra Palace to spoil Zhao's Masters debut.

Interestingly, neither of these players have won a match at the Tour Championship. This is the first time Zhao has qualified and for Higgins, who has made it here twice before, he's lost to Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump in previous visits.

Neil Robertson v Mark Allen

With the narrative of this event being focused around its multi-session matches and position on the calendar leading into the all-important World Championship, it's perhaps fitting that this tie throws together the biggest Crucible underachievers in recent times.

Here we have two of the sport's top players over the past decade who cannot seem to produce the goods in Sheffield.

Allen has not made it to the semi-finals of the World Championship since 2009 and Robertson has only reached the one-table setup once in 11 visits since being crowned world champion back in 2010. These records are simply mind blowing for two players of this quality.

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Both arrive for this match with good memories of the Tour Championship though. The Australian is here to defend his title from a year ago and also won the most recent Players Championship in the Cazoo Series. The Northern Irishman was also a runner up in the Tour Championship two years ago, losing to Stephen Maguire in the final.

Their two previous meetings have both come in longer-format matches. Allen beat Robertson when they last met in the Champion of Champions final in 2020 and before that the scoreline was reversed, with Robertson the victor in this event three years ago.

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Mark Williams

You could probably write a book about this great rivalry, which spans more than 30 years of each of their professional careers.

This is sure to be a contest to savour between two of the all-time greats from the class of '92.

O'Sullivan lands in Llandudno assured of heading to the World Championship following two years where he has probably played as much snooker as he ever has.

The Rocket loves these prestigious Cazoo events which are reserved for the crème de la crème on the circuit defined by performance on the one-year ranking list. He was a beaten finalist to Robertson here a year ago and won his 38th career ranking title at the first in the season's trio of events at the Grand Prix.

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Williams takes his place here for the first time since featuring in the inaugural event in 2019 following a season which has been fuelled by his early win at the British Open.

These two legends know each other's game inside out but it is Ronnie who has enjoyed a vastly superior record when they've met over the years. Their last four meetings in longer-format matches have all been at the World Championship and all won by the Rocket. The most recent clash was in the quarterfinals two years ago with O'Sullivan winning 13-10 en route to his sixth world title.

The last time Williams came out on top in a multi-session match between the pair was in the semi-finals of the UK Championship way back in 2000.

Judd Trump v Luca Brecel

Raw talent comes in spades in this exciting match up.

Brecel takes his place in the Tour Championship for the very first time towards the end of his best ever season on the tour and dreaming of beginning to fulfil his incredible promise.

A fantastic season has already included reaching the final of the UK Championship and winning his second career ranking event at the Scottish Open a week later, but he's been a little off the boil since.

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Trump is the more finished article and has reached the standard his opponent is striving for. He recently won the first edition of the Turkish Masters and is up to 22 ranking event wins, having been a model of consistency and snooker's standout player for the last three seasons. He is far more established on this kind of stage than his Belgian rival.

Despite being an ever-present throughout the four-year history of the Tour Championship, it is a trophy that has evaded Trump in his recent seasons of domination. In fact, he has yet to even reach a final.

He does look to be growing in form and confidence in recent weeks though, in what looks like could be perfect timing running up to the Crucible.

This match is certain to be easy on the eye and the first time they have met in anything longer than a best-of-nine frames contest.

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