China’s Zhao Xintong has a 5-3 lead over Belgium’s Luca Brecel after the first session of the Cazoo UK Championship final in York. First to ten frames on Sunday evening will collect the trophy and £200,000 top prize.
This is the first UK Championship final between two players ranked outside the top 16 – with Zhao standing 26th and Brecel 40th. Victory for either player would move them into the top 16 and earn a tie against John Higgins in the Cazoo Masters next month (click here for the draw).
It’s the second UK final between two non-British players, after the 2015 clash between Neil Robertson and Liang Wenbo. Tonight’s winner will become the fourth non-British player to lift the trophy, after China’s Ding Junhui, Australia’s Robertson and Ireland’s Patsy Fagan.
Zhao, age 24, is competing in his first ranking final and hopes to become the fourth player from mainland China to land a ranking title, after Ding, Liang and Yan Bingtao.
Brecel, age 26, is the first player from mainland Europe to contest a Triple Crown final. He is aiming to double his tally of ranking titles, having won the 2017 China Championship.
The pair have met on three previous occasions – Brecel winning the first two and Zhao coming out on top in the third, by a 4-2 scoreline at the Welsh Open earlier this year. Brecel conceded 14 frames in six matches en route to the final, while Zhao lost 21.
Zhao started strongly today with a break of 79 to take the opening frame, then Brecel responded with a 130, his sixth century of the tournament. In frame three, Zhao missed a tough red to a baulk corner on a run of 61, but that proved enough to put him 2-1 ahead.
In frame four, Brecel missed the black to a top corner when he led 33-13, but Zhao’s counter attack reached just 6 before he overcut a red to the opposite top corner. Brecel added 47 to leave the interval score at 2-2.
Frame five came down to a long safety exchange with three reds remaining, resolved when Zhao, leading 56-12, fluked a red to a baulk corner to regain the lead. In the sixth, Zhao led 49-40 when he fluked the penultimate red to the same pocket while attempting safety. He laid a tough snooker on the last red, and from the chance that followed he cleared to open up a two-frame gap at 4-2.
Zhao looked set to go further ahead until he overcut the black off its spot at 46-0 in the seventh. He had another chance later in the frame but missed the pink to a centre pocket with two reds left, and Brecel punished him to close the gap. In the last frame of the session, a safety error from Brecel let his opponent in for a rapid break of 78 to give him the advantage going into tonight’s conclusion.
They resume at 7pm.
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