Shaun Murphy, champion ten years ago, suffered a shock 6-3 defeat against world number 124 Chen Feilong in the first round of the Betway UK Championship.
Murphy has had a disappointing start to the 2018/19 campaign, failing to go beyond the last 16 of a ranking event, but this was the most surprising defeat of his season so far. He took the UK title in 2008 and was runner-up in 2012 and 2017, but this time the world number nine misses out on the TV stages in York.
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Chen, age 36, is playing on the pro tour for the first time this season and had only won one match previously, but he played some excellent snooker today. From 3-1 down, he knocked in breaks of 54, 88, 54 and 49 to go 5-3 ahead, before sealing victory in a tense ninth frame by potting the last blue and pink. He goes through to the last 64 to face Martin O’Donnell.
Murphy said: “I didn’t see that coming because I have been practising so hard, my preparation for this event has been fantastic. I have had a terrible season so far but that has left me a lot of time to practise and I feel my game is in such good shape. But I’m still waiting for that to come through.
“Chen played some great snooker after the interval and he deserved it in the end. He potted some outrageous balls when I had him in the long grass. I thought he might twitch a bit towards the end, but he didn’t. I can’t wallow in self-pity and give up, I have to keep on going.”
Ryan Day, ranked 12th, was another top 16 player to head for the exit door as he lost 6-2 to world number 121 Joe O’Connor. Leicester’s 23-year-old O’Connor, another tour debutant, made a top break of 55 as he got the better of an out-of-sorts Day.
O’Connor said: “It’s definitely the best win of my career so far. Surprisingly I didn’t get nervous towards the end, I have played on the match table here a couple of times before so that helped. It’s massive for my confidence because it shows I can beat the top players. I will always think back to this day.”
Marco Fu kept up his hopes of a place in the Masters by beating Hammad Miah 6-0 with a top break of 101. As it stands, Fu is 17th in the Race to the Masters so he must reach at least the last 16 in York otherwise he will miss snooker’s biggest invitation event for the first time since 2013.
“I was really nervous today because the UK Championship is a big event and I have been struggling so far this season,” said Hong Kong’s Fu, who missed several months of snooker after having laser eye surgery earlier this year. “Sometimes you can try too desperately to do well. After the first couple of frames I settled down a bit, tried to play a bit quicker and just let it happen rather than worrying too much.
“My eyes are still recovering from the surgery, I am waiting for the retina to settle. I still see black spots, some days it’s worse than others. I try to take it easy on my eyes by not practising too much but at this level you have to be 100% ready for every tournament. So it’s difficult, but I just need to win a few matches, a good run might be around the corner. I am not thinking about the Masters, if I’m not in it it will be my own fault because I haven’t been playing well.”
Stuart Bingham ended a run of three consecutive defeats by beating James Wattana 6-0. Bingham won the English Open last month then suffered a dip in form but looked back in shape today as breaks of 92 and 78 helped him to a comfortable victory.
Joe Perry was another 6-0 winner as he white-washed John Astley with a top run of 143 – the new front-runner for the £5,000 high break prize.
Perry reached the final of the European Masters last month before losing to Jimmy Robertson. “I was really disappointed to lose that match,” Perry reflected today. “Not because they way I played, just because I lost. It was the first final I had ever started as favourite and it was a big opportunity. That knocked me back a bit and I’ve had a few poor results since. But today was the best I have played in a long time.”
Joe Swail came from 5-3 down to beat Michael White 6-5 while Tom Ford made a 119 in a 6-5 win over Craig Steadman. Eden Sharav came from 5-1 down to 5-5 against Sunny Akani, only for Thailand’s Akani to win the decider with a run of 67.