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Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy level UK Championship final

Selby fights back to level UK Championship final against Murphy in York

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UPDATED:

18:57 GMT, 9 December 2012

Mark Selby took the final two frames of the afternoon session to draw level with Shaun Murphy in a williamhill.com UK Championship final that looked set to run close and late this evening.

The pair were tied at 4-4, with a possible 11 frames to come in an evening session due to begin shortly after 8pm.

It was no surprise the final was proving keenly fought, with both men having relied on battling tendencies to last the distance at York's Barbican Centre.

Showdown: Mark Selby (left) and Shaun Murphy ahead of the final

Showdown: Mark Selby (left) and Shaun Murphy ahead of the final

Selby came from 4-0 behind to beat Neil Robertson 6-4 in the quarter-finals, while Murphy produced the tournament's most remarkable fightback to stun Ali Carter in their semi-final, recovering from 8-4 down to win 9-8.

The final was a best-of-19 tussle, with the close friends proving evenly matched on the baize.

Murphy edged ahead after a wretched attempted escape by Selby from a safety presented an early chance to put points on the board.

Murphy then led 49-0 in the second, but he was unfortunate to pot the cue ball as well as a long red and Selby fired in a frame-clinching 54 break, which he followed with a 66 to take the next.

Fine breaks of 83 and 98 either side of the mid-session interval allowed Murphy to move 3-2 in front, and it was 4-2 after the Sale-based 30-year-old edged a scrappy sixth frame that lasted 52 minutes.

All square: Selby fought back to level the afternoon session

All square: Selby fought back to level the afternoon session

Selby trimmed Murphy's lead with a 70 break, and by taking the last of the session he ensured there would be nothing between the players when play resumed later.

There was plenty riding on the match, with Murphy seeking his first ranking title for over 18 months and Selby bidding to win his maiden UK Championship.

Selby, who will reclaim the world No 1 ranking from Judd Trump tomorrow due to his run in York, has a disappointing return of just two ranking titles in his career.

Although he has also lifted the Masters trophy twice, Selby's haul does his ability little justice, and the same could be said of Murphy's total of four ranking titles.

One of them would boost their total tonight, but the early evidence pointed only to a close finish rather than which man would come out on top.

Mark Selby reaches williamhill.com UK Championship final

Selby on top of the world after reaching UK Championship final

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UPDATED:

22:03 GMT, 8 December 2012

Mark Selby reached the top of the snooker world for a second time on Saturday night and pledged to take the pressure off himself this time around, starting with Sunday's williamhill.com UK Championship final.

Selby held the game's number-one ranking for 14 months between September last year and November this, losing it to Judd Trump when the Bristol potter landed the International Championship.

No pressure: Mark Selby at the table

No pressure: Mark Selby at the table

But with Trump falling at the first
hurdle in his defence of this title in York, Selby knew reaching the
final would put him back at the top of the ladder and he ticked that
achievement off on Saturday, completing a 9-4 victory over rugged
veteran Mark Davis.

He now meets long-time friend Shaun
Murphy in a final which will be his first ever UK showpiece, and he is
determined to learn from his previous reign at number one in order to
try and lift the trophy.

He achieved top billing last time with a win at the Shanghai Masters, but that was his last significant success.

His time in power was barren and he wants to avoid that happening again.

'It's a great feat to get back to
number one, there have only been nine number ones other than me,' he
said. 'Maybe when I was there before I put too much pressure on myself. I
need to learn from that and try and go out there and enjoy it tomorrow.

Going down: Mark Davis eyes up a shot in defeat

Going down: Mark Davis eyes up a shot in defeat

'I didn't come here this week with the aim of being number one. It's great that I am, but if I don't win tomorrow…'

Murphy and Selby are often off-the-radar players at events, despite their decorated resumes.

Here they have outlasted the more fancied Mark Allen, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Trump.

As well as being evenly matched on
the baize, the two are good friends off it, and for Selby tomorrow will
be the realisation of a long-held dream.

'Me and Shaun haven't played each
other for a while but we have grown up together through the junior ranks
and always been good friends,' he said.

'I always said to him that it would
be great for us to play in a ranking final and now we are. For whatever
reason before it hasn't happened, so it will be good.'

Selby's top score today was a
second-frame 121, but he looked a little off it at the Barbican, taking a
long time to put his veteran opponent to bed.

He will need to be sharper against
Murphy – a man buzzing from a five-frame comeback against Ali Carter
last night – and he admits he has work to do.

Back on top: Mark Selby relishing a final berth

Back on top: Mark Selby relishing a final berth

'I was missing some easy balls today and I need to work on that tomorrow,' he said.

'I am definitely motivated. I didn't play fantastic and, although it was a good match of snooker, I need to play a lot better.'

Defeat marked the end of the road at
this tournament for Davis, a seasoned pro who at the age of 40 has
finally made a serious impact on the top level of the sport.

This was his third ranking
semi-final of the week but he failed to deliver performances like those
which saw him beat the likes of John Higgins and Matthew Stevens in the
earlier rounds.

'I was a little bit nervous but I
enjoyed it. In the first few I didn't quite get into position, but
getting a 70-odd settled me down. I played poorly tonight, though,' he
said.

'But I'm not going to let it affect me in a bad way. I've had a great week and beaten some top players.

'Even though I've been a pro for 21
years, there have been some new things for me and I know that I will
learn from it next time.'

Shaun Murphy beats Ali Carter to reach UK Championship final

Murphy in remarkable fightback to get Carter and book place in final

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UPDATED:

23:04 GMT, 7 December 2012

Shaun Murphy staged one of snooker's great fightbacks on Friday night to leave Ali Carter stunned and book a place in Sunday's final of the williamhill.com UK Championship.

It looked to be Carter's match when he led 8-4 in the best-of-17 contest, but Murphy played like a player transformed after the mid-session interval, with breaks of 76, 49, 105 and 78 forcing a decider.

Murphy had said after Thursday's victory over 17-year-old Luca Brecel that a dressing-room rocket from his manager Brandon Parker had saved him from defeat, and whatever was said on Friday evening behind closed doors clearly also did the trick.

Slow start: Murphy found himself 8-4 down

Slow start: Murphy found himself 8-4 down

Murphy held his nerve in a tense final frame as breaks of 39 and 29 carried him through to a clash with Mark Selby or Mark Davis, a 9-8 winner.

Carter, who broke down in tears afterwards as he spoke about his continuing battle with Crohn's disease, said: 'Shaun's played unbelievably from 8-4 behind. I was in complete control. All credit to Shaun, I can't be too hard on myself.'

Speaking about his painful condition, Carter said: 'If I could pay to get rid of it, I would.'

Carter had been ahead in the decider, reaching 32 before missing a red with the rest. He dropped his head to the baize, knowing the error had presented Murphy with the chance to take frame and match.

Murphy reached 39 but left himself a difficult black. It was stick or twist time and the 30-year-old opted to stick, playing safe, armed with a seven-point lead.

It proved a judicious choice, for when another half-chance came along Murphy rifled in a tough red, especially tough given the circumstances, to the right-centre pocket. That gave him the platform on which to build the match-clinching break.

Get Carter: Murphy reeled in the Essex potter

Get Carter: Murphy reeled in the Essex potter

Murphy said: 'I don't feel that Ali lost it – I feel that I won it and I'm really proud.

'I was four down with five to play. It's pretty straightforward and you know where you stand with that.

'For the semis of the UK Championships, when I was all but dead and buried, that's got to be my best five-frame spell ever.

'I can't believe that I won the match. I felt he was going to paste me 9-4. I'm blown away.'

Murphy will be bidding for his second UK Championship title, having pipped Marco Fu to the trophy in 2008.

It will be the first all-English final in the UK Championship since Jimmy White beat John Parrott at Preston in 1992.

Carter has reaped the benefits of a diet low in gluten and wheat since admitting after a second-round exit to Mark Allen in York last December that he was considering retirement.

Final date: Murphy booked his place in Sunday's showdown

Final date: Murphy booked his place in Sunday's showdown

After almost a decade of battling Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, Carter has struck on a diet that allows him to stay focused enough to remain a snooker force.

But the problem can only be managed rather than cured, and there are days when Carter suffers particularly badly.

On the table he looked untroubled for much of Friday's match, with afternoon breaks of 77 and 101 seeing him seize a 5-3 lead.

When Carter won three of the evening session's opening four frames, he was one away from the final and a 1/40 shot to win the match.

It looked hopeless for Murphy, but his belief never wavered.

The Manchester-based potter knew he could have played better early on, adding: 'I left it until the death until I started playing.'

John Higgins hits 147 but loses to Mark Davis

Higgins hits 147 but suffers agonising defeat to Davis in UK Championship

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UPDATED:

00:18 GMT, 6 December 2012

John Higgins fired the seventh maximum break of his career but it was small consolation as he bowed out to Mark Davis after a thrilling contest in round two of the williamhill.com UK Championship.

Davis won 6-5, having looked to have blown his chance when he led 5-2 but allowed Higgins back to 5-5.

A lifeline came his way though when Higgins, seemingly on a victory charge, missed the pink. Davis got it, and that was enough. He will take on Matthew Stevens in the quarter-finals.

Spot on: John Higgins after scoring a 147 during his second round match

Spot on: John Higgins after scoring a 147 during his second round match

'I'm gutted. Normally clearing up in the last frame I'd have done it,' Higgins said. 'I didn't deserve to win that match. Who knows where the 147 came from'

The four-time world champion initially looked a beaten man when Davis pulled to within a frame of victory with back-to-back breaks of 106 and 103.

A comeback by the Wishaw man was fired by the 147 in the eighth frame, bringing the crowd at York's Barbican Centre to their feet and rousing the 37-year-old Scot who earns 10,000 for his effort.

Higgins got back to 5-5 but again looked to be heading out as 40-year-old Hastings potter Davis built a 53-0 lead in the deciding frame.

There was a twist, as Davis missed a difficult red to centre that gave Higgins a half chance. In went a brilliant long red to the yellow pocket, and he reached 49, the pink seemingly a formality with the black surely to follow.

Through: Mark Davis recovered to beat Higgins and progress in York

Through: Mark Davis recovered to beat Higgins and progress in York

Somehow Higgins missed, and after a safety tussle he left Davis a difficult cut to the yellow pocket, which he made quite brilliantly. It was the ball he required, and Higgins rose from his chair to offer a congratulatory handshake.

Delighted winner Davis said: “I didn't expect John to miss the pink but he wasn't just rolling it in. It was a tough shot under pressure.

'It gave me another chance which in the end I managed to take. I was going for doubles and all sorts in the end. It was like the 1985 World Championship final.'

Asked where it ranked in his victories, Davis said: 'This is at the top. I've not got a good record against John at all. It's my best result for a very long time.'

UK Snooker Championships 2012: Luca Brecel beats Mark King

Teenager Brecel reaches quarter-finals after coming from behind to see off King

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UPDATED:

23:23 GMT, 5 December 2012

Luca Brecel believes he can strip the absent Ronnie O'Sullivan of one of his proudest records by winning the williamhill.com UK Championship.

The 17-year-old Belgian is a surprise quarter-finalist in York, having come from 3-0 behind to beat Mark King 6-4.

And now fearless Brecel has the title in his sights, warning that his tough streak makes him a threat to anyone left in the tournament, including next opponent Shaun Murphy.

Sensation: Luca Brecel wants to break Ronnie O'Sullivan's record in York

Sensation: Luca Brecel wants to break Ronnie O'Sullivan's record in York

Before the tournament, Brecel was a 100-1 outsider. He would be the youngest winner of a ranking event, beating O'Sullivan's record of 17 years and 358 days, set when he landed the 1993 UK title.

O'Sullivan is taking a break from snooker, with speculation circling that he could return for the World Championship in April.

Brecel, who turned 17 in March, said of his chances this week: 'I can win, but we'll see what happens.'

The teenager felt he played to only 20 per cent of his ability against King and accepts more will be required to be competitive against an in-form Murphy.

But his confidence around the table at the Barbican Centre shone through today, as it did in the first round against Ricky Walden.

And providing that remains unshaken, he could trouble the 2005 world champion.

At 3-0 down to King lesser players would have crumbled, but Brecel won five frames in a row, making two breaks of 65, a 78 and an 80.

'I'm a fighter, so I wasn't surprised. I was surprised how badly I've played in the first two matches,' he said.

Brecel bears few physical characteristics of a pugilist, but struck a fists-up pose when his claim was questioned.

'I am,' he said. 'I'm very tough.'

Eyes on the competition: Brecel watches Mark King line up his shot

Eyes on the competition: Brecel watches Mark King line up his shot

Romford potter King, 38, was hopelessly off his game in the closing stages and admitted as much.

'It was awful,' King said. 'I just didn't get going at all today and that is one of the main reasons I've never won a ranking event.

'One day I'll play really well and the next I'm like a bag of spuds. He half got going. It's my own fault – end of story.'

King had a parting shot for Brecel, saying: 'If he plays like that against Shaun Murphy he won't win a frame.'

A brilliant long red from Brecel made victory certain, and for King it was a second painful and costly defeat to the youngster this year, having been beaten 10-8 in April in the final round of World Championship qualifying.

The second win for Brecel was as sweet as the first, which took him to the Crucible.

Brecel said of the success: 'It's amazing, unbelievable. After three frames I was feeling very bad and I wanted to go home. But in the fourth frame everything changed.

Wonderkid: Brecel came from 3-0 down to win the match

Wonderkid: Brecel came from 3-0 down to win the match

'It was an amazing moment at the end. I'm still not playing well so hopefully in the next game I can play a bit better.'

Mark Selby came through his second-round test in similar circumstances, sliding 3-0 adrift against Wales' Ryan Day but recovering to win 6-4, and the Leicester man will replace Judd Trump as world number one if he reaches the final.

Like Brecel, Selby struggled to pot a ball early on, but he found form and come the closing stages it was Day missing regularly.

'The way the match started I don't think it could have got any worse,' Selby, 29, said. 'I was expecting the light to go off halfway through, I thought I was at a social club.

'I feel as if my game is there and it's all about having the confidence and belief to take it out on the table.'

Neil Robertson and Barry Hawkins were in action tonight, vying for the right to play Selby, with John Higgins taking on Mark Davis on the other table as the second round came to its conclusion.

Mark Williams loses at UK Championship

Williams is latest big name to crash out of UK Championship after 'shocking' defeat

By
Wayne Gardiner, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

22:52 GMT, 3 December 2012

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UPDATED:

22:52 GMT, 3 December 2012

The williamhill.com UK Championship has now lost four of the world's top 10 inside the opening round after a 'shocking' Mark Williams became the latest big name to make an early exit.

The two-time winner looked horribly out of sorts against the granite-like Mark King and duly lost 6-3, joining holder and world No 1 Judd Trump, the well-fancied Mark Allen and former champion Ding Junhui on the list of casualties.

But while the experienced King deserved his win and is no amateur – the experienced Essex cueman improved throughout, knocking in a polished sixth-frame 103 – World Snooker would probably have liked to avoid so many stellar names falling early on.

Heading home: Mark Williams crashed out in York

Heading home: Mark Williams crashed out in York

With Ronnie O'Sullivan taking an extended break from the game, there is a great need for the sport to show it can survive without its biggest draw and, although other stars remain – Neil Robertson was an impressive winner – there is no denying those to have perished are amongst those many expected to carry the baton in his absence.

'I was terrible. Shocking,' Williams, the fifth-best in the world, said.

'I felt all right going in but I couldn't pot three balls on the trot. The table was beautiful, there was a good crowd, everything you could want. It's getting boring for me to say how badly I am playing.'

Williams, who lifted the trophy in 2000 and 2003, jokingly suggested he may retire such is how he rates his form, before adding: 'I couldn't beat a man with no arms at the minute.'

For his part, King, who occupies the last spot in the top 32, was satisfied with his night's work.

'I played pretty solid and you take whatever you can get,” he said. “I made a 50-odd and made a century and I'm happy.'

Williams is one of the seven players to list the World, UK and Masters titles on his resume, something Australian left-hander Robertson hopes to be able to do come Sunday night.

In form: Neil Robertson kept his hopes alive with a resounding victory

In form: Neil Robertson kept his hopes alive with a resounding victory

He sent out a resounding warning of his intentions too, beating Tom Ford 6-1 and cracking in four centuries in the process.

His only slip came when he missed a routine red when on 45 and going for a whitewash, but he was more than happy to finish up with scores of 129, 112, 100 and 127.

'I felt mega-confident today,' Robertson said.

'Practice has been going very well and I've got a good record against Tom. When I have played him previously I think it's been 6-0 and 6-1 and I knew if I could get on top of him early on then it would be tough for him.'

While one Welsh former winner went home in the shape of Williams, another went through with Matthew Stevens, victorious in 2003, getting the better of fellow countryman Dominic Dale 6-1.

By his own admission Stevens has not been on song this year, but was given a leg-up by Dale's struggle with what he thinks may be an outbreak of shingles.

The 40-year-old was unable to see a doctor before his match started so played on, lost, and then headed off for a diagnosis.

'He doesn't look the best when he's well, but he looked awful!' said Stevens, who now plays Marco Fu.

'It was one of those unfortunate things. I felt for him as he didn't look well but it was nice to get the win.'

Ali Carter says Ronnie O"Sullivan will play at the World Championships

The Rocket will return: Carter tips O'Sullivan to make Crucible comeback

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UPDATED:

16:12 GMT, 3 December 2012

Ali Carter has tipped Ronnie O’Sullivan to make a Crucible comeback and defend his World Championship title.

At the beginning of November O’Sullivan announced he would not play again this season, having made only one low-profile outing since defeating Carter to land snooker’s most highly-prized trophy last May.

The explanation was that O’Sullivan had personal reasons for skipping the current campaign, and the Chigwell cueman had said after his victory in Sheffield that playing week-in and week-out on the tour was taking a heavy toll on his life.

Right on cue: Ronnie O'Sullivan has been tipped by Ali Carter to defend his World Title

Right on cue: Ronnie O'Sullivan has been tipped by Ali Carter to defend his World Title

O’Sullivan did not sign up for the ongoing williamhill.com UK Championship, or next month’s Masters at Alexandra Palace in London, but he is expected to have until late February – a deadline has yet to be set – to decide whether to compete at the season-ending World Championship.

Such a return as mooted by Carter would be audacious, as O’Sullivan would be lacking match practice when compared to any other entrant.

But after speaking with the four-time world champion at a recent exhibition match in Poland, Carter can see O’Sullivan, who turns 37 on Wednesday, cutting short his break from tournament snooker.

'Am I missing him No, not at all,' said Carter.

Taking time out: O'Sullivan said he wanted time away from the sport

Taking time out: O'Sullivan said he wanted time away from the sport

But Carter added: 'Obviously I think he’ll be back for the World Championship. I don’t care what everyone says now. There’s no way Ronnie O’Sullivan could miss that event in my opinion.

'We were in Poland and it’s personal reasons (that) he did talk to me about, that I’m not going to discuss.

'I think he’ll be back for the World (Championship), but I don’t think he knows until he wakes up in the morning what he’s going to do, and I don’t think he knows then.'

Without the man regularly branded the most natural player ever to take up the game, snooker has lost its main box-office attraction.

Crowds in York for the UK Championship appear to have suffered for the absence of O’Sullivan and the now-retired Stephen Hendry, with the balcony level at the Barbican Centre closed to spectators who were allowed access last year.

Prediction: Carter says he thinks O'Sullivan will play in the new year

Prediction: Carter says he thinks O'Sullivan will play in the new year

Any tournament without O’Sullivan gives the rest a better chance of coming away with the trophy.

Carter, who has twice been beaten in Crucible finals by his fellow Essex player, knows that certainly applies this week.

'Of course it opens it up,” said the 33-year-old.

'Ronnie’s beatable when his head’s not on but it was clear for everyone to see that this year at the World Championship his head was completely on.

'He hasn’t got four world titles, five UKs and four Masters – or whatever it is – for no reason.'

O’Sullivan actually has four of each, but Carter’s point stands.

Former world champion Graeme Dott would rather O’Sullivan was in York, but the Scot is losing no sleep over his decision to stay away, believing strength in depth means the sport can get by without him.

Dott said: “Ronnie is obviously the best player and everyone wants to see him, the players included would rather have Ronnie in the tournament than not in it.

'If Ronnie wasn’t here seven years ago you’d miss him a hell of a lot more than we’re going to miss him just now.'

UK Championship 2012: Judd Trump rues first round exit to Mark Joyce

You'll never see a world No 1 play as badly as that: Holder Trump rues first round UK Championship exit to qualifier Joyce

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UPDATED:

09:19 GMT, 3 December 2012

Judd Trump panned his own performance as the world No 1's title defence at the williamhill.com UK Championship was halted at the first hurdle by qualifier Mark Joyce.

A year after landing the biggest title of his burgeoning career at York's Barbican Centre, Trump was on the painful end of one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history, the world No 1 losing 6-5 to 50th-ranked Joyce after at one stage holding a 5-2 lead.

Trump said: 'I should never play that bad. You’ll never see another world No 1 play as badly as that.'

Staring at defeat: Holder Judd Trump after losing his first round match of the William Hill UK Championships at York Barbican Centre

Staring at defeat: Holder Judd Trump after losing his first round match of the William Hill UK Championships at York Barbican Centre

He had made a 104 break in the second frame and was doing enough, it seemed, to set up a second-round clash with Ali Carter, but Joyce had other ideas and the long road back from the brink of defeat had the biggest victory of his career at its end.

'It’s just a bad performance. It was going to come sooner or later,' said 23-year-old Trump, the man tipped in recent days by many, including Stephen Hendry, to be the dominant force in snooker for the next decade.

'He played all right in the last four frames but he’ll have to raise his game a lot to get close to Ali Carter.'

Over the moon: Qualifier Mark Joyce was delighted after his win

Over the moon: Qualifier Mark Joyce was delighted after his win

Trump’s defeat means Mark Selby can reclaim the number one ranking by reaching next Sunday’s final, while Joyce can target the quarter-finals for the second time in his career.

The Walsall man, now 29, knocked out Carter first and then Trump to reach the last eight in 2010, the last year that Telford staged the UK Championship, and the draw has convinced him he might be fated to do the same again.

'I'm over the moon. It wasn’t a vintage performance by any means,' Joyce said.

'It’s the hardest game in the world when you’re under pressure and every shot looks hard, every shot’s a pint of blood.

'I’ve got Ali Carter now and I beat him two years ago so hopefully I can do him as well.'

Joyce has recently revealed how he sustained the arm injury that sidelined him soon after his run in Telford, setting his career back.

'Just after the UK two years ago I got attacked and had a fractured elbow and a fractured eye socket, which ruined the rest of that season,' he said.

'Physically it cost me four months but mentally it cost me a lot longer.'

Carter was a scrappy winner against Steve Davis, coming through 6-2 against the man who won this tournament six times in the 1980s.

Both men struggled for fluency, Carter’s highest break of 88 and an 85 from Davis in the seventh frame out of keeping with the flow of the match.

Yet Carter was the more consistent of the two, with the 33-year-old from Tiptree too strong for the 55-year-old Brentwood veteran.

Davis, competing in his 33rd UK Championship, lamented his own performance but said: 'Ali’s a potential winner of the tournament so I shouldn’t moan.'

Snooker loopy: Trudd slammed his performance after crashing out in York at the first hurdle

Snooker loopy: Trudd slammed his performance after crashing out in York at the first hurdle

China’s last hope Cao Yupeng became the third player from snooker’s boom nation to make a first-round exit.

Cao tumbled out 6-1 against 40-year-old Hastings potter Mark Davis, completing a casualty list of Chinese players that began with yesterday’s defeats for Liang Wenbo and former UK champion Ding Junhui.

With soaring interest and money flooding into the game from China, there are more major tournaments staged in the country than in the United Kingdom, but on the table there remains a gulf in standards.

Mark Davis plays John Higgins next, on Wednesday evening.

Mum's the word: 2008 winner Shaun Murphy is keen to win more titles

Mum's the word: 2008 winner Shaun Murphy is keen to win more titles

Shaun Murphy was UK champion in 2008 and the Manchester-based 30-year-old began another campaign with a comfortable enough 6-3 win over Gloucester’s Robert Milkins.

Seven years have passed since Murphy made his big breakthrough by winning the World Championship.

He has four major ranking titles in all, and was a beaten finalist at the Masters in January, but the trophy tally should be higher according to the world No 4 – and his mother.

'My mum keeps telling me I should have won more and mums are normally right,' Murphy said.

John Higgins beats Michael Holt in williamhill.com UK Championship

Higgins gets bid for fourth UK Championship underway after easing into second round

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UPDATED:

15:36 GMT, 1 December 2012

John Higgins began his bid for a fourth williamhill.com UK Championship title by grinding out a first-round win over Michael Holt.

The Scot, champion in 1998, 2000 and 2010, came through his opening test on day one of the tournament at York's Barbican Centre, stepping up his performance following a mid-match scare which left his mind 'scrambled'.

The 37-year-old Scot, who stunned Judd Trump with a terrific comeback in the final to win the Shanghai Masters title in September, has looked to be approaching his very best form after going through a slump last season.

Eyes on the prize: John Higgins is chasing his fourth UK Championship

Eyes on the prize: John Higgins is chasing his fourth UK Championship

And while he scaled no great heights against 34-year-old Nottinghamshire potter Holt, there were enough indications that his game is in healthy order.

Higgins, who made an early break of 116, split the opening six frames with Holt and was behind midway through frame seven. But he then seized on an opening to inch ahead in the match, and it proved the turning point as he pulled away to clinch a 6-3 victory.

'I'm delighted to win. I was on edge the whole game,' said Higgins, who will play Mark Davis or Cao Yupeng next.

'Being the first match on, sometimes that's not for the best. The table was playing really slow, the cushions were the slowest I think I've ever played on and it was difficult to get used to the conditions.'

On cue: Higgins at the table against Michael Holt

On cue: Higgins at the table against Michael Holt

The world No 3 added: 'It was looking dodgy in the seventh frame when Michael could have cleared up and won that frame to make it 4-3.

'My head was getting scrambled, I was getting frustrated with myself and if it had gone 4-3 he would have probably gone on to win.'

Holt, the world number 29, said: 'I love being at these tournaments and really want to win. But I've been at this stage of my career for about 10 years. I know I can beat anyone. It's really frustrating. I'm always just that far away from winning.'

Australian Open champion Barry Hawkins came through a difficult assignment against China's Liang Wenbo, winning 6-4.

Mark Allen fined after rant about Barry Hearn

Allen fined and warned over future conduct after Hearn rant at UK Championships

Mark Allen has been fined 250 and warned as to his future behaviour after he swore during a rant directed at World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn during last month's williamhill.com UK Championship in York.

The Northern Irishman said following his first-round victory over Adrian Gunnell that Hearn's attitude was that 'the players don't really matter, so f*** the players'.

Allen's outburst was referred to the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association's disciplinary committee, while Hearn described his comments as 'slanderous'.

Critical: Mark Allen ranted about Barry Hearn

Critical: Mark Allen ranted about Barry Hearn

The WPBSA said in a statement released today: 'Mark Allen has been fined 250 and warned as to his future behaviour by the disciplinary committee of the WPBSA.

'This was for swearing at a live press conference during the williamhill.com UK Championship in York in December 2011.'

World Snooker confirmed that Allen, who went on to lose in the UK Championship final to Judd Trump, had accepted the punishment.

He had already apologised for swearing during the press conference while defending his right to give his opinions on the sport.

Important Allen claimed Barry Hearn thinks the players do not matter

Important Allen claimed Barry Hearn thinks the players do not matter

Janie Watkins, the media manager for Allen's management company On Q Promotions, said: 'Mark has subsequently had a meeting with Barry Hearn, just before the WPBSA AGM in December, where Barry explained where he was coming from and Mark explained where he was coming from and they parted as good mates.

'It's over and put to bed and this was just tying up the loose ends.'

During the press conference which followed the Gunnell match, Allen said: 'Whenever Barry came in, one of the first things he said was that the World Championships, UK and Masters wouldn't be touched. Only 18 months later, the UK format has changed.

'I don't think he's pleasing too many players, but anyone who voted for him has only got themselves to blame. I wasn't one of them.

'He (Hearn) needs to get away from the darts factor. It's getting close to that. I think in the long run he'll probably do good for snooker, but not for my generation. It's time to let someone else have a go.'