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Ding, Higgins and Stevens start UK Championship Snooker tilts

Day two of the Coral-sponsored UK Championship Snooker from York’s Barbican Centre will see 22 men push onto the second round.

Five match-ups, in particular, from the morning and afternoon sessions will be of interest to punters. Three contain former winners of this second more prestigious ranking event on the tour from the 21st Century so far.

‘The Wizard of Wishaw’ John Higgins, a three-time UK champion and winner of four world crowns at the Crucible, kicks things off in desperate search for some tournament form.

It’s been over two years (2012 Shanghai Masters) since 39-year-old Higgins won a major ranking event. Thereafter, the Scot has reached just two quarters and a single final. Higgins is now down at world number 12, but still massively odds-on at 1/16 to beat fellow veteran Lee Walker (9/1 to cause a first round upset).

Wales’ Matthew Stevens, who lifted this trophy in York back in 2003, is another who must do better. Hovering around the top 20, he takes on Liverpool native and former policeman Allan Taylor.

Carmarthen-born Stevens is odds-on 3/10 favourite to trounce Taylor, who swapped his truncheon for a cue, but is yet to make much of an impact on the tour. If anything, a price of 5/2 for this virtual unknown to upset former Crucible finalist Stevens is short.

Taylor, 29, has beaten his opponent this year, however, winning 4-1 at a European Tour event in Poland last season. Stevens should avenge that defeat as this major tournament, though.

Ding Junhui, a two-time champion of the UK title (2005 and 2009) and a best price 10/1 chance with Coral to add a third crown this year, is in much better form than Higgins and Stevens.

‘The Chinese Sensation’ scooped five ranking event titles last term, and reached the semis of both the Shanghai Masters and Champion of Champions events this autumn.

Ding is a colossal 1/50 odds-on favourite to dispatch plucky qualifier John Sutton. Although Junhui has lost at this stage of the UK Championship before, it is a remote prospect here at 25/1.

Punters and snooker fans will also get the chance to be nostalgic on day two in York, with legendary cueman and 1992 winner Jimmy White in action. ‘The Whirlwind’ is ranked 62 in the world and meets fellow baize veteran Dave Harold, who is five places below him.

History points to White rolling back the years odds-on at 8/15, as he has come out on top in three of the four meetings with Stoke native Harold (a 6/4 shot to spoil this latest attempt at a comeback from ‘the Whirlwind’).

Older punters may also remember Dominic Dale, and the Welshman won last season’s Snooker Shoot-Out. He takes on fellow 40-something Tony Drago, who is well-known in both this sport and pool circles.

This blast from the past battle sees Welsh potter Dale odds-on at 2/11 to defeat Malta’s world number 100 Drago (4/1), who has never beaten his opponent in two previous attempts.

Stay tuned to Coral’s news site for a preview of the main evening session action from day two, which features Ricky Walden v living legend Steve Davis and the beginning of Mark Selby’s quest to regain the UK Championship.