Paul Krishnamurty previews the China Open, which produced a miracle outsider in last year's final and where the big names are again falling fast...
"With Robertson out, the way is very much clear for John Higgins...With more upsets elsewhere in the draw, the draw could open right up for the best player in the bottom half."
Part of the ongoing transformation of snooker can be dated back to exactly one year ago. Until then, the 2014/15 season was predictable in so far as tournaments were shared out by the top 10 or so players. Outsider finalists were extremely rare, so 500.0499/1 chance Gary Wilson's run to the China Open final represented one of the biggest snooker shocks of all-time.
The trend has accelerated this term with 20 different finalists. Among the 12 different tournament winners, Kyren Wilson was 150.0149/1 for his Shanghai Masters win. Rory Mcleod was at least twice those odds in the Ruhr Open, where all four semi-finalists were triple-figure priced outsiders. So too were subsequent runners-up David Gilbert, Liang Wenbo and Luca Brecel.
With the last-64 round still in progress, the China Open may well produce another shock. The field lacks Ronnie O'Sullivan, defending champion Mark Selby and, after today's shock defeat to Noppon Saengkham, clear favourite Neil Robertson.
Back Mike Dunn 0.5u @ 150.0149/1
No section better illustrates the point about outsiders than this. On paper, Stephen Maguire should ease into the semis, but this streaky player didn't score well in his first round and lost his two previous matches 4-0. It isn't easy to identify who he loses to, but the Scot is just too unreliable to make odds of 12.5 appeal.
One of the quarter-finalists must come from either Mark Davis, Rhys Clark, Mike Dunn or Rory Mcleod - of whom only Davis is trading below 100.099/1. My pick is Dunn, who reached the semis of this event two years ago. He's played fairly well in PTCs this year and is well up to beating this standard of opposition.
Back Ali Carter 1.5u @ 40.039/1
In contrast, this section looks much likelier to yield a big-name, with Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy among the top-three market leaders.
Trump's path is better and it's easy to imagine him storming through this half of the draw without playing a top-class opponent. However, winless this season and perennially inconsistent, he is hard to justify as a betting proposition at 5.59/2.
Murphy has tricky opponents from the outset and will have travelled late to China from Manchester after playing in Saturday's semi-final.
Instead, I'm choosing Ali Carter, who beat Trump 4-1 last week. Without constant health problems, Ali would be among the game's elite and he's always worth considering when showing good form. He certainly shouldn't be seven times the odds of Trump.
Back John Higgins 7u @ 7.06/1
With Robertson out, the way is very much clear for John Higgins in this section. Though not entirely reliable nowadays, Higgins generally deals easily with much inferior opponents and that's all he'll face until the quarter-finals.
At that stage, either Martin Gould, Graeme Dott or Ben Woollaston would represent stiffer opposition, but Higgins would be strong favourite against any of them. With more upsets elsewhere in the draw, the draw could open right up for the best player in the bottom half.
If you're looking for a bigger price, Woollaston at 70.069/1 would be my pick.
Back Stuart Bingham 4u @ 14.013/1
Finally, another very weak section where only Bingham and Kyren Wilson stand out as realistic finalists. After whitewashing Cao Yupeng today, following defeat in the World Grand Prix final by the decisive frame, hopes are high that the world champion is back to his best.
He probably won't need to be against any of this lot apart from Wilson, who also makes plenty of appeal at around 36.035/1.