We've seen a consistent pattern throughout this snooker season. Frequent carnage in the early rounds, especially over best of seven frames, enabling all manner of huge-priced outsiders to reach the semi-finals - Noppon Saengkham and Gary Wilson being the latest at 500/1 and 150/1 respectively. However those two suffered the same fate as pretty much all the miracle semi-finalists before them. When up against one of the top players when it matters, they fell short.
If an outsider is to win anywhere, though, this weekend's Gibraltar Open is as likely a target as any, not least because there's no O'Sullivan or Higgins to worry about. In fact the only player in this line-up to have won a ranking title since September is one-frame Shootout champion Michael Georgiou.
Back Cao Yupeng 1u e/w @ 55/1
Back Noppon Saengkham 0.5u e/w @ 125/1
Not only is the draw extremely sparse, it is lop-sided with the top-three market leaders lodged in the same quarter. Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins both have very strong claims on their form over the past fortnight, while Stuart Bingham is hungry for ranking points following his ban.
That trio of potential winners account for nearly 40% of the book, yet none could really be described as either reliable or prolific. As throughout the draw, I'm happy to take on these market leaders with bigger-priced each-way alternatives.
Nobody has gone closer to upsetting the odds than Yupeng, who was a black ball away from the Scottish Open title. He's progressing well and more than capable of emerging from this section. So too is Saengkham after last week's heroics. The way he beat Trump and Kyren Wilson was no fluke and the Thai player is pretty adept at negotiating the early rounds.
Back Matthew Selt 0.5u e/w @ 80/1
Back Elliot Slessor 0.25u e/w @ 275/1
None of the other sections are anything like as strong. The 'big-guns' here are Kyren Wilson, Anthony McGill and Liang Wenbo. Again, likeable types often worth backing at big odds against the elite, but who make very little appeal at short odds in a low grade. Wilson's struggles with the quarter at his mercy last week emphasise that point.
A solid, experienced middle-ranking player like Selt, for example, would have a strong chance against any of them, and I like the way his draw shapes up after an opening walkover. Slessor is a fine prospect, who has already beaten Ronnie en route to a ranking semi this term.
Back Michael Georgiou 0.5u e/w @ 150/1
Back Scott Donaldson 0.5u e/w @ 125/1
Next, what must surely be the weakest quarter in the history of world ranking events - illustrated by Gary Wilson being top-rated at just 25/1. Sure, he made the semis but this is a player we've taken 300/1 about earlier this season! The only others at less than 100/1 are Ricky Walden and Liam Highfield.
I'd give either of my selections here a good chance against any of that trio. While the Shootout is of course no guide but Georgiou's recent form goes a bit deeper than that. He showed a fine temperament that weekend and may be on the up.
Regular readers may recall Donaldson reach the Welsh Open semis last term when carrying our cash at 250/1. The Scot isn't all that consistent but is dangerous at his best, as none other than Mark Selby found to his cost in the UK Championship.
Back Zhou Yuelong 1u e/w @ 60/1
Back Michael Holt 1u e/w @ 70/1
There are several more potential winners in this section but they could have early traffic issues. For instance only one of Ryan Day, Luca Brecel and Michael White can reach the last-16. Jack Lisowski has the best path but is too erratic to represent value at 25/1. Joe Perry is probably the one to beat but, again, hardly screams value at 22/1.
Yuelong remains far from the finished article but well capable of winning in this grade. He's already reached a semi-final this term and won a Championship League group. Holt hasn't played up to his usual standard but has a very easy early path. Again if were to face, at worst ways Day or Perry over best-of-seven, the Hitman's chance would probably be around 40%.
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