Snooker's richest invitational kicks off on Monday, with comprehensive coverage on Betfair Live Video. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview and quartet of outright selections...
"Mark Williams...is fancied to re-assume the number one ranking very soon. Any fear of a reaction to winning the world title disintegrated with a typical, gutsy victory at the World Open."
Although it still lacks the emotional status of a major, the Shanghai Masters is now firmly established as one of the biggest snooker events, and certainly the most prestigious yet of this campaign. After 11 years as a full-field ranking event, it now becomes the richest invitational ever, restricted to just 24 players.
Naturally, that means all the world's best are in attendance. Ronnie O'Sullivan - ranked third but still, for me, always the one to beat - defends the title on seasonal debut, bidding for a third Shanghai crown. Twelve months ago he was utterly imperious, producing one of his all-time best performances to win 36 frames out of a possible 45.
One crucial difference this time is the date. Then, Ronnie had already demonstrated 'match fitness' and won the English Open. Now we're guessing about his form although he's been working with SightRight, so has evidently been active at least. Nevertheless, with the usual caveat that he could totally dominate again, the favourite makes little betting appeal.
His two main rivals in this top quarter warrant the utmost respect too, even if their previous Shanghai records are pretty dismal. Neither Neil Robertson or Shaun Murphy has ever reached this final. Alternatively Stuart Bingham won in 2015 and reached both semi-finals since.
Marginal preference is for the Aussie, who has started the season better than the others by winning the Riga Masters, and has fared better against O'Sullivan than most.
For me, the value here is blindingly obvious - stick with the form player. Wilson arrives off two tournament victories, albeit lower grade, and is continuing his climb towards snooker's peak that I've been talking up ever since tipping him at 149-1 to win this title in 2015.
The 'Warrior' demonstrated his temperamental prowess in that final, beating Judd Trump 10-9 and has continued in that vein since. The ageless John Higgins has put paid to promising world title bids in the last two years but this shorter format, in the early season, could be an ideal opportunity for revenge.
Trump was runner-up for the third time here last year but regular readers will know how loathe I am to take relatively short odds about such an frustrating and unreliable character.
Based on his record in Asia and in the richest events, there is a very strong argument to be made for backing Mark Selby. Critically, the world number one has the easiest first match among all the top-eight seeds, facing either Luca Brecel and Xiao Guodong. He will probably trade shorter than [7.4].
However with only one pick per section, preference is for Ding, despite a much tougher first match against either Mark Allen or Xiao Guodong. He has a fine record against both and also beat Selby in the 2016 final here. Having warmed up with a run to the final of last week's Six Reds World Championship, expect big improvement on a rusty performance at the World Open.
Finally a return to this never-ending theme regarding who truly is the world's best player. On recent evidence, it is Williams, who is fancied to re-assume the number one ranking very soon. Any fear of a reaction to winning the world title disintegrated with a typical, gutsy victory at the World Open.
Way back in the early years of this century, Williams was regularly ranked ahead of his great rivals O'Sullivan and Higgins. He seems consistently back to that standard and a remarkable temperament makes him very hard to beat.
The alternatives in here are all capable bigger-priced types that often get picked - Barry Hawkins, Stephen Maguire, Anthony McGill and Yan Bingtao. The last-named will continue to be a regular pick but this is a big ask.
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