Paul Krishnamurty previews the latest world ranking event, which you can watch live throughout on Betfair from Wednesday...
"The Scot beat Trump in their last meeting and lost their previous one in a decider. He claimed a big scalp in Selby at The Masters."
It may be surprising to learn that Yan Bingtao's victory at The Masters was the biggest upset in a frontline snooker tournament since the European Masters in October 2018. Yan was trading around 70.069/1, so still nowhere near the 300.0299/1 about Jimmy Robertson.
Such is the reliability of snooker's elite nowadays, particularly Judd Trump, who defends his German Masters title from tomorrow. His presence aside though, this could well produce a first-time or rare winner.
Six of the world's top-11 out already
The first two rounds were played several weeks ago, so we're down to the last-32. There has already been carnage. This line-up lacks O'Sullivan, Selby, Robertson, Bingtao, Allen and Wilson.
In their absence, this title looks Trump's for the taking -assuming he has no lingering Covid symptoms or after-effects. A further assumption is his preparedness and form, as this will be his first match since the World Open final just before Christmas.
Trump's odds are prohibitively short
There has been no greater friend to this column in recent years but I'm smarting from losing nine units when he withdrew from The Masters and wary of what would have to be a big stake at 13/8.
He's arguably drawn in the toughest section too, scheduled and likely to face either Ding Junhui or Stephen Maguire in the quarter-final. Both of whom played well at The Masters, but are far from reliable.
I'll take Maguire each-way simply because he's more than twice Ding's odds. Plus the Scot beat Trump in their last meeting and lost their previous one in a decider. He claimed a big scalp in Selby at The Masters and only lost to eventual champion Bingtao in a decider.
Back Liang Wenbo 1u e/w @ 35/1
Shaun Murphy also produced by far his best performance in ages in that major, before flopping in the next round. Given how out of sorts, mentally and on the table, he was before Christmas, 'The Magician' is happily swerved in this section.
Wenbo and Hawkins both appeal
I like two players in this section. Both Barry Hawkins and Liang Wenbo have been playing better than their results, repeatedly running into elite opponents prior to quarter-finals.
I've backed both each-way but for the purposes of the column, Wenbo is preferred on the basis of an easier first round match. He's beaten Jak Jones on all three previous occasions, whereas Hawkins has a very tough opener against the mercurial Ryan Day.
Higgins hard to stop from this draw
It feels weird to be backing John Higgins at single-figure odds, but it is very hard to oppose him in this section. A last-16 match against either Tom Ford or Yuan Sijun is his toughest hurdle.
Generally the Wizard of Wishaw is a declining force, but he's started 2021 better than anyone, in both the Championship League and The Masters. He remains pretty reliable against inferior players and that is sure to be the case in every match prior to the final.
Could Zhou follow Yan to glory?
The two likeliest players from the bottom section meet in the last-32. I'd prefer Zhou Yuelong over Stuart Bingham but am happy to swerve them both for the outright given such a tough start.
There is good logic in backing Zhou, who is improving at a rate of knots and must feel inspired by Yan's major breakthrough. Pang Junxu is another special Chinese talent to watch and they could meet in the last-16.
Nobody can compete with Saengkham for value in this section. 66/1 is huge. The Thai is a potential top-16 player, who has beaten elite opponents and reached latter stages. He isn't so far behind the lesser-priced but erratic Jack Lisowski and definitely not Luca Brecel.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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