As the defending champion, Yan Bingtao is the star of the opening match at this year's Masters. A high-pressure occasion for the 21 year-old but, as he proved last year on his tournament debut, this kid seems immune to pressure.
Before analysing the matches, a quick note to say I'll be tipping a 'daily double' throughout the event. This could range from a short-odds double on the match results to a cheap, speculative double - perhaps on correct scores. I'll start with the former.
Daily Double - Pays £7.50 for £2 stake
Yan Bingtao to beat Mark Williams @ 1.664/6
Neil Robertson to win 6-3, 6-4 or 6-5 vs Anthony McGill @ 2.255/4
Note, if placing these bets separately as a running accumulator, it will pay slightly more, because Bingtao is available at a generous 1.748/11 on the exchange.
Williams has struggled at recent Masters
The Bingtao v Williams match looks a classic example of players whose careers have opposite trajectories. I am loathe to write off the Welshman, as he so often brings his A-game to majors, but he's lost five of his last six first round matches in this one, and eight of his last 12 dating back to 2006.
Their most famous previous encounter came in the 2017 Northern Ireland Open final, when Williams came from behind to edge out the then 17 year-old 9-8. That was during the Welshman's remarkable 'comeback' season, which produced three titles including the biggest of all at the Crucible.
In no season since, and for over a decade previously, has he produced that standard. He did win the British Open in September, despite being below his best in a tournament where all the big guns seemed under-prepared. Since then, he's suffered from gout and Covid-19, missed tournaments and struggled on the table. It will be an impressive feat if he arrives from the Christmas break in tip-top form.
Bingtao hasn't reached a final but he has been impressive this term, twice beating Mark Selby, once Ronnie O'Sullivan but falling short against John Higgins three times. Last year's first major win will certainly not be the last and he has a fair chance of defending the title.
In addition to the double, take the bigger exchange odds as a single.
Robbo and McGill can rack up the tons
Hopefully a win in the first match will leave a nice position going into the evening match. Whilst Neil Robertson is my main outright pick, odds of 1.351/3 against Anthony McGill don't appeal at all as a betting proposition. The Scot was in good form prior to Christmas and has showed several times at the Crucible that he can bring his A-game to majors.
Indeed, that explains going for the closer scorelines in a Robertson win. I highly doubt McGill will be thrashed and am taking nothing for granted. One further bet is Three or More Centuries in the match at 3.259/4. I'm expecting plenty on that front from the Aussie this week and McGill could well contribute too.
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