Snooker's major winning club will tonight have a new member, after Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson have played the biggest match of their lives. In Allen's case, this will be his second major final after the 2011 UK Championship but the expectation is significantly higher this time. For Wilson, this is completely unchartered territory.
One can always look back at the end of a tournament and re-assess luck of the draw or the failings of earlier vanquished opponents. However in this case, I'm in no doubt that the best two players have reached the final. They've produced the best overall standard and risen brilliantly to challenges and pressure situations.
Allen particularly deserves this long overdue appearance in another major final. His draw could barely have been tougher and yet nobody has even taken him to a deciding frame. Anyone who beats Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins convincingly in the same tournament warrants the utmost respect. He absolutely deserves to start favourite.
As for Wilson, yesterday's comeback from 5-2 down against Judd Trump represents another peak in his rapidly impressive career. Sure Trump blew it but Wilson took his chances superbly, just as in the previous rounds. He was buzzing at the end and couldn't have sounded more confident in the post-match interview.
So who wins? I'll be honest and admit this match feels trickier to call than any other this week. 1.63 about Allen feels about right. He's much more experienced, has achieved more in coming through the top half of the draw and is not one to fold under pressure. Having backed him perhaps a dozen times in majors to no avail, I've no doubt he is good enough and it would be something of a travesty were he to never to win one.
However to back a 1.63 chance demands a great deal of confidence, and Allen's lack of major titles is not inexplicable. His game doesn't have an obvious weakness apart from a tendency to throw in one ruinously bad session. That is always a deterrent to taking short odds.
Note too, how well the less experienced man has fared in their previous matches. Their head-to-head is 3-3, with Wilson winning the last two in big matches - at the 2016 World Championship and last September's World Open semi-final. He has a very good record on big stages and thoroughly vindicated his 'Warrior' nickname yesterday.
Some commentators (including Neal Foulds if memory serves), have likened Wilson's superb temperament to Peter Ebdon. I agree and regularly backed Ebdon in the latter stages of events during the peak of his career for precisely that reason. We're already on at 44.0 pre-tournament and I'm inclined to keep the faith. In a match this close, backing the outsider is generally a preferable strategy.
Regarding new advice though, I'd rather opt out of choosing between two likeable candidates in favour of side markets. Given that the outsider seems unlikely to freeze, there's little to suggest this will be one-sided. Therefore, I'm going for a quartet of correct scores covering down to 10-8 either way. Combined, that pays around 2.8.
Also, let's have a bet on Over 2.5 Centuries. Allen is a ton-machine comparable to Ronnie or Trump - hitting one every 9.59 frames. At 13.37 Wilson is no scoring slouch either and he has shown a tendency to produce them in majors.
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