Paul Krishnamurty previews the Scottish Open, which starts tomorrow morning. As always, Betfair will have live coverage throughout...
"He's at that stage of his career where he's hungry for ever more titles and ever more records."
There's no rest for snooker fans and I'm sure I speak for most in saying we'd have it no other way. Once we've finished watching the UK final between Judd Trump and Neil Robertson and grabbed a few hours sleep, the Scottish Open will be underway.
Schedule makes this ripe for upsets
I would say, positioned directly after a major, this is the likeliest ranking event on the calendar to produce an upset. The top players take Home Nations events seriously, for sure, but could be forgiven if slightly lacking focus after a gruelling fortnight.
That excuse would obviously apply most to the finalists, who could well repeat from opposite halves of the draw. I don't see too much early trouble for either Trump or Robertson, whose chances are discussed further in the relevant sections below. However perhaps by the weekend, mental fatigue might kick in.
An early exit at the UK Championship may, therefore, turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Allen is a case in point. Much of his form since the first lockdown has been of the highest calibre - particularly when winning the Champion of Champions.
Keep fast improving Zhou onside
The Northern Irishman won this title in 2018, lost in last year's semis and one of the easiest first round draws in Jimmy White. In contrast to the favourite in this section - Mark Selby faces the talented Yuan Sijun, who took him to a decider in October.
Other strong candidates in this section include Stephen Maguire (easy start), last year's runner-up Jack Lisowski (played well last week) and most interestingly Zhou Yuelong. The 22 year-old is improving so fast and poised for a mouthwatering third round clash with Allen.
Wilson remains a winner-in-waiting
The strong likelihood is that either Neil Robertson or Kyren Wilson will come through this section. Both are in superb form, have easy starts and are scheduled to produce a quarter-final of the highest calibre.
It is with great regret that I drop Robbo from the staking plan. I regard him consistently over-priced, by comparison to Ronnie O'Sullivan for example. However the plan simply can't afford to include him plus one of the favourites from the bottom half.
Wilson is well overdue a title and it would be a killer to miss out when it happens. He's certainly playing well enough.
Yan Bingtao and Barry Hawkins also have strong claims from this section but instead, I'll take huge odds about the evergreen Stevens. He's still frequently producing top-class snooker and is capable of stringing it together one week.
So far as mental fatigue or serious form dips are concerned, Trump seems the most immune. He's at that stage of his career where he's hungry for ever more titles and ever more records.
Trump very likely to pass early tests
Whilst I might have been prepared to oppose him this week, there aren't many obvious pitfalls in this section. Alex Ursenbacher first up, perhaps, but there's no way Trump will take the Swiss lightly after he beat Ronnie at the UK.
Trump has been bossing potential quarter-final opponent John Higgins of late, while Mark Williams is way below his best. Nor are either Stuart Bingham or Graeme Dott right now.
Saengkham well worth another chance
325/1 about Saengkham is huge. He was in cracking form at the NI Open, beating Maguire and Yuelong, and last week's defeat to Pang Junxu doesn't look so bad given the 20 year-old's subsequent heroics. The Thai remains a potential top-16 player.
Three players in the bottom quarter start at 20/1 or less and all are enthusiastically opposed. Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui were poor last week and vulnerable to much inferior types.
Ronnie hard to back from this draw
O'Sullivan is never written off but simply no value at 4/1, given he might have to play Trump in the semis. He too was poor in defeat to Ursenbacher and could easily lose a best-of-seven to one of these outsiders.
My two picks could very well meet in the last-16. Maflin poses the biggest threat to Murphy, Donaldson to Ding. The former played well in defeat to Wilson last week while the latter is a fine matchplayer very adept against the sort of inferior types he'll encounter early.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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