Shanghai Masters Snooker: Players to back from each quarter up to 59/1

Four-time world champion John Higgins
John Higgins has started the season well

Paul Krishnamurty previews the ongoing Shanghai Masters, selecting one player from each section of the draw...

  • Higgins on the comeback trail?

  • Trump looks strong

  • Allen top value after last term

After a terrible period for Chinese snooker, there is relief as tournaments return to the country that had become the sport's second home. The Shanghai Masters is the first event since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Format favours the cream

Play began overnight but none of the selections are in action until tomorrow. The field is 24-strong, with the top-eight seeds already through to the second round. Matches are played over a long format - best of 11 until the semis, then best of 19 and a best of 21 final.

One would very much expect the cream to rise to the top in such conditions, as it has in the past. The last three renewals were all won by Ronnie O'Sullivan. Our conundrum, however, is evaluating who constitutes the sport's 'cream' right now. At least 10 of this field must be described in such terms.

Ronnie hard to fancy at short odds

Ronnie starts favourite but that status must be in doubt. He hasn't reached a semi-final since winning last November's Champion of Champions, and hasn't played this season. It helps that he'll start against Ali Carter, whom he has dominated over the years, but 5.69/2 on the Betfair Exchange really doesn't appeal.

The two other big-guns in this section are Kyren Wilson and John Higgins, both of whom played very well at the European Masters. Higgins won their quarter-final, beat in-form Shaun Murphy in the previous round, and only lost a decider in the semis to Judd Trump.

Last year, Higgins looked to be in decline but like all the game's legends, one must never write off a comeback. He's done so before, at least twice in the past decade and on the basis of that week's form (he also won 6-0 overnight in the first round), the Wizard of Wishaw could well land this title.

If does meet Ronnie in the quarters, Higgins is one of few to have generally bettered the Rocket in their recent encounters.

Trust Trump to come through

Trump is rated likeliest to come through the second section and, while there is plenty of strong opposition, his head-to-head records against these potential opponents vindicates the betting.

As I write, Jack Lisowski and Zhou Yuelong are battling to face Judd in the last-16. They trail him 5-11 and 0-5 respectively. Mark Selby, seeded to face him in the quarters, trails 5-10. In any case, Mark must first get past Hossein Vafaei, who won their last three encounters.

The Iranian is tempting at odds around 34.033/1, but I'll stick with Trump. His defeat in the European Masters final to Barry Hawkins was disappointing but he'd played well in previous rounds and he had repeatedly struggled against Hawkins lately, in contrast to the aformentioned head-to-heads.

Improved Allen still under-rated in betting

Mark Allen confidently gets the nod from section three. He was the most consistent player last season, effectively a new player having shed five stone. He started the season well and is fancied to do so again. I wouldn't read anything into him being whitewashed by Thepchaiya Un-Nooh last time, as the mercurial Thai was in scintillating form.

Allen's main rival here is Neil Robertson but the Aussie has a much tougher starter, against either Ding Junhui or Si Jiahui. Note too that Robertson has a terrible tournament record, never reaching this final and only three quarter-finals. I'm not sure he's an early season player, either.

Can Milkins maintain improvement?

The bottom section is the toughest for my money. A good case could be made for Shaun Murphy, Luca Brecel or Mark Williams, based on their performances last season. Williams and Murphy started this one impressively too. Brecel less so, but he does have good early season form in China.

A big question for the new season is whether Robert Milkins can maintain his dramatic improvement. He was up there with the very best in the second half of last season and has a decent record against last-16 opponent Murphy, assuming 'The Milkman' comes through against youngster Bai Yulu tomorrow.

Granted, Milkins' longer career profile suggests that is no certainty by any stretch but at odds of 60.059/1, I'll throw a cheap dart in that direction in what looks a very tricky section.

Read Euro 2024 Qualifier Tips: Five of the best bets from Monday's matches

*Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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