Snooker Betting: Is the Rocket up for Shanghai ding-dong?
If Ronnie O'Sullivan is to make it three in a row he will have to see off a man with a snooker mad nation behind him in Shanghai, says David Hendon.
Ding Junhui hasn't won a ranking title since capturing the Northern Ireland Trophy in August 2006 but if any city is going to inspire him then Shanghai is the place.
A major factor in why Ding has struggled over the last couple of years is that he has had to uproot from his family home in China to live and practice in Sheffield throughout the season, which is a big culture shock for one so young. Also, Ding carries the hopes of a snooker-mad nation. When he beat Stephen Hendry to win the 2005 China Open around 110 million Chinese viewers tuned in.
Ding faces a tough opening round opponent at the Shanghai Masters in the shape of Dave Harold, the surprise runner-up in last month's Northern Ireland Trophy but if he does come through this he appears to have a relatively good draw. I would back him to beat either Dominic Dale, the defending champion, or veteran campaigner Steve Davis and, with the crowd firmly behind him, looks a good bet to reach the final. [8.8] is a big price for the local favourite.
If Ronnie O'Sullivan wins the title he will become the first player since Hendry in 1993 to capture three ranking titles in succession but the Rocket has been a notoriously poor traveller in recent years. Although he won the China Open in 1999 and 2000, he has at times given the impression that he'd rather be at home during Chinese events over the last few seasons.
O'Sullivan's in a tricky quarter that includes twice world champion Mark Williams, former Masters winner Matthew Stevens, Joe Perry - who beat recently Ronnie in the Premier League in Basingstoke - as well as top 16 stars Ali Carter and Graeme Dott. On this basis, there doesn't seem much point backing him at [4.1]. Ronnie fans should wait for some of the bigger tournaments where their man will get himself properly pumped up.
A live outsider could be Ricky Walden, the world no.35, who has long been tipped as a future top player without really making a breakthrough. One ranking event quarter-final appearance is a poor return for a player so highly regarded by his fellow professionals. Walden recently won the Belgian Open, a pro-am which included 24 members of the pro circuit. He also won a tournament in Thailand this summer and is match sharp having come through the qualifiers. Assuming he beats local wildcard Anda Zhang, Walden will face seven times world champion Hendry, who was badly out of sorts in losing 5-1 to Selby in the Premier League last week.
Judd Trump is another player worth backing after producing some excellent form to qualify for the final stages of the first three major events of the season. The 19-year-old is a lethal potter and could scythe through the field to be a surprise semi-finalist.
Monday sees seven Chinese hopefuls take on seven qualifiers in the wildcard round. The only one of these worth supporting is Xiao Guodong, who faces Jimmy White in Eurosport's live match at 8am. This isn't a reflection on Jimmy, who is playing well this season, but Xiao is following hard in Ding's footsteps having won an event on snooker's Challenge Tour and the English Open, a massive pro-am, earlier this year. He won't care about White's reputation or popularity and will revel in the spotlight on home ground.
In the first round, Barry Hawkins is worth backing to beat Stephen Maguire, who won the China Open last season. I interviewed Maguire this week and he told me he wants to win a couple of matches to get some form for the Grand Prix - which is in his home city of Glasgow - and that "winning the tournament would be a bonus." It shows he is less motivated than some of the other players in Shanghai. The other qualifiers who can send their top 16 opponents packing are Jamie Cope and Fergal O'Brien. Cope faces Graeme Dott who hasn't won a match in a ranking event since last year's Shanghai Masters. O'Brien has the tactical skills to see off the inconsistent Aussie Neil Robertson.
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