Snooker China Open Betting: Judd can come up Trumps
It's a tournament that many players see as a distraction before the World Championships so the key is to look out for players who really want to do well here, says Eurosport commentator David Hendon. Which includes a man who won't be at the Crucible this year, Judd Trump.
At this time of the year, all anyone in the snooker world is talking about is the Crucible and the forthcoming World Championship. The qualifiers are over, the draw is done and the 17 day marathon of the mind beckons. All of which overshadows the China Open, which is unfortunate because the Beijing event has become one of the most popular on the circuit. Television audiences in China run into the tens of millions and such is the popularity of the game that the players are treated to a red carpet parade before the tournament starts.
The last time the winner of the event before the World Championship went on to triumph at the Crucible was in 1998 when John Higgins won the British Open, which suggests that many of the sport's leading lights regard the tournament as a distraction from the main event still to come.
Picking a winner is therefore difficult but I've been very impressed with Ali Carter ([11.5]) this last year and, having won the Welsh Open, his first ranking title, last month, his confidence is at an all time high. Carter has what looks to be a favourable draw in Beijing. His first round opponent, Nigel Bond, has won just two matches all season and he is in the easier half of the draw, away from Ronnie O'Sullivan, China's own Ding Junhui and other authentic title contenders in Higgins, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy and Marco Fu.
When Carter triumphed at last, in Newport, I got the feeling it could open the floodgates. He has always been confident but a player only really truly believes in their own talent when they have the trophies to back it up.
One player worth watching is Judd Trump ([26.0]), a 19 year-old rising star from Bristol who last week defied a huge gulf in experience with the rest of the field by winning the Championship League and thus qualifying for next season's Premier League. He beat Mark Selby in the final of an event that included eight former world champions and most of the game's top players.
Trump, a prodigiously talented long potter and break builder, failed to qualify for the Crucible so will be fully focused on an extended run in Beijing and, assuming he beats wildcard Tang Jun (live on Eurosport at 7.30am on Monday), should be backed to get past an out of form Peter Ebdon. With most of the field thinking about what's to come in Sheffield, Trump can go a long way, maybe even all the way to the title.
I also sense Higgins ([15.0]) is coming back into form in time for a tilt at a third world title. The Scot has had plenty of match practice in the Championship League and, though his record outside the UK is not outstanding, may well come through the tough bottom half of the draw.
Monday sees six matches in the wildcard round (John Parrott won't be playing his because he's pulled out with a back injury). These local wildcards don't seem to be getting much better but some are better than others. Of those who could cause problems for the qualifiers, Xiao Guodong may be worth backing against Michael Holt. Xiao has won two titles this season on the game's secondary tour and Holt's record in China is, by his own candid admission, dreadful.
In the first round, Stephen Hendry looks vulnerable as the biggest crisis of his long and distinguished career shows no immediate sign of coming to an end. Hendry - who faces a tough match with Mark Williams in the first round at the Crucible - may need to win at least one match from the last two tournaments of the season to keep his place in the elite top 16. His likely opponent in Beijing is the ultra attacking maverick Liang Wenbo, who has had his two qualifying matches - against Robert Milkins and Joe Swail - held over. Liang does not allow reputations to overwhelm him and, on home ground, he could heap more misery on Hendry.
Jamie Cope [at 2.02] could do the same to world no.8 Ryan Day, who has failed to win a match since the Bahrain Championship last November. O'Sullivan lost to his first round opponent, Fergal O'Brien, in the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy and could come unstuck against the Dubliner again. O'Brien [3.3 to win the contest] plays the hard match snooker O'Sullivan dislikes and the world champion has not covered himself in glory in China in recent years. At last season's China Open he played like a maniac in losing to Fu and then invited members of the Chinese media to perform a sex act on him, which doesn't exactly suggest he took the trip particularly seriously.
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