With the season's opening major looking more wide open than for many a year, Paul Krishnamurty previews the quarter-finals...
"I cannot see Stephen Maguire versus Matthew Stevens being one-sided...Expect another late finish and back over 9.5 frames at 11/10."
The carnage continued at the Barbican Theatre yesterday with Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby the latest elite names to be dumped out of the UK Championship. Consequently, all bar three of the eight quarter-finalists begun this tournament trading at 100.099/1 or bigger.
Is Ding back?
Ding started the week available to back at 95.094/1 but all of a sudden people are asking this question. The twice former UK champion showed he remains one of the sport's great talents by beating Ronnie yesterday with a scintillating display, including two centuries and six half-centuries.
Nevertheless to back him at 1.42/5 today involves the assumption that two improved performances here (he was poor against Michael Georgiou in the second round) amount to a proper comeback. I could envisage him getting bogged down again if a session starts going wrong.
Plus unlike other Chinese opponents, Ding hasn't bossed Liang Wenbo in the past. He only leads 4-3, 41-39 on frames over their seven previous matches and the last two went to a decider. In expectation of another close match, back over 9.5 frames at 5/4.
Higgins set for high-class affair
Match of the day for my money is John Higgins versus Yan Bingtao. The latter has played the best snooker of anyone this week, but the Wizard of Wishaw cuts a daunting figure among these quarter-finalists - the one to beat.
Bingtao's odds of 2.77/4 would be tempting were it not for the fact Higgins has dominated their last three encounters. Rather than predict the outcome, try over 1.5 centuries at 13/8. Yan knocked in five during the first two rounds and given how well he's playing, is due another.
Maguire/Stevens to go to the wire
I cannot see Stephen Maguire versus Matthew Stevens being one-sided. Good friends, showing similar levels of form, with a lot up for grabs in terms of ranking points. Expect another late finish and back over 9.5 frames at 11/10. Over 1.5 centuries at 7/4 makes some appeal too, as both are cueing pretty well.
Allen to end Bond's run
Finally I'm wary of creating a hostage to fortune by writing off Nigel Bond after causing an historic upset against Judd Trump and an equally remarkable turnaround to beat Gary Wilson. Nevertheless the run must end somewhere and Mark Allen should reach the semis with something to spare. Try 6-3 at 4/1.