Paul Krishnamurty previews today's quartet of fourth round matches. Odds-on tournament favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan is very much the star attraction but the best betting value may lie with lesser known players...
"Not only was Joyce extremely impressive in that high-pressure finale but his wider form is not bad. This is his fourth top-16 of the season and if he wins, a second quarter-final."
The remarkable series of upsets at this year's UK Championship just keep on coming, with second favourite John Higgins the latest big-name to bite the dust. Consequently, Ronnie O'Sullivan has gone odds-on to win his sixth crown, even before playing his last-16 match.
By the time Ronnie starts tonight, he may be the only top-16 player left in the draw. Shaun Murphy - who beat him in the Champion of Champions final - is still there but must negotiate a tricky fourth round match this afternoon against Ricky Walden. Before getting to their matches, though, let's look at my most confident selection.
Mark Joyce has never played Lu Haotian before and in this sort of match - two low-ranked players fighting for a quarter-final slot - layers are largely forced to guess. The betting slightly favours the youngster to continue his hot streak but I would bet the other way around.
Despite Haotian completely defying my negative prediction by beating Marco Fu, I'm still not totally convinced. Yes, he is on a great run over the past fortnight but apart from Fu, he hasn't beaten anyone. I didn't see that game but, from the scoring, it doesn't seem to have been quite in the same class as Joyce's 6-5 victory over Neil Robertson (who played well in defeat).
Not only was Joyce extremely impressive in that high-pressure finale but his wider form is not bad. This is his fourth top-16 of the season and if he wins, a second quarter-final. On his penultimate event, Joyce beat Luca Brecel before losing to John Higgins.
Murphy has already had a miracle escape against Liam Highfield, although he stepped up considerably on that in the next round. I suspect this triple-crown winner will take advantage of a vastly easier draw path to the final but he makes no appeal at short odds against Walden. I'm swerving a bet here but wouldn't deter anyone from backing the outsider, given the way the week has gone.
This afternoon's other match is very hard to call and may well go the distance. Martin Gould is marginal favourite to beat Xiao Guodong in their first ever match but there is little to choose between them. Gould has slightly better recent form but the Chinese man has also enjoyed some comfortable wins against decent opponents over the past fortnight. It looks perfect for a distance bet and I'm taking 11/10 about Over 9.5 Frames.
Finally, let's have an interest in the Ronnie match, despite it looking very one-sided. Akani Songsermsawad has defied the betting in the past two rounds against solid experienced English pros in Michael Holt and Barry Hawkins. Great wins for sure but neither is in form, nor rightly mentioned in the same breath as O'Sullivan.
The Thai youngster clearly has ability but this is the biggest match of his career, against a legend who really doesn't look like losing to anyone right now. I reckon Ronnie will get stronger as the week goes on and concede very few frames from here. With the greatest of respect to Songsersawad, who looks worth keeping an eye on, just winning the two frames required to win the +4.5 Frame Handicap will be no straightforward task.
2017 UK Snooker P/L: -2.6 units
Stakes: 35.5 units
Returns: 32.9 units