A fortnight full of big upsets has produced the unlikeliest UK final ever, based on the odds. Paul Krishnamurty can't separate Zhao Xintong and Luca Brecel but reckons he's found an edge in a side market...
"One bet I can make a solid, statistical case for involves the Centuries Match Bet. Here, Xintong is clearly more prolific over a lengthy period."
Throughout the modern era, shock winners of snooker majors have been extremely rare. In the UK Championship, the biggest upsets since the 1980s were landed by Matthew Stevens, Ding Junhui and Peter Ebdon - all of whom started around the 33/1 mark, if memory serves. We have seen the occasional outsider reach the final - Liang Wenbo in 2015 and David Gray in 2004, for example - but both were comfortably beaten in those finals.
That trend has been obliterated this year. At the beginning of the fortnight, Luca Brecel and Zhao Xintong were matched at 210.0209/1 and 700.0699/1 respectively. They are now both trading at 2.01/1 heading into today's final, and nobody could argue they don't deserve to be there. What's going on? A freak event, or is Judd Trump right to ask this question?
Is this the start of a new era in snooker...? Judd Trump (@judd147t) December 4, 2021
I won't try for a second to aftertime this. Neither were on my radar at all as possible winners. Neither appeared ready. Zhao has occasionally been an outside pick in lesser events, but he's generally struck me as far too reckless and erratic. Brecel, whilst a big prospect since his junior days, had become disappointing. Their respective world rankings were 26 and 40 going into the event.
Both are in prolific, breakbuilding form
Take absolutely nothing away from them, though. Both have been magnificent. Zhao's draw was tricky from the outset. He eliminated John Higgins in the last-32 and has won 12 of his last 13 frames, against Jack Lisowski and Barry Hawkins. His breakbuilding has been electric throughout and the semi saw him produce six breaks of 70-plus.
Brecel was even more prolific yesterday, producing a quite astonishing performance to beat Kyren Wilson, with four tons and six breaks of 80-plus. Again, his draw hasn't been easy and yet the Belgian has thrashed several good opponents.
Having failed to foresee any of this, I must freely admit to being at a bit of a loss about what will happen today. They are obviously both brimming with confidence but I remain wary that they could just as easily be weighed down by nerves and the occasion. Despite how well they've played, I don't necessarily expect either to suddenly become established as a top-eight player.
Tied betting looks a fair assessment
Perhaps Brecel's superior experience will make the difference - he has won a ranking title, four years ago, and this will be his third final. He leads their head-to-head 2-1 but lost their most recent encounter and with regards both arguments, his greater experience must be factored in.
The betting can't separate them and neither can I, so it may make better sense to focus on a side market. One bet I can make a solid, statistical case for involves the Centuries Match Bet. Here, Xintong is clearly more prolific over a lengthy period.
According to the ever invaluable cuetracker.net database, Brecel averages a century every 17.38 frames this season, and every 16.5 frames last season. By comparison, Xintong averages a ton every 12.8 and 11.57 frames over the past two seasons. Those numbers suggest that, whilst the outright betting may indeed be correctly tied, they shouldn't both be 13/10 to hit the most centuries.
Besides that bet, I'd rather sit back and enjoy an intriguing match that, if their form from previous rounds holds up, should be explosive.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
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