Welsh Open Snooker Tips: One player to back from each quarter

Can anyone stop Ronnie O'Sullivan winning again in Wales?
Can anyone stop Ronnie O'Sullivan winning again in Wales?

After bagging his third straight winner in the German Masters, Paul Krishnamurty's regular snooker column is 279 units in profit since the start of 2013. Can he keep the run going at the Welsh Open?

"There is a consensus emerging that Ronnie has now surpassed Stephen Hendry as the game's greatest ever player. Even Hendry himself says so."


When weighing up a snooker tournament in an ever busier schedule, there are two factors to immediately consider. First, whether it is a 'frontline' tournament, where all the top players are in attendance and likely to be well prepared and motivated. Second, is Ronnie O'Sullivan amongst them. The answer for the Welsh Open, which starts on Wednesday, is yes on both counts.


Back Stephen Maguire 3u @ 21.020/1

Whilst being of lesser significance than snooker's 'triple-crown', this ranking event usually sees the cream rise to the top. In it's 22 year history, the only two 'surprise' winners turned out to be top-class players registering their breakthrough wins - Paul Hunter in 1998 and Ali Carter in 2009. The Welsh Open's position in the schedule - just after a busy run around the turn of the year, beginning the build-up to the World Championship - means everybody has been busy and should be well-prepared. 

The only big name who might not be match-fit is Ronnie, in his first start since producing one of the greatest ever performances to win The Masters last month, but as explained below, a kindly early draw offers plenty of time for the Rocket to find his rhythm. If that turns out to be the case and Ronnie finds anything like the form he showed at Alexandra Palace, there is little sense in taking short odds about anyone else. 

Even Ding Junhui, the best performer in this season's ranking events with four titles, makes limited appeal at single-figure odds. Without doubting his credentials, he faces a series of tricky opponents from this draw. In the opening last-128 round, usually a shoe-in, the Chinese star has to negotiate the highly capable Gary Wilson, who beat Rob Milkins earlier this week and hit a 147 in the recent German Masters. Later any of Milkins, Ben Woollaston or David Gilbert could present tough examinations before Ding has to face a seed. As he often starts tournaments slowly, I'm happy to take Ding on this time with the defending champion.

Stephen Maguire may be a long-term underachiever, but the Glaswegian was brilliant here last year and has been in fair form recently. Moreover, being top seeded has done Maguire a favour with only Mark Davis and the promising Sam Baird looking like dangerous opponents before a potential last-eight meeting with Ding. Under the circumstances, odds of 21.020/1 seem generous enough.


Back Stuart Bingham 2u @ 29.028/1

While there are only two big-guns in the top section, this quarter includes four. 2008 champion Mark Selby is clearly the one to beat but, as regular readers of this column will know, I'm no great fan of the Jester from Leicester. Quite simply, Selby makes hard work for himself far too often for my liking and there are plenty of pitfalls in this section. In-form Shootout winner Dominic Dale could await in the last-32, followed by a last-16 clash with potential world champions Mark Allen or Carter. Granted, both have gone completely off the boil of late but one would surely prefer to avoid somebody like that until the latter stages.

The best strategy may be to let that lot carve each other up and focus on the other mini-section, which lacks any such strength in depth. I wouldn't deter anyone from taking big prices about either Joe Perry or Michael Holt, but preference is for last year's runner-up. Stuart Bingham was in brilliant form before Christmas, losing close finals in elite events at the Champion of Champions and UK Championship to the world's leading two players, O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson. That is not the form of a 29.028/1 chance, especially considering he only lost last year's final in a deciding frame.


Back Neil Robertson 6u @ 9.08/1

Robertson has struggled a bit since joining the elite band of players to have won every snooker major at December's UK Championship and the effect is considerably bigger odds than usual. I suspect recent failures are just a blip and the world number one looks by far the likeliest to emerge from this section. The biggest threat by far is recent PTC winner Shaun Murphy, but their head-to-head record strongly points towards the Aussie, who has won 13 out of their last 15 encounters

Granted, he'll have to up his game if facing Ronnie in the semis but Robbo is one of the few players who can cope with that level of opposition. There is nobody more consistent at reaching the latter stages of big events and that always makes him the ideal back-to-lay candidate. Robertson will be nowhere near these odds if indeed reaching the semis and, should anything happen to Ronnie in the meantime, he'll become tournament favourite.


Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 10u @ 5.59/2

There is a consensus emerging that Ronnie has now surpassed Stephen Hendry as the game's greatest ever player. Even Hendry himself says so. Back in the days when Hendry was top dog, you'd have struggled to find a bookie offering 3.02/1 about him winning any tournament he entered, yet Ronnie is still available at more than double that level. Maybe that's because he often flattered to deceive earlier in his career, but as I argued before The Masters, the new, serene, focused version is a vast improvement. 

Maybe these odds are the consequence of being drawn in the same quarter as Judd Trump, but that assumes he will perform against lesser opposition. That has rarely been the case since 2012 and I could see any one of Kyren Wilson, Anthony McGill or Ryan Day halting the Juddernaut even before he has to negotiate the fading John Higgins in the last-16.

In stark contrast, it is very difficult imagining Ronnie not reaching the last-eight. By far the most dangerous opponent during the first four rounds is Ricky Walden, who was famously blown away 6-0 in less than an hour at Ally Pally. As we saw there, I'm confident a chunky pre-tournament bet on Ronnie will look like tremendous value once we reach the latter stages.


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