Welsh Open Snooker Preview: Two players to back from each quarter
The top snooker stars barely stop for breath before heading to Cardiff for the Welsh Open, which will be covered on Betfair Live Video throughout. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview...
"Matthew is playing his best snooker in years and, as we saw in his run to the China Championship semis, remains capable at the highest level."
Back Matthew Stevens e/w @ 200/1
Regardless of who wins today's World Grand Prix final between Judd Trump and Ali Carter, there are several talking points to consider before the next tournament begins, roughly 12 hours later.
Most obviously, whether Trump is eclipsing Ronnie O'Sullivan as the man to beat. Victory would make it three titles from his last six events - all of which involved bossing the game's very best. They are scheduled to renew their rivalry at the quarter-final stage.
We also saw at Cheltenham just how random best-of-seven matches are. Among the top-32 - and probably more than 50 given the conveyor belt of emerging Asian talent - anyone can beat anybody over one session.
Moreover, as we see in this draw, those from the leading echelons are often pitted against each other from the last-128 round. For example Stuart Bingham opens against Carter, while Mark Selby faces Anthony McGill. Winning seven matches in a row to land a title is very hard and big-name early exits are inevitable.
This season has been much more predictable than last, although we have seen a 300/1 shock winner in Jimmy Robertson and 1000/1 Duane Jones reached the German Masters semis. This event is the fourth in a month for the top players and many may be tired or unfocused, as reflected below by this outsider-friendly staking plan.
Try this pair of competitive veterans
The only players in this section who could be described as leading contenders are five-time champion John Higgins, Ding Junhui, Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski. The first is unbackable right now. Ding is still unreliable, while the last has never won and may have gone off the boil.
Kyren is obvious and a fair price from this draw, but he's had a lot of hard matches lately and wasn't very convincing last week. He needed a miraculous comeback to beat Stevens and the pair are on course to meet again in the last-32.
Matthew is playing his best snooker in years and, as we saw in his run to the China Championship semis, remains capable at the highest level. The same applies to Dott, who reached a final last year and is not without form. If upsetting the struggling Higgins first up, he could go on a run.
Trump looks booked for latter stages again
In pitching O'Sullivan and Trump in the same quarter, fans are deprived of a potential dream final. The result is a lop-sided draw. Combined, their odds amount to 6/4 and this from a section that involves at least half a dozen outsider alternatives.
It makes no sense to back both. Without being negative about Ronnie - he didn't do too much wrong in his first best-of-seven defeat in 15 months last week - his draw is tougher. Yuan Sijun, Yan Bingtao, David Gilbert or Maguire could all block his early path. The last-named is a former champion and runner-up, in decent form.
If Trump wins today, I doubt the 6/1 will last. To reach the quarters, he would at worst have to beat Xiao Guodong and the winner of that Bingham/Carter match. And if the Ronnie match does materialise, recent head-to-head form favours the younger man.
Selby and Allen are worth opposing
None of the heavyweights in this section - Selby, Allen, Murphy - impressed last week. Allen, who would otherwise be preferred among them, spoke about the demanding schedule and looked unfocused.
Both of these outsiders have shown they are competitive at this levels, reaching six semi-finals between them. Both have relatively winnable early paths and would have nothing to fear from those big-names or anybody really, in this weaker half of the draw.
Hawkins looks back to his best
In all the other sections, as usual, selections were chosen from each eighth of the draw, to ensure they won't meet until the quarters. In this case, though, I'd rather swerve the bottom eighth.
Mark Williams will probably come through but he is unbackable right now. Luca Brecel is the best alternative but his good form has only been in patches and he can lose to anyone. Martin Gould is having a poor year. Tom Ford appeals at 200/1.
Whoever it is, I expect they will play one of my picks in the quarters. Hawkins was superb last week and is back to form. Robertson keeps on throwing in bad hours but remains a winner-in-waiting. It is hard to identify many early obstacles for either.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
2018/19: +128.5 units
2017/18: +106 units
Back Graeme Dott 0.25u e/w @ 150/1
Back Matthew Stevens 0.25u e/w @ 200/1
Back Judd Trump 5u @ 6/1
Back Stephen Maguire 0.75u e/w @ 55/1
Back Noppon Saengkham 0.25u e/w @ 175/1
Back Scott Donaldson 0.25u e/w @ 225/1
Back Barry Hawkins 2u e/w @ 20/1
Back Neil Robertson 2.5u e/w @ 14/1