We have just witnessed the biggest shock in snooker history. Fan Zhengyi started the European Masters trading around 750/1. He pulled off big upsets against Kyren Wilson, Yan Bingtao, Graeme Dott and, in the deciding frame of the final, Ronnie O'Sullivan. Needless to say, he didn't even cross my radar!
This is a fascinating time for snooker, as the vast Chinese contingent come of age. Fan hadn't previously shown he's even in their top-ten, maybe 20. But then Zhao Xintong didn't smack of an imminent winner four months ago and he's since landed two titles with amazing performances, including a major.
A good time to be betting at huge odds?
Moreover, it demonstrates the depth of talent in the game now. There are dozens of players capable of winning from odds in excess of 250/1. Indeed, Jordan Brown did precisely that in last year's Welsh Open. Again, after winning a decider against Ronnie.
Courtesy of that defending champion status, Brown gets the number one seeding and the result is a very weak quarter by comparison to the other three. Jordan is a solid player and performed pretty well last week, but hasn't even threatened to repeat those heroics. 66/1 for a repeat doesn't particularly appeal.
The one to beat here is definitely Xintong but regular readers will not be surprised to learn that option at 12/1 is swerved.
I'm just not convinced, yet, that he's here to stay amongst the game's elite. Without questioning his supreme talent, taking his overall form into account, Zhao may yet prove a brilliant, streaky player who is always vulnerable to outsiders. I don't regard him anything like a certainty to beat Oliver Lines in the last-128 and Jak Jones very much appeals as a big outsider in their projected last-64 match.
Welsh duo appeal in weak section
Jones is interesting. He's improved massively and become a very solid match player. (Shades of Jordan Brown?) It took a wonderful comeback from Judd Trump to beat him last week. I suspect Jak is going to be a regular big-priced dart to throw for this column and it must make sense to do so, given this draw, and guaranteed home support in Wales.
Shaun Murphy must be opposed, given his form and health problems. Ryan Day gave us a decent run to last week's quarter-finals without playing well, and could be the beneficiary. 50/1 is fair value on home turf.
In the top mini-section, Anthony McGill is the one to beat but 40/1 is short enough for a second-tier player to win seven matches, none of which look certain. Lu Ning caught the eye but again, his nice draw is factored in at 66/1.
Robertson to storm through early rounds
The tournament joint-favourites could meet as early as the quarter-finals. I'm confident that Neil Robertson will get that far but Judd Trump has a much trickier path.
Whilst Judd is showing flashes of his brilliance, he is really struggling to put it all together at the moment. Gary Wilson, Stephen Maguire, Jimmy Robertson or Jamie Jones could well prove troublesome over best-of-seven in the early rounds.
Of those, Jimmy Robertson appeals most. His run to the Players Championship semi-finals didn't come as a massive surprise as he's been in great form all season, often losing close matches to elite players. His form isn't that of a 150/1 chance.
Very tough draw awaits for O'Sullivan
Ronnie's first round match against Sam Craigie has been moved to Tuesday, at least giving him 24 hours to travel and recover from the weekend's exertions. Craigie isn't the easiest last-128 opponent by any means, though, and there are far more hurdles in this draw than last week.
He could meet Ding Junhui in the last-32, with his old rival desperately needing a run for ranking purposes. After that, O'Sullivan is projected to play Yan Bingtao, then Kyren Wilson or Mark Allen, just to reach the quarters. Its a tall order and I'm happy to oppose. Instead in that brutal mini-section, try a cheap bet on Noppon Saengkham at 175/1.
Backing Kyren Wilson has proved incredibly costly and frustrating and his odds have rightly drifted to 22/1. Reluctantly, he gets another chance. He's reliable against the standard of opponent prior to the last-16, and those other rivals could carve each other up beforehand. Allen is far too inconsistent to consider at 16/1.
Williams fancied for big run on home turf
Mark Williams hasn't won his home title for 23 years but he's guaranteed to be well-motivated and supported throughout. On the basis of how well he played at the Masters and Shootout, expect a strong bid.
John Higgins and Mark Selby are the principal dangers, with the former presenting a much bigger threat on recent form. The latter is a mini-section along with Stuart Bingham and Jack Lisowski - both of whom have also been disappointing. Throw another dart at Chris Wakelin instead - a solid match-player in decent form. It is easier to make a case for him than it was for Fan Zhengyi!
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