World Grand Prix Snooker Preview: One player to back from each quarter

Paul Krishnamurty previews the World Grand Prix, which kicks off tonight in Leicester. Check out his four selections...

  • Swerve Masters contenders

  • Trump to resume winning ways

  • Stick with progressive Saengkham

As we are still digesting another history-making performance from Ronnie O'Sullivan, there's no rest for the snooker community. Ronnie O'Sullivan, Ali Carter and the rest of the top-32 on the one year ranking list immediately make their way from London to Leicester for the World Grand Prix. Play starts tonight at 7pm.

Elite winners common in this event

Like the Masters, this is a big money event where cream invariably rises to the top. In eight renewals since it became an invitational, the least likely winners were Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins. O'Sullivan and Judd Trump lead the rollcall with two wins apiece and last year's renewal went to the player of the season, Mark Allen.

Trump was touched off 10-9 in last year's final and heads the seedings here. He was far from convincing in either match in London, but is still preferred to his main rival to reach the semis. Mark Selby was very poor in defeat to Mark Allen, leaving the strong impression that he simply isn't the force of old. Trump took him apart in quite brilliant style at the UK, and I'd fancy more of the same if they meet as scheduled in the quarters.

Trump still the one to beat

A big 'if', given there are no pushovers in this field and the first two rounds are over best-of-seven. Plus Selby might have to play Carter in the last-16 - who was markedly superior last week. Indeed Ali probably played better than anyone in London, and is in the form of his life. He deserves consideration as a frontline candidate, if he can quickly put behind him what must have been a gut-wrenching final session.

Back Judd Trump 7u @ 4/15.00

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I'm happy to stick with Trump in this top section. His first two matches are against much inferior players, including Jamie Jones first up, whom he obliterated 6-0 in the UK. During the first half of the season, Judd looked back to his world-beating best and we have seen that when that is the case, 4/1 are solid odds to take in every tournament.

Quarter two is wide-open, lacking an obvious favourite. Shaun Murphy is tempting but has a brutal opener against John Higgins. Barry Hawkins is solid, but rarely comes through at this level. Mark Williams warrants the utmost respect.

Vafaei still on the up

At twice the odds of that lot, try an each-way punt on Hossein Vafaei. He belongs in elite company and didn't do much wrong at the UK, where only Ronnie had his measure in the semi. The Iranian is still probably below the radar of oddsmakers.

Back Hossein Vafaei 1u e/w @ 33/134.00

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Besides O'Sullivan and Allen, the bottom half doesn't look so competitive and, in both cases, their first round opponent is far from straightforward. Allen has Jack Lisowski and then Zhang Anda - one of the best players before Christmas. Tenacious as Allen was last week, his form wasn't that special either.

Ding Junhui very much made the shortlist, fresh off a 147 in London and making the UK final. Once again though, I'm looking down the list for an each-way option and the Scottish Masters, just before Christmas, remains strong in my thoughts.

Stick with Saengkham

Noppon Saengkham finally came of age in that event, brilliantly turning his semi around against Higgins. I'm adamant the Thai is headed for the top-16 and just needs extra belief. He lost the final to Gary Wilson in the first session, but can take so many positives for the rest of the season. This draw is well within his compass.

Back Noppon Saengkham 1u e/w @ 40/141.00

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As for Ronnie, can he be relied upon two weeks in a row? Recent history suggests not. Plus I think, over best-of-seven, Pang Junxu could be value for an upset in their first round match. In three previous matches, Pang won over best-of-five, lost 5-4 in Wuhan, and came from 6-1 and 9-4 down to lose by a respectable 10-7 margin on his Crucible debut.

Wilson could step forward

Indeed Pang is one of several who could contend from this section at big prices. Tom Ford is having a great season. Either Zhou Yuelong or Stephen Maguire could have been selected, were they not drawn against one another first up.

40/1 about Saengkham's conqueror Gary Wilson appeals. Those back-to-back titles in Scotland could be just the spark for his career to finally reap the dividends it has always promised. His breakbuilding is up there with the very best, and we have seen he has the temperament to win when it matters in the latter stages.

Back Gary Wilson 1u e/w @ 40/141.00

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*Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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