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

Defending champion Judd Trump
Judd Trump is bidding for a fourth World Grand Prix title

Following last night's Scottish Open victory for Luca Brecel, the draw is out for tonight's World Grand Prix. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview...

It has been an extraordinary fortnight, which has led much talk of a 'changing of the guard'. First 24 year-old Zhao Xintong - a brilliant prospect, no doubt, but previously regarded as well short of the finished article - landed the UK Championship, beating another prospect, well-touted since his junior days. Then Luca Brecel confirmed his run was no fluke, by following up with victory at the Scottish Open.

Neither player was anywhere near the top-16 of the world rankings prior to the UK Championship. Now for the final event of 2021 - restricted to the top-32 on the basis this season's results, Xintong and Brecel are ranked one and two.

To be clear, I didn't see this coming at all. Neither player were on my radar for the UK and, had I filed a preview in time for Scotland, Brecel certainly would not have been included. Without doubting either player's ability or long-term potential, I am sceptical that much has changed from a fortnight ago.

Very lop-sided draw based on old assumptions

If the old order is still, broadly at least, the same, then the effect of the updating seedings is an extremely lop-sided draw. The top half includes Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby, John Higgins and Kyren Wilson - five of the assumed top-six. Also NI Open winner Mark Allen, plus Masters champ Yan Bingtao. Whereas Ronnie O'Sullivan avoids them all in the bottom half.

Of the ten mentioned so far, the top-section involves Robertson, Wilson, Bingtao and Xintong. A tough call, but Wilson gets the nod. Going into the semis, he was clear favourite to win his first major and did little wrong in that semi. Brecel simply produced an incredible standard, of which there was no previous signal.

Kyren deserves yet another chance

Shades of deja vu, as he was felled by a similarly remarkable spell from Shaun Murphy to overhaul a big deficit in the World Championship semis. He can only keep knocking on the door for so long. If there was a lingering doubt about his temperament, the performance to beat O'Sullivan in York dispelled it.

Robertson will naturally be a tough opponent but the Aussie trails their head-to-head, is much shorter odds and has a harder opening match against Noppon Saengkham. As for Bingtao and Xintong, should they meet in the last-16, it will be a fascinating clash of styles. I rated Yan much further ahead a fortnight ago, but we'll see.

Trump can overcome horrible draw

Next the ultimate 'group of death' involving Trump, Higgins, Selby, Allen and Barry Hawkins. Also, do not rule another brilliant emerging Chinese player, Cao Yupeng. I like him to beat Allen in the first round.

Despite the difficulties, I'm sticking with the defending champion. Trump has already won this title three times. He's owned last-16 opponent Higgins in recent years, and there's a strong chance he'll avoid Selby. Again Barry Hawkins could be a decent outsider pick for their first round match.

Granted, there are negatives around Trump. He was poor in defeat to Matt Selt at the UK and not at his best when losing to Dave Gilbert last week. However, he was scintillating in the previous rounds and when winning the Champion of Champions. Perhaps we set too high a bar on expectations, based on his incredible consistency of recent years. He's still the one to beat.

Bingham picked to emerge from weak section

Quarter three is definitely the weak section. Gilbert is probably the one to beat, but there isn't much between him, Stuart Bingham, Jack Lisowski and Mark Williams. Anthony McGill is in cracking form and Stephen Maguire creeping back, always dangerous. In truth, none of the eight players in this quarter would be a surprising semi-finalist.

On the basis of head-to-heads - which we should never ignore and have seen ample evidence of their relevance in recent events - Bingham is my pick. He leads first-round opponent Ricky Walden 6-3 and Gilbert, remarkably, 11-0.

Take on Ronnie with outsiders each-way

It is easy to envisage O'Sullivan waltzing through the bottom quarter, and indeed half of the draw. He'll be red-hot favourite against anyone, with Brecel the hardest opponent on paper prior the final. This is the likely outcome, given that he's only been losing to players of his class of late such as Higgins and Wilson.

I can't back him at 5.69/2 though. Ronnie hasn't won since the 2020 World Championship, or looked at all reliable in the biggest matches. With slightly different luck, Jamie Jones could easily have had his measure last week and he also lost deciders to Li Hang and Liang Wenbo. Look for a value each-way alternative.

For me that man is Hossein Vafaei, who whitewashed O'Sullivan in the first round of the German Masters and is scheduled for a rematch in the last-16. The Iranian also hammered Selby in York and keeps showing that he ultimately belongs in that class.

I should add that Vafaei's first-round opponent Gary Wilson also came in for consideration. Again, he is very high-class at his best and showing it intermittently. I also wouldn't deter anyone from trying Jimmy Robertson or Matt Selt at big odds, although I can't separate them in the first round.


Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

Profit/Loss:

2021/22: -0.1 units

2020/21: -21.6 units

2019/20: +6 units

2018/19: +154.5 units

2017/18: +106 units

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