Following his comfortable victory over Judd Trump, the stage is set for Ronnie O'Sullivan to complete a remarkable comeback and land his fifth world title. Paul Krishnamurty previews today's final between the Rocket and Barry 'Eagle Eye' Hawkins...
"It would be wrong to understate the scale of Barry's own achievement...First he drew arguably the trickiest qualifier in Jack Lisowski, before defeating world number one Mark Selby and then Ding Junhui. That's a much harder route than Ronnie's."
With each comfortable victory of Ronnie O'Sullivan's scintillating comeback, the script for this year's Betfair World Championship has seemed blindingly obvious. Snooker's star attraction returns from exile to win a fifth world title, his finest ever achievement, without anyone giving him a close match, then retires. Cue another 12 months of speculation about whether he'll have a change of heart and defend his title. In order to alter the script, Barry Hawkins will need to pull off the biggest upset since Joe Johnson's victory over Steve Davis in 1986. Can he do so, or is the market right to dismiss Hawkins as a [7.6] outsider?
It is futile trying to manufacture an argument against Ronnie. His form this week has been of a different class to anyone else in the tournament. Nothing has dented my confidence since backing him pre-tournament at [7.2]. He won all four previous world finals easily, by an aggregate 31 frames. Favourites generally deliver over marathon four-session matches and have won the last six world finals. Ronnie is the shortest priced favourite since the 1980s.
That doesn't mean it will be a walkover, though. Indeed, there is plenty of reason to think Hawkins can at least avoid a thrashing. Although Ronnie has won their last four encounters, the last three required a deciding frame. Granted they were all over shorter distances on lesser stages, but it would be wrong to understate the scale of Barry's own achievement to get here. First he drew arguably the trickiest qualifier in Jack Lisowski, before defeating world number one Mark Selby and then Ding Junhui. That's a much harder route than Ronnie's so Hawkins thoroughly deserves his place in the final.
Having beaten the likes of Selby, Hawkins clearly has enough to make Ronnie work for his victory. Obviously there's only so much betting mileage in backing Ronnie to win at [1.15] and I wouldn't deter anyone from having a speculative trade on Hawkins at [7.6], with a view towards laying back for profit if he starts well. However, better opportunities can be found in the wide range of speciality markets. I'm following a similar plan to the one that delivered in Ronnie's semi-final, backing a group of correct-scores. A combination of 18-10, 18-11 and 18-12 equates to around [3.7].
Another trading opportunity that catches the eye concerns the Maximum Break? market. [11.0] is available about either player hitting a 147, which is pretty big considering one of them is Ronnie! When a 147 is on in almost any match, the odds for 'Yes' rightly tumble pretty fast. Given the buzz and expectation every time Ronnie pots his first six or seven reds and blacks, it isn't asking that much for the odds to shorten to my recommended lay target of [4.0]. If getting that far, we'll at least double our money, with an extra windfall if a 147 is actually completed.
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