The final first round matches of the Betfair World Championship begin today, with Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham heavily odds-on to progress. Paul Krishnamurty offers his advice for how to back both at odds-against...
"The Melbourne Machine is particularly good at asserting his dominance over lesser players, and has only been taken to a deciding frame by players outside the top-eight on three occasions this year."
Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins
After a run of poor results for seeded players, I expect the formbook to stand up in these final two first round matches. Neil Robertson is considered by many to be this year's rightful favourite and it would be a huge surprise to see him slip up against a relatively exposed qualifier. The Melbourne Machine is particularly good at asserting his dominance over lesser players, and has only been taken to a deciding frame by players outside the top-eight on three occasions this year.
This will be Robert Milkins' first Crucible appearance since 2005, well deserved after a solid year. He hasn't notably improved over the past eight years, however, and is therefore unlikely to improve on a poor record at this level. Robert's only victory in five matches here came against one of the weakest seeds (Fergal O'Brien), whereas he suffered humiliating 10-1 and 13-2 thrashings at the hands of Mark Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan. In expectation of something similar, I'm backing Robertson at [2.06] to cover the 4.5 frame handicap.
Stuart Bingham v Sam Baird
Again, it's hard to see an upset here because the favourite is pretty reliable against inferior opposition. With John Higgins out, the draw is opening up for Stuart Bingham and this admirable pro will be determined to take advantage. I expect Stuart will find eventually one too good, as has always previously been the case in snooker majors, but the most improved player around is strongly fancied to reach at least the quarter-finals.
Baird has done really well to get here, winning four matches, and also reached the last-16 of the Welsh Open. That matchplay experience should stand hold the 24 year-old in good stead for his Crucible debut and I doubt he'll be thrashed. However, there is little in Baird's results timeline to suggest he'll seriously threaten Bingham. This trio of correct-scores pays around [2.7] combined.