It is six years since John Higgins last played Matthew Stevens, 12 since they last met at the Crucible. Day two sees these veterans renew a rivalry that dates back to the previous century. This was the UK Championship final 22 years ago.
Stevens fares relatively well against Higgins
Predictably, Higgins dominates their career head-to-head 15-7, 5-2 in majors and 2-1 at the Crucible. Given the wide difference in their overall achievements and career trajectory for the last 15 years, that reads pretty respectably for Stevens.
Always a class act, Matthew has nothing like Higgins' consistency or temperament but, on song, he can compete with anyone and he has a great record in the event. Twice runner-up, four times losing semi-finalist and three losing quarters.
There's every reason to think he'll more competitive here, given the current state of their respective games. Stevens openly arrived at the qualifiers under-prepared yet came through easily enough. He's hinted more than once of a resurgence - reaching the quarters at the UK Championship, for example.
Higgins looks in decline this term
Higgins meanwhile is on the way down. Only two semi-final appearances sums up his campaign. True, he's reached the last three Crucible finals against expectations but I would need to see evidence of real improvement before backing him.
The plan is two bets on Stevens. First a back to lay, taking 4.1 pre-match, then setting a lay order at 2.01/1 with a view towards cashing out with double our money. Second for the +2.5 Frame Handicap at 2.35/4.
Back Matthew Stevens 4u @ 4.216/5
Place order to lay 8u @ 2.01/1
Back Matthew Stevens to win the +2.5 Frame Handicap 4u @ 2.35/4
Gilbert tipped to edge through
The head-to-head between David Gilbert and Kurt Maflin couldn't be clearer. The Englishman leads the Norwegian 3-0 in matches all played over best of seven frames. As one of my outright picks, I expect Gilbert to extend that but he doesn't appeal at 1.364/11.
Maflin is match fit, having qualified quicker than anyone, and made a big impact on his only previous Crucible visit, losing 10-9 to Mark Selby. For a small interest, try 10-8 to Gilbert.
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