Paul Krishnamurty previews the trio of matches getting underway on Monday at the Crucible, where most notably Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins are in action...
"Brecel has totally lost it in 2018. He's won just two matches and hit only nine half-century breaks this year. By comparison, Walden hit no fewer than 20 half-centuries, including seven tons, just in his three qualifying matches."
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Normal service has resumed at the Crucible, as Ronnie O'Sullivan reeled off seven frames out of eight to mow down Stephen Maguire and regain his stranglehold on the betting. The five-times champion is now just [2.7] to win a sixth world title despite still having four matches left to play.
Hawkins to progress with minimal fuss
For a moment when Ronnie looked in trouble, I became fixated on the idea of this being Barry Hawkins' year. He's already an outright pick but history suggests he'll fall short if they meet in the semis. Nevertheless, he's odds-on to reach a sixth consecutive quarter-final from a generous draw and is one of the form players, timing his run well after an appalling first half of the season.
Hawkins should have too much for Carrington, but that supremacy is measured into the price. The Grimsby man battled valiantly to get here and didn't disgrace himself on last year's Crucible debut. A trio of correct scores from 10-5 to 10-7 is the call.
Guodong can take Ding to the wire
This all-Chinese affair looks one of the best first round matches. Ding is a frontline contender having lost to Selby in the semi last year and 2016 final. He's also hammered Guodong 6-2 and 5-0 in their two most recent encounters, yet I'm not at all convinced he'll dominate this.
Guodong is improving, has been claiming some good scalps and seems to thrive in longer, two session matches. For the second year running he waltzed through qualifying and played well on both Crucible visits, thrashing Ryan Day at this stage last year. Ding often starts slowly and may be taken the distance. I'm backing Over 16.5 Frames.
Walden looks way ahead on form
If the recent formbook is any sort of guide, Walden represents outstanding value against an opponent struggling badly with his game. From being one of the best in the world up until Christmas, Brecel has totally lost it in 2018. He's won just two matches against vastly inferior opponents and, remarkably, hit only nine half-century breaks this year.
By comparison, Walden hit no fewer than 20 half-centuries, including seven tons, just in his three qualifying matches. This is a huge match and event for Ricky with regards the rankings, having fallen way down when injured. He should be super-focused and a firm favourite. Those stats also strongly vindicate taking 9-5 about him scoring more centuries.