Having started his World Championship bid rated only third best, Ronnie O'Sullivan has assumed his customary position at the head of the betting. The Rocket is now a 3.7511/4 chance to win his sixth title but it won't be easy. What started out as the most open renewal in living memory has produced arguably the strongest ever quarter-final line-up.
Ronnie O'Sullivan to beat Ding Junhui 13-6 1u @ 14.013/1
Ronnie O'Sullivan to beat Ding Junhui 13-7 1u @ 12.011/1
Ronnie O'Sullivan to beat Ding Junhui 13-8 1u @ 11.010/1
Though particularly impressive towards the end of his matches, it cannot be said that Ronnie has played the best snooker. John Higgins has played better than anyone and today's opponent set a very high standard. The way Ding Junhui held his nerve to edge out Liang Wenbo in their epic, high-class match carried the hallmark of a champion-in-waiting.
Ding is one of my original outright picks but he may need a career best against an opponent who has totally bossed him in the past. It is 11 years since he last beat Ronnie in the Northern Ireland Trophy final, and he trails their head-to-head discounting league matches 8-1. In the majors, Ronnie leads the frame score 32-11.
On the five occasions he won this title, Ronnie got better as the tournament progressed, with nobody getting close from the quarter-finals onwards. Likewise when last reaching the final in 2014, he was dominant beforehand, thrashing Shaun Murphy 13-3 and Barry Hawkins 17-7.
At the end of his previous matches, O'Sullivan appeared to be finding that sort of form again. If so he is unopposable. If not, Ding has a chance. My prediction is Ronnie gets ahead early and demoralises another rival who has seen this movie before.
Back Over 2.5 Centuries in John Higgins v Kyren Wilson 4u @ 2.26/5
If Higgins maintains his standard then he will take the world of beating - even by Ronnie. Whether he can is another matter. This event is a marathon and while the Wizard of Wishaw has won it four times, he is nowhere near as consistent anymore. Bear that in mind before piling in too heavily at just 1.351/3 to win the match.
I reckon he will come up short, but Wilson should not be under-estimated. He looks very well suited to this event and the longer matches. Last year he was outstanding before losing 13-8 to Selby at this stage, from 6-0 down. With a high standard expected from both men, three centuries in the match doesn't seem a huge ask.
Back Stephen Maguire to beat Barry Hawkins 5u @ 2.915/8
Place order to lay 10u @ 1.42/5
A further illustration of the strength of this quarter-final line-up is that the rank outsider has won 23 out of 28 frames so far. Granted the opposition wasn't up to much but Stephen 'On Fire' Maguire is living up to his nickname and good value to reach his third Crucible semi-final.
Given an 11-5 career lead over Barry Hawkins, the Scot is entitled to fancy it. The odds are legitimate, based on the disparity between their form this season. However Maguire has always been inconsistent, yet worth following when on a hot streak. Plus Barry didn't produce anything special in the last round.
This is perfect for a back to lay. The Crucible is notorious for dramatic turnarounds over these multi-session matches and both players have been involved in plenty. By laying back for double the stake should Maguire shorten to 1.42/5 at any stage, we'll land an even money trade.
Back Marco Fu to beat Mark Selby 5u @ 3.211/5
Place order to lay Fu 10u @ 1.68/13
Again, I'm opposing one of my outright picks here with a back to lay. As with Ding and Hawkins, it isn't a comment or bailout on those earlier stand-alone bets, rather than an assessment of these match odds. If he'd had an easier path, Marco Fu may have been the pick anyway. Having survived two marathons, he's cracking value both today and for the title at 14.013/1.
When they met here 12 months ago in the semi, Selby won a nail-biter 17-15. However Fu has improved, playing as well as anyone over the past six months and remains under-estimated by the market. Given Selby's remarkable ability to produce comebacks, laying back to bank a profit should Fu shorten to 1.68/13 makes sense.
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