One player to back from each group

A successful English Open, bagging both finalists Neil Robertson and John Higgins, returned the column to winning ways. Onwards, to the Champion of Champions.

Still relatively new to the schedule, I regard this event only slightly below the majors now. Besides The Masters, it is unlikely you’ll find a stronger field in the last-16 all season. The rollcall of winners is impeccable and we’ve seen some superb finals. Defending champion Mark Allen, however, is absent.

Trump bound to be hungry

This is a rare example of an event which Judd Trump has never won – he lost the 2014 and 2019 finals respectively to Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson. That is sure to increase his desire next week, on top of the fact he hasn’t won this season, or even reached a final.

I wouldn’t put that down to bad form. He just hasn’t been quite at the world-beating levels we’ve become accustomed to over the past three years. This draw offers an excellent chance to find that level in the early stages.

He starts against the tournament’s weak link, David Lilley, whose place comes courtesy of winning the World Seniors Championship. That almost assures Trump of a place in the Group 1 final against either Stephen Maguire or Ryan Day, against whom he’ll again start a massive favourite. Just to note these ‘groups’ are effectively the same as a quarter in other tournaments and the only real distinction is they are settled on the same day.

Maguire the biggest danger prior to the semis

Neither of those opponents will be a pushover, especially Maguire, who has a decent record in recent years against Trump. Nevertheless, this is a notably easier section than the others so I’m prepared to get Judd onside at the obligatory short odds for the first time this season. Its inevitable he’ll win again soon.

The downside of that strategy, as ever, is it means restricting stakes in other sections. Therefore, much as 11/2 about Neil Robertson is a very fair offer, I have to swerve it. The Aussie may well maintain his great form and beat Trump in the semis, but he’ll have to work harder to get there.

Tough draw for Robertson

Robertson is rightly a hot favourite to beat Mark Williams, who missed the last two events with Covid, first up. I expect he will, but this is no certainty and nor will the group final be, by any means. Kyren Wilson is the likely opponent and their match went to a decider last week.

I’m happy to take all three of these big-guns on here with a rank outsider. 200/1 about Jordan Brown represents each-way value considering only four matches are involved at most. The Northern Irishman hasn’t yet returned to last year’s form, but he confirmed in winning the Welsh Open title that he has improved markedly as a match-player. Having beaten Ronnie in that final, he should fear nobody and Wilson is certainly a beatable opponent over best-of-seven in the first round.

Higgins marginally preferred over Ronnie

There are no such ‘weak’ players in the bottom half of the draw and any of the eight players could emerge. Group 3 involves O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Stuart Bingham.

While never written off, the latter pair don’t appeal. Ding didn’t reach a semi last term and is yet to hit a ton this term. He was hammered by Higgins last week. O’Sullivan has dominated Bingham throughout their careers (their head-to-head is 16-3) and ‘Ballrun’ has suffered some really bad losses in recent weeks.

That firmly point towards yet another renewal of snooker’s ‘El Clasico’. Following last week’s semi-final decider, O’Sullivan leads Higgins 35-31. I’m not convinced Ronnie should be the shorter price on what they’ve achieved in 2021.

Persist with progressive Gilbert

Group 2 is even tougher. I prefer Yan Bingtao to Shaun Murphy on last week’s evidence, while Mark Selby gets a chance to avenge a Northern Ireland Open defeat to David Gilbert.

Obviously any of that classy quartet could emerge but Gilbert strikes me as by far the best value at 35/1 given his form so far this term. He was flying again last week and 2-0 against Bingtao before that remarkably resilent youngster turned it around.

Nevertheless, I reiterate the view from before the English Open that Gilbert is on the verge of a breakthrough. This isn’t quite a major, but victory here would set him up for a big run at the UK Championship or Masters. He’s staying very much in my plans for the foreseeable future.

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

Author: wpadmin

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