SNOOKER guru George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) takes a look at the 2018 Riga Masters.
Riga Masters | Friday 27th July 2018 – Sunday 29th July 2018
Riga hosts a world snooker ranking tournament for the fifth consecutive year. For the third time on the bounce, it's the season's curtain-raiser.
It was at this venue that Ryan Day won his first of three tournaments last season, breaking his ranking event duck after 15 years as a pro. He's back to Arena Riga to defend his crown, starting Friday.
There's no Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins, Judd Trump or Mark Selby in this but World Champion Mark Williams is here and heads the betting at 5/1.
Jack can jump the rankings
My opening fancy in the outrights is a potential last 16 opponent of Williams', Jack Lisowski. He had a meteoric rise last season, jumping from 54 in the rankings to 26.
I believe come the end of the 2018/19 season, he'll be in the top 16, and will undoubtedly establish himself alongside the elite for years to come.
The 27-year-old left hander is a joy to watch. Take a bit of his best mate, Judd Trump and a bit of old school Jimmy White, and you have Lisowski.
He's supremely talented (no 3 behind Ronnie and Judd in my ‘naturally talented rankings') and if last season he proved to everyone what he's made of, this term he will want to deliver a ranking event title.
Jack is totally fearless, has loads of ammunition, and I feel this week in Riga could be lift off for him, a bit like it was for Ryan Day a year ago. He's got a kind draw.
Williams is a potential stumbling block en-route but Willo is worth taking on. Best of sevens are made for Jack – I tipped up Lisowski at 28/1 with Betfred last Friday. A big price. He can go very close this week.
Also in the bottom half with Lisowski, is ultra consistent Joe Perry. Perry turned pro in 1992, and showed his prolonging quality in ousting Mark Selby on Day 1 at the Crucible in April.
‘The Gentleman' has just one ranking title to his name (2015 Players Championship in Thailand) but is generally a very good traveller. He's made further ranking finals in Malta and China, winning two other minor events in the Far East.
Encouragingly, he made the quarter-final here last season. Perry is the complete opposite to Lisowski in terms of his style of play but he's mighty effective. An excellent professional, he needs to be ruthless this week and has a ranking event in him for sure.
Being overseas will help. Certainly the bottom half is weaker than the top half, and Perry will feel a real chance is there for him. I think the Cambridge man can take it – also at 25/1 (BetBright), he's well worth a flutter.
Xintong to come of age
In the top-half, one player stands out at big odds; one of my five players to follow this season, Zhao Xintong. He was surprisingly relegated from the main tour end of last season but regained his place at Q School and hasn't looked back.
He opened the season with two excellent wins in qualifying against Jimmy Robertson and former World Champ, Graeme Dott. Xintong is of Lisowski mould, fascinating to watch and has as much talent as anyone in this field.
He could face Shaun Murphy in round two, but Murphy is an infuriating player and not one to trust (already lost to a weaker Chinese player in qualifying for World Open). The draw in the top echelon of the top half looks wide open for someone of Xintong's ilk. If he gets on a roll, he's a danger to anyone.
The bottom section of his half is packed with big names (Hawkins, Robertson, Allen, Carter & Day) but Zhao won't be due to meet any of these until the semi-final stage.
Looking that far ahead might be fateful. However, Cao Yupeng, Li Yuan, Xu Si, Yan Bingtao and Lu Haotian of the young Chinese brigade all made ranking semi finals last season. Zhao Xintong is more than capable of following suit in Riga. He's an 80/1 shot with Betfred for glory.