SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) gives us the lowdown on the best outright selections at the China Championship.
China Championship | 24th-30th September 2018 | Eurosport
China hosts its third ranking event of the season this week – this time in the south, with Guangzhou the venue for the China Championship.
It's a quick turnaround for some of the players who played in Shanghai last week – an 886-mile journey to Guangzhou. Some, remember, also went to Thailand the week before.
Defending champion Luca Brecel returns to the scene of his maiden ranking tournament victory last season, when he defeated Shaun Murphy 10-6 in the final.
I have four fancies this week, one from each quarter of the draw.
‘The Hawk’ is overpriced
Before his trip to Beijing in April for the China Open, Barry Hawkins' record in the Far East was pretty ropey to say the very least.
In 30 visits as a pro, he had made just three semi-finals. In his last three trips to China (China Open, World Open and Shanghai Masters) he's made two finals and a semi-final. He’s finally caught the bug.
Hawkins is currently playing as well as I can ever remember – certainly playing as well as anyone in this field. He's tough as teak, scoring brilliantly, adaptable, and has a great knack of winning matches even when he's playing poorly (a key trait to have) – an excellent competitor.
‘The Hawk’ has got all the ingredients this week for another strong showing. If he turns up in the same mood as Shanghai, he must go close. I think he's overpriced at 14/1 (Betfred). For me, he should be shorter given the fact you know exactly what you will get from Hawkins. It's rare he puts in a wobbler.
As I stated in my Three Things We Learnt piece following the Shanghai Masters, Hawkins is long overdue a ranking title. He tends to be the perennial bridesmaid. He's too good not to be throwing the confetti for a fourth time.
The draw is usually very important to me, but I think Hawkins can overcome all-comers this week. He has the beating of most and I think will be feared too. At 14/1, he's a must-have bet this week in Guangzhou.
Home hero can go close
Loitering in Quarter 3, and a potential semi-final opponent of Hawkins, is Ding Junhui.
I probably wrongly tipped him for glory in Yushan at the World Open. At the time his wife was heavily pregnant so he probably had bigger things on his mind.
Since the birth, the Chinese number one has performed how we all know he can. He got to the 6 Reds World Championship final (losing to Kyren Wilson) then lost in a decider to the aforementioned Hawkins in the Shanghai Masters semi-final.
Ding has had a rollercoaster 18 months. He lost his mother in February last year and now becoming a father himself, he's playing for a lot of people, not forgetting his adoring fans in China, who laud him as one of the biggest sportsmen in the country.
However, he does it all in his stride and still remains one of the best snooker players in the world. From the 13 ranking tournaments he's won in his career, six have happened in China. It's an expectant nation – but Ding loves playing where he calls home.
Of all the Chinese events on the roster, this is the only title that eludes him. I can imagine he'll be desperate to complete the set this week with a seventh victory in China. He's 12/1 with Ladbrokes, which can be boosted to 13/1. That’s a very decent price for a man in top form.
He won the World Open not too long after losing his mum. Winning a first title for his new daughter would be very special too.
Fresh Fu can challenge for top honours
Into the top half now, and I like the look of Marco Fu at 40/1 (888).
Bar a tournament in Hong Kong itself, this is as close to a home draw for Fu as it gets with only a two-hour train ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong.
As has been well-publicised, Fu, like Mark Williams and Stuart Bingham before him, joined up with Stephen Feeney of Sight Right after his World Championship defeat to Lu Haotian.
There was doubt he would ever be able to play at the top of the game again after getting diagnosed with retinal degeneration in his left eye. I was cautious early on to see how he would cope with Feeney's new sighting and alignment techniques but I've been impressed with how he's been playing.
In ranking events only, he's won eight matches and lost two. His scoring power is as solid as ever, which is a big positive – 34 breaks over 50, including six centuries in 54 frames won.
Marco opens his account with Zhang Anda, who runs cold and hot. He's in a very winnable section now that Kyren Wilson has pulled out. It includes reigning champion Luca Brecel and last year's runner-up Shaun Murphy, but for me, they are worth taking on.
Sight Right players have collected two of the first four titles this season (Mark Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan). It's virtually narrowed down to two from three as none of the big Sight Right posse entered the Paul Hunter Classic.
Dave Gilbert, new to it this season, also made the final in Yushan. So they have a bit of momentum and there's no reason why a fresh Fu can't add to the roll of honour.
If he clicks, the three-time ranking event winner can go deep.
Bingham can come through tough second quarter
Quarter 2 is packed with big hitters. It includes John Higgins, Judd Trump, Jack Lisowski, Stephen Maguire, and Yan Bingtao to name just five. A sixth threat comes from my last fancy in the outrights, 2015 world champion, Stuart Bingham.
He's a previous champion in China, winning the 2014 Shanghai Masters so there's no worries about him performing over there. In fact, half of his ranking finals (8) have been outside the UK.
It's coming up to a year since Bingham received a six-month ban for betting breaches. Missing a fair amount of events did his ranking no good, so he needs a good season to keep himself in the coveted top 16.
He started the season gingerly with two shock defeats to Chinese opposition, but made the quarters at the 6 Red Worlds, qualified for this, India and Belgium and didn't play badly at all in Shanghai, losing 6-2 to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarters (had a 134 total clearance). He also scored heavily in his first round match, winning 6-0 (breaks of 140, 92, 83, 78).
As I mentioned, the draw is very tricky for Bingham, as it is for everyone in this section. An opener against Paul Hunter Classic finalist Peter Ebdon won't be a walk in the park either. That leads onto probably Yan Bingtao, then Trump then maybe Higgins in the last-eight. Those three are all opposable.
Bingtao flatters to deceive in China more so than not. Trump, as I wrote in my post-Shanghai piece, is lacking in dedication and drive, then Higgins is far too short in the outright market for a player with just two tournament wins in China over the past 19 years.
Bingham has done it the hard way to win events before. Look no further than when he won the Worlds in 2015 – defeating Graeme Dott, O'Sullivan, Trump then Murphy – three world champions.
Also, the last seven years of his career, he's made at least one ranking final each season. 2018 so far is a blank for ‘Ball-Run'. He's a player to follow until the year ends to carry on that sequence and here this week in Guangzhou he's 45/1 (Unibet) for glory, not beyond his capabilities.