International Championship Snooker – Jester chasing historic hat-trick


SNOOKER analyst George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) takes a look at the outright market ahead of the 2018 International Championship.

International Championship | 28th October – 4h November 2018 | Eurosport

1st December 1996, Stephen Hendry lifted the UK Championship for a fifth time, the third year in succession. Move forward 22 years and that was still the last time a player had won a ranking event three years on the trot.

Judd Trump tried earlier this month to win a hat-trick of European Masters titles, but failed.

This week in Daqing, world number one Mark Selby has the unenviable task of trying to win three International Championships on the spin. If anyone can break that 22-year hoodoo, it's the ‘Jester from Leicester’.

I think he can do it.

Mark Selby (6/1 Black Type)

Selby, as we know, has all the ingredients to score in Daqing. For match play, he's on par with John Higgins as the greatest of all-time.

Selby loves China. He's won a record seven times in ranking events there. He's made 11 finals – five of his last seven ranking victories have been in the Far East. Only once since 2014 has he lost in a ranking final – that's in 13 finals. It's a run that's unprecedented.

You talk about Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros, Roger Federer at Wimbledon, Usain Bolt on any sprint track, Stephen Hendry at the Crucible. They seem to make those events their own.

It's getting like this with Selby in China, and especially so in ranking finals.

It's self-explanatory – he gets to the final, he wins. He's got to get to the final first but on paper, he has a better draw than most, plus it's best of 11 up to and including the quarter-final. In his career, he's won 72% of his best of 11s.

The big threats in his half of the draw come from Kyren Wilson, Ryan Day or Barry Hawkins. He's due to face Wilson in the quarters and to me, it looks a fairly straight passage to that round.

Selby has a C-game that can cope with most players A-game – that's the difference. He can play poorly and still win. He’s probably the toughest competitor snooker has ever produced – he’s made of stern granite.

Selby has seven matches in his way to win the title and is a top price 6/1. For me, he shouldn't be 6/1 with anyone for this (mainly 4/1).

It won't win any prizes for originality but Selby in a 12th Chinese final a week on Sunday is very possible. And we know how they usually end.

Zhao Xintong (70/1 Black Type)

There are each-way alternatives to Selby starting with Zhao Xintong at 70/1.

Zhao somehow, dropped off the tour in May but regained his spot at Q school. He hasn't looked back since. He has really matured too.

All of last season, Zhao won just 13 times. This season already, he's won 12. At the China Championship in September, he made his first ranking semi-final, eventually succumbing to Selby, 6-4 in a brilliant contest where he trailed 4-1 and clawed it back to 4-4.

Typical Selby, he used all his experience to win that day but it showed that Zhao has the mental capabilities to contend with the best of them.

After Zhao lost 4-3 to Judd Trump at the English Open (from 3-1 up), Trump heaped loads of praise on the 21-year-old, calling him the best of the Chinese coming through. He's right up there, that's for sure. He has a terrific temperament, has a fearless mentality and is afraid of nobody.

Zhao made the World Amateur final at just 16 and then again two years later. He lost in both, but that's a frightening achievement at such a young age.

Zhao could meet Ding Junhui in his second match – a real test of how far he's come. Beat him and there's no reason why he can't be one of China's biggest hopes of the week.

Graeme Dott (125/1 William Hill)

My last two selections are into double-figures for glory. Firstly, Graeme Dott at 125/1 (William Hill).

The 2006 World Champion is a former winner in China, when he collected in 2007 in Beijing. That was his last ranking title but he made two finals last season in the German Masters and the Shoot-Out, losing in both.

On getting to the final in Berlin, he won three deciders and two matches by two frames – he's still got it. A great competitor, in his career he has a near equal record in deciders as John Higgins and Mark Selby.

Dott is like a poor mans Selby in some ways. He's not a flashy player. He digs-in in matches, and loves a battle. He's bags of bottle. Since turning professional in 1994, he has never hit over 20 century breaks in a season. Quite a statistic for a former World Champion…

Dott, 41, has a tough draw but knows his way to get through events. Longer formats are right up his street – he made the semi-final in this event in 2013 and made 11 quarter-finals in China in his career.

The ‘Pocket Dynamo’ is capable of a good showing this week. It's been a great season for the over 40 brigade remember!

Luo Honghao (300/1 Black Type)

Lastly, I can't leave out the new kid on the snooker block from last week in Crawley, Luo Honghao at 300/1 (Black Type).

He really arrived in Sussex. Before he faced Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarter-final, he showed in his wins en-route what calibre of player he is.

He was 3-0 down in his opener versus amateur Adam Duffy, yet roared back to win 4-3 after breaks of 84, 128 and 65. Next, he defeated seasoned pro and a dangerous player in Stuart Carrington 4-1, which included another ton. Then he beat two top 16 players in Anthony McGill 4-2 (didn't make a break over 50) and Neil Robertson 4-2.

In all the victories, he showed a variety of class and maturity, way above his station. He seems to cope with anything thrown at him, even after getting battered in the first two frames against Ronnie, he came back brilliantly to lead 3-2, including a 136 total clearance. He lost 5-3 controversially.

Ronnie was full of praise for Luo after the match, saying “He's a great striker of the ball, he's dangerous, he's only 18, I'd go to say, he's the best of all the young chinese. He reminds me of Selby, rock solid and never looks like missing“.

In 2005, at 18, Ding Junhui became the second youngest ranking event winner in the sports history capturing the China Open title. I see no reason why Luo can't replicate Ding. If not this week, but before he turns 19. He's an extremely special talent.

300/1 is too big on someone already so good – he fears absolutely no one.

Best Bets

International Championship – Mark Selby (6/1 Black Type)

International Championship – Zhao Xintong (70/1 each-way Black Type)

International Championship – Graeme Dott (125/1 each-way William Hill)

International Championship – Luo Honghao (300/1 each-way Black Type)

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