Snooker: China Championship outright preview and best bets

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SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2019 China Championship, picking out his favourite fancies.

China Championship | 23rd-29th September 2019 | Eurosport

There is little rest for the wicked from now until Christmas, with six ranking events and a Champion of Champions before we can think about turkey and all the trimmings, Santa and Boxing Day football.
We move nearly 900 miles from Shanghai last week to Guangzhou in the south for next week’s China Championship.

The tournament has only been going for three years, two as a ranking event. Mark Selby returns as defending champion and this remains the only tournament he has won in almost 18 months and his only triumph last season.

Selby’s form will surely return as the former world number one, as the saying goes, hasn’t turned into a poor player overnight. But his overall efforts the last 17 months since winning the China Open in April 2018 must be of great concern.

Okay, Selby played pretty well up and until the semi-final in Daqing where he was trounced by Judd Trump. He then offered little resistance again to a similar brand of player in Jack Lisowski last week in Shanghai. You could say there seemed a lack of fighting spirit, which is never normally questioned in Selby's game.

Since the turn of the year, the Jester has won just 52% of his opening frames. Current world champion and number one Trump has won 75%. Winning the first frame acts as a catalyst. Lose it and you are on the back foot and ‘under the pump’. He’s lost five times this season and lost the first frame in four of those.

Oppose out-of-form Selby

We all know about Selby’s immense prowess on these shores with 11 finals and seven victories to his name, but he looks there for the taking again.

After what looks a comfortable starter against the weak Chen Feilong (who does have a win over Shaun Murphy on his resume), Selby faces a tough test second match against Lu Ning who had an excellent season last term and pushed the Jester hard here in 2012, when the Chinese wasn’t half the player he is now.

After that it will be Martin Gould or Scott Donaldson. Gould has beaten Selby eight times from 16 and Donaldson has won two of their past four meetings. Selby has lost to five players outside the top 32 (unheard of!) since winning this event last year.

It’s no surprise then that my two outrights in Guangzhou are both homed in Selby’s quarter. It’s not normally the way I like to go with my outright selections but I’m making it a rare exception here.

Barry Hawkins (16/1 Betfred)

Kent’s Barry Hawkins is first to the plate. I hate to start this way with Barry but the negative in backing him for any ranking tournament is his strike rate. He’s been a pro since 1996, entered 320 tournaments and only won eight events. Just three of those were rankers.

One of the eight triumphs happened this season at the recent Paul Hunter Classic in Germany which Hawkins partly played down in an interview in Shanghai: “You can’t take too much out of it (as it was an invitational) but anytime you win a tournament it’s a nice feeling so it adds to the confidence, but my performance here means more to me.

He will be disappointed with his defeat to Neil Robertson in the quarter-final in Shanghai but his scoring has been utterly exemplary this season. He’s won eight matches from 11, winning 44 frames and hit 34 breaks over 50. Since a win over Mark King in Germany, he’s won 22 frames and had a 50+ break in 19 of them.

As a sportsman, he knows the only thing that matters is the end result – the ‘W’ or the ‘L’ – however he’s blatantly cueing with real vigour and if he keeps up this form, must have a chance of going close. I tipped him for this very event last season at 14/1 so I’m perfectly happy to see him a touch bigger this time at 16/1.

I said this in last year's preview: “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.”

I echo those sentiments again a year on with a fourth ranking title still not collected. Some say he lacks bottle at the business end of tournaments. He certainly didn’t lack it in Shanghai when beating Yan Bingtao and John Higgins, both from behind in the decider, both 6-5 on the black.

Last season he lost in the quarter-final here, also made the semi-final at the World Open in Yushan plus the final in Shanghai. Before 2017, his career trips to China yielded only three semi-final appearances in 30 attempts so he’s finally got the knack now of performing well here.

Barry will be looking to keep that good recent run in China going in Guangzhou.

Yan Bingtao (66/1 Ladbrokes)

My other pick is this season’s Riga Masters champion, Yan Bingtao.

The 19-year-old and youngest ever World Amateur champion, opened up a 100/1 shot for this with William Hill last week which was beyond barmy. He’s now 66/1 (80/1 with a Ladbrokes boost) which still has a bit of meat in it, even with an extra match to play against fellow countryman, Mei Xi Wen.

Bingtao did little wrong in defeat to Hawkins in Shanghai. ‘The Hawk’ got away with a couple of escapes from snookers on the colours, (when Yan only required a ball for victory) leaving Yan nothing. Then Hawkins returned the favour and Yan stuck a green over the bag, and Hawkins then cleared. So it could have been very different.

Yan’s record in China isn’t great. He’s only made one semi-final which was in 2017 in Daqing. The win in Riga really should kick start his number of career titles from here on in. I don’t expect it to plateau. Yan was only five years old when Ding Junhui won his first title in 2005. He then went on to win another ranking title that season at the UK Championship.

As much as Ding has been a superstar player and servant to snooker in China and the world, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he called it a day in the next five years, leaving Yan to pick up the mantle. What Ding has always lacked is steel and backbone on the table. Bingtao has that in abundance. He’s supremely talented and a tough cookie. He’s hard to break down and has very little weakness in his game.

Going back to his Riga success in July, I didn’t think he played that brilliantly overall. He hit 17 breaks over 50 but just one of those was a century. He tends to make frame-winning contributions rather than big tons. He played well in patches but has so much potential, it’s frightening. If he could develop into a savage scorer like Ding, I honestly believe he will be a world champion one day, and probably China’s first.

Back to the here and now, and looking a bit further ahead, he could face Selby in the last 16. Yan beat him in their only head-to-head in 2017. I hope it’s a Hawkins/Bingtao re-match in the quarter-final. That would guarantee an outright semi-finalist.

Bingtao has got to prove he can play to his high standards in his home country. It’s surely only a matter of time until he does. Currently, I think 66/1 is too steep on this precocious talent to lift another title and prove Riga was no flash in the pan.

Best Bets

China Championship – Barry Hawkins to win outright (16/1 each-way Betfred)

China Championship – Yan Bingtao to win outright (66/1 each-way Ladbrokes)

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