SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the outright market ahead of the 2019 China Open, picking out his favourite fancies.
China Open | 1-7 April 2019 | Eurosport
We enter the penultimate tournament of the snooker season, the China Open, on Monday. For the second year, it has a £1m total prize treasure chest making it the second-biggest pot of the campaign, behind next month’s World Championship.
Last year, I tipped Mark Selby for this at 8/1. He duly obliged beating Barry Hawkins in the final, 11-3. I’m attempting to repeat the trick with him again in Beijing, at the same price, for a hat-trick of China Open titles.
First things first, Selby is a serial Chinese tournament winner. Just starting in this event, ‘The Jester’ has won here in 2018, 2017 and 2015. He didn’t enter the 2016 version for personal reasons. So he’s currently on a run of 18 matches won in a row at this venue. He was runner-up in 2013 and 2011. His worst run since 2011 is a quarter-final defeat in 2014.
Selby has won a record seven ranking events in China. It increases to 10 if you include minor events. Five of his last seven ranking titles were here in China. He’s made 15 past Chinese based finals, 11 in rankers, seven in the last four years.
It doesn’t take a magician to work out, this guy loves China. His preparation for these events work very well for him. He gets to China early to climatize usually a week before kick-off. It gives him a kind of head start on his adversaries. Knowing how to win on these shores is half the battle. Only Ding Junhui (six wins) is close to Selby on victories here.
What do I make of Selby’s form this season? At times, excellent. Others, very average. He’s looked a world beater in matches, scoring tons for fun and you feel he will undoubtedly do what he does best, build upon it, go from strength-to-strength and win the event. Not always as he can then put in a below par performance and lose. Very un-Selby like.
‘The Jester’ won at the China Championship in August making it a clean sweep of all the Chinese titles on offer. Selby has an alarming eight deciding frame losses this season which must be rectified.
Most of his defeats have come against fellow top 16 players. He’s lost twice already this year to Judd Trump, whilst Neil Robertson has beaten him on three occasions. For a player who on the face of it is struggling, he’s knocked in 56 tons this season and made four last-eights.
I feel being back in China, and losing his world number one spot could be a blessing. It will give him the kick up the backside he needs to prove all the doubters wrong. He’s a wounded animal. A tiger on the table, Selby is far from finished – form is temporary, class is permanent, as the saying goes. He has a really reasonable draw too this week coming up.
Best of 11s haven’t been Selby’s friend this season (won just 50%) but this looks a massive opportunity for him to put a marker down for Sheffield. He will want it badly and when he does go deep in China, especially here, he invariably comes away with the trophy. He’s not coming to see the sights this week.
What a sight though 8/1 (Ladbrokes) is on Selby. In China, it’s too good to turn down.
There’s no other player in the outrights that take my fancy. There’s no Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson is in Selby’s section (again) but he’s looking for four ranking finals on the trot (that he’s entered) and that surely won’t happen. I can imagine this is a ‘prep race’ for Sheffield.
Barry Hawkins, last year’s beaten finalist, faces a banana skin with in-form Lu Ning first up. Hawkins’ form worries me greatly with the Worlds on the horizon. John Higgins has a good draw but not one to fully trust especially in best of 11s this term (40% win rate) and has not won this event since it was re-named the China Open in 1999.
Two-time winner of this, Ding Junhui comes here fresh having only entered 13 tournaments this season. However, he’s only conjured up one ranking quarter-final this season so must be taken on.
Instead, I’m going to flag up four players to win their Quarters. Two in Quarter 2 and two in Quarter 4.
Stephen Maguire has a good record in this event. He won it in 2008, was runner-up in 2012 then a semi- finalist in 2013 and 2016. He lost in the quarters here in 2017. So has real pedigree. It’s no coincidence he regularly does extremely well in the UK Championship which is a similar format to this event.
Maguire is 50/1 for the title here. I’ll pass on that as he hasn’t won a ranking title since 2013. He’s only made one final since then at the Riga Masters in 2017. He does go deep in many events though. He’s made three semi-finals this season. Last season, two semi’s and a final.
One word of warning is Maguire can run the hot and cold tap but his place at the Crucible is secured so no qualifying this year means he should be fairly relaxed and is as good as anyone around when on-song.
Maguire’s consistency this season has been very encouraging. He’s 15/2 (SkyBet) to make the semi-final for a fifth time in a section that won’t take a lot of winning.
Bigger prices from now on in, and it would be rude to leave out Hossein Vafaei in Maguire’ section at 40/1 (Ladbrokes).
The Iranian is a joy to watch who has a textbook cue action. He’s tough as old boots as well. He’s leapt up the rankings this season from 45 to a current, 33. And will continue to go higher for me.
The former World U21 and World Amateur champion made the semi-final here in 2017. He beat Judd Trump in the quarter-final before Mark Williams halted his run. He’s improved loads since then.
Vafaei picks and choosing his events carefully. This is only his ninth tournament of the season so he should be fresh as a daisy. He only has one first round defeat to his name. He made the semi-final at the Welsh Open in February so again proving he’s more than capable of going far in ranking events.
Vafaei has a tough opener with Rob Milkins then it might well be Quarter 2 favourite John Higgins in the last 32. He’ll be looking for revenge on Higgins who beat him 4-3 in India. It’s far from a shoe in, but at 40/1, Vafaei is well worth a go. He’s a genuine class operator.
Onto Quarter 4, I think Leicester’s Ben Woollaston (22/1 Bet365) could have a good run in Beijing.
The draw has dropped quite kindly for the 31-year-old. He faces rookie pro Ashley Carty first up then probably experienced Andrew Higginson in the Last 32 – he’ll be favourite in both contests. That would put him into the Last 16 to face possibly Ding Junhui. If it is Ding, Ben has beaten him in China before at the 2016 World Open. Ben has only bypassed a quarter-final once in his career, when he made the Welsh Open final in 2015.
This really does look on paper a great opportunity to make a run to at least the Last 16/eight. Ben is a very good professional who’s been on the circuit now for over 10 years.
On his day, he can beat anyone. As mentioned earlier, he’s beaten Ding before plus Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Mark Williams all in the past. Selby lost to him at this season’s English Open. He’s 22/1, and will be single figures if he gets through his very winnable openers.
A potential Last 16 opponent of Woollaston’s is Leeds’, Oli Lines (80/1 Ladbrokes). A regular practise partner of Judd Trump’s, he’s clearly benefiting as he’s turned a corner this season. He made the Last 16 in India and was very close to making a maiden ranking quarter-final but to lose 4-2 to eventual winner, Matt Selt.
Lines starts with the unpredictable Indian Open runner-up Lu Haotian then might meet Ding Junhui in Round 2 who he lost to very unfortunately 4-3 at the Welsh Open. Then it might be Ben Woollaston for a place in the quarter-finals.
The left-hander is brewing with confidence this season and with his tail firmly up, a quote of 80/1 underestimates his chance somewhat. I think he has a small squeak of breaking through this week. Vafaei, Gary Wilson, Kurt Maflin and Mike Dunn have all made the semi-finals here in the past six years and would of all been big prices like Lines.
China Open – Mark Selby to win outright (8/1 Ladbrokes)
China Open – Stephen Maguire to win Quarter 2 (15/2 SkyBet)
China Open – Hossein Vafaei to win Quarter 2 (40/1 Ladbrokes)
China Open – Ben Woollaston to win Quarter 4 (22/1 Bet365)
China Open – Oli Lines to win Quarter 4 (80/1 Ladbrokes)