SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the first round of the English Open, picking out his favourite fancies.
Chen Zifan v Lee Walker | Tuesday 15th October 2019, 19:00
He’s probably oblivious, but China’s Chen Zifan has a truly rotten record in all formats of snooker (since turning pro in 2017) apart from best-of-sevens.
Excluding best-of-sevens, this season he’s played three, lost three. Last season he played eight, lost eight. Two seasons ago, he played 10, lost nine (that solidarity win came on 3rd June 2017).
Best-of-sevens are a different story. He won 16 from 24 in 2017-18. Last season, he only won three matches overall but all were best-of-seven and this season won seven best-of-sevens to qualify back to the main tour at Q School in May then has won three already in the season proper from four. A career win rate of 58% in best-of-sevens is very good indeed.
I don’t know what sort of block Chen has in the longer format but it’s back to his favourite best-of-sevens in Crawley and I really like his odds of 6/4 to beat ‘the slowest player on tour’ Lee Walker.
Walker won his first match of the season but has lost his last four – he’s no great shake. If this was anything other than best-of-seven I would probably only just favour Walker, he is very experienced if nothing else. The first frame could be crucial to Chen’s chances. In his last eight best-of-seven wins, he won the first frame in all of them. For me, the prices here are all wrong for me. Chen should be no bigger than 11/10. There’s little between them. 6/4 could well be a total gift.
Nigel Bond v Fergal O’Brien | Tuesday 15th October 2019, 10:00
There aren’t too many players who have played as a professional in four decades but Nigel Bond is one. The 53-year-old, who has been an ever present on tour since 1989, will never go back to his height in 1995 when he got to the World final and was ranked number five in the world but the highly qualified coach is still going strong and playing at a decent level.
Opponent in Crawley, Fergal O’Brien, started out in 1991 so this is a match between two of the elder statesman on tour. In fact, their total ages are 100-years-old!
They faced each other in June for International Championship Qualifying and Bond won resoundingly 6-2 and leads their head-to-heads 5-4. Bond qualified for the World Open recently and had a terrific win over Daniel Wells. O’Brien won through as well but it was a real struggle over lowly ranked Adam Stefanow.
This match could go either way but Bond looks to be in much better known form and it’s surprising to see him a 6/4 shot. O’Brien has lost his last eight best-of-sevens against fellow pros, and hasn’t won one in over a year (excluding a win over a poor amateur in Gibraltar). Bond has won five in that time.
Mei Xiwen v Yan Bingtao | Monday 14th October 2019, 10:00
A few more singles did tempt me but I’ve landed on in-form Chinese, Mei Xiwen to upset the Riga Masters Champion, Yan Bingtao.
Mei is one of the lesser likes on tour and the oldest of all the Chinese contingent at 37. But this guy can really play. At the start of the month, he had a great win over world semi-finalist Gary Wilson 5-2 to qualify for the venue in the World Open.
All of Mei’s defeats this season have come against fellow countryman, and one was against Yan in China Championship Qualifying, losing 5-4. Mei led that contest 4-3. They also faced each other at World Championship Qualifying in April, Bingtao won that 10-8.
Mei has only played six matches this season and already compiled four centuries so form wise he’s not a million miles away from the standard set by Yan. I would have Mei shorter than the 19/10 offered by Betway.
No doubt Yan is the right favourite, but like so often, the bookies are overhyping Yan a bit and underestimating a capable and experienced player in Mei. It could even go the distance this one, so the braver souls could go Mei 4-2 or 4-3 on the frames scores, both priced at 7/1. Just the win for me.
Lei Peifan v Ryan Davies | Zhou Yuelong v Michael White
To conclude my selections, two further chinese to bag a double, that pays just over Even money. Zhou Yuelong will be top 16 one day, and should beat totally out of sorts, former top 16 player, Michael White.
Zhou is very reliable against players lower ranked than him. He’s won 11 of his last 12 in that scenario. White is heading in a different direction to Zhou and has had many personal problems to deal with the last few years. His results are tail diving and I don’t foresee Zhou feeling sorry for him. Zhou won 17 best-of-sevens with a win rate of 65% last season to White’s seven wins at 44%.
Lei Peifan is the youngest player on tour at 16, (41 years younger than Jimmy White!) having qualified via Q School in May and even though he’s without a win as a pro, he’s shown glimpses of raw quality and should have too much class for wildcard top-up amateur Ryan Davies.
17 year-old Davies showed up very well at the Shoot-out in February, making the last 16. Being left handed, and going for his shots, there was people saying he’s like a young Judd Trump. Davies didn’t make much of an impact at Q School (unlike Lei who did) and hasn’t fared much better on the Challenge tour which proves he’s still got a way to go to mature.
Lei has been much more successful as a junior on the world stage too. Lei lost in the World Under 18 Final in 2017 and last year lost in the semi. The pressure is on Lei in Crawley, to bag the ranking points and prize money but I think he’s up to it. He should prove why he’s the fully fledged pro in this encounter.