SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the outright market ahead of the UK Championship Open, picking out his favourite fancies.
UK Championship | 26th November – 8th December 2019 | Eurosport
Six ranking events down in the season and one question comes to mind… Can anyone stop ‘The Juddernaut'?
Judd Trump has collected three of the six ranking events this season – he’s only entered five; he was still celebrating his World Championship win in Las Vegas during the opener in Riga.
His recent endurance, relentless consistency and utter ruthlessness is nothing short of astonishing. In the last three weeks of tournament play, Trump has won in Yushan at the World Open, made the final in Coventry at the Champion of Champions (lost in a decider) and became the first player to defend a Home Nations title at the Northern Ireland Open. That equates to 18 wins in his last 19 matches.
Forget the snooker itself for one second but that’s more than 5,000 miles of travelling on top. Knackered? On the face of it, no. He looked as fresh as a daisy defeating Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in Belfast last Sunday and rocks up to York this coming week for snooker’s second biggest event at the UK Championship feeling, I imagine, close to invincible (after an important week off).
Everything he touches, seemingly turns to gold. Even when he looks in deep trouble, he somehow finds a way to win. This was evident when he looked destined to lose to Joe Perry in Yushan in the last 16 but, with a bit of good fortune and a crucial missed final pink by Perry, got over the line. His self belief is remarkable and when he gets a chance, like a hungry vulture, he kills his prey.
He’s got a terrific knack of winning the first frame. From 34 matches this season, he’s won the opener 28 times. Talk about stamping your authority on a match – no wonder he’s such a winning machine. In fact, he’s won every match this season when he’s won the first frame. Going back to last season, it’s now 34 matches in a row he’s won after taking the first frame since a loss at the end of March.
Let’s not forget, he currently holds two of the three snooker majors; The Masters and the World Championship. If he becomes UK champion, he will become only the second player in history to win all the triple crown events in the same year.
Stephen Hendry performed this feat twice, in 1990 and 1996. It’s something greats like Steve Davis, John Higgins, O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and Mark Selby have never achieved. In this day and age, it would be a monumental achievement.
There’s no doubt he’s the one to beat at The Barbican, but a slight negative against Trump is it’s not an event he has a great record in. He won it in 2011 (his second ranking tournament, now on 14 wins) and made the final in 2014, but in his nine other appearances, he hasn’t even made the quarter-final. Not that it will worry the world number one, the blistering form he’s in.
It was only just over a year ago, before his win in Belfast, that I questioned Trump’s dedication to the sport, preferring lavish holidays to practice.
That is now history. He’s knuckled down. Since the 2018 Northern Ireland Open win, he’s won five further ranking titles including the Masters in January that gave him the full set of career triple crown titles. He’s also changed as a person. He was incredibly humble after his decider loss to Neil Robertson in Coventry which must of been a killer to lose.
Is Trump a good price?
So another question, is Trump a good price at 3/1 for the title? He’s not yet ‘Michael Van Gerwen in darts-type dominant but would MVG be as large as 3/1 for a big title after collecting three of five events in a season or even after collecting the first two majors of a year? No way! So it’s a price that is very difficult to ignore in my opinion.
In more than two years of officially tipping on snooker, I cannot remember ever tipping Judd for a tournament.
Until now. He used to be unbackable for me at around 11/2-6/1 when he was so haphazard and unpredictable but, in his current strutting mood, even 3/1 looks reasonable value. He should be shorter.
Joe Perry and Mark Allen, two players who have beaten him this season, are in his quarter. Allen has a tremendous record against Trump, beating him in seven of their last nine head-to-heads. Perry has beaten him on six occasions, including in this last year.
However, Trump is currently playing at a level that barely anyone can get near. Someone asked Stephen Hendry on Twitter the other day if Judd’s best game beats everyone on tour. A resounding yes from the seven-time world champion. If he wins on December 8th, the history books will be re-written and Trump will have to be right in the high echelon of great players, past and present.
He has the greatest challenge in snooker next April to be the first ever first-time defending world champion at the Crucible to successfully retain the crown. That’s for another day – I firstly think history can be made in York.
O'Sullivan a major danger
An in-top-form O’Sullivan can beat Trump, of that there’s no doubt. It was great to see him back in focused mode in Belfast. He was playing his ‘exhibition’ style snooker to good effect. A different approach is likely in York. He might say to some people in the media that his favourite events now reside in China but the UK Championship is a tournament no doubt close to his heart.
He won it first in 1993 at the tender age of 17, and since then has lifted the UK title a record further six times, including four here in York. He didn’t enter in 2015 as defending champion but has made the final the past three years, winning it twice, so has a real love affair for the place.
He’s back to win this three years on the spin, something only Davis and Hendry have done previously. An eighth UK victory will surpass Hendry as the most ranking events won of all time.
Looking elsewhere, there’s no fresher, better player on tour than Australia’s Neil Robertson. A two-time winner of this event in York, he’s the only player to defeat Trump in the latter's last 19 matches, winning a thriller 10-9 in the Champion of Champions final.
That final was the best in terms of standard I’ve ever seen in my lifetime and proved Robertson is 100 percent a top-three player in the world, can compete with an on-song Trump and will have plenty of takers at 11/2.
If it seems I'm focusing on the elite section of the field, that's because the UK Championship is a tournament predominantly won by one of the world’s top 16 professionals. The biggest price winner in the last 35 years was Wales’ Doug Mountjoy winning at 25/1 in 1988, when he was ranked outside the world’s top 16. He remains the oldest ever winner at 46.
Since 1988, only one player from outside the top 16 has made the final; Liang Wenbo in 2015.
In terms of longer-odds chances, I officially tipped Shaun Murphy for this at 28/1 in late September and he’s now correctly priced around 18/1. The Magician is having an excellent season, and will be there or thereabouts.
At a big price, I have so much respect for Cambridge’s Joe Perry (100/1). A top quality player, he reminds me of a perennial mid-table side in the Premier League, one of the most consistent players on tour who can beat anyone on his day but is just a level below world class. He usually falls short.
Higgins a live threat
One player who has felt the brunt of Trump a few times this season (and the end of last season) is the evergreen four-time champion of the world and three-time UK champion John Higgins.
Higgins lost in his third World final in a row in May to Trump and has since been beaten in two semi-finals by the world number one in the World Open and Northern Ireland Open. Higgins won the World Cup with Stephen Maguire for Scotland at the end of June then lost to his compatriot in the Six Reds World Championship final in September.
The consistency of his form this season has been excellent and it’s a far cry from last season where he was struggling badly and threatened to retire.
This time last season he had played 17 and won 11. This season he’s played 30 and won 23. Before this very event last season, he had lost miserably to Rory McLeod in Belfast and didn’t fare much better here in York a few weeks later, losing to Alan McManus in round two.
What a difference a year makes in snooker.
This is Higgins’ 25th appearance in the event, 21 years after his first success in 1998. He won it again two years later in 2000, beating Mark Williams, then repeated the feat 10 years on in one of the greatest finals this tournament has ever seen, when he trailed the Welshman 9-5 and came back to win 10-9. What is just as remarkable is since that win, he’s only collected one other triple crown event, the following year's World Championship.
There’s been talk after Trump's recent run that Higgins and his pals from the Class of '92, O’Sullivan and Williams, are close to surrendering their ‘dominance’ in the game. For me, not quite. Their match play is still better than nearly anyone on tour. Since the 2016/17 season, Higgins and Williams have both made 20 ranking last-eight appearances or better. O’Sullivan is on 19.
An extraordinary total in just three and a bit seasons. They might not be getting any younger, but the love of winning never goes away – and conversely a hatred of losing. They could play on at the top of the game for another five to seven years if they duly wish and still be capable of winning titles.
Back to Higgins who, in my opinion, is the greatest match player snooker has ever seen. You talk about the whole package you need to be a world class player; break-building, safety/tactical play, a rock solid cue action, temperament, mental toughness – Higgins has all that and more. He would be my go-to man if you needed someone to win a frame for life or death. The guy is absolute pure, steely granite.
I could go on and on about how good this fella is. It’s about time he had a bit of luck this season and won an event. He’s too good and won too much to keep being the bridesmaid. Just two ranking wins in four and a half years won’t be accepted by Higgins. He’s lost in 20 ranking finals from 50 and a quarter of them have come in the last three years.
If he’s ready for one last hurrah in a triple crown, it could well come here, where he’s in a good state of mind. I think 14/1 is quite generous on the Wizard of Wishaw, considering Robertson is half his price.
Higgins and Trump are in different halves of the draw and I can’t resist backing them to meet in the final (20/1 Betway). Given Ronnie’s excellent record in the event and a tidy draw, I’ll have a saver on a Trump vs O’Sullivan final also (6/1 Betway) – if that happens, then 10 of their last 19 meetings will have been in finals.
UK Championship – Judd Trump win outright (3/1 Sportingbet)
UK Championship – John Higgins to win outright (14/1 Ladbrokes)
UK Championship – Name The Finalists: Judd Trump v John Higgins (20/1 Betway)
UK Championship – Name The Finalists: Judd Trump v Ronnie O'Sullivan (6/1 Betway)