SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the World Open, picking out his favourite fancies.
World Open | 28th October – 3rd November 2019 | Eurosport
Sometimes a single shot – missed, potted or even not taken on at all – can change the whole complexion of a season.
In his semi-final with Mark Allen at the English Open, Mark Selby had a few strokes of good fortune that could change his overall outlook from this day forward. He was looking down the barrel at a 6-3 defeat until Allen wobbled a doubled red into the left middle. It went all round the lip of the pocket. Allen hit it a tad too hard to be honest. Had it gone in, it was absolute curtains.
The second bit of fortune was Allen refusing to take on a long pink into the green pocket, which would have been for the match. I would have fancied him potting it six times out of 10. I’m still staggered to this day that he didn’t take it on.
He played, as it's known in snooker, the ‘dump shot’ – the containing safety. That negative call came back to haunt him – Selby smelled blood, won the ninth frame to reduce his deficit to 5-4, and Allen didn’t really get a sniff after that, losing 6-5.
Had these fine margins not gone Selby’s way, and Allen had won, it would have been back to the drawing board for the Jester.
But it did, and the rest is history. Top players find a way. There’s no doubt about it, Selby looked more like his normal self in the final at Crawley, playing beautifully, missing only seven balls, walking away the worthy winner and lifting a 16th ranking title – his first since the end of September last year – by beating Dave Gilbert 9-1.
How has it been so long? Selby said in an interview afterwards how emotional he was and what a turbulent year he’s been through mentally. No-one on the roster has a stronger resolve than Selby.
Surely there’s more to come now he’s re-broken the ice. Snooker needs an in-form Selby. He’s a truly marvellous tactician of the green baize. He’s much like a 1980s Steve Davis – old school, a grafter, an ironman and supremely hard to tear off the table.
In the same mood and with the grit between his teeth, Selby will be looking forward to rocking up to Yushan for next week's World Open that starts Monday. It’s the only ranking title in China he’s yet to claim. The question is, can he sustain this form?
Maybe but he’s in arguably the toughest quarter with Shaun Murphy, John Higgins, Stuart Bingham and in-form Ricky Walden being just four who could gazump the Leicester man.
Winning back-to-back ranking titles is extremely tough in this day and age. We shall know after this event if Selby is absolutely back to his best but I will leave him out of the outright staking plan this coming week, even though he is very tempting at 8/1.
Ronnie O'Sullivan (11/4 Sky Bet)
If you are a regular reader of my previews, you will know I very rarely back the favourite of any event. I do try and get them beat. However, I think the favourite will be very hard to beat here, and it’s, in my opinion, the ‘greatest of all time’, Ronnie O’Sullivan.
I think it’s quite significant he’s rocked up in Yushan. He won this event as the Grand Prix in 2004 and was runner-up in 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2010 but since the tournament went from being an English event to a Chinese one in 2012, Ronnie has never bothered to enter.
He said before the English Open: “I'll probably play more of the China events now because they're the big events and I really enjoy travelling to the place.
“I can't do it all so as long as I qualify for the China events, 80 per cent of my tournaments are probably there, and I'll probably play the odd few in the UK.”
He also said in Belfast last year how much he loves China, has loads of friends and support there. That means a relaxed and non-negative Ronnie, not one on edge like he seemed in Crawley (said ‘every day in Crawley is a day lost in my life!’) last week, waiting and ‘hoping’ he lost.
O’Sullivan is like a shrewd horse racing trainer in some ways. He picks and chooses what suits him, usually places himself in the right events and if he’s entered, regardless of what he says in the media, he’s there to win. He’s won a tournament in every season since 1993-1994 – yep, 26 years ago.
That remarkable stat includes the 2012-13 season where he entered just one event, the 2013 World Championship, and won it.
In the last two seasons (and two events this season), Ronnie has entered 28 ranking events and only on eight occasions has he failed to make the quarter-final. He won 10 of those 28, so a strike rate of 36%.
It’s widely documented about Selby’s incredible record in China. Some say the best – eight tournament wins in rankers and non rankers. That’s come from 46 events in his career so a win strike rate of 17% in these shores. However, O’Sullivan has entered 27 events here and won on six occasions with a win rate of 22%.
Here in Yushan, he has a really soft draw on paper. It’s signified by his odds-on price (10/11) to win Quarter 4. He avoids Selby and Judd Trump who are in the top half. Allen or Gilbert look the chief threats in Quarter 3.
Even the great one failed to win back-to-back events at the English Open, losing in round four to Mei Xi Wen. But his performance 500-odd miles up the coast from Yushan to Shanghai in September was terrific in both overcoming adversity (he came back from the death against Kyren Wilson) and his overall triumph.
Odds of 11/4 are not ‘jump out of your seat’ value but if Ronnie wants it enough next week, he could easily oblige, because put simply, he can.
Hossein Vafaei (225/1 Betfair)
If Ronnie fails to capitalise in Quarter 4, there is one guy I want onside to take advantage – Iran’s Hossein Vafaei. ‘The Prince of Persia’ recently broke into the world top 32 and he’s here to stay. In a few years, it wouldn’t surprise me if he bagged a top-16 berth.
A pro for only seven years, he importantly gained a UK visa in February 2015 and has been on the upturn ever since. Since then, the former World Amateur champion has made three ranking semi-finals, of which two were here in China (one this season at the China Championship at the end of September).
Vafaei has a lot of Selby about him. A cue action where little can go wrong, tough mentally, has all the shots in the book. A fighter on the table that doesn’t know when he’s beaten. He even beat Selby at the Welsh Open in February en route to another semi-final. Vafaei lost to O’Sullivan in Crawley 4-1, but wouldn’t have to face ‘The Rocket’ here until the quarter-final if they both made it into the last eight.
This is only Hossein’s eighth visit to China and, thus far, he has only lost one first-rounder. He opens with the unpredictable Lu Haotian. In Quarter 4, Vafaei will have to probably beat Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski, before hopefully a showdown with O’Sullivan.
Yes, very tricky but under no circumstances should he be a 33/1 shot to win this quarter. He was 18/1 to win his quarter last week in Crawley, with O’Sullivan in it and that was a flat 128 draw so had five matches to win his quarter. Vafaei comes in at the last 64 stage and has four matches to win. Doesn’t make any sense he’s 33/1.
Ali Carter is a ludicrously priced 7/1 shot to win this quarter and has two matches to win before having to take out O’Sullivan. Vafaei is having a much better time of it this season, avoids Ronnie until the last eight, yet is more than four times the price of Carter. Utter nonsense!
Have Vafaei onside in case O’Sullivan drops the proverbial clanger.
Marco Fu (200/1 Ladbrokes)
Lastly, I’m going to drop into Quarter 1 containing the likes of Trump, Barry Hawkins, Ding Junhui and Joe Perry. A bit like Carter, Ding is terribly short to win his quarter at 9/2. I wouldn’t be interested at treble that price the form he’s in.
He comes with plenty of baggage (I'll explain why in a moment) but I think a player who’s still on the comeback trail from injury can come good, in Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.
This event has been kind to Fu down the years. He won it in 2007, was a finalist in 1998, made one semi-final in 2014 and two quarter-final appearances in 1999 and 2018.
His career took a turn for the worse in early 2018, when Fu revealed that he had undergone laser eye surgery to treat retinal degeneration and floaters in his left eye. Understandably, that knocked him about and retirement was even on the cards.
Since his return to snooker, he’s only made one quarter-final, here in Yushan last season. He also took the excellent scalp of O’Sullivan in February at the World Grand Prix, winning 4-2.
Fu, a former world number five, has always been a fabulous scorer and it’s encouraging this season that he’s been scoring heavily again. In his last 14 frames won this season, he’s compiled 13 breaks over 50 so it has to be said he’s playing sweetly.
Fu opens up with the aforementioned Hawkins and if he can beat the Kent man, he will fancy his chances of going deep again. Fu leads the head-to-heads 9-8. In Hawkins’ last 19 ranking events, he’s lost in the first round nine times so there are plenty more pros than cons that this is a good opportunity for Marco to take.
He seems very positive in his interviews recently. The question mark is all about Marco’s eye and whether it will hold up. It’s worth a risk because if it does, he’s capable of making a mockery of the 25/1 quoted on him to win Quarter 1.
As they are 200/1 and 225/1, I’m reluctant to leave Fu and Vafaei out of the outright staking plan as well. They are worth a very small dabble each-way.
World Open – Ronnie O’Sullivan to win outright (11/4 SkyBet)
World Open – Hossein Vafaei to win outright (225/1 each-way Betfair)
World Open – Marco Fu to win outright (200/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
World Open – Hossein Vafaei to win Quarter 4 (33/1 Bet365)
World Open – Marco Fu to win Quarter 1 (25/1 William Hill)