Big time snooker returns to mainland China for the first time since the pandemic this week when the leading lights are joined by a bunch of home players in the field for a revamped Shanghai Masters, the curtain raiser to a lot of snooker in the country this season.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has won the last three of these titles and he is out in China looking to add to his collection. Some big players are already showing form this season and will be looking to stop that from happening.
2019 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2018 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2017 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2016 – Ding Junhui
2015 – Kyren Wilson
2014 – Stuart Bingham
2013 – Ding Junhui
2012 – John Higgins
2011 – Mark Selby
2010 – Ali Carter
We have a 24 man field for the tournament this week. The top 16 in the world rankings at the respective cut off point receives invites to the event as did the next four highest ranked Chinese players. The field is completed by four wildcards. The top eight ranked players head straight through to the second round with players ranked 9-16 coming in at the first round where they will play a Chinese player for the right to meet a top eight seed in the second round. The first round, second round and quarter finals will be over the best of 11 frames before we go up to the best of 19 frames for the two semi-finals ahead of the final on Sunday which will be over the best of 21 frames.
As the defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is the top seed in the draw this week and he has been played at the top of the bracket. He will begin his quest for the title in the second round as will three other top eight ranked players. They are European Masters finalist Judd Trump, who seeks this title for the first time in his career, world finalist Mark Selby and the former winner of this tournament Kyren Wilson.
Eight players will begin this tournament in the first round in the top half of the draw list. The seeded players include the German Masters champion from last season and former winner here Ali Carter. John Higgins is another former champion in this half of the draw while Hossein Vafaei and Jack Lisowski make up the top 16 players. The four Chinese invitees here are the classy Zhou Yuelong and three wildcards – Dong Zihao, Deng Haohui and Gong Chenzhi.
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Luca Brecel will be the number two seed for everything he isn’t the defending champion in this season having won the world title at the end of the previous campaign and he is the top seed in the bottom half of the draw. He will join this event in the second round as will the UK Championship winner Mark Allen, Neil Robertson whose record in this tournament is very average, and Shaun Murphy, who lost in the final the last time the event was staged.
Eight players will look to join that quartet in the second round of the tournament. The four players ranked between 9-16 in this half of the draw include the 2011 finalist here Mark Williams, Welsh Open champion Robert Milkins, Scottish Open winner Gary Wilson and the most successful Chinese player ever in Ding Junhui. The other four Chinese players include the World Championship semi-finalist Si Jiahui, former European Masters winner Fan Zhengyi, Pang Junxu and the final wildcard in Bai Yulu.
I’ll take an outright bet from each half of the draw this week. In the top half John Higgins looks a creditable contender off the back of an excellent showing in the European Masters where he made the semi-final and had wins over Zhou Yuelong, Shaun Murphy and Kyren Wilson before Judd Trump pulled out his best against him. What I liked about Higgins in that tournament was that he compiled six centuries and then added another to his tally last week in qualifying for the Wuhan Open and when Higgins is scoring well it tends to be a guide to how he is playing. Higgins is in a quarter with Ronnie O’Sullivan but we haven’t seen ‘The Rocket’ yet this season so nobody knows how he is playing. This feels like a part of the draw which will open up and I’ll pay to see if Higgins can take advantage.
The other pick has to be Ding Junhui, a player who showed he is returning to his best form last season making the Tour Championship as well as winning the event at the 6-Red World Championship. This will be the first time we’ve seen the Chinese star this term because all of his qualifying matches have been held over to the venue but you would imagine a first tournament in his homeland in more than three years is going to get his juices flowing and will have had him hitting the practice table hard. He is definitely in a quarter which will open up because Neil Robertson hasn’t shown much form for a while and has a poor record here and Mark Allen went off the boil towards the end of last season. Ding has a tricky encounter with Si Jiahui in the first round but if he overcomes that he could go very deep.
Back J.Higgins to win Shanghai Masters (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 13.00 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)
Back D.Junhui to win Shanghai Masters (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)
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