It’s last sixteen time in China with every match that is left containing at least one big hitter in the sport. With a combined total of 14 World Titles between them including all the last 8 played, it’s all to play for.
As well as the World Champions we’ve also got three who have been as close as you can get to snooker’s biggest title in Judd Trump, Ali Carter and Ding Junhui as well as a further two Chinese players still competing. Perhaps the two shock names still in there are Sam Baird and veteran James Wattana who is competing in his first ranking last 16 match for a decade.
The emergence of the ‘new’ crop of Chinese players such as Ghou Yolonge and Yan Bingtao has got everyone talking again about the much heralded Chinese revolution, as they have been for the last decade, yet there are still only 3 Chinese players that can really be referred to as part of the sport’s elite, one, Liang Wenbo only recently really joining these ranks. But you do get the feeling that this new wave are a little bit more rounded than the last lot who routinely seem to burst onto the scene with a bang and then just disappear, remember Cao Yupeng? Tian Pengfei? Zhang Anda? You get my drift.
But still at the top is the dynamic and brilliant but yet to be world champion Ding, he is the benchmark and none of them have yet come close so I’m keeping an open mind on the new revolution, especially as players like Neil Robertson, Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen and even arguably dual World Champion Mark Selby may yet have their best years ahead of them. We’ll see, but I do agree that the grass roots level in the UK and Europe needs greater attention than it receives if we are to keep up with China.
Ronnie O’Sullivan meanwhile spent yesterday telling everyone that he isn’t good enough to compete with what he refers to as the ‘top players’ anymore. It’s standard fayre from The Rocket and it’s quite possible that he’s said it so much that he is actually beginning to believe it. Perhaps it’s time to start asking him if he is ‘his own harshest critic’ again, that’s a question that always used to go down well, just ask Rob Walker.
Anyway, he is still in the mix and produced just enough to beat Kurt Maflin earlier, he wasn’t at his best but he won, but I’d say he’ll need to step it up a notch or two from here on in if he’s to have a chance of winning this, but of course he has done this before and can do it again, his attitude at least, which has so often been his undoing, seems absolutely spot on, but I wouldn’t have him as bookies favourite, which of course he is.
It’s so hard to call most of these matches, but one thing is for sure, we are in for a cracking day tomorrow. With the sixteen that are left, this tournament is going to take some winning.
RECOMMENDED BETS: Treble – Ali Carter, Ding Junhui and John Higgins pays over 7/2 with Paddies. Punts – Michael Holt at 4/1 and Joe Perry at 13/5.