The players who came through qualifying for the European Masters head to Milton Keynes this week looking to take advantage and go deep when the main event is played out inside the Marshall Arena with valuable ranking points and a big title up for grabs.
Mark Selby won this tournament on his way to winning the World Championship last season and he will attempt to find some form this week and make a successful defence of his crown, but plenty of big players will be out to deny him.
2020 – Mark Selby
2019 – Neil Robertson
2018 – Jimmy Robertson
2017 – Judd Trump
2016 – Judd Trump
The entire tour has been invited into this tournament so it is a 128 player field although we have had a qualifying round to whittle it down to 64 players plus those who had their qualifier held over to the main venue. The first round of the main event right the way through to the quarter final is the best of nine frames with the semi-finals being the best of 11. The final is the best of 17 frames on Sunday where the champion will be crowned. The event is live on Eurosport and the Eurosport App throughout the week.
As the defending champion Mark Selby is the top seed this week and he is the headline attraction in the top quarter. This is a quarter which has already lost two of the top 16 players who were drawn in it as Mark Allen and Stephem Maguire both failed to come through their qualifier for the competition. That means the only other top 16 player in the draw in this section is Zhou Yuelong, who needs a big week after he made the final two years ago. That money comes off his ranking and it needs replacing as he chases an automatic spot at the Crucible.
That doesn’t mean there is a lack of talent on show in this quarter though because those outside the top 16 when the qualifying happened include a man who is now firmly back in it in the Scottish Open champion Luca Brecel. British Open finalist Gary Wilson is also in this quarter as are the former Shootout winner Ryan Day and the previous champion of the world in Graeme Dott. Xiao Guodong, Mark Davis and Welsh Open winner Jordan Brown are also in this section.
The Masters, English Open and the recent Players Championship champion Neil Robertson will be looking to regain this title from the second quarter of the draw. As is often the case the second quarter is a loaded one with Kyren Wilson potentially waiting for the Australian in the quarter final. Two other members of the top 16 will have something to say about that in the form of the former Masters champion Yan Bingtao and the man Robertson has beaten in the final of The Masters and Players Championship in Barry Hawkins.
Joe Perry had a good win over Dave Gilbert in the qualifying for the Welsh Open last week and both men are in this quarter this week but couldn’t meet each other until the last eight. Jamie Jones is a talented player in this section who will be looking for a good week while Fan Zhengyi has been getting some good results recently. Cao Yupeng, Anthony Hamilton and Pang Junxu are three others who could easily take advantage if the draw opens up.
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Ronnie O’Sullivan has looked back to his best at times in the last couple of months and he heads up the third quarter. The World Grand Prix champion is yet to land this crown since it came back on the snooker calendar so that might act as motivation if his head is in the right state after the off table news that came out regarding him earlier in the week. O’Sullivan could meet his old rival John Higgins in the quarter final with both being in this section. Jack Lisowski is the other top 16 player in this section with Stuart Bingham having come a cropper in qualifying.
Tom Ford is probably the most recognisable face of those who aren’t in the top 16 in the rankings in this quarter. He is perfectly capable of a big week while Martin Gould showed he is too when he made it to the final of the competition last term. Ali Carter is another who is in this quarter who is no stranger to going deep in an event while veterans Fergal O’Brien, Nigel Bond and Ian Burns will be among those who want to give O’Sullivan and Higgins something to think about.
Judd Trump has won this title on two previous occasions but he hasn’t had the best season so far in terms of winning titles. He did land the Champion of Champions but we are used to much more from him and he’ll attack this crown from the bottom quarter. Shaun Murphy is his potential quarter final opponent despite his poor form this season. Anthony McGill is the other top 16 player who has made it into the main draw. The other one was Mark Williams but the qualifiers came around the time he had Covid so he had to withdraw.
This bottom quarter is full of competent players. In terms of ranking event winners the Shootout champion Hossein Vafaei is in this quarter and then you have the likes of Liang Wenbo and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh who have won tournaments in the past. Ricky Walden has been in great form this season and has done everything but make a final while the likes of Noppon Saengkham, Matthew Stevens, Kurt Maflin and Andrew Higginson will all be looking for a big week.
I’ll go with a couple of outright bets this week in the hope of landing the man who will get his hands on the silverware. I think the better place to be this week is the top half of the draw even though it contains Neil Robertson. The fact that Barry Hawkins will catch him much earlier in the competition should they meet gives me the belief this could be his week. He is clearly in good touch at the minute having made the final of The Masters and Players Championship and while it isn’t ideal that he lost to Robertson on both occasions, they would meet in the last 16 here which is a different ball game entirely. The only other top 16 members in the top half this week are Mark Selby, Kyren Wilson and Luca Brecel, the first two haven’t really done a lot this term and the latter is showing signs of dropping off after a decent month. If Hawkins can beat Robertson should the Aussie reach the last 16 then he should be on course for a third final of 2022 already.
In the bottom half I’ll take a chance on Liang Wenbo who is playing some nice stuff in 2022. He has won both his qualifying matches in pretty good order and so he has the Welsh Open and Turkish Masters to look forward to but he could well have a good week here. Wenbo isn’t the most consistent and you probably have to watch him behind a cushion if you have a bet on but he had a decent spin in the Championship League which he might actually won if he wasn’t docked a frame for being late to the semi-final which he lost in a deciding frame. He has also made the semi-final of the Shootout this year so Wenbo looks in good touch and with other Chinese players stealing the limelight he’ll be out to remind everyone what he can do. At 80/1 he feels a big price this week.
Back B.Hawkins to win European Masters (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
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Back L.Wenbo to win European Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with William Hill (1/2 1-2)
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