There are two events left before the eyes of the snooker world turn to Sheffield for the World Championship, with the first of those coming this week when the tour heads into Europe for the Gibraltar Open, the final tournament in the BetVictor Euro Series.
Judd Trump won this tournament behind closed doors in Milton Keynes last year but he will attempt to defend his title back in Gibraltar where crowds will be allowed with the tournament having a more normal feel to it.
2021 – Judd Trump
2020 – Judd Trump
2019 – Stuart Bingham
2018 – Ryan Day
2017 – Shaun Murphy
2015 – Marco Fu
We are back to the old PTC format this weekend with one half of the draw playing down to the last 16 on Thursday and the other half on Friday before the tournament concludes from the last 16 onwards on Saturday until we get our champion on Saturday evening. Unlike recent tournaments which has had qualifying rounds, the entire 128 entrants head to the main venue. The entre tournament from the first round right the way through to the final is the best of seven frames with the champion receiving £50,000.
Given that he is the defending champion it is Judd Trump who is the defending champion and as such he will be the number one seed and the headline act in the top quarter this week. Given the amount of players who have pulled out of the tournament there are only two more top 16 players in this part of the draw. They are the Turkish Masters semi-finalist Shaun Murphy and The Masters runner up in Barry Hawkins.
There are a lot of challengers in each section of this draw as well and in this quarter we have Ricky Walden who is having a fine season, as well as Chinese stars such as Xiao Guodong Li Hang, Lu Ning and Zhou Yuelong. The former Shootout champion Ryan Day is also in this section as are the likes of Scott Donaldson, former Welsh Open winner Jordan Brown and the veteran former world champion Ken Doherty among others.
Kyren Wilson has had a largely quiet season by his high standards but he has the chance to land a title before he heads to Sheffield and if he is going to do that he will have to do it from the second quarter. The other star act in this section of the draw is John Higgins and he is also looking for an elusive proper draw title to add to the one he won at the Championship League. The beaten finalist of 12 months ago is in this quarter in Jack Lisowski but the other top 16 player in the draw, Anthony McGill, withdrew so this quarter only has three members of the elite band in it.
There are some big names from outside the top 16 in this quarter of the draw but none bigger than Ding Junhui who showed in the Turkish Masters that he has the bit between his teeth again. Ali Carter is another who is back playing well again. Matthew Stevens eased his tour survival fears in Newport and can all but guarantee another year on the tour with a good run here. Mark Davis, Joe O’Connor, Tom Ford, Gary Wilson, Mark King and Jimmy Robertson are some of the others looking to build up their confidence ahead of the World Championship qualifiers in a couple of weeks.
Neil Robertson has already come out on top at the English Open, The Masters and the Players Championship this season and he’ll be looking to add a fourth title to his stellar season from the third quarter. He is scheduled to run into the UK Championship winner Zhao Xintong in the quarter final but the Scottish Open champion Luca Brecel and former world champion Stuart Bingham will be out to make sure that last eight clash doesn’t become a reality.
Of those outside the top 16, Si Jiahui is causing waves in the game and he could go well in this quarter. Chris Wakelin and Jamie Clarke will be hoping to boost their from ahead of the world qualifiers while Matthew Selt will be looking to go one better than he did at the Turkish Masters a couple of weeks ago. Jimmy White, Anthony Hamilton, Yuan Sijun, Shootout winner Hossein Vafaei, Kurt Maflin, Oliver Lines, Dave Gilbert and Liang Wenbo are just some of the others who could go well this weekend.
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It is a bit of a surprise that Ronnie O’Sullivan is in the draw for these three days. These tend to be the events he tries to avoid but he is clearly looking to get his cue arm oiled ahead of the Tour Championship next week having sat out of the Turkish Masters. O’Sullivan is in this bottom quarter where he was seeded to meet Mark Williams but the Welsh star has withdrawn having already qualified for Llandudno next week. That leaves Mark Allen as the only other top 16 player in this quarter because Stephen Maguire has also withdrawn.
Welsh Open winner Joe Perry has already seen his section open up a little and he’ll fancy his chances of a decent run this weekend while the European Masters winner Fan Zhengyi will be out to prove that win was no flash in the pan. Ben Woollaston, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Robert Milkins, Mark Joyce, Elliot Slessor and Lyu Haotian are some of the others who can do some damage in this quarter. Ladies star Reanne Evans is also in this quarter too.
As ever in this tournament I’ll take a player from each quarter in the hope that we get someone into the final day carrying our money and then from there it will be anyone’s to win. In the top quarter I like Ricky Walden. He has been knocking on the door all season and all the withdrawals in the top half of the draw could see it being between him and Judd Trump. Trump still isn’t in the greatest form even though he won in Turkey earlier in the month. He could have lost three or four times on his way to that success and never really played his best stuff. Walden has twice beaten Neil Robertson this season and also has wins over John Higgins, Mark Allen, Shaun Murphy, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Kyren Wilson so he isn’t one for fearing the big names. Four times this season Walden has been beaten by the eventual champion of that event so his luck is due to change soon. I’ll pay to see if it is this week.
In the second quarter I’ll take my chances with Jack Lisowski. He has had a pretty quiet time of it this season by his standards but we saw in the Welsh Open that when it clicks he is still a formidable force. Lisowski has only been beaten in a deciding frame in his last two tournaments so he is another who could do with a change of luck but this draw almost has to open up and although it was in Milton Keynes last year, he was a finalist in this tournament so he has good memories of it. Lisowski doesn’t have the easiest quarter but it isn’t the hardest either and after a dodgy season he might be more motivated than some others so at 45/1 I think he’s a good play.
In the bottom two quarters I’ll take a couple of outsiders to have a go this week because the chances are that one of Neil Robertson or Ronnie O’Sullivan will go deep in the event but in case they don’t I’ll have a go at a couple of dangers, the first of which is Si Jiahui who is going to be contending for events soon whether it is this week or not. He has his tour card sorted for next season and has been winning lots of matches in recent times either on the Q Tour or the main tour. In Turkey earlier this month he thrashed Anthony McGill and Tom Ford and only went down in a deciding frame to his hero Ding Junhui. He is a star for the future but I’ll pay to see if he is one for now too at a daft price.
The last quarter is the one that Ronnie O’Sullivan is in and if he turns up with his head on he’ll probably come through it but he doesn’t enjoy these events and you only have to go back to the German Masters to remember that he can still have a brain freeze from time to time. In the hope he is in that mood I’ll go with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh who might not have to face a professional player until finals day if something happens to Joe Perry in the early rounds. The Thai eased his tour card concerns in Turkey when he took care of Stephen Maguire and Jordan Brown before the eventual finalist Matthew Selt was too good for him. Un-Nooh has the class to build up some momentum in these best of 7s and given that he only needs to play well for two days to do some damage I’ll pay to see how he goes.
Back R.Walden to win Gibraltar Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with BetVictor (1/2 1-2)
Back him here:
Back J.Lisowski to win Gibraltar Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back T.Un-Nooh to win Gibraltar Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back S.Jiahui to win Gibraltar Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 301.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back them here: