The Coral Tour Championship gets under way on Tuesday afternoon - Richard Mann provides his quarter-finals match-by-match preview here.
Neil Robertson v Ding Junhui
Tuesday 17 March - 1300
A clash between two of the biggest names in the sport but one which sees both players arriving in Wales with a few questions to answer.
In the case of Ding Junhui, he has more to prove than most following another season of frustrating reverses sandwiched between a brilliant victory at the UK Championship in York in December. In fact, a run to the last 16 of the Welsh Open is the best Ding has mustered since York with his desire to scrap and fight when the game demands it once again looking suspect.
On this season's form at least, it is no surprise to see Robertson as short as 1/3 to progress through to the last four but it is worth remembering that the head-to-head record between this pair currently stands at 9-9.
Given the likelihood of an open match, one which ought to suit Ding better than some of the battles he has been dragged into recently, and the fact Robertson has been knocking in centuries for fun of late, it seems fair to expect plenty of big breaks. Robertson is actually up to 64 centuries already this season, including the three he made when losing 6-4 to Joe Perry at the recent Players Championship, and if Ding can find his break-building boots, the 15/8 on offer with the sponsors for over four match centuries could prove far too big.
Shaun Murphy v Mark Allen
Tuesday 17 March - 1300
These two close friends have played out some terrific matches in recent years, Allen getting the better of Murphy in the final of the 2018 Scottish Open while the latter has won the three meetings between the pair since.
Much like last season, Allen started the current campaign strongly but having failed to get his hands on the silverware his efforts deserved, his form has tailed off since Christmas and I'm not sure he is playing well enough right now to match an in-form and on-song Murphy.
The latter is in the midst of a fruitful season and given his impressive overall head-to-head record over Allen (15-7), it is hard to envisage the Englishman not inflicting another defeat on his pal this week.
Prediction: Murphy 9-5 Allen
Mark Selby v Yan Bingtao
Tuesday 17 March - 1900
It's seems strange to think that a campaign that has yielded the English and Scottish Open titles could be seen in some quarters as slightly underwhelming but should Selby end the season without making a significant impact in Wales this week or at the forthcoming World Championship, the former world number one might put away his cue for the summer with a tinge of disappointment.
It's not that Selby hasn't produced some top-class snooker this term - his demolition of David Gilbert in the final of the English Open was as good an exhibition of snooker as you could wish to see - but consistency continues to hold him back. Too often has Selby produced sessions littered with unforced errors and unlike in previous years, he has been unable to farm the scrappy frames and, indeed, matches, in a way that had made him such a tough nut to crack.
In Yan Bingtao, he will face an opponent on Tuesday who is firmly on the upgrade having won the Riga Masters already this season, along with reaching another major final and three semi-finals. That other final came at the recent Players Championship when he was readily outpointed by an irresistible Judd Trump but with his current level of progress rapid and the best years clearly ahead of this 20-year-old, the sky really is the limit for the Chinese star.
Multi-session matches are the next step in his development but he has the all-round game to prosper under such parameters and the 2/1 on offer for him to take another big scalp in Selby this week simply cannot be ignored.
Judd Trump v John Higgins
Wednesday 18 March - 1300
Arguably the clash of the draw, one that pits one of the greatest players to ever grace the green baize against a young man on a relentless and very real pursuit to surpass any player that has come before him.
Six ranking titles for the reigning world champion already this season tells a story of almost peerless snooker produced with the consistency very rarely seen before, and Trump is now strong favourite for every tournament he enters.
His victory in Gibraltar last week was professional and brilliant in equal measure and having spent much of the early part of his career being schooled and mastered by John Higgins and his rock-solid all-round game, Trump has now won each of the last six meetings between the pair, including five times in all competitions this term.
The tide has turned and I don't expect it turn back this week.
Prediction: Trump 9-7 Higgins
Posted at 1830 GMT on 16/03/20
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