Richard Mann has cast his eye over the forthcoming World Snooker Championship and thinks Ding Junhui is worth an interest in one of the specials markets.
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Ding Junhui is one of the leading contenders in the forthcoming World Snooker Championship and can reward his supporters with another good run in Sheffield.
The Chinese star has carried huge expectation on his shoulders for a long time now and has built up an impressive CV, two UK Championship triumphs, a pair of China Open victories and a Masters success a clear illustration of his pedigree.
The World Championship is one trophy that still evades Ding but he has knocked very hard on the door in the last few years and certainly looks more at home at the Crucible nowadays.
Ding produced some fabulous snooker in the 2017 renewal, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals before pushing eventual winner Mark Selby all the way in their epic semi-final clash.
I remain convinced that Ding would have been too strong for anyone else on the tour playing at the standard he did in that match, and that only an inspired Selby, or a peak O’Sullivan, would have been able to halt his charge.
It was a similar story 12 months previously when Ding made relentless progress to the final, only for Selby to again shut him out with a typically flawless display.
While it may not come this year, Ding seems destined to get his hands on this famous trophy in the near future and looking at the way the draw has worked out this time, another semi-final finish, at least, seems highly likely.
As such, he rates a knocking bet at 2/1 to win the third quarter with his recent form suggesting, once more, that he is peaking just at the right time for Sheffield.
As was the case last year, Ding appears to have geared his season towards snooker’s blue riband event; a final appearance in the World Grand Prix and a solid showing at the Players Champions showing his game to be coming nicely to be boil.
A first-round meeting with Xiao Guodong is one Ding should safely negotiate and although Ryan Day or Anthony McGill will give him more to think about in the last 16, a quarter-final clash with Barry Hawkins does look to be on the cards.
Hawkins has found some form himself of late and making finals of the Welsh Open and China Open will have done his confidence of plenty of good.
However, he was no match for the aforementioned Selby in China and although three Crucible semi-finals suggest a clear liking for this tournament, his record in Sheffield, or anywhere else for that matter, can't compete with Ding’s and the latter ought to have too many guns should the pair meet, as expected, at the quarter-final stage.
Preview posted at 1605 BST on 19/04/18