As we enter the final group of first round matches, there still hasn’t been a major upset. (Jamie Jones beating Stephen Maguire doesn’t count).
Could that change as a trio of former champions enter the fray? Certainly, none of them are bombproof and a case can be made for each outsider.
Williams hinting at return to form
For most of the time since Mark Williams won his third title in 2018, I’ve looked to oppose him. That year was a one-off return to his long-past glory days. However he’s rediscovered his appetite for the game in recent months and results are improving. In fact from the top half of the draw, he’s not the worst outright bet at 70.069/1.
Williams has won all six previous frames against Sam Craigie but that isn’t a fair reflection as four of them came six years ago. The 27 year-old is an underachiever – far better than his lowly ranking – and did brilliantly in qualifying, whitewashing Hossein Vafaei before hitting three tons to edge Zhao Xintong.
I’m sceptical Craigie will have the strategy and craft to beat Williams at the Crucible. That’s the cause of his underachievement. 6/5 about the Welshman winning 10-6 or better, via the 3.5 Frame Handicap, appeals.
Maflin poses serious threat to Selby
Six years ago at this stage, Kurt Maflin took Mark Selby to a final frame decider on his Crucible debut. When returning last year, the Norwegian reached the quarter-finals, beating David Gilbert and John Higgins along the way.
Maflin has tremendous natural talent and is a threat to all at his best. That seemed highly unlikely to materialise during a grim season, but he turned it around with a superb performance in qualifying, hammering Jak Jones and Robert Milkins.
He’s perfectly capable of taking Selby to the wire, as so many underdogs do. The Jester’s powers of recovery and resilience are legendary, so he’ll probably come through, but taking 11/8 about Maflin winning eight frames makes sense.
Murphy too short on balance of form
Shaun Murphy is absolutely friendless in the outright betting at 75.074/1. Sure, he’s had a terrible season and acknowledged his struggles during lockdown, but this is still a man with rock-solid Crucible credentials.
I wouldn’t dismiss him. He turned up at the Masters and played well, also at the Welsh Open. However he certainly isn’t a player to trust at short odds-on, against an opponent who has given him lots of trouble in the past.
Mark Davis only trails their head-to-head 5-4 and won four of their last five meetings. The 48 year-old is making his 12th Crucible appearance, thanks to a stunning comeback from 7-2 down against Jamie Clarke.
No miracles are expected, but he has the experience to capitalise if Murphy does struggle. 4.216/5 about the upset offers good trading potential. Try a back to lay from those odds, placing an order for a partial cashout should Davis hit 2.01/1 at any stage.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty