O’Sullivan and Allen to advance



The first round draws to a conclusion today, with four former Masters champions in action. Between them, the quartet have won this event 11 times.

Ronnie is the new favourite

Seven of those were by the new tournament favourite. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s odds about winning an eighth title have fallen from 6.411/2 to 3.814/5 without potting a ball, following Judd Trump’s withdrawal and yesterday’s defeats for Mark Selby and Neil Robertson – the latter by Yan Bingtao tipped here at 4.47/2.

Is this major now Ronnie’s for the taking? Far from it. Take out the last World Championship and he’s been well below his best for some time. Plus regardless of those results elsewhere in the draw, he’s far from certain to reach the semis.

Head-to-head record is one-sided

First up an old rival who usually comes off second best in their encounters. O’Sullivan leads Ding Junhui 16-5, including six of the last seven and three since last summer.

Ronnie’s standard of snooker hasn’t been inspiring but he’s been battling on admirably. Even in a poor season by his standards, he’s made two finals and a semi. Only Trump and Selby thwarted those title bids.

With those rivals out, yet another major title is moving into view and I suspect he’ll step up to the challenge. At least in the early stages. There has never been a better player coming in fresh off a break.

Whilst Ding’s mercurial talent is always respected, he’s been making far too many mistakes and giving opponents chances for some time. He hasn’t gone further than a quarter-final this term. 6/5 about O’Sullivan winning 6-3 or better, via the 2.5 Frame Handicap, is the call.

Allen preferred over Higgins

I think the betting is the wrong way around in the evening match, where John Higgins is a marginal favourite over Mark Allen. This despite the Scot losing to a series of lower-ranked opponents. He’s only beaten one top-16 player (Ding) this season.

To clarify, that discounts the Championship League, where he was in winning form last week. A different format, table and of incomparable significance.

Allen is never wholly reliable but his recent best has been much better. In landing the Champion of Champions title – a similar format to the Masters – he comfortably beat Trump, Ronnie and Robertson. He’s also won all four previous matches with Higgins at this major.

One side bet also appeals. Allen is a ton-machine, hitting one every 5.47 frames this season. Take advantage of the enhanced #Oddsboost to 3/1 about him hitting two.

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty