SIX TO WATCH AT THE GUILD HALL
The Ladbrokes World Grand Prix runs from Monday to Sunday next week in Preston with the best 32 players from the season so far battling for the trophy and a £100,000 top prize.
Here are half a dozen players who could be challenging for the crown at the Guild Hall. Watch them live on ITV4 or there’s still time to buy tickets – for details click here.
The Rocket played some of the best snooker of his career during a golden two-month spell from October to December. He blitzed Kyren Wilson 9-2 in the English Open final, beat Judd Trump 10-3 to win the Shanghai Masters, then won his sixth UK Championship crown with a 10-5 defeat of Shaun Murphy. That trio of victories took his carry tally to 31 ranking event wins and 18 Triple Crown titles. It has been a relatively quiet start to 2018 for O’Sullivan – he lost to Mark Allen in the quarter-finals of the Masters and didn’t play in the German Masters or Shoot Out. But if he’s anywhere near his pre-Christmas form in Preston he’ll take some beating. Inevitably the bookmaker’s favourite whenever he is in the line-up,
First round: Faces Robert Milkins on Monday evening.
Ladbrokes odds: 11/4
Selby’s unbroken sequence as world number one now stretches over three years, a remarkable achievement in the most competitive era snooker has ever known. This season has been a patchy one for the Leicester cueman so far. He missed the first few events because of a broken toe, then hit top form at the International Championship in November and beat Mark Allen in the final, only to then suffer surprising early defeats at the UK Championship and the Masters. Behind his laid-back facade is a fierce determination to succeed, so don’t be surprised to see Selby on the trophy trail soon as he looks to build momentum towards a possible third consecutive World Championship title in the Spring.
First round: Faces Jimmy Robertson on Wednesday afternoon
Ladbrokes odds: 9/2
In October 2003, Williams won the LG Cup at the Guild Hall, beating John Higgins in the final. Having won all three Triple Crown events the previous season, he held the four biggest title in the sport as well as the world number one ranking. At that point, no one would have predicted that Williams would take another 15 years to win more than one ranking title within a single season. He has had spells where he has fallen out of love with the sport and seriously contemplated retirement. But the old Williams is back, playing his best snooker for a decade and a half. Victories at the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters took his career tally of ranking titles to 20, and the Welshman also won the Six Red world title and lies second on the one-year ranking list. If he gets through a tough opening fixture against Stuart Bingham he’ll be confident of another deep run.
First round: Faces Stuart Bingham on Wednesday afternoon
Ladbrokes odds: 9/1
The Magician took the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix crown the first time it was a ranking event, in 2016 in Llandudno. This season has been one of the most consistent of his career so far as he has reached three ranking finals as well as the semis of the recent German Masters, not to mention winning the Champion of Champions in November with a tremendous victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan. Few players strike the ball more sweetly and when Murphy gets into full flow, he fears no one. His opening clash with Ricky Walden looks set to be one of the best matches of the first round.
First round: Faces Ricky Walden on Tuesday evening
Ladbrokes odds: 16/1
Unquestionably the best moment of Allen’s career so far came three weeks ago at the Masters as he beat Kyren Wilson 10-7 in the final. The Northern Irishman previously had a poor record in the Triple Crown events – his only final coming at the 2011 UK Championship – but he proved he could produce his best on the big stage by knocking out Luca Brecel, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins to reach the final before beating Wilson to the £200,000 top prize. But that bumper cheque didn’t count towards his ranking position so the Pistol still needs to fire in the next four ranking events (he hasn’t entered the Gibraltar Open) to make sure of a place at the World Championship – he currently sits precariously in 16th place in the race to the Crucible.
First round: Faces Xiao Guodong on Tuesday afternoon
Ladbrokes odds: 22/1
The Chinese Year of the Dog starts today and it could be time for Yan to bare his teeth and fulfil his potential. Considered by most experts the best player in the world aged under 20, Yan has taken just 21 months on the pro tour to climb to 27th in the official rankings. Had he taken one more frame in November’s Northern Ireland Open final against Mark Williams, he would have beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan’s long-standing record as the youngest player ever to win a ranking event. Yan turns 18 today so that opportunity has gone, although at least now when he does capture his first title he can celebrate with a pint of ale at his local pub in Sheffield. Expect his rapid rise towards the top to continue apace.
First round: Faces Martin Gould on Monday evening
Ladbrokes odds: 28/1