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The parties are over and it’s back to business for the new World champion, Luca Brecel as he makes his season reappearance at the European Masters. It will be fascinating to see how the ‘Belgian bullet’ gets on this season. Unless it’s been found, he will start the campaign without his cue after losing it on a flight back from Seattle in the close season.
Will Luca embrace the world champion status with gusto and win a few titles or go back to his old, unpredictable self? Any road, his swashbuckling style of play and pure talent is a joy to behold and his opening encounter with live wire Jackson Page ought to be like a Shoot-out at the O.K Corral!
Kyren Wilson returns as defending champion and he’ll be happy it remains in Germany given three of his five ranking titles have been here. It’s back to the state of Bavaria but this time instead of Furth, it’s a 20 minute drive to Nuremberg at the Kia Metropol Arena, which is home to the Nuremberg Falcons Basketball Team.
At the top of the outright market, Judd Trump was tempting here following his win in Huangguoshu at a Chinese invitational event at the start of August but at a slightly bigger price, my eyes are drawn to a return to winning ways in Neil Robertson (8/1).
For his high standards, Robertson had an average 2022/23 season. Most players on tour would be happy with three ranking semi-finals (all defeats) but Robertson would not be satisfied unless he’s holding the trophy aloft.
He had a few issues with illnesses last season, missing two events plus he withdrew from the opening three events. It’s unlike him but he’s prioritising family life with his wife and two children. He said he’s playing for fun now and doesn’t need to enter everything. Don’t let the ‘fun’ part put you off – if he’s entered, bet your bottom dollar he’s in it to win.
Robertson won this tournament in Austria 2020 and with this event being his first appearance of the season, that gives his chances another boost as he has a terrific record when he’s fresh.
In seasons 2013/14, 2014/15, 2016/17 and 2018/19 he won the first event of the season. He won the third in 2017/18, the fourth in 2021/22 and made the final of the second event in 2020/21. Even last season, his first event of the season was the Mixed Doubles with Mink Nutcharat and he won that too.
Robertson’s scoring is his potent weapon and he hit the joint most centuries of last season with 50, scoring one century every 3.66 frames he won. Trust me, that is mightily impressive and he was meant to be struggling.
A potential curve ball for Neil is over the summer months he’s had his cue refurbed with renowned cue mechanic, John Parris. A tinker here and there is not going to be too detrimental to his chances. He has a couple of young chinese to dispose of in the first few rounds here in Wu Yize and Liu Hongyu. Come through them and gain some confidence, he’s bound to be a tough nut to crack in Nuremberg.
My last two outrights are both in Quarter 2 and both Leicester residents, starting with Tom Ford (60/1).
The World no22 is a mercurial talent yet is still without a ranking event title in 20 years as a professional. He went close last season at the Tempodrom for the German Masters losing in the final to Ali Carter. On the way, he defeated Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski, the latter being homed in Ford’s quarter here.
His other ranking final came down the road from here in Furth at the 2016 Paul Hunter Classic so he clearly has a liking for Germany.
Ford raked in £140k in prize money last season, and made semi-finals at the Six Reds World Championship and the U.K. Championship. He has certainly added steel to his game as well as consistency, and he’s hardly been closer to the top 16 in his career.
Ford turned 40 this past week and should take plenty of inspiration from Rob Milkins who in the last year has won two ranking titles, and is over seven years older than Tom. Milkins and Ford are very like-for-like in their style of play and have never changed their mentality which I admire greatly.
Belief and momentum is a massive thing for Ford. Last season each time he came through his qualifying match, he made at least the last 16 and can do similar damage here at 60/1.
Last and certainly not least, one of the calmest players on tour, and a firm favourite of mine, Joe O’Connor (60/1).
Last December, whilst on Eurosport duty, Ronnie O’Sullivan gave O’Connor the ultimate compliment saying he thinks he’ll be world champion one day. I’ve longed had a similar opinion and have no doubt he’ll break his ranking title duck sooner rather than later.
I’m a firm believer that in two seasons O’Connor will be at the elite table of world snooker, the top 16. He just oozes class. He looks the part and plays like it too. O’Connor’s temperament is second to none. And going by his showing in last seasons Scottish Open and Players Championship, he’s afraid of no one.
O’Connor gate crashed into his first ranking final in Edinburgh before Christmas and couldn’t have asked for a tougher route; Zhao Xintong, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams, Ricky Walden and Neil Robertson. Unfortunately he was beaten at the last hurdle against Gary Wilson 9-2 where maybe Wilson’s past ranking final experience was crucial.
In February, O’Connor lost 5-4 to Pang Junxu in the Welsh Open quarters and the event later made the semis of the Players Championship where he beat then player of the season Mark Allen and soon to be world champion Luca Brecel until he was upended by Ali Carter 6-4 (from 4-2 up).
These runs, progression and victories scream ‘winner waiting to happen’. It was disappointing O’Connor ended a quality season with defeat in qualifying for the World Championship, where he’s still yet to make his Crucible bow.
The former pool whizz kid has huge self confidence without trying to look arrogant and brash. He couldn’t be the latter if he tried. He does his talking on the table and shouldn’t go unbacked this week.