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18/04/2008 No.4
rendspotting Editor's Choice
Dan Roebuck
Saturday April 18, 2008
  Rocket science suggests Ding's generation is cued up

The presence of Ronnie O'Sullivan at the top of the betting for the World Snooker Championship should not mask the feeling among punters that there is a changing of the guard at the Crucible. O'Sullivan, a general 7-2 shot, has, in the eyes of odds compilers, gradually fallen from "most likely winner" to "most talented player", with that view reflected in his price.

But there is a theory that now, at 32, the Rocket's best days could be behind him - and he is not the only one. Last year's winner John Higgins, 12-1 (Boylesports and Sky Bet) to retain his title, and the 2000 and 2003 champion Mark Williams, 40-1 (general) this year, have both also celebrated their 32nd birthdays. The three of them have won six of the past 10 Crucible titles but there has not been a world championship winner of that age or older since 1986. Incidentally, no player has won back-to-back world championships since Stephen Hendry 12 years ago.

And with the emergence of Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui, the time has perhaps come to side with the younger generation.

Selby, beaten 18-13 in last year's final when a pre-tournament 40-1 chance, is no better than 13-2 (William Hill) this time around. He has seen his price shorten after a superb season in which he won the Masters and the Welsh Open. However, there is a recent history of in-form players folding early in Sheffield (Graeme Dott last year and Higgins in 2006). He also looks set to meet the 2006 champion and (provisionally top-ranked) Murphy, who is rated 17-2 (Sportingbet and VC Bet) to win, in the quarter-final.

Maguire, freely available at 7-1 and with a dream draw, is the other player bang in form, with wins in the Northern Ireland Trophy and China Open this season. Totesport offers 6-4 that Maguire wins his quarter, which looks a cracking bet, given that only Neil Robertson ought to concern him.

The Australian, 20-1 (general) in the outright betting, has been in awful form for much of the year, but caught the eye with six century breaks in the Championship League first group stage this week.

It is Ding, though, who looks the value to win the title. Freely available at 12-1, he has had a quiet season but is better suited to the longer matches at the Crucible and, if he can defeat Marco Fu (40-1 with Hill's to become world champion) in the first round, should have a great chance to make the last four. He is scheduled to meet O'Sullivan, who defeated him in the first round last year and left him demoralised in the 2007 Masters final, in Sheffield at the semi-final stage.

It is with that in mind that punters are advised to back Ding each-way with Sky Bet, as their place terms are a fifth of the odds the first four (most firms go half the odds the first two). Given O'Sullivan's recent antics, though, there is every chance he won't make it that far.

Most firms will lay you 7-4 that a 147 is made at the Crucible (and 2-5 it won't be) and although a maximum break has been achieved in four of the seven main tournaments this season (if we include the non-televised stages of the Grand Prix), only two have been made in the last decade at the Crucible. Indeed, Sky Bet has reported money for fewer than 63 century breaks, forcing them to cut the price for that to 6-4 from 9-4. Sporting Index's total century breaks quote is 63-65 which looks a safe sell, given the average since the turn of the millennium is 57.4.

Sporting's spread for the highest break is 144.5-145, which also looks too high, given the average over the past decade is 143.6. Selling at the current quote would have yielded a profit in six of the past 10 years.

Stephen Maguire to win the fourth quarter at 6-4 ( Totesport);
Ding Junhui to win the world championship at 12-1 (SkyBet);
Sell total century breaks in the tournament at 63 (Sporting Index).
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