The rearranged Coral Tour Championship got under way on Saturday - Richard Mann provides his match-by-match preview here.
Shaun Murphy v Mark Allen
Tuesday June 23
These two close friends have played out some terrific matches in recent years, Allen getting the better of Murphy in the final of the 2018 Scottish Open while the latter has won the three meetings between the pair since.
Much like last season, Allen started the current campaign strongly but having failed to get his hands on the silverware his efforts deserved, his form has tailed off since Christmas and I'm not sure he is playing well enough right now to match an in-form and on-song Murphy.
The Northern Irishman suffered an early exit at the Championship League and with Murphy in the midst of a fruitful season and boasting an impressive overall head-to-head record over Allen (15-7), it is hard to envisage the Englishman not inflicting another defeat on his pal this week.
While Allen travelled to this venue to contest to Championship League recently, he again struggled to match anything like the level of snooker he produced last term, or at the beginning of this one, and he remains someone to be wary of for the time being at least.
Murphy, on the other hand, didn't contest the Championship League so is another who is hard to weigh up in terms of where his game will be at and the amount of practice he has been able to put in.
Given the Englishman is heavily odds-on for this one, and with Allen inspiring little confidence at present, no bet appears the only sensible option.
Prediction: Murphy 9-6 Allen
Previous round previews
Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire
Saturday June 20
The late defection of Ding Junhui due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic leaves this year's event without one snooker's brightest stars and the winner of this season's UK Championship.
In his place is the man Ding defeated in that final in York, Stephen Maguire, and as ever, he could prove a real handful for anyone, particularly in a scenario like this where he might feel he has a free shot at glory. Just has been the case with some of Maguire's most significant achievements, he is often most dangerous when playing as if he has nothing to lose, with freedom and without fear.
A heavy scorer who has always preferred to play on the front foot than retreat to a safety game that is certainly better than he would give himself credit for, Maguire has every right to arrive in Milton Keynes hopeful of making his presence felt following a consistent campaign to date that has also seen him reach the last eight of The Masters and semi-finals of the Players Championship.
That deciding-frame defeat at the hands of Judd Trump at the Players Championship clearly hurt, Maguire having rallied brilliantly from 3-0 down to lead 5-3 before eventually losing 6-5 after watching his opponent produce one of the best clearances under pressure you could ever wish to see.
Maguire had built up a healthy lead in that final frame and might still be ruing his decision to play in and out of baulk - having found himself wrong side of the blue - when the percentage play was surely to leave himself a mid-range red that he would have fancied potting.
When the positional shot in the blue went wrong, he left the door ajar just enough for Trump to break his heart but Maguire can to take plenty of positives from that match; not least the knowledge that he dominated the best player in the sport like few others have been able to do for quite some time now.
His efforts in Southport illustrate just what Maguire is capable of and it was just same earlier in the season in York, and again at The Masters when overturning a 5-1 deficit against his opponent this week, Neil Robertson, before eventually prevailing 6-5.
History tells us that Robertson was on the cusp of some of the best form of his career at that stage of the season; indeed, he won two of the next three tournaments he entered - making the final of the other - in the space of three weeks.
However, those exertions clearly left their mark and having gone off the boil subsequently, it is hard to get overly excited about the form he displayed when not making it past the first stage of the Championship League recently. He still managed three centuries in that event but it wasn't the Robertson we had been used to seeing earlier in the year and he will need to sharpen up quickly to contend on his return to Milton Keynes.
He could well do so but in Maguire, he faces an opponent who comfortably edges the head-to-head record (17-10) between the pair and one who should be able to draw upon that most recent victory over Robertson in London.
Like Robertson, it is hard to know exactly just how much practice Maguire has been able to put in during the lockdown but it is no secret that he has worked really hard on his game over the past 12 months and I'm happy to chance that he will be in good enough shape to do himself justice here.
Prediction: Maguire 9-6 Robertson
Recommended bet: 2pts Stephen Maguire to beat Neil Robertson at 7/2
Judd Trump v John Higgins
Sunday June 21
Arguably the clash of the draw, one that pits one of the greatest players to ever grace the green baize against a young man on a relentless and very real pursuit to surpass any player that has come before him.
Six ranking titles for the reigning world champion already this season tells a story of almost peerless snooker produced with the consistency very rarely seen before, and Trump is now strong favourite for every tournament he enters.
His latest victory in Gibraltar in March was professional and brilliant in equal measure and having spent much of the early part of his career being schooled and mastered by John Higgins and his rock-solid all-round game, Trump has now won each of the last six meetings between the pair, including five times in all competitions this term.
The freshness angle might interest some Higgins supporters this week and while it is true that some of the veteran's best recent performances have often come on the back of a light workload or some indifferent results - see last season's World Championship runner-up finish - it's hard to escape the feeling that Trump now has the wood over his old master.
While not at his best at the Championship League, Trump didn't look massively out of sorts and the steely look of determination on his face when pinching a frame back against David Gilbert to keep his faint title hopes alive tells me he remains hungry for more success.
I'd expect him to be much closer to peak form on his return to Milton Keynes and a bold bid for a title he might well think he should have claimed last year looks highly likely.
Prediction: Trump 9-7 Higgins
Mark Selby v Yan Bingtao
Monday June 22
It is strange to think that a campaign that has yielded the English and Scottish Open titles could be seen in some quarters as slightly underwhelming but should Mark Selby end the season without making a significant impact in Milton Keynes this week or at the forthcoming World Championship, the former world number one might look back on events with a tinge of disappointment.
It's not that Selby hasn't produced some top-class snooker this term - his demolition of David Gilbert in the final of the English Open was as good an exhibition of snooker as you will see - but consistency continues to hold him back. Too often has Selby produced sessions littered with unforced errors and unlike in previous years, he has been unable to farm the scrappy frames and, indeed, matches, in a way that had made him such a tough nut to crack.
In Yan Bingtao, he will face an opponent on Monday who is firmly on the upgrade having won the Riga Masters already this season, along with reaching another major final and three semi-finals. That other final came at the recent Players Championship when he was readily outpointed by an irresistible Judd Trump, but with his current level of progress rapid and the best years clearly ahead of this 20-year-old, the sky really is the limit for the Chinese star.
Multi-session matches are the next step in his development but he has the all-round game to prosper under such parameters and the 2/1 on offer for him to take another big scalp in Selby this week simply cannot be ignored.
Posted at 1015 BST on 16/06/20
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