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Snooker: Higgins hopes for fourth time lucky

This season's Home Nations series reaches its conclusion with the Welsh Open at the Celtic Manor Resort this week and, as always, the competition is fierce.

There was a shock winner in Newport last year, with world number 81 Jordan Brown defeating six-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-8 in an epic final-frame decider.

The Northern Irishman became the lowest-ranked winner of a ranking event since 1983 with that dramatic final-frame triumph over the Rocket, and it is 66/1 for lightning to strike twice.

However, the roll of honour prior to Brown's brilliant success feature wins for Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Stuart Bingham and O'Sullivan, so it may be wise to expect the cream to rise to the top.

Higgins hoping for change of fortunes

The first three Home Nations events featured three different winners - but all had one thing in common.

On each occasion John Higgins had to play second fiddle as he suffered devastating 9-8 defeats to Mark Allen and Robertson in Northern Ireland and England respectively, while also losing 9-5 to Luca Brecel in his homeland of Scotland.

The Wizard of Wishaw will be hoping he can make it fourth time lucky in an event he has won five times previously, although he must bounce back from a 5-0 drubbing to Tom Ford in the last 32 of the European Masters last week.

Higgins faces a tricky opener against talented Chinese cueman Pang Junxu and is housed in the fourth quarter of the draw, alongside the likes of Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Ali Carter, Jack Lisowski and Stuart Bingham.

The 46-year-old is 9/1 to be crowned champion and is 3/1 to win the fourth quarter and seal a semi-final spot.

Selby and Trump remain vulnerable

Mark Selby and Judd Trump are two of the best snooker players on the planet, but both have struggled to live up those lofty expectations this season.

Despite being the world number one and three respectively, neither Selby nor Trump have managed to pick up a single ranking title this term.

In fact, Selby has gone beyond the third round in only one of his nine ranking event appearances this season, whereas Trump has failed to make even a semi-final from his ten starts in ranking events.

Trump sits 16th on the one-year ranking list, while Selby finds himself 17th, which goes some way to highlighting their below-par performances this term.

Both players are vulnerable on current form, but each will feel they have a point to prove, which might make them even more dangerous. Trump is 9/2 to take the title, whereas Selby is a 17/2 shot.

Zhao spearheads Chinese challenge

Fan Zhengyi highlighted himself as another of China's emerging stars when reaching Sunday's European Masters final, but it is Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao who will be spearheading the Chinese challenge in Wales.

Yan, who won the Masters in 2021, is a serious talent who looks destined for more success, but he has been in the shadow of compatriot Zhao this season.

Zhao has been the most productive player on the tour this season and is top of the one-year ranking list after wins at the UK Championship and last month's German Masters, where he whitewashed Yan 9-0 in the final.

Now at world number seven, Zhao is considered one of snooker's elite and he looks a leading contender at Celtic Manor Resort.

The 24-year-old has landed in the weakest quarter of the draw, where his biggest challenge will come from Anthony McGill, Ryan Day and Shaun Murphy.

He should, therefore, fancy his chances and he is 3/1 to win that quarter and 12/1 for a third ranking title of the season.

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