The Ricoh Arena opens its doors for the fourth night of the Champion of Champions with the winner of Group 1 to be decided. Four players have been split in two matches with the victor from each facing one and other for a chance to progress to Saturday’s semi-finals. Below is a preview of the first of those clashes.
No one who carries a cue for a living is in better form than Chinese hero Ding Junhui. The 26-year-old became the first man since Stephen Hendry in 1993 to win three consecutive ranking titles when securing the International Open at the beginning of November and will arrive at the Ricoh Arena as one of the men to beat.
None of this will bother opponent Barry Hawkins, however, who would be forgiven for overlooking those results and instead focusing on his own personal history with the Asian star.
The world number nine – who qualified by wining last year’s Australian Goldfields Open – is in a minority of players with a positive head-to-head record against the favourite, winning six of their eleven encounters with two significant victories posted from their last three.
A convincing 13-7 success in the quarter-finals of the World Championship this year – arguably Hawkins’ biggest achievement at the time – was franked with a similarly confident win over the 2011 Masters champion in his own backyard at the China Open in March.
The left-hander went all the way to the final at the Crucible, running into the fate-driven juggernaut that was Ronnie O’Sullivan, but despite falling short his passage past the likes of Mark Selby and Ding offers plenty of encouragement for his chances of success this week.
Hawkins showed the type of temperament his critics had accused him of lacking and with time very much on his side he will be rightfully looking ahead to better things.
Despite those positive reflections, however, Ding remains the selection to progress to a highly desirable showdown with Ronnie O’Sullivan to decide who will make up the remainder of Saturday’s semi-finals.
Hawkins’ last three tournaments have seen the Ditton cuesmith win only four matches with early exits in both the International Championship and Indian Open. Whilst Hawkins was struggling with his game Ding was making history and the contrast in their immediate form makes it impossible not to support the favourite.
Ding has developed a useful habit of holding his nerve in the tightest situations – a department he was previously seen as vulnerable in – with few players adjusting better to the shorter formats of the modern events. The double UK World Champion has won 10 of his 12 deciding frames this season and in this early best-of-seven setting, holding the mindset to produce a high standard under maximum pressure is crucial.
Although the 2/5 on Ding to win the match outright is a fair quote the odds of him making it 11 from 13 in the final frame appeals most at 9/2. There is always a chance that a player who boasts more than 300 century breaks and five maximums on his resume will run away with it but that seems unlikely considering how competitive their rivalry has been up to now.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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