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Snooker: Ding ready to rule on the Rock

The Gibraltar Open returns after a year away with most of snooker's stars looking for glory less than a month from the start of the World Championship. 

Judd Trump sets out as the man to beat in Gibraltar as he chases down a hat-trick of titles.

A 4-3 winner over Kyren Wilson in the 2020 final, he followed up last year by crushing Jack Lisowski 4-0 in the final, at the end of a competition which had been switched to Milton Keynes.

This year we are back at the Europa Point Sports Complex for three days of multi-table action with Trump 9/2 to complete a Gib treble ahead of Ronnie O'Sullivan at 5/1 and Neil Robertson at 13/2.

Erratic Trump well worth swerving

Snooker's stars head for The Crucible for the start of the worlds on April 16 which means there isn't much time left to fine-tune their arena games and that's why such a top field is gathered in Gibraltar.

Mark Williams is the biggest absentee while Mark Selby continues to take time away from the game. But The Rocket and Robertson both sat out this month's Turkish Masters and the multiple major winners are clearly going to be factors in the shake-up.

Trump goes to post having dotted up in Turkey, though he wasn't entirely convincing. He survived last-frame showdowns with Liang Wenbo and Zhou Yuelong, but definitely got stronger as the event went on.

He did, however, lament during his run in Antalya that he is producing some of his worst snooker for many years – though when he clicks he's clearly in a different class to pretty much anyone.

Trump is certainly in the kinder half of the draw – the highest-ranked player in his quarter is Barry Hawkins – with Robbo and The Rocket in the opposite section, but he's still short enough given the depth in the game, the shorter best-of-seven format and his own withering self-assessment of his form.

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Chinese ace can build on Turkish success

One of the bright spots from Turkey was a welcome return to form of Ding Junhui, the Chinese flagbearer who is in danger of being left behind by a galaxy of compatriots.

Ding, unlike some of the other bright young things from China, is a winner and has never lost that mentality, and in bursts in Turkey he was outstanding.

He came from 4-1 down to beat Robert Milkins and 3-1 down to beat fourth seed Kyren Wilson, reeling off 255 unanswered points against The Warrior.

That saw him through to his first semi-final since the 2019 UK Open Championship and has to give the 16/1 shot a real confidence boost going to Gibraltar and then on to Sheffield.

Can the big two be taken on in bottom half?

Six-time world champion O'Sullivan, who said he basically had better things to do than go to Turkey, is the big box-office draw as he chases down a 61st ranking final.

To do that he'll need to prevail in the fourth quarter where he is 13/8 to go in.

If the formbook works out, he'll have a last 32 showdown with Fan Zhengyi in a repeat of last month's European Masters final which the Chinese player won 10-9.

Joe Perry would potentially lie in wait in the last 16 though it'll be interesting to see quite how competitive Perry is so soon after his unlikely success in Newport at the Welsh Open.

If the seedings work out O'Sullivan and Robertson will clash in the semis, with the Australian 12/5 to emerge from his quarter.

It is, however, a section littered with potential pitfalls, none more so than Liang Wenbo in round one, an opponent with pedigree and a mercurial talent and after reaching the European Masters semis, maybe also a player who believes again. Liang is 12/5 to topple Robertson in their first-round duel.

Scottish Open champion Luca Brecel is the other seed in Robbo's eighth, while Zhao Xintong is also in his quarter. The Australian’s path to the semis certainly looks trappier than O'Sullivan's.

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