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Snooker: Zhao heads Players Championship seedings

The top 16 players on the one-year ranking list are set to compete for the Players Championship title in Wolverhampton and it is rising Chinese star Zhao Xintong who finds himself as the number one seed.

Zhao burst on to the scene with victory at the UK Championship in December and proved there was no fluke about that success when winning last week's German Masters, where he whitewashed good friend Yan Bingtao 9-0 in the final.

The 24-year-old is an emerging talent, but has a classy field to contend with and may struggle to repeat his heroics at 8/1, with an opening-round clash with Barry Hawkins a particularly tough starting point.

Higgins well drawn for title defence

John Higgins is the reigning champion after his 10-3 thrashing of Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final last year and the Wizard of Wishaw tackles Shoot Out hero Hossein Vafaei in the opening round.

In truth, the Scot has a decent draw to work with - Luca Brecel or Jimmy Robertson will be waiting in the quarter-final - so can't be discounted in his title defence at 11/2.

However, Higgins would have to line-up against O'Sullivan, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson or Kyren Wilsion in the last four, so looks short enough in the betting.

Trump and O’Sullivan meet in opener

That quarter of the draw looks particularly stubborn but provides some spectacle with O’Sullivan and Trump set to lock horns in the opening round.

Trump is favourite to come out on top at 4/6 with O'Sullivan a 6/5 chance and the world number two should be full of confidence, having won five of their last six meetings.

But O'Sullivan won this event in 2018 and 2019 and tends to get himself up for these showpiece events, so Trump will have to be on top form to prevail.

Robertson and Wilson could also be a difficult clash to call with the Aussie 4/7 to land the spoils.

The Warrior leads Robertson 5-3 in their head-to-head battle, though, and has won four of their last five meetings, so may have his supporters at 11/8.

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Top half looks there for the taking

World number one Mark Selby is a notable absentee from the Players Championship and with the bottom half of the draw crammed with talent, there is a big opportunity awaiting those in the top section.

With the rankings determined solely on success achieved this season, the top five ranked players partaking in the tournament have all found themselves in the bottom half of the draw.

Zhao is atop of the rankings, but the likes of Mark Allen and Mark Williams should also fancy their chances of reaching the final.

Allen was defeated by Yan in the semi-finals in Germany recently, but that was a step back in the right direction for the Antrim Ace, who faces Ricky Walden in round one.

The Pistol scored heavily at Berlin's Tempodrom and is 15/2 to take the title, while he is 10/3 to reach the final.

Williams is cueing well

However, Allen could be on course to meet fellow left-hander Williams in the quarter-finals.

The Welshman has also been playing some decent stuff recently and should fancy his chances in the first round against Gary Wilson. He is 4/9 to come through that test and 11/1 to be crowned champion.

The top half of the draw also features Yan and David Gilbert, who lock horns in the opening round - the Chinese cueman is 8/15, with Englishman Gilbert a 6/4 chance.

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