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Neil Robertson begins defence of UK Championship Snooker crown

Can you hear the thunder? York’s Barbican Centre is set for a storm with defending UK snooker champion Neil Robertson entering the fray. He is 7/1 joint second-favourite with Coral, who are sponsoring this second-most prestigious ranking event in the sport, to retain the trophy.

Robertson, who is currently ranked number two in the world, is a massive odds-on 1/50 favourite to beat qualifier Joe O’Connor (a rank 25/1 outsider to cause an upset). The Aussie was a recent semi-finalist at Coventry’s Champion of Champions, and getting to a similar stage here is the bare minimum requirement.

World number seven and 2008 UK champion Shaun Murphy (14/1 to win it this year), meanwhile, takes on Thailand’s James Wattana, a tour veteran, for a place in the second round. Rotherham’s potting ‘Magician’ has beaten his Far East opponent in three of their four head-to-heads.

That means Murphy is a strong odds-on 1/12 favourite to win against Wattana (7/1), but this price rather runs contrary to the 2005 Crucible king’s current form. We’ve seen little magic from magician Murphy on the green baize lately, following early round exits at the Champion of Champions, International Championship and Shanghai Masters events.

Wattana will still find it tough to take ‘the Magician’ out, however, though has pushed him close in recent meetings. His match win Murphy going to a deciding frame is a distinct possibility, then, and odds of 13/2 say it will go the distance.

So, we’ve had ‘the Thunder from Down Under’ and some Murphy magic. That leaves a man who’s ‘on fire’ in Stephen Maguire, or rather spitting and spluttering. Poor form from the Scot at tournaments this term (he’s reached one quarter-final of a ranking event so far) has resulted in his world ranking slipping to 14th.

Maguire takes on Chinese cueman Wu Ling, who is 100 places below him, so that should be a manageable task. Odds are certainly in the reigning Six-red World Champion’s favour at 1/12, with Lu a 7/1 match outsider.