It’s here at last!
Yep 17 days of utopia. The world snooker championships at the Crucible, where so many dreams have come true and even more have been destroyed in the the Steel City.
Last year John Higgins played some of the best snooker of his career to lift the world title for the third time in his career – and I am still cursing the fact that I didn’t put my money where my mouth was when I named Higgins as my tip to win the title. Never mind I suppose on reflection I didn’t lose anything, which I suppose could be construed as a result for me.
Yet there is plenty at stake for the 32 professionals who find themselves in the first round draw. And didn’t the draw do it’s worst in the bottom half. More of that later on though.
Let’s start with the defending champion John Higgins. He has on the face of it been given a reasonable draw in the first round against Barry Hawkins. But as any defending champion will tell you – walking into that arena to open the championships is a nerve wracking prospect at the best of times. The pressure is all on you and the champion has everything to lose- not least the world title. Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor know all about that- it happened to them. Davis – in 1982 when he was thumped by Tony Knowles and Taylor in 1986 when he was dumped out by Mike Hallett.
Could it happen to Higgins – I would be stunned. I’m not ruling Hawkins out of the match but Higgins’s all round game might be too good for Hawkins.
Should Higgins survive the first round ordeal then he could come face to face with Steve Davis in the second round. That of course is providing Davis can see off his fellow Romfordian Mark King. Qualifying for the Crucible after dismissing Adrian Gunnell in pre- televised stages Davis will surely be the sentimental favourite of the fans. His match against King is wide open. And it is one I would not like to predict the winner of – probably because I would get it wrong. King’s explosive potting will be given a thorough examination by Davis’s tactical nous. Davis though may have an eye on the special one frame shoot out match against Dennis Taylor, but make no mistake he’ll have his mind on the job against King.
Right to that bottom half- and lurking there is the former world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in a minefield. The random draw did the Rocket no favours at all as he was handed a tie against Liang Wenbo. The Chinese star is fast closing the gap on his compatriot Ding Junhui and basically Ronnie is up against a top ten player in everything but name. O’Sullivan cannot afford to take his foot off the pedal against Liang. Wenbo’s potting is more than a match for Ronnie – but I just wonder about his safety game. Ronnie’s is deceptively strong and might well extract mistakes from Liang. When they come he has got to take advantage – or he could pay dearly for it.
Survive that challenge and it is probably another former world champion waiting in round two. Mark Williams confirmed his return to form with victory in the China Open and meets in his first round match Marcus Campbell from Scotland. Williams I think will be too strong for Campbell and I expect him to prevail to a showdown with O’Sullivan.
That bottom quarter is loaded – and it is a shame that only one of three possible winners will come through that portion. The third of this triumverate is Mark Selby. Selby who was a beaten finalist in 2007 by John Higgins must be cursing his luck as the draw hasn’t done him any favours this year either. Not only will he have to deal with Ken Doherty in round one – but ready and waiting in round two is likely to be Stephen Hendry. That is of course assuming Hendry comes through an intriguing opening round against Anda Zhang. And(oops – that wasn’t planned) of course it was Zhang who put paid to the hopes of John Parrott in qualifying – and in doing so prevented a few headaches with the BBC who would have had to do some juggling with the punditry schedules for Mssrs Davis, Doherty and Parrott if Parrott had qualified. There is no doubt that Zhang has the talent – but does he have the nerve to withstand the pressure that walking down the steps to Crucible arena generates within itself.
One other man to keep an eye on is Shaun Murphy – the former world champion has an early taster against Gerard Greene. If Murphy does progress he could come face to face with Ding Junhui, the reigning UK Champion. Shaun, does relish the longer format of the Crucible was a beaten finalist last year – after running out of steam following a gruelling encounter against Neil Robertson, where he just about scrambled over the line. Coupled with a 13-11 victory over Hendry in the quarter finals and the Englishman was completely shattered when he faced Higgins, and had nothing left in the tank. Important point to stress here that while it is good to have a long match under your belt- having two or three on the bounce is not ideal. I expect both Ding and Shaun to win – and set up an enticing second round match.
Yep I haven’t named who I think will win it – OK I’ll be brave here – I think the winner will be Neil Robertson. Robertson who won the Grand Prix in Glasgow this season has the all round game to go the distance and claim the title. He begins his campign against the durable Dubliner Fergal O’Brien. And should progress comfortably. And if he and Higgins keep their sides of the bargain they will meet in a quarter final.
Yes I can hear you asking – where is the first round shock coming from. Well I would say keep an eye on Jamie Cope and Ali Carter. Ali hasn’t enjoyed the best of form this season – and Cope’s potting so nearly accounted for Higgins last year. The Stoke potter has it in him to beat Carter and progress to the quarter finals.
Of course I could be wrong with my predictions – but that is the pleasure in writing a preview – seeing how accurate you were when you read it after the championships. You could be saying right now – why didn’t she tip so and so. Well I have put my neck on the line and said who I think will win it. Let’s see what happens over those seventeen days.
Enjoy it everyone – it will be a rollercoaster ride; so fasten your seatbelts and get ready for the action.