The 17 day marathon that is the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship commences this Saturday at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Following a period where the game had gone stale, snooker has enjoyed something of resurgence in recent times under the stewardship of Barry Hearn. This year’s tournament promises to deliver plenty of drama and excitement.
The game lacks a dominant player these days and this wide open tournament is evident by a look at the betting market. An intriguing draw, which saw the 16 seeds and the 16 qualifiers picked randomly to face each other, has left us with some mouth watering matches.
By far the most fascinating round one clash will be that of Ronnie O’Sullivan and the unseeded player they all wanted to avoid – Peter Ebdon. These two have previous at Sheffield, with Ebdon twice beating ‘The Rocket’ and infuriating him in the process with his slow play and gamesmanship, although three time world champion O’Sullivan did take care of Ebdon in an epic quarter final in 2001. Ebdon won the China Open earlier this month and won his qualifier 10-0 so comes into this event with a spring in his step.
Last year’s runner up Judd Trump is the 5-1 favourite. The Bristol potting sensation is the new poster boy for the game of snooker and would appear to have a relatively direct route to the quarter final. He faces Dominic Dale in round one and then either Ali Carter or Mark Davis before things will get a little trickier against potentially Sean Murphy or in form Stephen Lee in the last eight.
O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson are next in the betting at 7-1 and are scheduled to clash in the quarter final. Robertson’s route is on paper a little more straightforward with O’Sullivan facing Mark Williams if he gets past Ebdon.
Ken Doherty qualified for the tournament having overcoming Anthony Hamilton in a thrilling and tense 10-9 victory last Saturday. The hugely popular Dubliner described his final frame clearance of 62, having been behind 52-12, as “one of the best of my life.” He faces a stern test however in current world number three Robertson.
The defending champion John Higgins is 8-1 to win a fifth world crown but finds himself in a difficult section and indeed faces a dangerous opponent in round one in Liang Wenbo. Should he overcome this he’ll face the winner of the Stephen Hendry-Stuart Bingham match in round two, which won’t be easy.
Also in this quarter, 17 year old Belgian sensation Luca Brecel creates history as the youngest ever Crucible qualifier and plays Stephen Maguire. Brecel is being touted as the next superstar of the game and will have a massive following not just in Belgium but throughout the Benelux region. Maguire is a talented, temperamental player who blows hot and cold, but expect to see the 31 year old Glaswegian in the semi finals. He’s a 14-1 chance to win outright.
Mark Selby appears to be a big price at first glance at odds of 9-1 but the ‘Jester from Leicester’ has been nursing a neck injury which has badly affected his pre tournament practise. Indeed his participation was only confirmed earlier this week.
Ding Junhui and Antrim’s Mark Allen are both future World Champions and both are hugely appealing at double figure odds. They’re scheduled to clash in round two, after Ding defeats Ryan Day and Allen takes care of crucible debutant Cao Yupeng, with the winner of this titanic tussle likely to progress to at least the semi final. Also contained in this quarter of the draw are Selby and Matthew Stevens so it’s a fiercely competitive section.
My two big fancies for this tournament before the draw was made on Monday last were Mark Allen and Ding Junhui and that remains the case. One of them will be gone in round two and the other will go the distance. If you were to put a gun to my head and ask for the 2012 World Champion, my answer would be a simple one;
1st Round Draw
Higgins v Wenbo
Bingham v Hendry
Dott v Perry
Maguire v Brecel
Murphy v Jones
Lee v Higginson
Carter v M Davis
Trump v Dale
Williams v Chuang
O’Sullivan v Ebdon
Gould v Gilbert
Robertson v Doherty
Junhui v Day
Allen v Yupeng
Stevens v Fu
Selby v Hawkins