It’s that time of the year again where snooker folk start to look ahead to the World Championship.
The seedings are now fixed for the Crucible and the qualifying draw has been made.
We’ll have the full Sheffield draw next month but it is possible to start making predictions based on where the top players feature.
Neil Robertson will be aiming to make history by becoming the first first-time world champion to defend the title.
Obviously this won’t be easy: it’s hard enough to win the thing once, let alone twice, let alone two years running.
Nobody has defended the world title full stop since Stephen Hendry in 1996.
All we know right now is that Robertson may play Marco Fu in the second round and then possibly Ali Carter or Graeme Dott in the quarter-finals.
But for first time winners, who they play is far from the whole picture. It cannot be overstated the amount of media work the world champion has to do leading up to the tournament and all that time talking about the title defence adds to the pressure of walking out on the Saturday morning.
Tiredness – emotional rather than physical – always seems to set in eventually. Only two first time champions – Joe Johnson and Ken Doherty – have gone on to reach the final again the following year.
Robertson has the talent, of course, to win it again but he also needs the mental strength to last the full 17 days.
The two favourites for the title, based on what we’ve seen so far this season, have to be John Higgins and Mark Williams.
Higgins has won two ranking titles this season, Williams has won one and come within a frame of winning the UK Championship. Also in their favour is that they’ve won it before.
Higgins finds himself in a quarter which includes Shaun Murphy and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who could meet in the second round.
This is a pretty tasty section and although he has been, to say the least, de-motivated this season, O’Sullivan can’t simply be written off.
One good performance at the Crucible would make the events of the previous few months a distant memory.
But does he really have the patience and desire for another 17-day marathon in Sheffield? At the moment, it appears not...but who knows how he will feel come April?
Williams, as the third seed, is scheduled to play Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals, although the Scot may first have to get past Mark Allen.
Otherwise, the likes of Murphy, Carter, Dott, Ding Junhui and Mark Selby will all be among those challenging for the title, just as they are for every title.
Selby is seeded fourth and could face Ding in the quarter-finals – although the Chinese is yet to reach that stage in four Crucible appearances.
Who will join the top 16 for the final stages?
Steve Davis has a tough draw if he is to do so for a 31st time. The six times world champion may have to beat the fast rising Jack Lisowski and then Stephen Lee in the final round of qualifying.
Another former winner, Ken Doherty, may face Maltese veteran Tony Drago, who has made excellent progress since rejoining the circuit at the start of last season.
Jimmy White would most likely have to beat Liu Chuang, Tom Ford and then Ryan Day to return to the Crucible, where he was runner-up six times.
The overall picture will of course become clearer when the qualifiers begin on March 3.
But it’s good to know the Big One is getting closer and closer...