Let’s make one thing clear about the Crucible ‘curse’ afflicting first time champions: there is no curse.
Are we to believe some wizened old crone, blessed in the dark arts, decided back in 1977 to cast a spell on snooker players looking to defend the world title for the first time?
Frankly, winning any tournament two years running is difficult. John Higgins successfully defended the Welsh Open title this season. Prior to that it had been six years since anyone had done similar.
Only Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry have ever defended the world title at the Crucible.
Winning the thing once is hard enough, let alone winning it twice, let alone winning it two years running.
But it is true that first time champions go into their title defence under pressure. Becoming world champion means a huge hike in profile and thus demands on a player’s time.
Personal appearances, exhibitions, media work...they all take their toll and it’s hard to say no when ready cash is being thrown your way.
So it was that Davis was signing copies of his book in a Sheffield newsagent’s just a few hours before playing Tony Knowles in the first session of their opening round match in 1982.
Davis was shattered from an intensive – though highly lucrative – year of promotional work, lost the session 8-1 and the match 10-1. Take nothing away from Knowles but Davis had nothing left.
It’s a familiar tale: Dennis Taylor fell at the first hurdle in 1985, as did Graeme Dott in 2007.
Even Hendry couldn’t buck the trend, losing out 13-11 to Steve James in the 1991 quarter-finals.
Joe Johnson came the closest of any first time champion to completing a successful defence. After a dodgy start, he reached the final in 1987 and lost out only 18-14 to Davis.
Ken Doherty lost 18-12 to John Higgins in 1998, the only other first time winner to appear in the final the following year.
Neil Robertson faces Judd Trump on day one this year. This is surely the best opening match there has ever been at the Crucible.
Davis once summed up the pressure on the defending champion in typically sagely fashion: “The first shock hasn’t happened yet and it could be you.”
In a strange way, the fact Robertson is playing Trump, who has just won the China Open, may ease the pressure on him.
If he were to lose it would not be a huge shock, unlike, for instance, if he were playing some journeyman well down the rankings.
If he loses he could always blame it on the ‘curse.’
Well, if it really is a curse then it’s a good curse to have. It means you’ve done what most players could only dream of: you’ve won the World Championship.