It's never too early to start talking about the Crucible. Even if it is, I'm going to.

The 888.com World Championship gets underway in precisely two months time. I got to thinking about who might win it after someone remarked to me that it is ‘the most open World Championship’ ever.

I actually disagree with this and think it will come down to a straight fight between six players – five in their 20s and one in his 30s.

The 20-somethings are Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy. The 30-something is Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Let’s deal with the latter first. It would be foolish to write off Ronnie’s chances after what happened at the Welsh Open. He suffered similar disappointment when he lost the 2004 Wembley Masters 10-9 to Paul Hunter from 7-2 up and bounced back to land a second world title at Sheffield.

If O’Sullivan comes good in April/May he will, as ever, take some stopping. We don’t know yet who he will play in the first round (the draw is on March 11) but after that it seems quite favourable until the semi-finals.

Maguire made the early running this season, winning the Northern Ireland Trophy and reaching the UK Championship final. Has he peaked too early? I’d say after his semi-final disappointment against John Higgins at the Crucible last year that he’ll get himself up for this year’s event like never before.

He will probably have to beat Robertson in the second round, which will be no easy task despite the Aussie’s lack of form this season.

I expect Robertson to start playing well soon and remember this: none of the last three winners (Murphy, Dott and Higgins) had any sort of season heading into the World Championships they eventually won.

Selby is, of course, on a roll and his tough, never-say-die style will take some beating. For someone being labelled by some as a plodding grinder, he can actually knock in the breaks as well (three in a row against Ebdon last year and four in the Masters final). I expect Selby to go close at the Crucible.

Murphy is Mr. Consistency but, like all top players, would prefer trophies. I’d be amazed if he didn’t feature in the quarter-finals at least.

And what of Ding? Right now, for various reasons, he’s my tip to win it. Yes, his form has dipped in and out of late but if he can bring it all together – as he has before – he’s as good as anyone.

The Chinese potter made his Crucible debut last year and was unlucky to draw O’Sullivan. This season he’s seeded straight through and can stay at home – or at least at home-from-home – at his Sheffield base, away from the circus that is the World Championship.

And I know this: in terms of the interest it would create, there could be no better winner for snooker.


andy said...

Hi Dave,

I'm amazed you've left Hendry out of your top 6! I don't think he can be written off in the longer matches. Over the past couple of seasons his form has been improving steadily and I think he has one more World Championship in him, ...if not a couple more ranking events!

Hendry's temperament is perfect for the longer World Championship matches and the pressures of Sheffield.

I would have to replace Neil Robertson in your top 6 with Stephen Hendry, ...sorry Neil!

We've still to see the China Open first! Maybe Hendry will win it and prove his worth again. :o)


Anonymous said...

Hendry,unfortunately,has very little chance of another Crucible victory.
Although he has played a little better in the last two tournaments his game no longer has the consistency to last 17 days.
Robertson's safety is not good enough to win in Sheffield.His attitude/performances this season have been a disgrace and to win in Sheffield you have to put the work in.Robertson certainly hasn't done that this season.
Ding is a bit of a wild card.He has the talent to win it but his play deteriorates under intense pressure and he'd certainly encounter several long sessions of those if he were to progress.
Murphy has the consistency to be a valid contender and should be one of the top 2 or 3 favourites.
Maguire is another contender but I'm not convinced he has the stamina to last 17 days.
It's hard to bet against Ronnie and if he plays well should be around deep into the second week.
I have a feeling Selby might burn out before Sheffield.I hope I'm wrong as he'd make an excellent champion but I think he'll have to wait until 2009.
I wouldn't write off Higgins' chances.I'm sure he'll be fully prepared for his defence and I make him favourite to progress from the top quarter.
I'd imagine all the seeds would want to avoid Stevens(who will surely beat McLeod)and it wouldn't surprise me to see him still around deep into the second week.
I'd bet on a Ronnie/Murphy final but would prefer a Hendry/Davis one:)

Anonymous said...

Anyone else really desperate for a vintage championship? The last few have been interesting in their own ways, but it's been a while since we saw a clutch of the top players all produce their best in Sheffield.