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...


Johhnbigbananas said...

I find it surprising that no-one who talks about Snooker seems to be commenting on yet ANOTHER 110 Sport incarnation being placed in administration ?

Thin ice, anyone ? …

Dave H said...

They're not in administration.

Anonymous said...

It would be an excellent story for some investigative journalists, however that would require time and expense, someone would need to give both.

The list of players who have left them at sometime continues to grow, why, has to be the immediate question.

Anonymous said...

The Nugget will make it through. I predict a few 10-9'ers.

Johhnbigbananas said...

Oh, yes, my bad. In LIQUIDATION. Anon above and most of the Snooker fraternity know EXACTLY what I'm on about.

Yet NO Snooker journo seems ready to touch it with a bargepole.

Why is that ? ...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, they're really struggling: http://www.110sport.tv/news/935

ColinM said...

What are the odds of both the Nugget and the 'Wind making it through to the Crucible? I hope it happens!

jamie brannon said...

I still can't believe you can get Maguire at 25-1, and even Murphy at 20-1. Yet, Mark Allen is 14-1 and has not won an event of huge significance.

The Ulsterman is a big talent, but the pedigree and the fact that Maguire and Murphy are higher ranked makes the prices a little bemusing.

I am desperately hoping that O'Sullivan will remember his A-game and show the field the way home, but he is housed in a testing quarter and at the moment has to be swerved at skinny prices.

At this early stage the money would be on Ding, who is in the easier half of the draw. I know people bang on about poor Crucible record, but he had some tough matches and mentally is a differen t animal.

Robbie said...

In contrast to previous years, virtually every session of the tournament (up to the semi finals)still has tickets available!

Is this a consequence of the change in selling arrangements or that some people don't realise the seedings are now finalised?

Also, was it possible to buy 'season tickets' this year?

Greg P said...

Jamie, there have been World Champs who hadn't won any event beforehand. Allen clearly doesn't fear any player, but perhaps the nerves get to him, seeing how many semi-finals he's lost. Clearly the bookies think he could make the breakthrough at any time, including at the Crucible.

Murphy strikes me as someone who lacks the hunger for another world title. However Maguire looks as though he's on his way back and I agree he shouldn't be counted out, he still has time to avoid becoming just another Former "future world champ".

jamie brannon said...

True, but it is rare.

For me he is in the outsider bracket with Dott and Fu.

I think Murphy has the desire, but his form particularly against lower-ranked players gives cause for concern.