Saturday sees the start of the World Snooker Championships from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, a 17-day marathon of snooker which enjoys global television coverage to an audience of hundreds of millions.
Last year, John Higgins carried away the crown in beating this year’s favourite Judd Trump in a thrilling final. It’s fair to say that since that encounter they have had very different seasons.
Judd became UK Champion in December whilst Higgins has had as poor a season as most can remember and very rarely for him, is currently without a title to his name. Judd can be backed at 6.00 to go one better this year, while the defending champion Higgins is available at 10.00.
Higgins and Trump are due to meet in the semi-finals this time around as they both feature in the top half of the draw.
John has a tough opener against Liang Wenbo (125.00) and with the likes of the in-form Stephen Maguire (15.00), Crucible specialist and former champion Graeme Dott (35.00), Australian Open Champion Stuart Bingham (80.00) and the King of the Crucible Stephen Hendry (70.00) in his section of the draw, he will have to have rediscovered his form if he is to progress to the one-table set up again.
Trump, it might be argued has a slightly easier passage. With a winnable opener against Dominic Dale (200.00) and either the out-of-form Ali Carter (70.00) or Mark Davis (200.00) next up, he will fancy his chances of making it to the final eight.
Waiting for him there I would say will be 2005 Champion Shaun Murphy (15.00) or the bang-in-form Stephen Lee (30.00). So it might not be as straightforward for Judd as many believe.
Down in the bottom half is where I believe the winner of the tournament will be found, as we have the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan (9.00), Mark Williams (20.00), Neil Robertson (10.00), Ding Junhui (13.00) and Mark Selby (9.00) as well as Mark Allen (13.00) from Northern Ireland who recently won his first ranking event over in China after knocking on the door for so long and Peter Ebdon (50.00), who won the China Open just over a fortnight ago.
Ronnie and Ebdon is the big talking match and a greater contrast of styles you could not wish to see. Many point to their most recent meeting at the Crucible in 2005 when Ebdon used his own slowing tactics to grind down O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan is a more mature player on the table now and he still has enough to triumph in this slightly shorter match, to progress to a game against Mark Williams, who he has an incredible record against.
I feel that Neil Robertson’s path to a possible match up with O’Sullivan in the Quarter Finals is one he will safely negotiate. The 2010 Champion has been the best player on the main tour this season and for me is the player that will take all the beating in this year’s championship.
Further down the draw, I expect a second round match between Mark Allen and Ding Junhui to produce the next semi-finalist, the winner would most likely face the World Number 1 Mark Selby in the Quarter Finals and I can see Selby falling at this stage.
As a winner I would plump for Robertson, with saving bets on Ding, Allen and from the top half Stephen Lee.
You can also bet on who will make the highest break in the championship and there are some big prices about some proven big hitters.
John Higgins is available at 11.00 and is second only to Stephen Hendry (30.00) in terms of Crucible centuries with a total of 109 as opposed to Hendry’s record of 124. He is also one of only three players to have made three successive centuries at the venue, the others being O’Sullivan (the favourite at 8.00) and Mark Selby.
Selby at 12.00, might not be a bad bet in this market, he made a record-breaking 6 centuries in one match last year here and has had 5 in a single match twice in his fairly short Crucible career. He is also a fearsome starter to tournaments and plays until the last ball, unlike some of the other players that may go for ‘show shots’ when the frame is won.
I’d say if you fancy a 147 break to take this market you could only narrow it down to three players, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui (11.00) or Stephen Hendry. Although Mark Allen at 17.00, has come close on a couple of occasions this season, so may also be a contender.
But for this I will stick with the solid men who will play every ball with equal concentration and plump for Selby and Higgins. You can also never discount Hendry, who at a big price is always worth a punt.
Best Bets: Back Robertson to win the World Championship at 10.00, back Selby at 12.00 and Higgins at 11.00 to record the highest break