The snooker world is buzzing since yesterday the draw for the first round of this year’s World Championship was revealed. Some of us are probably disappointed with the first matches, while the others are dancing of joy that their favorite players are facing "not so dangerous" opponents.
To be honest with you I don’t know what this "not so dangerous" expression means. Each and every player that qualified for the most important tournament in the snooker history deserves that place. They are tough contestants, eager to compete, fearless of what might happen and I really like when a players is asked if he thinks his match will be an easy one and he replays something like: "With such a high standard and with so many great players you don’t have an easy match". That’s true! ;-)
So, let’s see what Fortuna picked as the first 16 matches of this year’s mighty World Championship.
Neil Robertson v. Judd Trump - the current world champion against a youngster that’s thrilled to play him at the Crucible, a talented and ambitious player and the winner of this year’s EPTC1 event. The impact of playing Neil Robertson must be a huge one, even for the most experienced players, but I think that if Trump moves past this physiological barrier, he will provide us with great snooker.
On the other hand, Robertson hasn’t quite glowed lately. It’s true that he won the World Open back in September, but he was defeated in the quarter-finals of the UK Championship (9-7 by Shaun Murphy), lost 4-5 to Anthony Hamilton in the German Masters, missed the Masters after losing 4-6 to Mark Allen and was hammered in the Last 16 round 4-1 by Graeme Dott, at the Welsh Open. However, he didn’t become world champion by coincidence and we know that he is quite a knight in shiny armor when he wants to, so this year he will definitely try to defend his title and that’s something to keep in mind ;-)
Marco Fu v. Martin Gould - two great players, no doubt about that. Marco Fu reached this year’s Masters, while Gould is runner-up of the PTC 6 event and runner-up for the PTC Grand Finals. Both players have a name in snooker, and although Marco Fu`s form wasn’t the best lately, I’m sure he’ll be trying something new. Here comes the China Open and surely he will feel more confident playing in his country, having some "practice" with top names from the snooker business and so preparing for the big event.
Martin Gould had such a bad luck during last year’s World Championship, when he lost 12-13 to Neil Robertson, after he was leading 11-5! But he learned his lesson and prepared mentally for another round of top class snooker. The PTC Grand Finals showed us a more confident Martin Gould, a player that could very well beat any player.
Graeme Dott v. Mark King - these two are old friends of the World Championship. :-) Graeme Dott is actually the runner-up of last year World Championship, while King was beat in the first round by the mighty Steve Davis (who sadly didn’t qualify for this year’s event). The Scot Dott`s form wasn’t the best in the recent competitions and he admits it each time he has the opportunity, still we can’t overlook the fact that he is the 2006 world champion and that a tournament as big as this one will definitely make him wake up and start performing top class snooker, for he can...he sure can!
Mark King can be very well known as "The King of century breaks" for the guy hit some series during the Championship League matches but also in ranking events. His form seems to be back, he feels more confident with himself and with his way of playing, after battling with a betting addiction for some time now. He was absolutely delighted to qualify for the event and I’m sure that if he keeps his temper low when things go wrong, he can be such a powerful rival. Don’t forget that he beat Mark Selby in the first round of this year’s Masters!
Ali Carter v. Dave Harold - The Captain and The mighty strategist, what a catch :-)) Ali Carter although struggling to get in form after winning the 2010Shanghai Masters, enters this tournament as a favorite and even if his way of playing snooker needs to improve for the Crucible is no game, he has the strength to put himself together and stun the audience. That’s how good he can be!
Dave Harold is a miracle! His out of this world way of potting the balls, his calm way of playing, his strategy of winning - are things that you don’t see every day. He had a very good season, if you ask me, he played beautifully during the Shanghai Masters, during the PTC/EPTC events series and even in the Welsh Open. He actually won all three matches to qualify for this last event and he beat both Jamie Jones and Gerard Greene to live his Crucible dream this year.
Ding Junhui v. Jamie Burnett - this is the most perfect match: Ding who doesn’t show any emotions while playing and Burnett - the man with nerves of steel! :-)) What can I say? I think this will be a close one! Ding is a very dangerous opponent, more when he gets his way among the balls, then he becomes unstoppable! He pots like crazy, hitting one wonderful break after another and you are doomed in your chair watching him play. There’s times when you think: "Should I get a cup of tea, while he finishes? I don’t want to bother him!" :-)) That’s how good he can be! However, he did lose some of that "winning temper" after he conquered the 2011 Masters title, so he needs to get it back. Sooner or later, Ding’s name will appear on a World Championship trophy...you can bet on it! ;-)
Jamie Burnett fought like a lion to win last year edition of Shanghai Masters and he was the one who ended James Wattana`s beautiful run during the qualifiers for the World Championship, as well as winning over Liang Wenbo. He was such a characteristic way of playing and he holds his emotions for himself so good, that you would rather say he is relaxed, when in reality he’s nothing like that. He needs to be considered as a dangerous opponent, as he was the skills, the ambition, the temper and the talent to beat many, many players on the circuit.
Peter Ebdon v. Stuart Bingham - I think Peter is delighted with the fact that he is back in Top 16 and he only has to thank himself for that (well, probably to Barry Hearn also, since him is responsible for the new way of getting a place in the ranking system). He proved to be quite in a good form lately, he seems to enjoys playing snooker more than ever, he is happily married (he did come forward with that ;-) ) and he has no reasons to be doubted as being a tough player.
Stuart Bingham stunned us all when he defeated Ronnie O`Sullivan 9-6 during the 2010UK Championship. And please note that he was his practicing partner once upon a time. Since then, he seems to be regarded as a very valuable player and that’s only fair for he is one. He will try his best to win over Ebdon and this is going to be a very interesting match to watch for, in my opinion, each player has equal chances to win it. ;-)
Stephen Hendry v. Joe Perry - as much as we all want Stephen Hendry to play like in the old times, the Scot can’t do it anymore. He was totally disappointed with his run during last year UK Championship and that’s the first time I heard him saying he suffers of "yips" for some time now and that’s one of the reasons he’s playing style has deteriorated. However, he did hit that amazing 147 break, during his match with his fellow-country Stephen Maguire at the 2011Welsh Open, proving that he still has it. I wouldn’t write him off, still!
Joe Perry was an important figure during last year’s World Championship and I’m sure he’s going to impress us all this yeas as well. He played absolutely great at the German Masters and we all know that he’s capable of greater things each time he puts his mind to work and his cue in action :-)) He will definitely start as a favorite in this match.
Mark Selby v. Jimmy Robertson - a very experienced player taking on a future star! This will be a snooker treat. Jimmy Robertson will be for the first time at the Crucible (if I’m not wrong) and after what he did during the qualifiers, I’m keeping both of my eyes on him! :-)) He defeated Xiao Guodong, Tony Drago and the 1997 world champion Ken Doherty to earn a spot in this magnificent tournament. This will be a huge opportunity for him to be play side by side with the heavy names in the snooker business and I think he will make us proud.
Mark Selby doesn’t need too much praising. He is one of a kind and many of us expect him to lift that shiny trophy as sooner as possible. He has no more than seven appearances in this competition, being a semi-finalist twice and a runner-up once, he did some tremendous job in Thailand, last year, winning the "6reds" tournament, he was the second to cash a PTC event title, he is the runner-up of the 2011 German Masters and he kicks those snooker balls superbly. He’s going to try to be crowned this year!
Mark Williams v. Ryan Day - an all Welsh encounter! What a beauty! This is a tough call, even if I’m sure that the odds favor "The Welsh Potting Machine". The truth is that Williams has been playing wonderfully in these last past months. He made a beautiful start with the Premier League matches, he ended up being the runner-up of last year UK Championship (what a final he played with John Higgins!), he won the German Masters (beating his namesake, Mark Selby) and he did pretty well during the Welsh Open too. It’s funny to see him running around the snooker table, potting like this nickname suggests he must do, being focused on winning as many matches as possible and not giving himself too much hard time when he loses. He was the one that almost burst into tears back in Germany, he is a two-time world champion and he’s going to make it hard for Ryan to win.
The other Welsh half, Ryan Day had a very difficult period (snooker related). He made is think "Uuuf, he doesn’t win too much these days, does he?", but he is back! He fought like a true dragoon during the Welsh Open and he kept on improving that lovely from after that too. Ryan is going to give it 100% and even if he plays against a country-man he will have his eyes on the big prize. :-P
Jamie Cope v. Andrew Pagett - Pagett has been in and out of the professional circuit in the last years, but he looks very determined to stay in for the next season, his qualifying matches for the World Championship proving this (he beat Nigel Bond and Andrew Higginson). According to his posts on his personal FaceBook account he would have been happier to play Williams of Hendry, so he wants a true challenge ;-)
Still, I wouldn’t say that playing Jamie Cope is not going to be challenging, as the youngster has become more and more powerful in the last period of time. He’s runner-up for the Hainan Classic, an exhibition event that was staged in China a few days ago, and during this competition he played beautifully. Not to mention that back in 2007 he reached the final of China Open! He deserved to be considered as a potential threat :-))
Mark Allen v. Matthew Stevens - so the Northern-Ireland’s boy will face "The Welsh Dragon". This should be interesting to see! ;-)
Mark Allen has been in quite good form from the 2010UK Championship, when he reached the semi-finals, then once again at the Masters and he almost qualified for the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open (he was defeated 3-4 by Ding Junhui). A very ambitious player, a true talent for snooker and one of the reasons Nord-Ireland is cheering snooker :-)) To face Matthew Stevens, a very strong opponent who recently stated that he want to get into the Top 8, will not be an easy task, more since Stevens has been playing like a king lately. The Welshman produced such a thrill during the 2011 Welsh Open, when he reached the quarter-finals (he was going to lose 5-3 to the one that became champion: John Higgins) and let’s not forget his performance during the PTC Grand Finals from Dublin, when he reached the semi-finals.
It’s going to be a close match, I think, as both players wish a place in the second round and they have such an attacking style of playing snooker.
Stephen Maguire v. Barry Hawkins - Maguire seems to be risen up from the dead! :-)) He made us scream "wow" when he reached the final of the Welsh Open and if he wouldn’t have had to withdraw from the PTC Grand Finals (due to the fact that his wife was giving birth), I’m sure he would have put quite a performance there too. Although he is a very good friend of Burnett’s he doesn’t share his temper, as Maguire gets visibly angry when he misses a shot or he’s kept too much in his seat. Still, regardless of all that, he stands as a true professional and he has what it takes to be a champion.
Barry Hawkins, on the other hand despite having some impact during the 2010 World Open, didn’t show himself too much in the ranking competitions. He is a great player, no doubt, but somehow he misses to promote himself in a better way. Considering all that Maguire will start as a favorite, but snooker is soo surprising these days, so in the end...you never know ;-)
Shaun Murphy v. Marcus Campbell - the 2005 world champion plying against a very ambitious Scotsman. Shaun Murphy had a tremendous year back in 2010, as he won EPTC 2 event, he reached the final of the Premier League and he was a semi-finalist of the UK Championship. However, in 2011 his form wasn’t that good, not until he won the PTC Grand Finals tournament. Although many see him as a "too opinionated" person, as a player he is a genuine professional and if he’s in the mood for snooker (aka. he’s mentally prepared) he ca produce wonders on the snooker table. He’s the proud owner of a Top 16 sport (the 6th) and it`s going to do all his best to pass through the first round.
Marcus Campbell fulfills the definitions of self-committing yourself to success. He’s been on the shadow for some time, but he brought himself back to light, when he won the EPTC 3 event. The player that stunned us as he reached the semi-final of the Shoot-Out competition, practices with the likes of Graeme Dott, Stephen Maguire and John Higgins and "keeps his faith" in a better tomorrow. Now, we all know that snooker is also a mental sport, so if he improves his playing style and keeps a clear mind, Marcus can be a real opponent for Murphy and for any other player for that matter.
Ronnie O'Sullivan v. Dominic Dale - it feels like such a long time since we’ve seen O`Sullivan play on TV, and when he does it, he plays too little. “The Rocket" wasn’t at his best and that’s no shock. Back in 2010, he decided to pull out of the 2010Shanghai Masters (he was the defending champion) but soon after that he reached the final of the World Open (ex- GrandPrix), where he lost to Neil Robertson. Once again, he reached the final of the PTC 3 event, but Barry Pinches beat him 4-3, he succeeded cashing another Premier League title, but...that was about it. Due to the fact that he didn’t participate in enough PTC/EPTC events he didn’t qualify for the Grand Finals and what’s more worrying, he "missed practice". That’s why he experienced an early exit from the 2010UK Championship (Stuart Bingham beat him 9-6), then it came another one, as Mark Allen beat him 6-4 during 2011 Masters, he withdrew from the German Masters due to illness and made a very poor start in this year Welsh Open as he was defeated by Ryan Day 4-2. With all that he doesn’t seem to be the Ronnie that used to amaze us all, but as Ken Doherty said "Don’t write O`Sullivan off!"
Dominic Dale is a very colorful player, always having a smile on his face, always making people laugh, but also hitting those snooker balls in a very determined way. He is the PTC 6 event winner and has some really good performances during the main ranking events, so although Ronnie is favorite, don’t write off Dom, either ;-)
Ricky Walden v. Rory McLeod - Walden didn’t impress the audience lately and he did poor in so many competitions, being eliminated from the first round very often. Still, he can’t be overlooked as he is a very good player and everyone is entitled to have a bad period of time.
On the other hand, McLeod, who’s a very slow player, has recorded some good performances this season and even if he doesn’t do so well in the televised events, those that are played with no cameras are his specialty, so if he keeps his spirit high he might just amaze us all.
Both players have equal chances to win this, but Walden is a faster player that McLeod, so if he get among the balls, he could be a real danger.
John Higgins v. Stephen Lee - a very interesting match this one, as if you well remember John Higgins played Stephen Lee in the first round of the 2010UK Championship, the Scotsman winning 9-6. That match was a very hard one and the boys had experienced tight scorelines more than once. Higgins is the current world number one and is playing just as this place says it - like a Nr.1 . After he returned to the circuit, he won the EPTC 5 event, he was runner-up for EPTC 6, he won the UK Championship, the Welsh Open and Hainan Classic. That’s just superb! Such a great way to end a year and start another one.
Stephen Lee regain his good form, as he won the EPTC 4 event and put quite a show in many of the competitions he took part at. He is one of the heaviest names in the snooker business and he might just try to take revenge on Higgins for that early exit (see 2010UK Championship).
It’s going to be a very hard match, no doubt about that, and it’s going to one that will keep us glued to the telly for as long as it takes. I dare in saying no one is favorite, as we’ve seen so many times that Higgins doesn’t start in force and if Lee can take advantage of that he can win easily the battle. On the other hand if Higgins starts in a good form and monopolizes the table, Lee doesn’t stand a chance.
These are my impressions for the first round. I don’t like to call them predictions because they aren’t. Each player that you see in the draw has a good chance to win the tournament. I know that there are favorites, as it is only normal, but time has showed us that snooker is a surprising sport and that the Crucible dream is something we can’t predict 100%...that’s better...what good it would do to know the champion from the beginning?