There’s a real comfort about the World Championships that nothing will change over the next 17 days, and I think we’re in for a cracking tournament. I believe we’re going to see the highest standard ever at the Crucible this year, and that’s because players are coming into it sharper than ever, we’ve had so many century breaks this season and the top 16 is stronger now than it’s ever been.
There are maybe some who have played a bit too much snooker over the last 10 months, they’ve been on the go too long, but there are certainly eight to 10 players who could win it. The talent goes down a long way. Take Ding Junhui, for example, not many people are talking about him but, 10 or 15 years ago, he would have gone into this tournament as the favourite to win the title.
I will be doing commentary for Eurosport for the first week, as from this morning, and I’ve also got a few days lined up with the BBC from next Saturday, so I’m looking forward to what’s in store. I’m down to do the conclusion of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first-round match, so that’s bound to be exciting. I don’t know if will affect the players on the other side if the partition, but it’s great to have the defending champion back.
So who do I think will win? That’s a good question, not an easy one to answer, but in a quirk of fate I’m tipping a left-hander to be crowned Crucible champion, and there are four contenders in the field: Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen and Jack Lisowski, although you could also include Ronnie O’Sullivan among them as he can play so well with either hand. Here are my players to watch.
JUDD TRUMP. He’s had a poor season and comes into the tournament not having played well, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the World Championships. He’s got a good draw and plays Dominic Dale in the first round, who he beat at the same stage last year, so it’s the perfect start for him and could be just what he needs to get going. People say he’s enjoying life too much, with the fast cars and everything, but he’s a young man so it’s hard to knock him for that. He’s a big player and has got a great chance.
NEIL ROBERTSON. He was my initial fancy, and the only thing that slightly changes that is that he won the previous tournament, the China Open. I was talking to snooker journalist Phil Yates about it the other day, and he said no-one has gone on to lift the world title after winning the previous event since 1998. I don’t know why that is, maybe it’s because it’s hard to play to the same level again over 17 days. But Robertson is definitely the man in form.
MARK ALLEN. He’s very capable and, when he’s on form, he’s almost unstoppable. He’s in a horrible section of the draw but, if he gets through that, why not. He’s done well here before and he gets better the more he plays.
JACK LISOWSKI. It’s probably a year or two too soon for him to win it, but he’s definitely an outside bet. We didn’t think Shaun Murphy could win in 2005 as a qualifier, but he proved us wrong. And Lisowski is a similar player to Murphy, but more talented.
MARK SELBY. He deserves respect because he’s the UK and Masters champion. The UK champion always does well in the Worlds and vice-versa, and he comes into it without the problems that beset him last year with his neck injury. He’s one who I suspect might have played too much snooker this season, but he’s a nice guy, he loves the same, almost to a ‘geek’ level, which is no way a bad thing. It would be brilliant for the game if he won, but I don’t think he will.
DING JUNHUI. I’d love to see him win, and so would the many millions in Asia. My problem with Ding, though, is that he’s not consistent enough. He also says he now feels under pressure in Sheffield, where he lives, the same way that he feels it in China, so you have to ask where does he like playing?
RONNIE O'SULLIVAN. It’s nice not to have mentioned him straight away, isn’t it? No normal human being could come back from so long out of the game and win the title, but then he always breaks the rules, doesn’t he. He will be nervous in that arena today, but he’s the same player he was a year ago and he loves match-play. He has a good draw in Marcus Campbell, which is not meant as a slight at Marcus, but he’s never beaten O’Sullivan and Ronnie won’t be frightened by him. It would be a phenomenal achievement if O’Sullivan did win the title, and it would be something worth seeing, but I can’t say I’d like him to win because he could easily not play again next year, and that’s not perfect for the game.
SHAUN MURPHY. He hasn’t won anything for some time now, and I don’t know why because his cue action is fantastic. He’s not so good tactically and, at the Crucible, when you have a bad day at the office, you can’t give chances away, you’ve got to get something out of it. He fits the profile of a champion, he’s a good ambassador and would be a worthy winner. He’s definitely got a squeak of a chance, but he’s just not had the best of seasons.
JOHN HIGGINS. I’d almost forgotten to mention him, so what does that tell you? He’s not being talked about at all, but it would be wrong to ignore him. I’m not sure how he’s playing, and I know he’s had some issues with his cue this season, but he’s still a class act. I think he’d be quite happy to be forgotten. If he won a fifth title, it would put him right up there with the all-time greats. He’s almost there now, but to win this year would put him in the top six best players of all time. An amazing stat is that Stephen Hendry never won a world title past the age of 30, so that shows what a class player Higgins is that he did do it in his late 30s. When he’s at his best, he’s still the man to beat.
Keep an eye out for a special World Championship Q&A with Neal – and our other Living Snooker bloggers – during the Crucible fortnight.
Read more Living Snooker blogs.
Follow Neal on Twitter: @fouldsy147
If you enjoy it, remember to share it with other sports fans