World Snooker Championship: Outright overview from the Crucible

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SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) takes an in-depth look at the 2019 World Snooker Championship, picking out his favourite outright fancies.

World Snooker Championship | 20th April – 6th May 2019 | BBC

The Twickenham, Wimbledon, Lord's and Wembley of snooker, The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, will host the World Snooker Championship for the 43rd consecutive year from Saturday.

Qualifying only concluded on Wednesday evening so whilst the qualifiers will not be as fresh as the elite top 16, they come here in confidence and on a roll after three victories each.

Two qualifiers have won this event since 1977; Terry Griffiths in 1979 and Shaun Murphy in 2005. I don’t think any of this year's crop will replicate either of those pair. Ali Carter (100/1, two-time runner-up) and Graeme Dott (200/1, 2006 Champion) would be the only minor possibles.

There are seven debutants this year; Tian Pengfei, Luo Honghao, Li Hang, Michael Georgiou, Scott Donaldson, Zhao Xintong and the first ever amateur to qualify, James Cahill.

We go into this event with 11 different winners of ranking events this season, the exact same amount as the 2017/18 season. Here, I'll take a look at the leading runners and riders.

Mark Williams (22/1 Ladbrokes)

One of those winners, is Mark Williams (22/1 Ladbrokes) who won here last year for a third time, in one of the greatest, most pulsating finals in recent memory with John Higgins 18-16, 15 years after his last triumph. It was the closest final of the last 13 years and definitely the favourite final in my lifetime. At the age of 43, Williams became the second-oldest winner at the Crucible.

What do I make of the ‘Welsh potting machine’, chances of successfully defending? Slim. I was strongly against him last year for this (with him in much more potent, consistent form) due to his age and with mental fitness being so important, I didn’t think he would last the relentless test. He proved me wrong. I won’t dismiss him or anyone on age grounds lightly, especially the brilliant John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Williams has played better in the second half of the season. He did win at the World Open in August but bar that, he’s only made the quarters in Germany. He’s made a habit of losing from well in front. Two spring to mind – Neil Robertson at the Masters and Judd Trump at the Tour Championship.

He will go under the radar again, which will suit him down to the ground. Someone down the line will just overpower the number one seed. I don’t envisage any more naked press conferences from the most nonchalant of player. I think the best he can hope for is a quarter-final/semi-final. Given his overall results this term, he’d probably take it. He’s not a bad opponent for a qualifier either (Mark Selby lost on the opening day as defending champion last season).

John Higgins (22/1 Blacktype)

John Higgins, like Williams, has had an indifferent and patchy season. He made the China Championship final in September but got there without hitting a century. Since then he has made the semi-final in India and quarter-final in Wales. Between all this he’s threatened retirement due to some poor results where he questioned his own dedication to the sport.

Higgins has made the last two world finals so you couldn’t discount him lightly to make a third in a row and eighth career world final (would equal Steve Davis’ haul). Only Jimmy White has lost in three consecutive world finals at the Crucible. Stephen Hendry was the last player to make three consecutive finals (in the 90s).

‘The Wizard of Wishaw’ is one of the games greatest-ever match players and clearly relishes the World Championship challenge as underdog rather than as one of the favourites. Given he’s in the easier top half (locked in Neil Robertson’s quarter), he’s not to be dismissed.

This is Higgins’ 25th year at the Crucible, and he’s made at least the last eight on 14 occasions. I’ve seen worse 22/1 (BlackType) shots to be honest.

Ronnie O'Sullivan (9/4 Bet365)

The greatest of them all, Ronnie O’Sullivan, is next to muse over.

Last year he was 6/4 for the title, and lost in the second round to Ali Carter. It was a big upset but I didn’t fancy him from the outset and to be honest, as much as I want him to win, I don’t think he’ll conquer this year either. He’ll be playing in his 84th Crucible match in the first round which will go level with Steve Davis in joint-second in the all-time matches list here since 1977 (Stephen Hendry top with 90).

I’m not sure Ronnie is suited to the three and four session matches anymore. He even said to the contrary in an interview that he hates the thought of it. No surprise then he’s yet to go past the quarter-final in the last four years. Or win it since 2013. Ronnie’s long game isn’t quite what it used to be either. Mark Williams hadn’t won the World title in 15 years before last year so the six for Ronnie doesn’t mean a lot.

There won’t be a more popular winner that’s for certain. Another thing for certain, if he plays to his potential, he’s absolutely untouchable. He’s entered 10 events this season and won five. He’s beaten ‘the man of the season’ Neil Robertson in his last two ranking finals. At Preston, he man-handled the Aussie 10-4.

I think better value than backing him at 9/4 (generally) for this, is backing him for BBC Sports Personality of Year in December at 7/1. A win at Sheffield for world title number six, after this season making his 1000th career century, the most ever triple crown events won in history (19), and a record equalling 36th ranking event (a win here would surpass Stephen Hendry) it’s surely his year to be finally noticed and win the coveted prize.

For Sheffield though, I’ll pass.

Neil Robertson (6/1 Paddy Power)

I tipped Neil Robertson very earlier on (1st August 2018 here for WLB) at 20/1 and in a stunning season of consistency since then, the Aussie has over halved in price to 6/1. Robertson has won the Riga Masters, the Welsh Open, the China Open and lost in a further three ranking finals – no one has been in more finals this season. He even said after China, he’s in the form of his life.

In a season where he’s played 81 matches so far, burn out could be a concern. Mind you, he’s as trim as anyone on tour. The other negative is his record in the event since he last won it (in 2010). In the eight corresponding years, he’s made just one semi-final, including four first round defeats.

If you ignore the past, Robertson is in unbelievable form and couldn’t be in better shape personally or mentally for this. If it goes on determination, Robertson wins this hands down. At the China Open, he was absolutely ruthless, proving to be one of the best on the planet currently. Winning in Beijing, places him in the weaker top half avoiding Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Allen, Ding Junhui and Mark Selby.

Mentally, there’s no-one on tour stronger. His temperament is staggering. He reminds me of Peter Ebdon. Even the way he sits in his chair! You can look at Robertson and not know if he’s 10-0 up or 10-0 down – the ultimate poker face.

There’s not many better break builders either (78 centuries this season, more than anyone else, nine more than Trump in second). Robertson has so much character and guts too, he rarely cracks under pressure. His tactical game is pretty tidy also, rarely plays the wrong shot – an ultimate all rounder you could say.

He’s a typical Aussie, never ever gives in. Someone will have to play seriously well to beat him, in my opinion. Robertson is the greatest overseas player of all-time and has a great chance of becoming the first two-time overseas winner of this tournament.

Judd Trump (6/1 Blacktype)

At the same price in the betting is Judd Trump. I didn’t think I would be saying this a year ago, but he must have as good a chance as anyone this year. He’s matured loads this past 12 months. Not just on the table but off it too. Having his brother Jack in his corner in each tournament has relaxed him somewhat and made him work harder at his game.

It’s no surprise his form has gone up three or four levels when he’s now dedicating his life to snooker instead of partying in Vegas. Judd’s tactical game has come on leaps and bounds. He’s clearly enjoying that part of the game. He’s still as savage a scorer that there is (recently passed 600 career centuries).

What puts me off tipping Trump slightly (as a saver for Robertson) is his price. I think it’s average value given he’s in the tougher half of the draw. If he was 7/1-15/2 or bigger I would be tipping him.

Judd made the final in 2011 and since then has made two further semi-finals. He was very unlucky last year losing 13-12 to John Higgins in the quarter-final. He could face Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-final – a mouthwatering prospect.

In saying all this, if Judd can bring his season form to the table, he has got a great chance. An early loss in China to Robbie Williams might of upset his rhythm (I felt he underestimated his opponent) somewhat but overall I’ve been very impressed with him this season. His win at the Masters was sublime and showed he only dines now at the top table.

He will win it one year for certain, never been in better shape than this year and he’d be my fancy to come through in the bottom half.

Mark Selby (10/1 Ladbrokes)

Three-times champion of the world now, Mark Selby (10/1 Ladbrokes). I’ve never known him in such worrying form coming into a World Championship. Usually he does some damage at the China Open and comes here all guns blazing. He lost in the first round in China to low ranked Craig Steadman.

His normal ‘excuse’ this season has been the opponents he’s lost to have played incredibly well against him. That could well be true, they step their game up against him but that usually takes Selby’s own game up another level to win and it’s just not happened for him. His usually reliable B and C game is failing. His win at the China Championship in August is his only victory and he only just won that, 10-9.

A real worrying stat for Selby is the amount of deciders he’s lost this season. Nine in total in ranking events from 15 (40%). When his career record reads 58% win rate in deciders, even last season he was on 50%, there lies the deep problem. Selby is getting beaten more regularly than ever before and even someone so strong mentally must be getting a few demons.

I think he’s vulnerable. I can’t remember him being double figures for this for a long while. He lost first round to Joe Perry last year and if he faces a very tough qualifier, lightening could strike twice. His draw looks uninspiring too. Luca Brecel, Jack Lisowski and Mark Allen who are cordoned in his quarter, are having much better seasons.

Selby requires the summer break to re-group.

The best of the rest

I don’t fancy Mark Allen (20/1 Bet365) or Ding Junhui (33/1 BlackType) for starters. Until Allen sorts his physique out, he won’t last the championship distance. It’s a shame because talent-wise, he’s absolutely got it. An effortless break builder.

In the last seven years, Allen has ballooned in weight and it’s no surprise in that time, he’s made just one quarter-final here (last year). He could be slim pickings to lose before a semi-final again.

Ding might of only entered nine ranking tournaments this season, but he’s only made one quarter-final – a terrible return for the ‘Boss’ of Chinese snooker. Ding had a golden chance last year in this but got beaten in the quarter-final by Barry Hawkins. Expectation grew and he blew it.

Ding has actually made the quarter-final here in six of the last eight years. He’s in the quarter section containing Trump and O’Sullivan – talk about being stuck in a rock and hard place!

Ding is far too fragile too. Put a tough nut against him, the 2016 finalist is very liable to fold (exactly like he did versus Hawkins last year). He would be as popular a winner as O’Sullivan but he’s very opposable, even at 33/1, which he’s probably not been as big as for any tournament in his career.

Of the others, Kyren Wilson (18/1 Bet365) and Barry Hawkins (25/1 SkyBet) will fancy their chances in the top section of the top half. Kyren made the semi-final last year and will 100% win it one year. This format is tailor made for the ‘Warrior’, a wonderful competitor, straight out the Mark Selby copybook. He’s won two ranking titles this season plus a World 6 Reds Title.

Wilson's scoring power needs to improve a little were he to win this. He can hit flat spots in matches but credit where it’s due, if his game isn’t on the money, he has a great tendency to grind out results. 18/1 on him is fair. Had he been 25/1, I might of tipped him each-way.

Hawkins comes alive at the Crucible. It would be foolish to dismiss him at his favourite venue where he always produces top class snooker. His worst result here in the last six years was a quarter-final loss in 2015. Otherwise it’s four semi final defeats and a runner up spot in 2013.

Last year, Hawkins was never behind in the semi-final with Mark Williams until the 31st frame, eventually losing 17-15. His form this season is a big worry, it includes eight first round defeats and he’s not made a final this season leading up to the Crucible, for the first time since 2016. However, I wouldn’t back against another solid run from the ‘Hawk’ with conditions to suit. He would probably be my main quarter fancy.

Stuart Bingham (22/1 Betfair), Luca Brecel (100/1 Blacktype) and Jack Lisowski (50/1 Boylesports) are three notable outsiders. Bingham has been magnificent this season with two ranking titles but the 2015 champion has only won one match at the Crucible since then and when upped into the serious top class of snooker, I don’t think he’s up to it. Outside the big 3 or 4, he’s as good as anyone though.

Brecel comes here in great nick after pushing Neil Robertson harder than anyone in Beijing (made semi-final) but he’s yet to win a match here in three attempts. Jack Lisowski is a precocious talent and has lost in two ranking finals this season to Robertson. This is his first year as a seed. He got thumped 13-1 by John Higgins in the second round last season. It’s a few years too early to see Brecel or Lisowski go deep.

Conclusion

I’m staying completely loyal to Neil Robertson in the outright market, although  Judd Trump did tempt me greatly. Winning in Beijing locks Robertson into the easier half of the draw and it looks his to lose, the form he’s currently in.

Stuart Bingham, who’s had an excellent season or the evergreen John Higgins could be a tricky obstacles in the quarter-final but for me, Robertson is a decent notch up on them. Anyone of Kyren Wilson, Barry Hawkins or Mark Williams might await in the semi-final and none of those will particularly frighten the ‘Thunder from Down Under’.

Price-wise, 6/1 looks about right in terms of winning it. Anyone with a 20/1 ticket (even 10/1+) look to be in a very strong position.

I’m going to go with Trump to come through the bottom half. A blockbuster quarter-final with O’Sullivan is something to savour. Trump has beaten Ronnie a few times this season and has that mental edge required to beat the best ever. Ronnie knows Judd can beat him too.

It could be his year for a second world final, eight years on from his first. A Robertson/Trump final is priced at 10/1 (SkyBet). They have previously met in two ranking finals (Judd won both). It’s good odds for a third, on the grandest stage of them all.

Best Bets

World Championship – Neil Robertson to win outright (already advised at 20/1, now 6/1 Paddy Power)

World Championship – Neil Robertson to face Judd Trump in the final (10/1 SkyBet)

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