2011 World Snooker Championship preview
The fortnight of top quality Crucible snooker action is one of the highlights of the UK’s sporting calendar. And, after Aussie Neil Robertson’s win in 2010, it is now truly a global event.
However, 29 of this year’s 32 Crucible qualifiers are from the UK and it promises to be as intriguing a tournament as we have seen in a long time.
It didn’t take three time World Champion John Higgins long to get back into his stride after six months out of the sport. Since his return from his suspension, the Scot has won both the UK Championship and the Welsh Open.
Higgins is a worthy 5/1 favourite to scoop his fourth World Championship, although his toughest test could well come in the opening round. Stephen Lee is one of the best players in the world’s top 16 and it could be a tricky opening encounter for the world number one.
In the top half of the draw it is 6/1 shot Mark Selby that catches the eye. The Leicester born player has so often been the bridesmaid in ranking events – indeed he had a great run to the China Open final this year before falling at the final hurdle to Judd Trump.
Selby looks to have a favourable draw with Jimmy Robertson in round one before either Joe Perry or former champion Stephen Hendry in round two. Is it finally the 27 year old’s chance?
Of course, when considering the favourites for the World Championship it is impossible to rule out Ronnie O’Sullivan. Arguably the most talented player of his generation, the Rocket has never quite lived up to his huge promise, despite winning three world titles.
O’Sullivan is 7/1 for the title, although it may be worth waiting until after his first round match with Dominic Dale to establish what frame of mind and what form the 35 year old is on.
Last year’s champion Neil Robertson is 8/1 to retain his title, whilst it may also be worth keeping an eye on former champion Mark Williams who at 8/1 has been in good form this year.
Despite having to qualify for this year’s Championships, Matthew Stevens is a man in form and with good pedigree at the Crucible.
Stevens is only in Sheffield thanks to a last-gasp black-ball winner in his final qualifier although his form recently has been excellent. The 33 year old reached the quarter final of the Shanghai Masters and was narrowly defeated by John Higgins in the last eight of the Welsh Open. Stevens then beat Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy to win the Championship League and return to Premier League snooker.
Stevens has an awkward match against Mark Allen in his opener, but if he comes through that the 66/1 on offer could soon look great value.
Graeme Dott was last season’s beaten finalist and I fancy the Scot to have another good tournament in 2011. The top quarter of the draw features Dott, Ali Carter, Neil Robertson and China Open winner Judd Trump and it looks tough to separate those players.
If Dott can get past the talented Mark King in his opening match, I fancy his Crucible experience to stand him in good stead as the tournament progresses. The 2006 champion is 28/1 to add a second title to his honours.
Of the rest there is bound to be some support for former champion Peter Ebdon at 80/1 whilst Stephen Hendry is available at 66/1.