This year marks the 40th anniversary of the snooker’s biggest event, the World Snooker Championships, being held at the The Crucible in Sheffield. So expect plenty of old classic clips heading your way courtesy of Hazel Irvine & Co. over the next couple of weeks. Hey, you don’t hear us complaining…
Walkovers, tense deciders, trick shots, grinding safety battles, maybe even a 147 or two – the next fortnight of snooker is guaranteed to keep you entertained. Provided you nip into the kitchen and make yourself a brew whenever Peter Ebdon makes an appearance on screen, that is.
Mark Selby’s the defending champion this year in what is the 19th ranking event of the 2016/17 season. It may be the 19th tournament, but it comes top of every player’s ambitions. Win a World Championships and you go down as a legend in the sport. Will Selby retain his title? Is it time for Ronnie to come once again? Will Trump finally mature into the player we know he can be? Or might we be in for another big surprise…? Let’s assess the contenders, shall we?
Age: 33 – World Ranking: 1st – Odds: 9/2
They don’t call him ‘The Jester From Leicester’ for nothing, y’know… They just call him it presumably just because those two words rhyme. He mightn’t be a natural comedian or even a showman on the table, but Mark Selby’s game is strong all round and he’s a grafter who’s happy to roll his sleeves up and grind out victories. He’s psychologically resilient, even tempered and seemingly rarely endures a bad patch. This year he’s won the Paul Hunter Classic, the International Championship, the UK Championship and the China Open… The man is simply always a huge threat. If not a particularly funny one.
Age: 41 – World Ranking: 13th – Odds: 9/2
Ah, Ronnie. The most naturally talented snooker player to ever pick up a cue, he’s guaranteed to stir up some controversy at some point, isn’t he? It was only a couple of months ago that, in protest to the Powers That Be censoring his comments about a referee’s performance, he gave an interview to ITV Sport in a robot voice. He’s the kind of sportsman that the word ‘mercurial’ was invented for. Gifted enough to win every match he plays, he has to want it, though. Does he want it this year? We’ve no idea. But, like everyone else that loves snooker, we love Ronnie and we pray he’s up for it. C’mon Rocket, give us something to cheer about, pal!
Age: 27 – World Ranking: 2nd – Odds: 4/1
In the world of politics, there’s only one man anyone wants to talk about – a certain Mr. Trump. And the same is almost true at the beginning of every World Snooker Championships of late. Bristol’s Judd Trump always starts the main tournament of the year as one of the red-hot favourites. Pundits always claim that ‘this is Judd Trump’s year’. And yet every year he trudges off home early in his daft little studded shoes.
But… THIS IS JUDD TRUMP’S YEAR! Only kidding, we’ve no idea. Sure, he’s in top form (he bagged a 147 at the China Open a short while ago), but he’s always prone to letting his unique brand of ‘naughty snooker’ cause him trouble (he went out of that same China Open to an unknown Iranian fella an even shorter while ago). He’s undeniably talented and only a kid still too. He will win the thing one day. But will it be this year?
Age: 29 – World Ranking: 4th – Odds: 12/1
Snooker’s most successful ever Asian player has just hit thirty and will be looking to go one better than his last appearance in Sheffield and actually win the thing this time out. In 2016 he lost 18-14 to Mark Selby, in what was – admittedly – a rather large coup for World Snooker bosses. Why? Well, nearly fifty million people tuned in in Ding’s native China. Not bad, eh?
So far this season he’s won the Six-Red World Championships and the Shanghai Masters, but is going into the biggest tournament in the calendar a little under the radar. As per usual. Expect a good showing from the Yixing-born potter, but can we confidently back him? Not as such. Let’s see which Ding turns up in South Yorkshire.
Age: 35 – World Ranking: 9th – Odds: 12/1
Neil ‘The Thunder from Down Under’ Robertson is a former world number one. It wasn’t all that long ago that the left-hander was dominant in the sport and looked like he’d go on to rule the baize for some years to come. But it didn’t really turn out that way for The Melbourne Machine (oh yeah, TWO nicknames…). Currently languishing down in ninth in the rankings, he currently holds the Riga Masters title. But his performance in Latvia doesn’t stand out in the memory – his first round defeat to Peter Lines in this season’s UK Championships does instead. Robertson’s going to have to improve if he wants to add to his collection of World Snooker Championship titles.
Age: 37 – World Ranking: 7th – Odds: 16/1
The calm and collected Barry Hawkins is a great shout for this year’s title and our (semi outsider) tip to win it. He’s not easily rattled, loves the longer format game and has a bit of form already this year – he’s won the Grand Prix already. He’s a former World Championships finalist too (he managed that feat as an 80-1 outsider back in 2013). Not only that but ‘The Hawk’ has reached the semi-finals twice since then. 16/1? We like those odds.
Age: 41 – World Ranking: 6th – Odds: 11/1
The match-fixing allegations and controversy will never truly leave the casual snooker fan’s mind when talk turns to the Scottish legend John Higgins. And it’s a real shame, he’s a true great of the sport. But since that murky and depressing incident seven years ago, the former world champ and winner of 28 ranking events has refocused and become a contender one more. Higgins is still capable of losing form at any moment, but he appears to be enjoying his game more recently and shouldn’t be readily dismissed. Though at odds of 11/1? The Wizard of Wishaw isn’t really our shout.
Shaun Murphy (Age: 34 – World Ranking: 5th – Odds: 22/1) – Like many players, this ex-champ blows hot and cold. His cue action is enviable and his talent unquestionable. But his shot selection can let him down. He’s always worth watching, though. And someone we normally stick a sly fiver each-way on.
Stuart Bingham (Age: 40 – World Ranking: 3rd – Odds: 20/1) – When he won this tournament back in 2015, he shocked the sport. A real nice guy, no one begrudged him his glory. Yet no one really expects him to repeat it, despite his lofty ranking place. Can he prove his doubters wrong?
Marco Fu (Age: 39 – World Ranking: 8th – Odds: 20/1) – What a pro, this Hong Kong-born snappy dresser is the epitome of cool. He’s so unflappable you couldn’t flap him with the world’s largest flap. Everyone’s second favourite player in the game.
Mark Allen (Age: 31 – World Ranking: 11th – Odds: 40/1) – It’s safe to say that Mark Allen ‘isn’t afraid to speak his mind’. He calls it as he sees it and that can land him in trouble. A huge talent, he’s not always in the right frame of mind and is yet to truly fulfull his promise. He entertains though – don’t miss him when he’s on fire.
Ali Carter (Age: 37 – World Ranking: 10th – Odds: 40/1) – Cancer threatened to end Carter’s career and life, but the Essex-born charmer’s positive attitude got him through. An inspiration to everyone in the sport, he won’t be arriving in Sheffield just to make up the numbers.
Joe Perry (Age: 42 – World Ranking: 17th – Odds: 80/1) – East Anglia’s Gentleman Joe Perry is enjoying a career resurgence of late and made the final of the Masters this season. He can fold under a little pressure, but he could go further than a few people expect at the Worlds this year.
Liang Wenbo (Age: 30 – World Ranking: 12th – Odds: 80/1) – Cheeky Liang Wenbo is a joy to watch. Currently China’s number two ranked player, he has a real style to his play. He’s not to be underestimated, though. He did reach the UK Championship final last year, remember.
Mark Williams (Age: 42 – World Ranking: 22nd – Odds: 100/1) – 42’s hardly old, but there’s no denying that Welshman Mark Williams is now one of snooker’s veterans. His best days may be ever so slightly behind him, but you write off a fella who’s spent three years as the best player in the world at your peril. Williams may be more laid back nowadays but he can still pull big performances out of the bag when he wants to. He just made the China Open final.
Kyren Wilson (Age: 25 – World Ranking: 14th – Odds: 50/1) – The youngest player on our list, we’re always impressed when we watch young Kyren Wilson play. We’re adamant that he’ll join the snooker elite soon and this could be his year to prove it.
Anthony McGill (Age: 26 – World Ranking: 15th – Odds: 66/1) – ‘Licensed to Thrill’ (yup, that’s really his nickname…) hails from Scotland, the land of the snooker great. And his fellow countrymen and players expect him to make a real impact in the sport soon. And, like with Wilson, 2017 might well be the year to start turning heads.
Huge Price ‘Worth a Silly Quid Each-Way’ Shot…
Mark Joyce (Age: 33 – World Ranking: 51 – Odds: 300/1)
It’s extremely unlikely that the Walsall potter will make it to the final and win, but hey – we all remember when qualifier Shaun Murphy caused a big upset at The Crucible twelve years ago. If an outsider’s going to spring a surprise, it’ll more likely be a Joe Perry or an Anthony McGill, but for a fun quid bet each way, why not look to this fella, Mark Joyce? He knocked Ronnie O’Sullivan out of the China Open recently and if that’s not enough to give your confidence a boost, we don’t know what is.
Whoever wins it, we’re guaranteed an amazing fortnight of drama, aren’t we? It’s time for you and your armchair to get reacquainted…