Right, I cover a fair number of things on here: writing, Autism, game reviews. But there’s one thing I have never covered on here: my favourite sport of all. Now most people would think my favourite sport is football, and yes, I do like football, and am a supporter of all Greater Manchester teams, but especially my local team, Abbey Hey (seriously, can see their ground out of my bedroom window!).
But it’s not: My favourite sport is something a lot more… sedentary. Or at least that’s the perception. It’s a sport which is growing quickly, and if you bother reading the titles to these, you will know: it’s Snooker. So without further ado, the Snooker World Championships.
Here’s the deal: 144 players. The world’s top 16 ranked players go straight to the Round of 32 at the Cruicble Theatre in Sheffield, England. The rest of the pros do battle with the best amateurs at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield, to join them.
I will quickly run through the runners and riders, before giving full match predictions, and will do this after every round as well.
Seed 1: Mark Selby. Age: 34. From: Leicester, England (born Wordsley, England). World Ranking: 1. Personal Best: World Champion (2014, 2016, 2017)
Seed 2: Ronnie O’Sullivan. Age: 42. From: Chigwell, England. World Ranking: 2. Personal Best: World Champion (2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013)
Seed 3: Ding Junhui. Age: 31. From: Sheffield, England (born Yixing, China). World Ranking: 3. Personal Best: Finalist (2016).
Seed 4: Judd Trump. Age: 28. From: Whitchurch, England. World Ranking: 4. Personal Best: Finalist (2011).
Seed 5: John Higgins. Age: 42. From: Wishaw, Scotland. World Ranking: 5. Personal Best: Winner (1998, 2007, 2009, 2011).
Seed 6: Barry Hawkins. Age: 38. From: Ditton, England. World Ranking: 6. Personal Best: Finalist (2013).
Seed 7: Mark WIlliams. Age: 42. From: Ebbw Vale, Wales. World Ranking: 7. Personal Best: World Champion (2000, 2003).
Seed 8: Shaun Murphy. Age: 35. From: Nottingham, England. World Ranking: 8. Personal Best: World Champion (2005).
Seed 9: Neil Robertson. Age: 36. From: Melbourne, Australia. World Ranking: 9. Personal Best: World Champion (2010).
Seed 10: Kyren Wilson. Age: 26. From: Kettering, England. World Ranking: 10. Personal Best: Quarter-Finals (2016, 2017).
Seed 11: Marco Fu. Age: 40. From: Happy Valley, Hong Kong. World Ranking: 11. Personal Best: Semi-Final (2006, 2016).
Seed 12: Stuart Bingham. Age: 41. From: Basildon, England. World Ranking: 12. Personal Best: Winner (2015).
Seed 13: Luca Brecel. Age: 23. From: Dilsen-Stokkem, Belgium. World Ranking: 13. Personal Best: Last 32 (2012, 2017, 2018).
Seed 14: Anthony McGill. Age: 27. From: Glasgow, Scotland. World Ranking: 14. Personal Best: Quarter-Finals (2015).
Seed 15: Ali Carter. Age: 38. From: Chelmsford, England. World Ranking: 15. Personal Best: Final (2008, 2012).
Seed 16: Mark Allen. Age: 32. From: Antrim, Northern Ireland. World Ranking: 16. Personal Best: Semi-Final (2009).
Qualifier 1: Ryan Day. Age: 38. From: Bridgend, Wales. World Ranking: 17. Personal Best: Quarter-Final (2008, 2009, 2012).
Qualifier 2: Stephen Maguire. Age: 37. From: Glasgow, Scotland. World Ranking: 18. Personal Best: Semi-Final (2007, 2012).
Qualifier 3: Graeme Dott. Age: 40. From: Larkhall, Scotland. World Ranking: 21. Personal Best: World Champion (2006).
Qualifier 4: Joe Perry. Age: 43. From: Wisbech, England. World Ranking: 22. Personal Best: Semi-Final (2008).
Qualifier 5: Xiao Guodong. Age: 29. From: Chongqing, China. World Ranking: 25. Personal Best: Last 16 (2017).
Qualifier 6: Ricky Walden. Age: 35. From: Baglitt, Wales. World Ranking: 27. Personal Best: Semi-Final (2012).
Qualifier 7: Jack Lisowski. Age: 26. From: Cheltenham, England. World Ranking: 30. Personal Best: Last 32 (2013, 2018).
Qualifier 8: Jimmy Robertson. Age: 31. From: Bexhill-On-Sea, England. World Ranking: 34. Personal Best: Last 32 (2011, 2015, 2017, 2018).
Qualifier 9: Robert Milkins. Age: 42. From: Bedminister Down, England. World Ranking: 37. Personal Best: Last 16 (2002, 2013).
Qualifier 10: Jamie Jones. Age: 30. From: Neath, Wales. World Ranking: 51. Personal Best: Quarter-Finals (2012).
Qualifier 11: Matthew Stevens. Age: 40. From: Camarthen, Wales. World Ranking: 52. Personal Best: Finalist (2003, 2005).
Qualifier 12: Chris Wakelin. Age: 26. From: Rugby, England. World Ranking: 55. Personal Best: N/A (debut).
Qualifier 13: Stuart Carrington. Age: 27. From: Grimsby, England. World Ranking: 56. Personal Best: Last 32 (2015, 2017, 2018).
Qualifier 14: Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. Age: 33. From: Bangkok, Thailand. World Ranking: 58. Personal Best: N/A (debut).
Qualifier 15: Liam Highfield. Age: 27. From: Swindon, England. World Ranking: 64. Personal Best: N/A (debut).
Qualifier 16: Lyu Haotian. Age: 20. From: Tongzhou, China. World Ranking: 68. Personal Best: N/A (DEBUT).
And with that cleared up, on with the predictions, starting (as is traditional) with the defending champion.
Mark Selby vs. Joe Perry: Granite vs. Granite. This isn’t going to be a pretty match mostly, but it will be close. VERY close. Joe Perry is vastly experienced, and will relish getting his teeth into a battle against Selby with little expectation on him.
Selby has had a poor season only by his enormous standards, but has only a single win in the two majors this season. He did, however, win in the China Open, and he broke that curse last year. Do I think Selby will go all the way to title 4? No. But he’ll be hard to stop nonetheless, and I think he just edges this one.
Prediction: Mark Selby, 10-9.
Mark Allen vs. Liam Highfield: Liam Highfield is a player who has been a diamond in the rough for what feels like an age now. Only his ability to kill off frames consistently separates him from being in the Top 32 I feel.
But he has a nasty draw against the Masters Champion. Mark Allen sneaked in through the back door if you will, and has a bit to prove. But it’s a long time since he lost in Round 1 here, and his experience will prove critical I feel.
Prediction: Mark Allen, 10-4
Kyren Wilson vs. Matthew Stevens: Matthew Stevens needs no introduction to snooker fans, as a two time world finalist. His fortunes, however, have dipped in recent years, with him now being ranked among the dead men so to speak in the 50s. And he would have fancied his chances…
Unless he was facing someone like Kyren Wilson. Kyren has improved leaps and bounds in recent years, and seems to have a strong love for the longer format. He beat Stevens over this format in 2016 as well, and even though MS’ fortunes are looking up again now, I have the man known as the Warrior battling through to fight on. Keep an eye on Kyren Wilson in the next 12-18 months.
Predition: Kyren Wilson, 10-6
Shaun Murphy vs. Jamie Jones: It’s 6 years now since Jones beat Murphy at this stage of the Crucible. He reached the Last 8 that year, but has failed to really kick on since, developing a habit in recent years of throwing away comfortable leads. But having defeated former Top 16 player Liang Wenbo 10-0 in qualifying, he will be ultra-confident.
As for the Magician, it feels like his time is running out to be remembered as one of the best of all time. Few players have been more influential behind the scenes for snooker, Murphy is a great ambassador. He may have neck and back issues currently, not helped by Chris Wakelin battering him in China 6-0, but I never back against Murphy in Round 1 – he nearly always finds enough.
Prediction: Shaun Murphy, 10-8 Predicted Quarter Winner: Kyren Wilson
John Higgins vs. Thepchiya Un-Nooh: Un-Nooh is one of the most explosive players on tour, but somehow, this is his first appearance beyond the qualifiers. He has a dubious honour of (I believe) the only player to miss the final black on a maximum attempt twice in the same season. However he did show battling qualities in qualifying.
And my lord does he need those. John Higgins is playing like a new man the past 12-18 months. Gone is the “journeyman”, in has come a ruthless opponent who can do everything better than most others. Still prone to the odd shock result, but another man who is a strong contender. Thepchiya will never be allowed to settle for long enough to get into the match.
Prediction: John Higgins, 10-3
Stuart Bingham vs. Jack Lisowski: Difficult to know who the favourite is here. Lisowski making only a second appearance at the Crucible, but is a very dangerous opponent, and looks to have matured a lot this season. He’s like best mate Judd Trump, just without any of the downside.
As for Bingham, this is the only BBC major he’s appearing in this season, after a ban for breach of betting rules. He’s bounced back well, but that has hurt his ranking. A close match, but Jumping Jack will be jumping for joy after the match.
Prediction: Jack Lisowski, 10-7
Luca Brecel vs. Ricky Walden: A rare occasion where the seeded player is clearly the underdog. Brecel was magical early in the season, and despite a terrible second half of the season, finds himself in the Top 16 still. On his day, can pot anything from anywhere, Brecel is a nightmare when the pressure’s not on him.
But it is here, and Ricky, while doing very little at the Crucible outside of his sole Semi-Final, is a reliable hand. Struggled with injury himself in recent years, seems to be on the right side of that though, and narrowly missed out on a maximum in the qualifiers. He came through some wars in the quals, and will be laser-sharp and too steady for the mad Belgian Bullet.
Prediction: Ricky Walden, 10-5
Judd Trump vs. Chris Wakelin: Wakelin is a somewhat surprise qualifier after what could generously be described as a modest career so far. Was very impressive in qualifying though, and practicing with Wilson and Selby is only a good thing.
Ah, Judd, were just talking about you. Possibly the best player in the world when playing well, but has scars from stinging defeats. I have him winning here easily against a newcomer in Wakelin, but I don’t think he’s recovered mentally from the Masters, where he lost 6-5 to Kyren, having lead 5-2.
Prediction: Judd Trump, 10-3. Predicted Quarter Winner: John Higgins
Ding Junhui vs. Xiao Guodong: It seems that wherever Xiao goes, controversy follows. First was the Snooker Shootout 2017, where he got away with a seemingly-blatant time fowl against David Gilbert, then in these qualifiers, benefitted from a ghost fowl from Adam Duffy, where it was difficult to see where the fowl came. That detracts though from him being a very solid player and a handful for anybody.
Ding must be fed-up of drawing his fellow countrymen by now, having done so in the first two rounds 12 months ago. It feels like he should be World Champion by now: the fact he isn’t is very telling as to the strength of snooker these days. Ding has a great record against anybody from China, and I don’t see that changing here.
Prediction: Ding Junhui, 10-5
Anthony McGill vs. Ryan Day: How the hell do you call this one? Ryan Day has had the best season of his career, and the fact he’s not in the Top 16 is an absolute travesty. And he’ll be ready, having had a tough warm-up in the shape of Peter Ebdon in the last qualifying round.
McGill is very well liked, and is one of the best safety players on tour. He’s also very good potting wise, but the latter part of the season hasn’t seen much success for him. You may as well toss a coin on this one, you’re just as likely to get it right as if you use logic. Here we go then: Heads for Ryan Day, Tails for McGill.
Prediction: Ryan Day, 10-9.
Marco Fu vs. Lyu Haotian: Difficult to call for different reasons. Lyu has had a great first season back on tour, and impressed in qualifying, but lacks experience, and may be overawed by the big stage.
Usually you would pick Marco without thinking here, but it’s difficult this time, with him having not played since January due to eye surgery. It’s nearly impossible to predict, but Marco always finds a way to survive.
Winner: Marco Fu, 10-8
Barry Hawkins vs. Stuart Carrington: Carrington is a bit of an enigma to me honestly. I have seen him play at times this season, and I can’t work out how he made three successive centuries in Round 1 last year. He’s still never won here though, but is making progress slowly.
Nasty draw though, as Hawkins hasn’t failed to make the Last 8 here in recent times. Always a dangerous player, had a poor start to the season, but has got going since. Carrington is clearly better than his ranking, but Hawkins is durable and can soak up punishment.
Prediction: Barry Hawkins, 10-6. Quarter Prediction: Ryan Day
Mark Williams vs. Jimmy Robertson: Jimmy Robertson has never won a the Crucible, but gets closer each year, being just two frames away 12 months ago. Off the best season of his career, you would expect him to provide a stiff challenge.
The only problem is his opponent. Mark Williams is playing better now than he has done in many years. Simply put, he has been brilliant at times this season, and is better one-handed than half the tour are with two hands, as well as having added two ranking titles to his name. Willo will be very hard to stop, as he chases an unlikely 3rd title, to smash the record for the longest wait between titles (15 years, current record is Alex Higgins who won in 1972 and ’82).
Prediction: Mark Williams, 10-6
Neil Robertson vs. Robert Milkins: Or as I call it, Fosters vs. Cider. Milkins has had a far from great season as he continues to slide down the rankings having been in the Top 16 a couple of years ago. However he showed flair in qualifying, crushing Crucible regular Michael Holt 10-3.
Neil Robertson hasn’t had a great season either, dropping out of the Top 16 for… oh, must have been a week or so. Sadly, that week was the cut-off point for the Masters, so, oops! He hasn’t looked like the same player we know is amazing and won in 2010, but Milkins is not the player of 5 years ago either, and I don’t see him winning here.
Prediction: Neil Robertson,
Ali Carter vs. Graeme Dott: Wash, rince, repeat, this happened 12 months ago. And Dott won. Dott has been good all season and hasn’t got the rewards he deserves, with a sole ranking final to his name. He won 12 years ago, was last in the final 8 years ago, but is still fighting and playing well again.
For whatever reason, it’s just not happened for Ali this season. He is a much better player than he’s shown, but is in real danger of dropping away from the elite. On his day Carter is an excellent player, a twice World Finalist, and lives for the big occasion. But all the pressure’s on the Captain here to correct the nosedive his form’s in.
Prediction: Graeme Dott, 10-7.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. Stephen Maguire: Anybody who’s followed snooker long enough knows that Maguire is much respected by his opponent here. And Maguire is now playing like the player who was labelled as a future world champion in 2003 by Ronnie again, having had some lean years. Another ranking title mustn’t be far away.
Ronnie beat Maguire in the Semi-Final of the UK Championship 6-4, but I feel he got lucky, being outscored by Maguire overall I think. Ronnie has had a wonderful season with five more ranking titles on his shelf, and is after a 6th world title, to tie Steve Davis and Ray Reardon. Just don’t think it’s this year.
Prediction: Stephen Maguire, 10-9. Quarter Winner: Mark Williams
Eventual World Champion Prediction: Mark Williams.