Thursday, 3 March 2011

Road to the Crucible...

The World Championship is still the jewel in the snooker crown - and qualifying for this great event begins today.

Sixteen players may already have their Crucible spots signed and sealed, but for the chasing pack, this is where it really counts.

Tension, drama, disappointment and joy are all guaranteed as players battle it out for the right to play snooker at the biggest and best tournament on the planet.

As well as quality, it takes guts and bottle to make it through.

It doesn't have to be pretty. Only results matter.

Qualifying can be a cruel and thankless tasks for the players, but this one means more than  the rest.

Snooker as a sport has been great this season. There's been many new events and innovations to the game for players to enjoy, earn ranking points, and win prize money.

That aside, there's still only one tournament players want to win more than the others. This is it.

A chance to play at the Crucible is within touching distance. Who has the nerve to make it?

Here's a full schedule of how the players will be whittled down, but I'll be providing you updates throughout.,,13165~159019,00.pdf

In the meantime, here's my 16 picks for who will make it to Sheffield:

  • Mark Davis - The world number 22 only needs to win one match to make it to the Crucible this year after climbing into the top 32, and it's going to be tough after a cruel draw. He's likely to meet either German Masters quarter-finalist Joe Swail or one of the most difficult men to beat in qualifying, Rory McLeod. Davis is having a good season. A run to the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters has helped him up to his highest ever professional ranking and he looks at real ease with his game.While Swail is capable of beating most players in the qualifiers, McLeod would probably be the more difficult game as he'll as good as have to be scarped off the table to be beaten. Davis is no stranger to that though. Just last week he was involved in a midnight burner against James Wattana to book his place at the China Open. Mark progressed to the last 16 at the Crucible last season with a first round win over Ryan Day. I expect him to get another bite of the cherry.
    • Joe Perry - The Cambridgeshire potter will have to overcome one of Michael Judge, Liu Song, Adrian Gunnell or Mark Joyce to qualify for the Crucible. He'd be favourite to win any of these matches, but his only fear would be meeting Joyce in the kind of form which took him to the quarter-finals of the UK Championships in December. Perry didn't have the best start to this season but a run to the last eight in Berlin, plus qualification to the Welsh and China Open, shows he's picking up.
    •  Liang Wenbo - The former top 16 man hasn't won a match outside of the PTCs this season and is desperately out of form, but I don't think he's become a bad player. With his kind of potting ability, I think it's only a matter of when he starts winning again. He'll have to win one game to return to Sheffield. This could be against Shanghai Masters shock finalist Jamie Burnett. The Scot has only made one venue since that fairytale run and could be an ideal match for Liang to break his duck. Wenbo famously made his debut at the 2008 World Championship and a trip to the last eight shows it's a tournament that doesn't faze him.
    •  Mark King - This is a trip down memory lane for King having gained automatic qualification for the last two years as a member of the top 16. Despite a shock 5-1 defeat to Norway's Kurt Maflin at the China Open qualifiers, the Romford man actually seems to be playing better since recently dropping out of the elite. While his drop was looking inevitable, maybe now it's finally happened, the pressure on him has been lifted. He beat Mark Selby at the Masters in January and is scoring as well as ever. He'll take some stopping.
    • Michael Holt - Despite winning one of the EPTC titles this season, the Hitman has endured a miserable term. To progress to Sheffield, he'll have to beat one of James McBain, Issara Kachaiwong or Ian McCulloch and then Dominic Dale. Holt has lost some matches he should really have won this season, but difficulties away from the table have marred his progress. That said, I see his games here as winnable. Dale also won a PTC event, but hasn't made it to the Crucible for the last six seasons and lost to Jimmy White in the China qualifiers at the weekend. So he can definitely be got at. I've just got a feeling luck will turn for the Nottingham man.  
    • Martin Gould - The Pinner potter has got unfinished business as far as the Crucible is concerned. After his famous collapse against eventual Neil Robertson at last year's event, he'll be itching to put that right. His start to 2011 hasn't been as good as he was in 2010. He missed out on the German Masters and Welsh Open but victory over Mike Dunn to qualify for Beijing shows he's turned the corner.  I expect him to face Robert Milkins. I expect him to win.
    • Ryan Day - Liu Chuang or another qualifier. The Welshman has been scoring for fun in 2011 and should be one of the bankers with this in mind. His match won't be easy but he should have too much. 
    • Judd Trump - This young talented player hasn't played at the Crucible since 2007 and he needs to get the monkey off his back. He's had a mixed season. The prospect of one of Peter Lines, Barry Pinches, Dave Gilbert or Dave Morris, shouldn't cause any concerns. He's been handed a good draw. It's up to him to take it and bag some ranking points.
    • Matthew Stevens - Another Welshman back in the groove. With Fergal O'Brien, Anthony McGill and Paul Davison among the players he could meet in his one match, he's in for a tough one, but he's a vastly experienced player of the longer format. Stevens has missed out on Sheffield at the last two attempts, but all in all he has a good record in this tournament, twice being a finalist. Another red-hot favourite.
    • Marcus Campbell - A veteran and a real grafter. This section of the draw has the hallmarks of being a ding dong, with Matt Selt, Rod Lawler and Patrick Wallace all being fighters. Whoever wins this section wouldn't really surprise me but Campbell has the least to do with just one win required and is probably the best suited to longer matches. He's had a good season, picking up a PTC trophy. This could be another highlight.
    • Anthony Hamilton - Two wins needed for Hamilton to book a place at Sheffield, but he looks in good enough nick to achieve it. A win against Neil Robertson at the German Masters proves he's playing well. Always a great match playes. If he wins his first game, Barry Hawkins will be waiting in the wings. Hawkins strength lies in break-building. Hamilton is a specialist at stopping players score heavily.

    • Stephen Lee - A very interesting section of the draw, which also includes pro tour debutant Jack Lisowski and six-time Crucible winner Steve Davis. Some really intriguing matches are in store, but for me, Lee has the best all-round game out of the three of them. At number 20 in the rankings, he's closing in on a place back in the top 16. He's back playing confident snooker and could go on a run at the venue even beyond the qualifiers.
    •  Gerard Greene - Qualification here would make it three Crucible visits in succession for the Irishman. Greene is a very consistent player with a fluid style of play. It's likely he'll meet Dave Harold, who will try to knock him out of his rhythm. Greene has had a strong season. He was a consistent performer on the PTC series and has recently qualified for the Welsh and China Open.
    • Stuart Bingham - Another player enjoying an excellent season. Quarter-finalist at the UK Championship, he's proved he's not afraid of the big occasion. The prospect of facing one of Ben Woollaston, Jamie O'Neill, Stuart Pettman or Alan McManus, shouldn't fill him with any fear. He's an attacking player who likes to get among the balls. It's worth noting he did lose 10-2  to Pettman in qualifying last year, but both players have gone a long way in opposite directions since then.
    •  Nigel Bond - He's a man on a mission at the moment. Qualifying for the last three venues and winning the Shoot-Out competition, make him hit property on the tour, and he's someone you wouldn't want to meet. In the second band, he'll have to beat Andrew Higginson at the last hurdle, but I fancy him to do it. Over the longer format, Higginson has proved himself before, but form doesn't lie. The former world number five and 1995 Crucible finalist is enjoying his snooker again.
    • Ken Doherty - The 1997 world champion will like the look of his draw with Tony Drago, Jimmy Robertson, Kurt Maflin and Xiao Goudong. Maflin was impressive for the China qualifiers, but the chance of winning eight consecutive cubicle matches seem slim. Drago is as rash as ever. I think Doherty has the experience to carry him through onto the table before he hits the commentary box.
    How many will I get right? Check back to find out....

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