Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Crucible Countdown: 3 days to go

A blog is nothing without its readers.

And snooker is renowned for its vast base of knowledgeable fans, so it figured I should combine the two with three days to go until World Championship.

After the vast success of OnCue's prediction panel for the UK Championship, 12 readers give their opinions ahead of the big kick-off.

Kellie Barker from London said: "I've been going to the Crucible since 1998 and just like that year, I'm finding it difficult to look past John Higgins as the champion.

"But another candidate is Ding Junhui. He's in the slightly easier half of the draw which means he may be able to progress through the first couple of rounds without taking too much out of himself. Ding's had a fairly successful season, but could be about to hit top form for the Crucible. We've often seen over the years that the winner is someone who's had a quietly successful season and then explodes into form here.

"I'm also a big Stephen Hendry fan, so I'll be watching his matches closely. He needs to beat Mark Selby in the second round to retain his top 16 status. He won't be favourite but he's got a habit of surprising us every now and then."

Micky Horton from the Outer Hebrides said: "When I first started fervently watching snooker in the early 90s, the difference between the top 16 and the rest of the pack was vast and you could bet on Stephen Hendry to win everything.

"Here we are now well into the new millennium and things could not be more different. Mark King, Ryan Day, Mathew Stevens, Stuart Bingham and Stephen Lee have been bouncing in and out of the top 16 like a yo-yo. The new PTC tournaments have been a breath of fresh air for the players just outside of the elite. It brings them money and match time which keeps everyone sharp and focused, which has made predictions extremely difficult.

"My money will be on Shaun Murphy to win the world title. He has been hungry in all the tournaments this year bar a few slips in form and has the talent and mental stamina for these big occasions. His only stumbling block I can see is a possible quarter-final meet with John Higgins. If he gets past him, he will be unstoppable. It's a shame they are in the same half as that would be a cracking final."

Donna Evans from Shropshire said: "If I had to put a grand down on a bet, I'd go for John Higgins. There are other players I'd prefer to see win it, but realism says he'll do it. His form of late has just been ridiculous. He's as good as he's ever been.

"I still feel deep down though that if Ronnie O'Sullivan really wants to win it, then he will. He's the most naturally talented player the sport has ever had. He does silly things, but when he can be bothered, no-one can touch him.

"He's a genius but suffers from a troubled soul. I think he may think he's got something to prove, which could mean he'll produce his best."

Phil Pedlow from Belfast said: "Several weeks ago I wouldn't have seen past John Higgins after the year he's had. However I've had a change of heart and I'm going to stick my neck out and go for Mark Selby.

"I've been influenced by the tremendous form he's just displayed in China, and also because of the fact he has one of the more favourable draws for his all-important opening round. I'd say he's in the more favourable half of the draw as well.

"Being from Northern Ireland, I'll be looking out for Mark Allen too. He's always very watchable, entertaining and usually brings along a noisy and raucous circle of friends with him for support. I'd love to see him finally make his ranking title breakthrough in the biggest championship going. He's shown plenty of promise, maybe now is his time. His first round opponent Matthew Stevens has been showing signs of his best form of late, so this might well be a cracker."

Rachael Rodgers from Doncaster, said: "I think Mark Selby is in with a good chance. His progress over the last few years has been excellent and at the China Open, he showed he's more than ready to lift the world trophy.

"I've got a good feeling for Ali Carter as well. I love watching him play and I think it's only a matter of time before he makes his way to the title.

"I'm also looking out for Martin Gould as a dark horse.

"He's been excellent since his match with Neil Robertson last year and I think he's a solid player. If he can control his temperament, he's unbeatable. His performance in the PTC Grand Finals in Dublin shows his skill. I hope he does really well."

Simon Rankin from Skegness (pictured left) said: "I'm a massive Ronnie O'Sullivan fan and I'll be at the Crucible for his first round match with Dominic Dale.

"The Rocket is the reason I took up snooker in the first place. There's no-one else quite like him. He's an unpredictable character. On some days, he can look uninterested, but then on others he's awesome. If his head's not right, he hasn't got a chance in high heaven.

"With the season he's had I'd be surprised if he won the event, so it leaves it very open. John Higgins has probably got the best strength of character.I met him at my local club a few years back and I thought he was a top bloke. I'd like to see him win it if it's not Ronnie."

Peter Watters from Suffolk said: "As usual I'll be following all the snooker on the television and I fancy John Higgins to win it this year. He wasn't at his very best at the China Open, but the player who becomes world champion rarely goes into the tournament on top form.

"John has been a man on a mission this season. The death of his father has just inspired him even more. It reminds me of Dennis Taylor who won two ranking events shortly after his Mum died. It seems to spark something in certain players.

"I think Higgins' biggest rival is Mark Williams. He was unlucky to lose 5-4 against Stephen Lee after scoring four centuries, but over the longer distance matches, I think he'll be rewarded.

"My dark horse is Martin Gould. He's a good attacking player. He's had a great season in the PTC series and I think he's proof of the great strength in depth of the sport."

Fee Lloyd from Shropshire said: "I think the two favourites for the title this year are Mark Williams and Neil Robertson. Williams has come back to play his best snooker again this season I think like none other and Robertson has got the spirit in him to defend his title.

"I'll have an eye on Ricky Walden's game as well. He's not too far away from me, and you've got to support the local boys."

Christopher Neal Sheldrake from the Isle of Wight said: "It's a tough competition to call this year but I think Ronnie O'Sullivan could be saving his best for the World Championship.

"He's been losing a lot of first round matches pretty much all year. This could be totally wrong, but there's a chance he could get his game together in Sheffield.

"I think Neil Robertson could be in trouble this year. I think he'll have to play as well as he did to win the event last year just to get through the first round, because he's got a tough draw against Judd Trump."

Ben White from Doncaster said: "I Strongly fancy Mark Selby to become world champion this year. He's been very consistent this season, he knows how to win scruffy and this season especially, he's started winning more matches easily.

"He's made the most centuries on tour this season by some way, so he can't really be classed as the modern day grinder anymore.

"I like the look of his draw as well.

"My outside bet for the tournament is Graeme Dott. I don't think someone who has made three world finals and won one should be a dark horse, but people never seem to fancy him. He's probably the most underrated player on tour but he has a brilliant record at the Crucible. The longer format suits him down to the ground, he has a decent enough draw and could go deep into the second week."

Clayton Harper from Nuneaton said: "I'm looking forward to this year's World Championship. From a personal point of view, I think it's a shame there will be no Steve Davis, Jimmy White or Ken Doherty.

"As for the title, I think anyone could walk away with it. I'm sitting on the fence a bit but my tips would be Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Judd Trump or Matthew Stevens.

"I always enjoy watching the debutants so it'll be interesting see how Andrew Pagett and Jimmy Robertson get on. If the Martin Gould match against Marco Fu is anything like last year, then it will be great and I'm always keen to watch Stephen Hendry, no matter what the result. There's plenty to look forward to."

Fin Ruane from Dublin (pictured left) said: " There's only one person who I think has the game and the mental strength to go the 17 days and not crack up. That's John Higgins. He's in the tough end of the draw and has a hard first round match against Stephen Lee. It won't get any easier after that but he's a big tournament player.

"It's funny calling him a dark horse but I think Matthew Stevens has slipped under the radar this year. He plays Mark Allen in a hard first round match but he's a player who hasn't in my opinion done anything since he beat Ronnie O'Sullivan at The Masters. Stevens is the form player after earning his place in the Premier League and has plenty of experience at the Crucible.

"A complete outsider who could win a few rounds and could even make the semi-finals is Jimmy Robertson. I watched him beat Ken Doherty in qualifying and I was very impressed with the temperament he showed that night coming from behind and winning. Mark Selby is a tough opponent but first round matches at the World Championship can often throw up some funny results."

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