Sunday, 10 April 2011

Crucible Countdown: 6 days to go

OnCue's Crucible Countdown has already touched on some of this year's qualifiers.

They all arrive at the Crucible with very unique tales.

Matthew Stevens as well as debutants Jimmy Robertson and Andrew Pagett have already come under the microscope, but today as the countdown drops below the one-week mark, I'd like to take a closer look at another four who I'll have a careful eye on.

Stuart Bingham

Up to world number 15 in the provisional world rankings, Bingham is threatening to to become a mainstay among the top 16. He's one of many players who has grasped the nettle this season and profited from the chance to play more regular snooker. In the last couple of seasons the safety side of his game has developed immensely. Now not only is he an able break-builder, but an astute match player as well. He's still most remembered for causing one of the greatest Crucible shocks of all-time in 2000 when he knocked out the reigning champion Stephen Hendry on the opening day of the tournament. For the snooker purists, that will never be forgotten, but he'll have high hopes of making another big mark this year. It's obvious that the most natural tournament to compare the World Championship to is the UK Championship, because they are both played over a longer distance. He reached the last eight of that event this season and proved he can mix it in the big ones as well as the new PTC matches. He faces Peter Ebdon in the first round here, which promises to be a belter as they both fight for top 16 status. Stuart is a no-nonsense player who will be up for this big time, so it's well worth a watch.

Martin Gould

It's a case of de ja vu for Gould this year. He faces Marco Fu in the first round for the second time in succession, and could be pitted against Neil Robertson in the last 16 too. What I love about watching Gould is that he appears to play in matches exactly as he would do in practice. He's not afraid to go for his shots and has unbelievable confidence in his own ability. This is a wonderful asset and means he always has a good chance of making an impact in tournaments. From time to time it will go wrong, and Gould will admit he's had his fair share of setbacks. But when he's on song, he looks like an event winner. This was proved in the recent PTC Grand Finals event, where he made it to his first major ranking event final, but lost out to Shaun Murphy. His opponent Fu can be hit or miss, and Gould may unsettle him. I can see the qualifier downing the seed and Gould could cause some problems.

Judd Trump

It's hardly ground-breaking to label Trump as a player to watch. He's the winner of the latest ranking event and one of the game's finest young talents. But I think we should be watching out for Trump for entirely different reasons. So fresh from winning his first major ranking event, I'm interested to see what he produces next. We've seen from his performances in Beijing that he's capable of beating any of the top players, including world champion Neil Robertson. But also, we must remember he's still a very young lad. How will he react to the next wave of optimism surrounding him? It's natural for someone so young that he'll enjoy basking in the glory of winning the China Open, but it's important he doesn't let that distract him. He's got a real chance of causing an opening day shock because Robertson is like any champion, under pressure from the word go. This is probably the greatest first day match the Crucible has ever seen.

Rory McLeod

I still find it hard to believe that McLeod has not been past the last 32 of a ranking event before. But it would be special if he could manage it for the first time on the greatest stage of them all. His opponent Ricky Walden is under the cosh to win and secure his place in the elite, so he could have a sniff of a chance. McLeod has perhaps harshly built a reputation as one of the real sloggers. He's been involved in copious amounts of long matches, but people forget he's a quality scorer too. He chalked up a maximum earlier in the season, but maybe suffers from stage fright at the televised stages. He only claimed one frame in Telford when he played Neil Robertson at the UK Championship earlier this season, but I've got a feeling he could potentially cause an upset with not many people expecting anything from him.

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