Friday, 8 April 2011

Crucible Countdown: 8 days to go

With eight days to go until the start of the greatest snooker show on earth, it feels like a good time to take a look at the eight former world champions taking part this year.

As well as talent, winning this event is all about know-how.

A quarter of the this season's field have lifted the trophy before, and will hope to add another one to their collection.

OnCue looks back at the triumphs of the former winners, and ahead to their hopes this time round.

Stephen Hendry (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999)

The seven-time world champion is the most successful player in Crucible history. King of the 1990s, Hendry has broken every record in the game. No-one puts more pressure on him than himself, and you're bound to after such dizzy levels of success. It's true he's not the force he once was, and this year, he is fighting to retain his place among the top 16. First up for him is Joe Perry. There aren't many tighter first round matches than this. Hednry must win to stand any chance, but it's likely he'll need a victory against Mark Selby in the last 16 as well, so it's a big ask. But Hendry has often produced his best snooker when his back's to the wall, so you never know.

Ronnie O'Sullivan (2001, 2004, 2008)

The Rocket is without doubt one of the most popular player's the game has ever produced. His immense natural talent always makes for box office viewing, as he loves to entertain. He has never been to the Crucible in such bad form, but the crowd will still be willing him on as much as ever. For his ability, Ronnie should definitely have more world titles to his name. But then again, that's not to say he's finished yet. If he finds the right frame of mind, he could easily add to his tally.

John Higgins (1998, 2007, 2009)

Another three-time Crucible winner, Higgins first claimed the world number one slot some 13 years ago, after his first title. Many people tipped him to go on and add more, but he had to wait a decade until he carved his name back on the roll of honour again. He's a player who has developed great wisdom for the game, and is probably as dangerous as he's ever been. A great break builder and master tactician. He'll be a force for a few years to come yet.

Mark Williams (2000, 2003)

Bidding to join O'Sullivan and Higgins as three-time winners, but already with very little to prove classed by many as a great already. The Welshman is another extremely exciting player to watch, and therefore a popular hit with the fans. A lethal potter and on his day, simply untouchable. He's beaten both close friend Matthew Stevens and Ken Doherty in his two thrilling finals. There's never a dull moment when Williams is around, and his first round clash with Ryan Day will ensure he continues in that vein.

Peter Ebdon (2002)

Not always given the greatest reviews by snooker fans, but Ebdon is a true professional in every sense of the word. His number one asset is self-belief, which he proved when he beat Hendry in one of the all-time classic finals in a deciding frame in 2002. He's lost another two finals, but remains a very under-rated champion for a man who's made three Crucible finals. He's a great grafter who never knows when he's beaten. You can write him off but he's always there to prove his critics wrong. Playing in his 20th consecutive World Championship this season, if he is beaten, he'll need scraping off the table.

Shaun Murphy (2005)

A surprise winner of the 2005 world title even though he was always tipped to reach the pinnacle of the sport. The Magician beat Stevens 18-16 in the final that year after coming through two qualifying match to even reach the venue. Murphy played out of his skin over the 17 days, and despite finding great consistency since, has maybe never played as well. No top player could have beaten him that year. This made him the second youngest Crucible winner ever and set the bar for his career. He's been unable to replicate his greatest success, but still has time on his side to put that right.

Graeme Dott (2006)

Winner of arguably the dullest final the competition has ever seen, when he clinched the title against Ebdon in 2006. Nobody gave Dott a chance but after beating O'Sullivan 17-11 in the semi-final, his determination carried him through. He's also finished runner-up on another two occasions, most notably last year. Dott is again many people's tip for a dark horse this time, and why not. He's got the experience and often saves his best for this competition.

Neil Robertson (2010)

The greatest player to have come out of Australia, and now he boasts a world title to his name. Robertson is a fine attacking player and a firm favourite with the crowd. His victory against Dott in last year's final wasn't glamorous but showed he's got it all. He returns to the Crucible as defending champion facing the biggest pressure of his career so far.

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