Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Then there were four...

Only four players are left bidding to become the 2011 world snooker champion - and this is where the Crucible comes into its own as one of sport's greatest venues.

With today's conclusion of the quarter-final matches, the home of snooker is transformed into a one-table venue - and now it's time for that special feeling.

The intensity of the whole place amplifies and the atmosphere multiples.

Only a small percentage of professional snooker players ever get the chance to sample this great snooker setting. This year it's left down to Mark Williams, Judd Trump, John Higgins and Ding Junhui to battle it out on the greatest snooker scene of all.

This is uncharted territory for Ding and Trump, who have never before played at this stage of the competition and now meet each other in the first semi-final.

In fact, until this year, Trump had never been past the first round in Sheffield, while Ding had never advanced past the last 16 stage.

This year though, they've more than fulfilled their potential at the World Championship.

Young Judd has really come of age. Following his first ranking event triumph at the China Open earlier this month, he's continued his marvellous form and showed he can even go on to dominate in the game. Victories over reigning champion Neil Robertson, Martin Gould and 2006 world champion Graeme Dot have proved what's he's capable of, and that's he's a star of the game for many years to come.

For a long time now we've known of his talent, but after several years of failing to live up to his expectations, he's finally showing his devastating best. At the Crucible this year, he's played with confidence as well as maturity well beyond his years.

Fans have been comparing to Jimmy White because of his ability to entertain, and already he's developed an instinctive nature on the table, that means people now believe he can beat anyone and achieve as much as anybody before him in the game. These are quite powerful words. But he really has been that good over the last 12 days. There's no reason why he can't go all the way to lift the trophy. And then who knows how many he'll end up winning. He's got that much talent.

Ding may have also come of age at the Crucible this year - but unlike Judd this is not a first at the highest level of snooker.

Despite having never enjoyed a good run in Sheffield before, at the age of 24, he's already a two-time UK Champion and Masters winner. This indicates it was only ever a matter of time before the Chinese star transferred this form onto the Crucible stage.

But the significance of him achieving it this year is because he's found that tough streak he's lacked for a few seasons. Against Stuart Bingham in the last 16 he trailed 9-6, but fought back to win 10-9. Then against Mark Selby in the quarter-final he was pegged back to 10-10 after leading 10-6, but still came out to win 13-10.

It's this kind of staying power that we've never before associated with Ding. His game has developed ten-fold this season. As well as his vast break-building exploits, he now has bottle and temperament among his armoury. And that's a lethal combination.

The second semi-final isn't such a battle of raw talent. It sees three-time world champion John Higgins pitted against twice winner Mark Williams.

Higgins won his place in the last four by the most high profile route. He downed crowd favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan 13-10 in the quarter-final, winning eight of the final ten frames from 8-5 down.

The Rocket wasn't back to his very best, but has certainly showed more application and resolve than for most of this season. This coupled with his natural talent means he's always in a match, and provided probably the perfect level of test for Higgins to feel ready for the hard fought four-session matches that lie ahead.

Higgins' run to the winning post was trademark of his all-round game. In my opinion, he's the ultimate match player and will produce his best as we flick over to one table.

Williams on the other hand has cruised to the last four completely unscathed. He's already breezed past Ryan Day, Jamie Cope and Mark Allen for the concession of just 14 frames. To have advanced so far without a hint of trouble shows how well he's clearly playing, but unlike Higgins, he's yet to come under the kind of pressure O'Sullivan asserted at stages in their match.

You can never be playing too well, but I just wonder whether Williams may have profited from being pushed even a little further in one of his opening three matches.

This last four tie is a re-match of the classic UK Championship final last December, with the winner guaranteed to go into this year's final against a world final rookie.

That's enough talk. Bring on the semi-finals.


  1. Hi there: I have enjoyed the prediction contest and really miss the lack of it's finishing. help!!!
    Granpa Redsocks

  2. Hi Grandpa Redsocks. Thank you for your feedback. Apologies. The games have been coming so thick and fast that the predictions have not been posted on the blog, but have been published on the facebook account.

    For the record:

    semi-final predictions:

    JP: Ding 17-16 Trump; Williams 17-12 Higgins
    GM: Trump 17-14 Ding; Higgins 17-16 Williams

    final prediction:

    JP: Trump 18-12 Higgins
    GM: Higgins 18-15 Trump

    Next week, I'll be posting a wrap up of scores.