Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Ahead to India

It appears justice has prevailed.

Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani will play in Delhi at the Indian Open. They came through matches, quite frankly, they should never have been playing at the Doncaster Dome to qualify.

They have saved World Snooker a blooper and can now, rightly, be the flag bearers for this exciting new event. It is no more than they deserve after the success they enjoyed on the professional tour last season helped to create the market for this event.

There has been much chitter chatter on the subject on Twitter, but for me it's quite straightforward.

My opinion is that Mehta and Advani should been fast-tracked through to the venue in Delhi to help establish this event in its first season. Forget what is the fairest system. Having them both at the venue is what is best for the long-term future of this event.

Now though, they have both got there on true merit. Their participation should help ticket sales and give an extra boost to any appetite for the game out there.

When the last 64 kicks off in Delhi in October it will be a big snooker breakthrough for the nation and hopefully the start of a bright future for the game in these far parts.

But not everyone is happy. The best of seven frame format all the way until the final gives the event a PTC feel. Then when we do make it to the showpiece, we will see the much criticised best of nine format.

Somehow this doesn't feel quite right for a ranking event, but we have to start somewhere and in time this event should grow. We have an event in India and that in itself is good progress.

Talking of where we begin, this tournament started in the Doncaster Dome. From a spectator perspective, it seems good.

Yorkshire is easily accessible for most of the UK fans and the chance to watch so many matches and so many different players in just a day or two still excites even the long-serving venue goers amongst us.

For the top players, these type of venues are from ideal though.

While Barry Hearn's brave new world for snooker promises a level playing field and the same chances available to all, the match conditions shouldn't be compromised on.

The game is nothing without its star players. While I don't believe they should be powdered with luxury, the basics need to be right.

Snooker players today seem refreshingly happy to 'tell it how it is' and the governing body needs to listen.

The comfort of my sofa and my inability to play the game at a decent level means I am not in a position to judge the playing conditions but, if what I read from a large numbers of players is correct, improvements need to be made.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Williams back to winning ways

It was more than two years since Mark Williams won a ranking event until Rotterdam - but now he's back in the game.

The former world number one and two-time world champion Williams is one of the greats, a real favourite with the fans and he's made a welcomed return to the winner's circle.

He beat Mark Selby 4-3 in the Rotterdam Open final yesterday with a touch of class: taking the game to his opponent and really going for his shots. This attacking flair is exactly how he masterminded his years of huge success over the past decade and more.

He didn't let Selby dictate and took home the trophy as a reward. This is his first win since the German Masters back in 2011, where he also beat Selby.

People are quick to cosign the old boys to history after a few defeats or difficult spells, but Williams has bounced back here and has proved he is still very much capable of taking home silverware. Now ranked out side of the top 16, he has some work to do to force his way back into the Masters line-up but a dose of that winning feeling may just spur him on.

Williams is by how own admission not a massive fan of the PTC events, but events like this one here in Europe have the feel of a 'proper' event. This ultimately helps the bigger players who have more experience playing in front of the crowds.

Mark is at the stage of his career where the pressure should be off. He's been there and done it. Maybe by adopting an attitude of just turning up to play and seeing what happens could play to his advantage this season as he looks to get back into the top 16.

This isn't a big win in comparison with the achievements looking back at his career, but it feels poignant.

The thought of seeing Williams getting back to playing anywhere near his very best is exciting. Let's see what the Welshman has up his sleeve for the rest of the campaign.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Robertson raises the bar

Neil Robertson has set the standard for the season ahead.

The excellent Australian delivered the performance of a true champion to win the first full ranking event of the campaign in Wuxi.

He started the tournament well, got better and better and then produced one of his best ever displays in a final to land the silverware.
Picture by Tai Chengzhe

From 5-2 down, he won eight of the final ten frames to beat John Higgins 10-7 and become the Wuxi Classic champion for 2013.

While other top players are still finding their feet and blowing away the cobwebs from a mini summer break, Robertson has come flying out of the blocks and didn't even allow a steely Higgins to deny him the eighth ranking title of his career.

This win helps him to break further away from Mark Selby at the top of the world rankings and all the signs suggest that he could be getting ready for a bumper season. He has all the hallmarks of a modern day great. He can pot long balls and make big breaks but he is carefully honing other great qualities as well.

He knows how to bed his way into tournaments and gather momentum to produce his best when it matters, instead of hitting top form too early. He has a solid safety game, but looks to be deploying it more astutely instead of stifling his own attacking instincts.

He is the great all-rounder in the game right now and has set the bar for the rest of the field to try to meet this season.    

It's difficult to believe that Robertson once upon a time struggled for form in events in China. He's now won the last two events here in succession and has been in three of the past four finals. Wiping aside a disappointing first round exit at the Crucible in April, Robertson looks to have found his calling. He looks settled and ready for what could potentially become his golden spell.

On this showing, he looks ready to take the tour by storm this season and win many more title.

Victory in Wuxi is also poignant because it is the first tournament to be completed under Barry Hearn's new 128 flat draw structure. The playing field is level and everyone has the same opportunity.

But victory for Robertson - the current world number one - proves that no matter what the system, the best players will always prevail.

Robertson has shown us this week why he sits pretty at the top of the pecking order.

He has laid down his marker. It is up to the rest of the players to find a response.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Wuxi Classic final: Robertson v Higgins

This is the final we all wanted.

When Neil Robertson faces John Higgins in the Wuxi Classic, it will be the second time they've met in a final already this season - and it promises to be a blinder.
Picture by Monique Limbos

These two great champions have been the best players in the tournament by quite a distance.

Higgins has got here losing just six frames all week while Robertson has gathered momentum and now looks back to a level somewhere his very best.

They both ran out comfortable 6-2 winners in the semi-final matches, but now the biggest test is to come.

People were writing Higgins off at the back end of last season, consigning his best performances to history. But the Scot has looked solid all week, comfortably picking off his opponents while they searched for their rhythm. He's proved the theory correct that form is temporary and class is permanent.

He is a snooker legend. It was 15 years ago when he picked up the first of his four world title wins and he's still competing at the very top of the game today. This is a sign of his greatness.

Robertson has everything he needs to become a great. He was absolutely awesome against Robert Milkins and looks like he's improving with every match. This is exactly how you win big titles, by saving your best for last.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The Australian will be competing in his third of the last four major China finals after years of struggling to produce his best here, but now he has found his feet and is the all-round modern player.

He has every attribute required to gone on and win lots of trophies. Victory here would be a statement of intent for the rest of the campaign.

The final is a race to ten frames and should be a fantastic match. It is difficult to pick a winner, but the form guide favours Higgins. He beat Robertson 4-1 in the final of the Bulgarian Open just two weeks ago and has also won all of their past four head-to-head meetings.

It's tough to pick an area where this match may be won or lost, but players are so good at front running matches that I believe the first session of this final could be more pivotal than in most.

Let's get ready for what could be a classic.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Walking tall in Wuxi

The snooker season is still yet young but already we have two top players standing up above the rest.

Former world champions Neil Robertson and John Higgins met just a fortnight ago in the Bulgarian Open final and are odds on to lock horns again in another showpiece here in Wuxi.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The first major ranking event of the season carries an importance of its own and these two really look up for the test, but down to the final four, can either of them be toppled?

The Australian looks in excellent form and is getting better. He's shown the real hallmarks of a champion, stepping up his game every time he's asked a question.

The business end of a tournament is familiar ground for Neil and he definitely proved his experience when he met quarter-final debutant Cao Yupeng. The China star led 4-3 and was on the brink of victory until Robertson delivered two one-visit contributions to seal the match. This is what the best players do.

But next he faces Robert Milkins; and they have history. Neil lost to Milkins in the first round at the World Championship back  in April. The fear factor doesn't exist. Milkins knows he can take him and has been playing well for a while now.

Despite this win, Milkins will be the underdog again. But this a role he has often enjoyed playing.

Higgins is back to his old self and flying through the rounds with authority. He put an end to Joe Perry's terrific run and looks to have rekindled his determination and steely resolve.

The Scot has always had a knack of getting stronger as a tournament wears on and will be feeling good now he's got this far. Bidding for his second trophy inside a month, he probably goes into the semi-finals a shade the favourite to win the title.

But next he faces Matthew Stevens, who is looking to reach his second final in China of the year after the World Open in March.

The Welshman is going quietly about his business and looks to have hit some good form. He faces a big task against Higgins but will take the chances if he gets them and has beat every top player before.

 Bring on the semi-finals.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Home hopes

Wuxi is some 6,000 miles from the UK, the place many professional players call home.

The mix of travelling and adapting to a completely different culture to normal can be daunting and tough, but one young Scot and another from Ireland have taken it all in their stride so far this week.

Scotland's Scott Donaldson and Ireland's David Morris have both progressed to the last 16 of a major ranking event for the first time in this year's Wuxi Classic - and it is music to the ears of fans back home.

Both Scotland and Ireland have a rich snooker history and are renowned for producing great players. But the future hasn't looked all that rosey in the past couple of years - and both nations are crying out for a new player to make a mark.

Are these two players about to plot their path to stardom?

Donaldson is 19 years old and, now his second season on the pro circuit, looks ready to make the step up. He's beaten Gareth Green and Jimmy Robertson so far this week and looks comfortable way beyond his years in Wuxi.

He has a great amateur record as the former Scottish Under 16, 19 and 21 champion. Now he's out there with the big boys, this counts for very little - but he is making an impression at the top level now.

Having already won 15 of his 18 matches this season, he's definitely one to watch.

Morris is a little more familiar with life on the circuit. He's only 24 years old today but first turned professional back in 2006. Adaptation has often come hard for him and he's had plenty of set backs, but he's still here fighting.

Wins against Gary Wilson and Gerard Greene have guided him to the last 16 and returning to tour via Q School this summer looks like it may have given him some momentum. 

Morris has always had bags of ability and still scores heavily. He looks like he might be on the right path now and the change to tournament structure could give him the push he's needed for a while.

There have been plenty of other talking points apart from these two bright runs.

It's a big season coming up for two-time world champion Mark Williams. He played some excellent snooker to knock out Jack Lisowski 5-4 and is showing signs of a return to form. After almost 18 months where he has failed to impress, the Welshman still has plenty of fans behind him and needs to show his class to prevent a slide down the rankings.

Joe Perry is still on his winning streak. He piled yet more home pressure on Ding Junhui with a 5-1 win. The Cambridgeshire man is having a great time over in China and showing what can be gained by getting your head down and focusing on the job in hand.

Then a word for Peter Lines too. He's beaten China's biggest moaner Mark Allen this week and is now through to the last 16 having knocked out Petr Lines. The Leeds man is a dedicated pro and a big snooker lover. His performances so far suggest he's equipped himself well for the coming season.

These early events can often be difficult to judge with every player at a different stage in sharpness. The volume of practice put in over the summer varies from player to player and form is difficult to predict.

But we're down to the final 16 and there are plenty of big names still in the hunt - as well China's own Cao Yupeng and Xiao Guodong.

Who will end the week as the Wizard of Wuxi?

Wuxi Classic last 16 draw:

Robert Milkins v Scott Donaldson
Mark Williams v Anthony Hamilton
Ben Woollaston v Cao Yupeng
Mark King v Neil Robertson
David Gilbert v Joe Perry
John Higgins v Xiao Guodong
Peter Lines v Matthew Stevens
Ali Carter v David Morris

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Perry gets that winning feeling

When I interviewed Joe Perry almost two years ago to very day he spoke about getting back that winning attitude.

This weekend he really did enjoy that feeling of victory as he claimed his first ever ranking event win at the Asian Tour event 1, the Yixing Open.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Snooker fans call Perry 'The Gentleman' because of his likeable attitude, but that definitely shouldn't be mistaken for him being a soft touch. He has always had the determination to be the very best he can be.

I've watched him hit top form, including en route to the semi-finals of the World Championship in 2008. He is a smooth, classy player and as good as most to watch when he finds his rhythm. He doesn't force the balls and has a great touch.

He needed an excellent performance to get the job done here. In the earlier rounds he beat off Robert Milkins, Cao Yupeng and Alan McManus - before seeing off world number two Mark Selby 4-1 in the final.

The Jester looked like he was on the warpath. He dropped just three frames on his journey to the final and enjoyed five whitewash wins.

Beating Perry would have helped reclaim top spot in the world after he lost it to Neil Robertson just a week earlier. But Perry wasn't to be denied.

This will go down as a famous win for the man from Cambridge. It almost guarantees him a place at the PTC Grand Finals later in the season and will be a great confident boost for the tournaments coming up.

Well played Joe.

Click here to read my interview with Joe Perry from two years ago.

Monday, 10 June 2013

To Bulgaria and back

John Higgins looked back to his good old self in Bulgaria over the weekend - and ended it holding the first trophy of the season aloft.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The Wizard of Wishaw - and four-time world champion - struggled to find his form at the end of last season and people can be forgiven for questioning whether his best was actually in the past.

But this was back to business for the Scot as he flew to Sofia for the second ever Bulgarian Open and strode confidently to the winning line.

On the final day, he beat a star-studded list of top players including Shaun Murphy, reigning world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan and Australia's Neil Robertson in the final.

You have to be playing well to beat these boys and Higgins was. He looked chipper than in the last few months and played well in all departments.

This was the first TV event of the season as we look forward to aother campaign where Eurosport will play a big part taking snooker far and wide to the baize-thirsty public.

This was a chance to see the players up close again after an albeit short summer off. We learned again that despite the shorter format of the PTC events that the top players find a way to win. That's what talent counts for.

We all enjoyed the fun and games of the Wuxi Classic qualifiers, in what looks like will be an exciting new format. But while this new draw structure presents a land of opportunity for the game's newest stars, I think the strength of performance the top players showed in Bulgaria could tell us a lot about the season ahead as we continue on Barry Hearn's  brightest venture so far.

The top players are at the right end of the rankings for a reason and will stay there, unless the chasing pack really earn it. The top players no longer have the same level of protection as in years gone by and have been forced to waver any divine rights to play at all the venues.

While we will see shocks along the way, the top guns will really take some beating - and will probably prove while they are the best.

The new system presents a chance for the more inexperienced professionals to make an immediate impact on the tour, but the big boys won't be giving it away easy.

We saw an indication in Bulgaria of who might do particularly well. Higgins looked in the mood and could be back competing for the honours for the remainder of this season.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Let's do it all again

Welcome back snooker fans!

The new snooker season kicks off on this second May bank holiday weekend with the Wuxi Classic qualifiers in Gloucester.

It feels like a lifetime ago but it's actually only been three weeks since the bank holiday weekend earlier in the month when Ronnie O'Sullivan beat Barry Hawkins at the Crucible to claim a fifth world title.

Time on the beach is a premium these days for the players. For many years the game has had months of hibernation between the World Championships and the first ranking event of the new season - but that's all change now Barry Hearn is at the helm.

In fact, arguably Barry's biggest modofication to the snooker regime kicks off now.

When the first cue ball of the season is struck in the morning, it will be under a brand new system. 128 players will gather at the South West Academy hoping to win one match to make it the main venue in Wuxi.

At all bar three ranking events this season, there will be a flat draw. Everyone is in from round one. This is the level-playing field Hearn has been pining for.

For the new professionals and the lower-ranked players, it is a land of opportunity. If you're good enough, you can prove it straight away. There is the added difficult of having to beat a player up in the top 64. But there's no longer three or even four matches separating you and the venue. Success is now closer to your fingertips.

For the higher-ranked players, there is nowhere to hide. Protection has been wiped away. You have to prove you're still good enough to be competing at the venues, instead of being gifted your place.

If you win matches, you will succeed. There's no fairer system than that.

Click here for the draw and format of the Wuxi Classic qualifiers.

There are some fascinating ties here. World champion O'Sullivan begins his season against Michael Wasley. Six-time Crucible king Steve Davis locks horns with Stephen Hedry's nephew James Cahill. Ding Junhui is tryig to qualify for his true home evet agaist Aditya Mehta. There are plety more.

It will be interesting to see which players are still on vacation and those who are ready and raring to go. Players will arrive with all different levels of practice under their belts. Keep your eyes on these matches. We could be in store for a few shocks.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A master at work

Ronnie O'Sullivan's capture of a fifth world title will surely rank as one of his finest moments in the game.

Having played just one competitive match since he won the World Championship a year ago, the Rocket came back and did it all again when many said he couldn't.

He ripped through the field with relative ease and proved once again that he is the best out there and still the man to beat.
Picture by Monique Limbos

His 18-12 victory against Barry Hawkins in the final was superb. He scored a record six centuries in a World Championship final, became the first player since Stephen Hendry in 1996 to successfully defend the sport's premier title and became the record century maker ever at the Crucible.

These are records deserving to a player of such class.

O'Sullivan plays the game like no one else. At his best, he makes a ridciculously difficult game look effortless and plays to a standard many can only dream of.

This victory will surely rank right up there alongside the best of his achievements on the green baize. Having spent a year away from the challenges of competitive snooker, it was difficult to predict exactly how O'Sullivan would cope.

Many people said he would be too ring rusty to lift the title again but, in the end, he just picked up where he left off and was actually the freshest of them all as he bulldozed his way to triumph.

This was a sensational return even by O'Sullivan's lofty standards. It will go down as one of the best sporting feats in my lifetime. It proves the Rocket really is a master of our sport: a gift to the game and a born genius.

It's difficult to judge whether O'Sullivan played as well as he ever has at the Crucible but the nature of the win probably makes it his most special for the outsiders looking in.

His break building throughout the tournament was exceptional but it was his terrific matchplay that mastered the field. He looked 100 per cent focused, answered every question he was asked and never lost his discipline.

The work Ronnie has done alongside Dr Steve Peters was shining through at every turn. In this kind of form and with this level of application, O'Sullivan is close to unplayable. In fact, I think only Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis or John Higgins in their pomp could make a fist of a fight with O'Sullivan in this mood.

Saying that, Hawkins did a fine job. He was excellent. He gave everything he had in his first Crucible final and played well enough to beat almost anyone else in the game. He just came up against a force of nature over the two days.

Barry has done himself proud and won plenty of hearts. He is living proof of what can be achieved with a little bit of self belief. He showed what a fine player he is and what great fighting attributes he has in his locker.

He has enjoyed an awesome fortnight beating world number one Mark Selby, Chinese number one Ding Junhui and taking the one table format well in his stride. His performance rubbishes any talk of burnout. Barry has played more than 100 games this season but still saved his best for last on the biggest stage there is. It is easy to feel tired and run down playing in so many tournaments, but this shouldn't be used as an excuse.

It is up to the players themselves to manage their playing schedule and ensure they can produce their best at the most important events. But Barry has proved that burnout only comes into play when you're not playing well. When things are going well, you can play, play and play some more.

What is next for O'Sullivan remains unclear but for now, we should enjoy and marvel at his greatness. He has put on a great show here in Sheffield and is well worth his title.

Well played Ronnie. You've done it again.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Final thoughts: O'Sullivan v Hawkins

Ronnie O'Sullivan arrives at the Crucible Theatre this afternoon as the odds on favourite to win a fifth world title.

Barry Hawkins has been all but written off.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The script says the stage has already been cleared for The Rocket to become the first player to defend at the Crucible since Stephen Hendry in 1996, go ahead of John Higgins on world titles won and just behind Steve Davis on six.

O'Sullivan has been here and done it all before. He has all the big match experience and has been the stand-out player of the tournament by a mile. He beat Judd Trump 17-11 in the semi-finals and was a class above in all departments. This has been the story in every round. He has raised the bar.

His focus and quick thinking on the table has been superb. He hasn't trailed at any time throughout the entire World Championship and despite not reaching the levels he did a year ago, he has scarcely been pushed.

This sums up the size of the task facing Hawkins over the next two days and 35 frames.

To snatch the world title from O'Sullivan's grasp would be an achievement of epic proportions. It may even be considered a greater than shock than when Joe Johnson won the World Championship in 1986.

Hawkins has it all to do but can take plenty of heart from his previous meetings with O'Sullivan. Although he trails 5-1 on head to heads, he has run him close more than once and knows he can compete with him. It is whether he can take this level of competitiveness onto the biggest stage of them all, the World Championship.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Barry has had a superb season, while Ronnie has had none. Since winning his first ranking event last summer at the Australian Open he has grown in confidence, climbed back into the top 16 and enjoyed some great wins.

He has saved his best for the Crucible, though. He's knocked out world number one Mark Selby, Chinese sensation Ding Junhui and recovered from 12-8 down to win eight frames in a row en route to beating Ricky Walden in the semi-finals.

No one can question he deserves to be here. He got better and better in his match against Walden to prove he is adapting to his first experience on the one table format here - but he now needs a seismic performance to lift the trophy.

O'Sullivan looks unshakable. He must produce the performance of his life to slay The Rocket.

But the pressure is off. He has already been casted as the runner-up this year.

He has already achieved something way beyond his wildest dreams. He has fought like a warrior for the past fortnight at the Crucible and can afford to enjoy his proudest moment when he walks out into the arena.

This is a dream come true for a player who has given his all throughout his career.

He can afford to enjoy the occasion. O'Sullivan plays with all the expectation. Hawkins is the underdog but should he pull it off, the size of glory that awaits is massive. It would go down as one of the biggest achievements in snooker history.

Enjoy the final.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Mind your manners

What happened to snooker etiquette?

It appeared to go right out of the window last night in an evening of mild controversy during Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd's Trump's semi-final third session at the Crucible.

The crowd were raucous and a minority sounded like they were trying to deliberately put Judd off on his shots. He had to realign a number of times and a few loud-mouthed Ronnie fans did little to add to the decorum of the whole event.
Picture by Monique Limbos

One fan shouted at the start of the second session earlier yesterday morning: "Suck his arse out, Ronnie."

It's this kind of crowd barracking that would come part and parcel with snooker moving more towards a darts atmosphere. This is the reason proper snooker fans are happy to steer well clear.

One of the great appeals of snooker for me when growing up was the great respect the crowd plays both players and the intense atmosphere that can be created by the silence when players are down on their shots playing a game of great skill and accuracy.

A perfect snooker atmosphere has two key ingredients in my opinion. The deadly silence when players are on shots and then the loud noise when fans applaud a great shot or are entering the arena at the start of a match. Shouting obscenities and trying to distract a player has no place in creating good 'atmsophere'.

A night of controversy wouldn't be complete without a contribution from O'Sullivan.

He has looked as focused as ever in this tournament but let his guard slip in frame 23. He was sternly warned by referee Michaela Tabb for making lewd gestures when wiping down his cue.

Well done to Michaela for not letting her friendship with Ronnie get in the way of a good ticking off. She always does a fantastic job out in the arena and takes charge of the big matches well.

These were two big talking points but there was some great snooker played on the table last night as well. Judd showed some moments of brilliance but it was another session where Ronnie was ultimately too strong all round. He won the session 5-3 and leads the match 14-10 going into this afternoon's conclusion.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Crucible picture book

Time to turn it on

Judd Trump has kept himself in his semi-final against Ronnie O'Sullivan, but now it's time to step up on the gas.

Twice it has looked as if The Rocket was going to take the match away from his young Grove scholar and twice the Bristolian has found a way to hold onto the defending champion's coattails.

In the first session, Trump was 4-1 behind and struggling to score as easily as O'Sullivan. It looked even at this early stage of the encounter as though he would hit Trump hard and quickly assume control, but he won the last three frames and levelled overnight.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The second session looked much the same. After sharing the first four frames, O'Sullivan rattled off three in a row and had Trump on the back foot again at 9-6. Trump was not dettered again and won a tense finalframe to end up 9-7 instead of 10-6.

Trump wasn't anywhere near his best and looked to suffer again from a lacklustre morning performance but the worry here is that he may have missed a golden chance to stride towards a place in his second Crucible final.

O'Sullivan admitted after beating Stuart Bingham that it takes at least one, maybe even two sessions, to adapt to the one table format. His theory has been proved true. He has been playing in his lowest gears so far yet Trump has looked nervous and only managed to keep himself in the contest, rather than taking the chance to open a lead.

I'm not writing Trump off. Far from it. I'm sure he will come out and play better in the second half of the match and showed his courage to come back against Shaun Murphy in the last round, but O'Sullivan is going to get better as well.

Trump needs to take the match by the scruff of its neck and put into practice what he vowed to do in his press conference. He threatened to attack O'Sullivan, put him under pressure and scare him on the table. So far, this kind of performance hasn't materialised.

O'Sullivan has shown glimpses of brilliance in this tournament but hasn't found the consistency he did here when he won the title a year ago.

The four-time champion hasn't trailed a match here yet and is closing in on the final without really having been pushed to the fullest.

Trump has everything he needs to rattle Ronnie. At the halfway stage of this match, it's time for him to push on and exploit any of O'Sullivan's vulnerability.

He might not get the chance to face the master again at the World Championship. He needs to seize the moment.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

O'Sullivan: "I'll be glad when it's over"

Looking ahead: Hawkins v Walden

Ricky Walden against Barry Hawkins may be playing second fiddle in this season's battle of the World Championship semi-finals - but walking out with the arena their own will be a proud moment for both.

I don't think you could have a found a single punter to predict these two would have both made it to the last four at the Crucible.
Picture by Monique Limbos

But here they are having battled through a half of the draw which looked loaded at the start of the tournament, including star names Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Mark Williams and Stephen Maguire.

They may be unlikely heroes but are definitely here on merit and can now look forward to their game of their lives.

Chester's Walden has played some fluent snooker in his first three rounds and has started really well in every session he's played, admitting he finds it easier to concentrate in the early exchanges of long matches.

His performance against Michael White in the quarter-finals was predatory. He made two centuries and another eight breaks over 50 to beat the Welshman 13-6 and showed how attacking he can be when full of confidence.

Walden is one of those players who I always enjoy watching but never see him as much as some of the other names in the top 16. This ability to go quietly about his business and under the radar in comparison to other marquee names in the draw has probably helped him this week.

He says he's only reached 70 per cent of his top game so far at the Crucible and incidentally has often produced the his best form away from the UK shores. He is a two-time ranking event winner. His triumphs have both come in China at the Shanghai Masters and Wuxi Classic.

Now he has the chance to enjoy ultimate success on home soil and in the biggest event in the sport.

Picture by Monique Limbos
But first, he must beat Barry who is playing out of his skin this week.

Hawkins has always had bags of quality but says his new found self belief and ability to hold himself down when under pressure has made the big difference.

The Kent potter has arguably had the most difficult route of them all to reach the last four. He's gunned down Jack Lisowski, world number one Selby and China star Ding to reach the one table.

His success has been built on accurate and consistent safety. A lot of fans have commented that no one has played well against Barry in this tournament so far, but it isn't a coincidence. He has stopped all of his opponents from playing their best, which is an art in itself.

He has stifled his opponents, got on top of them and broken their rhythm, picking off the wins with a series of great pressure breaks. He's massively up for this.

It's a tough match to call and could go right to the wire.

When they walk out this evening for the first session it will be the realisation of a dream they have both worked hard to achieve throughout their careers.

The match presents a great chance for both to make a World Championship final.

Whoever grabs it with most conviction will surely cross the line.

Retirement talk

Ronnie O'Sullivan is hogging the media spotlight once again for what he's been saying off the table instead of his great ability on it.

The Rocket has always lived an unpredictable life in snooker but stunned quite a few when he declared in his press conference after thrashing Stuart Bingham 13-4 last night that he's had enough of the game again and plans to retire.
Picture by Monique Limbos

He said he's only back at the Crucible this year for the money to pay his children's school fees and after three matches into his title defence can confirm that he doesn't miss playing snooker.

This story has a feeling of the boy who cried wolf and does nothing but confuse us more about the sport's troubled star.

In the build-up to this tournament - billed as his great return - he spoke about snooker filling a hole in his life and his ambitions to win a World Championship title in his 40s, some three years down the line.

Well, perhaps not.

He now plans to find something new to do for a living and will only fulfil his current sponsorship deal next season requiring him to play in 10 tournaments, which he claims include the Snooker Legends Tour events.

Some people are taking these threats with a pinch of salt. We've heard it all before. Betfair is already offering odds on prices for him to return to play at the Crucible next year. Others think he is playing mind games ahead of his huge semi-final clash with Judd Trump. Others think he enjoys the attention and revels with the thrill of toying with the media. And, some are so bored that they don't even care what his plans are.

But maybe Ronnie doesn't even how he feels about snooker. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve and rapidly jump through his mix of emotions.

Whatever your opinion, his clash with Trump has all the hallmarks to become one of the greatest Crucible matches and this twist might even give it some extra spark.

What is certain is that Ronnie will be fighting out there. Whether he plays at the World Championship again or not, he is a ferocious competitor and won't want to be beaten by Trump.

He has been playing throughout this tournament as if his life depends on it and looks focused on winning the title.

These media claims make Trump's task no harder nor easier. He is playing one of the all-time greats and will need every ounce of his ability and fight to muster the win.

Click here to listen to O'Sullivan's latest press conference in full.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Looking ahead: Trump v O'Sullivan

Four-time and defending world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan against the master of naughty snooker Judd Trump in the semi-finals at the Crucible: It's a mouthwatering prospect.

That dream tie is now a reality after the world number three Judd came through a classic 13-12 against Shaun Murphy and Ronnie put Stuart Bingham to the sword 13-4.

Unmissable. That's the best word to use to describe it - but excatly what can we look forward to?

Let's start with Judd. He won a quarter-final that had everything. It was box office quality. It was match of the tournament by a country mile.

It highlighted the beauty of the longer format matches at the Crucible. Trump found himself frustratingly 6-2 down after a poor first session. This set his critics out in force but, if there's one thing Judd doesn't lack, it's confidence.

After a two-hour afternoon sleep and a pep talk from his friends, family and management team, he came back fighting. He produced a string of five straight frames to level 8-8  from 8-3 down and set up a final session where the real drama played out.

Trump and Murphy were toe-to-toe throughout taking chunks out of each other with clinical breaks and astute safety. The determination in the eyes of both men was immense. You could sense that victory would create a launchpad to go on to lift the title for both of them.

In the end, it took a 53-minute decider to separate them and Trump's dramatic win proved he is getting better with age and adding new tools to his kit. He showed incredible fighting spirit and courage to turn the match on its head and then tough it out to the winning line.

If he can consistently produce this matchplay fight and couple it with his more natural long potting ability, which is gradually creeping back to its best, and his great touch in the balls then he will regularly beat players of Murphy's even if they're at their best.

Picture by Monqiue Limbos
Now, what about Ronnie? He's a different beast. He's produced some excellent snooker in his return to the Crucible. He's been installed as the heavy favourite for the contest, and indeed the title.

It's been scary to see how he's returned after a long break and immediately set about his task of carving through the field. He looks a level above the rest. He's played the best snooker of this tournament. His scoring has been mesmerising.

He found himself 12-1 up at one stage in his match against Bingham and was in unstoppable mode. This is what Ronnie brings to the table. He seems to be able to take his performance up a gar when it really matters in matches and kill his opponents off quickly. To beat Ronnie, you have to keep with him, but no one has managed it so far.

The way in which Ronnie has come back and torn through the field makes it feel like a fifth world title is almost written in the stars.

But Judd has plans to stop him in his tracks. He isn't scared of Ronnie and says he won't be intimidated by him on the table.

I've always thought that Trump is one of just a small pocket of players at the top of the game with the mentality to beat O'Sullivan. He relishes the big occasion and has complete belief in his own ability.

Of course, he has great respect for the four-time champion. He's been there and done it and has vastly more experience, but he knows he can rattle him.

O'Sullivan has had everything his own way so far in this championship. He has been the front-runner in all of his matches and dictated in every department. With a good start Judd can test the other side of his game. We're likely to see what O'Sullivan is really like this year when he's put under pressure and maybe asked to come from behind.

These two players are the real crowd pleasers in the game and their match promises to be an absolute classic. Make sure you don't miss it.

Hawk talks of Crucible dream

Barry Hawkins is living the Crucible dream.

He's through to the one table format at the World Championship for the first time ever and is having quite a time of it Sheffield.
Picture by Monique

If his 13-7 win against Ding Junhui wasn't brilliant enough, it comes after knocking out world number one Mark Selby in the last 16. This is a fine double against two of the world's very best players - and is indication of just how well he is performing.

In fact, I can't remember ever seeing Hawkins play any better.

His style has been effective and he has stayed loyal to it. He looks calm under the pressure, is holding himself together in the big moments in his match and is putting his top class opponents under the cosh with fine, accurate and consistent safety.

It's quite a simple formula but is working a treat. He's play with such control and is yet to be broken down.

Hawkins seems to be profiting from greater self-belief, which comes as a result of victory at the Australian Open early this season plus working alongside former champion Terry Griffiths.

He's hit the Crucible big time this year and is rightly delighted. Hawkins has spent most of his career wondering whether he would make it to the real top stage. He's lived through all the doubts and now finally all the years of hardwork since turning professional in 1996 are paying off.  

He looks much different in the big moments in matches and admits he feels better under pressure too. He's really settled down this season and is producing the goods.

When he spoke to the press following his quarter-final win against Ding he explained that the joy of reaching the semi-finals hadn't sunk in yet and it's just a dream come true.

He's into the final four and can feel very proud when he walks out into the arena with the entire crowd watching him. It will be a brand new experience for him and one that will definitely test his new found calmness under pressure.

He's had a fantastic couple of weeks on the biggest snooker stage and things could get better still.

Well played Barry.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Rocket power

It's difficult not to jump aboard the Ronnie O'Sullivan bandwagon.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's moving at 100 miles per hour and with an ungodly amount of class. As he strolled to a 7-1 lead in the first session of his quarter-final match against Stuart Bingham, it was difficult to do anything but sit back and enjoy the show.

As the cue ball glided effortlessly around the table and was kept in pinpoint precision by its master with the cue, we were watching the snooker of a genius to a level difficult to match.

The Rocket finished off Ali Carter in great style last night snatching his required four frames in just five to win 13-8 and then on his return today he just picked up exactly where he left off, putting on a show for a mesmerised Crucible crowd.

This dominant haul against poor and powerless Bingham was an absolute masterclass. He made big breaks, switched hands and picked off frames like a steam train.

The performance was so good he is now odds on to win the World Championship with many bookmakers and, without doubt, the man for everyone else to beat.

He has improved his level of performance with every single session here and is both quickly and terrifyingly finding his top gear after an 11-month sabbatical from the sport since winning the world title a year ago.

We've had such a fantastic season on the baize overall. It even felt at times like we might not be missing the four-time world champion Ronnie, but think again.

Michael Holt made an excellent point on Twitter this afternoon (perhaps in jest) that the game has definitely missed him, but not the players.

While Ronnie has been away, the ranking titles have been largely shared around. No-one has grabbed hold of things and dominated the trophies. We're back at the biggest event of them all right now and O'Sullivan looks like he's raised the bar and taken standard up a notch.

Ronnie performed close to his best this afternoon, showing why he is so widely adored. He showed off his swagger, was completely dominant and was absolutely unstoppable.

The way he rattles off frames when he's on form is scary. He can kill a match in a session. To be beaten at this year's World Championship, someone is going to have to perform out of their skin.

O'Sullivan is back.

Monday, 29 April 2013

In close quarters

It's quarter-finals time at the Crucible.

The prospect of becoming world champion is beginning to become a real reality for the eight players who remain.

The greatest title in the game is only three wins away and this is the time to up it and stake a claim to lift the famous trophy.

The first two rounds of the tournament have produced an array of upsets but there are plenty of quality players still left battling it out.

Here's a whistlestop look ahead to our four tasty quarter-finals:

Shaun Murphy v Judd Trump

Picture by Monique Limbos
A match worthy of any ranking event final. This is the clash of the round as two classy cueists, who love to attack, chase their World Championship dream. Murphy won the title as a qualifier back in 2005 and has number two in his sights. He's used to starting events strongly but needs to show he can get even better when winning line comes in sight. He has always been at his best when he goes on the attack with a delightful cue action that gets plenty of attention. If he decides to go all out after the win this could become a classic because Judd loves to go after his shots as well and has produced moments of brilliance in this tournament, scoring as well as he has for quite some time. Trump looks to be getting more confident, so Murphy needs to believe in his own game just as much. I'm not sure these two are the greatest of friends but they have huge mutual respect for each othery and know they need to be at their best to win.

 Ronnie O'Sllivan v Stuart Bingham

Picture by Monique Limbos
 A clash of contrasting experience in this massive match. Bingham is playing in his first ever Crucible quarter-final while O'Sullivan has won the World Championship four times and has been here many times before. Bingham won't let that affect him. He doesn't fear anyone these days and is one of the best break builders in the world. Form suggests he will have to be at his very best to win this match though. O'Sullivan has been excellent so far in the tournament despite his lengthy break and looks to be going through the gears nicely. He's been in very punishing mood in the balls and is clinically taking advantages of any mistakes. Ronnie looks really focused and is probably becoming less vulnerable as the rounds go on and should get closer to his best with every session. Bingham will be worrying about his own game. He will relish playing in this great match and can put O'Sullivan under pressure.

Ding Junhui v Barry Hawkins

Picture by Monique Limbos
A lot of people believe the draw is opening up beautifully for Ding Junhui but this won't be plain-sailing. Hawkins has been playing brilliantly for a long time now. He proved against Mark Selby that he's a classy player and well up for the fight. Ding is superb in his own right and, if he plays like he did in his second session against Mark King, is pretty much unstoppable. His break building skills are mesmerising. Ding has showed all the signs that he is ready to step up to win the big one. If he can go all the way it would be huge for the sport in China. It would be one of the most memorable moments in the history of snooker. Hawkins will be desperate to spoil the party. He will want to get on top of Ding early and is capable against anyone.

Ricky Walden v Michael White

Picture by Monique Limbos
Maybe the most difficult quarter-final match to predict. Both players have won their first ever matches at the Crucible this year and are living the dream in Sheffield. White is here on debut and taking the whole experience in his stride. He's really taking the chance to show what he can do on the big stage and has showed great tempremant. Walden has been playing awesome so far and looks like he's put lots of practice in and is getting the rewards. This match could be a tense one and will produce spells of real pressure. It might come down to who handles it best.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Never underestimate the Hawk

Barry Hawkins has long been one of the most underestimated player on the professional circuit - but he's shown his class again.

The Hawk staged an excellent comeback to beat world number one Mark Selby 13-10, winning seven of the final eight frames from 9-6 down. He showed incredible fighting attributes when it mattered most.
Picture by Monique Limbos

This is now the second year running Hawkins has ended Selby's hopes and his reward is a place in his first ever Crucible quarter-final.

Hawkins is one of the truly nicest players at the top of the game. You never hear him talking himself up in the press. He just gets on with the job in hand. He's never cared about reputation but he is a great player and, as he keeps showing, capable of beating anyone. This a massive win for him. That was obvious when he cheered to the crowd after match ball and then let his emotions out in his press conference.

This wasn't the prettiest of wins but it was a big win nonetheless. He will get more confident following this memorable victory. He'll  keep scoring and has proved he can scrap alongside the very best.

The question now is: How far can he go? The bottom half of this draw is wide open. The top seeds have been falling all week and it really shows that the gap at the top just keeps closing. The tournament is an absolute minefield. It's not easy to name a winner. So, can Hawkins get to the one table format? Why not!

Hawkins is still in the hunt and will probably be underestimated again, but really shouldn't be.

Selby will be very disappointed and may be one of a few players paying the price for such a long, hard season. He was way below par at the crucial time in this match, but that hasn't always mattered. He usually finds a way. It always felt like he would eventually step up and take the match, but it never quite materialised. This means another chance at winning the World Championship has slipped away.

He's still had a decent season with two major BBC event wins but the trophy he so desperately desires continues to elude him.

Coping with the Crucible pressure

One of the greatest appeals of the World Championship is the pressure that surrounds it.

The heat is on from the very first ball at the Crucible and having never played at this great venue I can't even begin to imagine its full effect.

I don't get huge pleasure from seeing a player struggle under pressure but it helps to create drama and, ultimately, the players who find a way to overcome it usually enjoy greater success here.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Michael White and Shaun Murphy are the first two names through to this year's quarter-finals and have both dealt with the pressure well.

Murphy's press conference anecdote highlights just how excellent White has performed under the circumstances. Murphy lost 10-4 to Stephen Hendry here on his debut and told the media he was so nervous that he he missed his glass when pouring his water.

This is the behaviour of a man who went to win the title in 2005. So, compare this to how 21-year-old White has taken the whole experience into his stride and it speaks volumes about his ability to deal with pressure and the great future he might have. He has shown maturity way beyond his years.

Beating two-time champion Mark Williams on his debut is a fantastic achievement and requires great self belief. This is a memory that will stay with him forever but, in the second round, he required a different kind of professionalism.

While world number 70 Dechewat Poomjaeng was dividing opinion and letting his character on the loose, White kept his eye on the job in hand.

The eccentric Thai was clapping his own shots, constantly gesturing to the crowd, looking around for laughs and trying to talk to White throughout.

This isn't a pop at Dechawat. He's great for the game. So many people are talking about snooker that he
can't be anything but positive for this year's World Championship, but the show that comes with him could have been off putting because it's so unusual and excessive for a game of snooker so important.

White found a way to block it all out and won the match 13-3.

His performances so far at the Crucible suggest we have a real talent on our hands. He has bags of ability and a top class attitude to match. He is riding the crest of a wave this week a bit like his Welsh compatriot Jamie Jones did a year. He should continue to enjoy himself and could even go further but, as in Jamie's case, this run doesn't guarantee more success although it should inspire him to get back to playing on the big occasions.

This experience is brand new for White. Murphy on other hand has been here and seen it all before. He knows what it feels like to win these big matches but also has some scars from defeats.

Picture by Monique Limbos
After beating Martin Gould in round one, he was involved in a classic against Graeme Dott. He flew into a 6-2 lead after the first session but then was pulled back level before going into the final.

Murphy eventually won 13-11 and could even benefit from enduring such a battle of getting over the line.

No one ever cruises through to the final stages at the Crucible. A test like this could toughen him up for the one table format, should he get there.

People love the twists and turns that come with these longer matches at the World Championship. Murphy has lived through enough. He doesn't always win the easy way, but knows all about what it takes. He rightly said that you cannot replicate these pressured match conditions in practice. You have to roll with the punches and find a way to win at all costs.

Murphy has his level-headed attitude on his side. He will never stop giving it his all. He could face Trump next and it will be interesting to see if he goes out on the attack himself or instead tries to tame Judd.

Consistency has never been a problem for Murphy. Having lost 13 semi-finals, it's more likely that a little bit of killer instinct in big matches has stopped him winning even more. It will be interesting to see whether he deploys a more specialised gameplan this year to prevent another near miss.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Renaissance Robert

Robert Milkins has waited eight long years to get back to the Crucible and really made his return count.

The Milkman slayed 2010 world champion Neil Robertson 10-8 in a thrilling match giving him the biggest scalp of this year's World Championship first round.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The world number 19 reckons this was the biggest win of life and it signals that his career fightback shows no sign of ending just yet. The Gloucester pro is back on the rise after a major slump. He dropped so far down the rankings that at one point that he was outside the top 48 and claims his life was in the "gutter".

He's settled down off the table and has engineered a stunning renaissance this season on the table. He's been playing excellent snooker and has quickly become one of the most feared opponents in the qualifiers. He's now on the cusp of a place in the top 16 and used the Crucible as a stage to show everyone why.

Milkins is one of those players who everyone knows can play, and very well on his day. He's always been a good potter and very heavy break builder. Lots of the professionals have these qualities in their locker. What sets the very best apart is tactical nous and how they handle the pressure. These were the very attributes that won Milkins this memorable match after he trailed the Australian 5-2.

Robert won eight of the last 11 frames and played so well he saw the former world champion deteriorate in front of his very eyes.

Milkins just kept on producing and found a way to break down Robertson. The test was always going to be crossing the winning line, but as victory crept closer he he kept his calm and didn't wilt. His shot selection was brave and the rewards were massive.

Many people tipped Robertson for the title, but Milkins rubbished those view. He isn't here to make friends. He's already knocked out the people's champion Jimmy White in qualifying and will fancy his chances of going even further now.

He has beaten one of the best in the world. There's nothing really to fear now. His game has stood up to one of the sternest tests out there and he's forced the hand of a player who usually has such unshakable steel.

Robertson came into this event right to be feeling confident. He won the most recent ranking event in Beijing, but the World Championship brings a completely different pressure. His hopes are over for another year.

Milkins has been one of the players of the season outside the top 16. Now you've seen why.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Time for Trump?

Everything is going to plan for Judd Trump so far at the Crucible - and he has plenty to feel confident about.

The world number three played with great dominance and control to beat Dominic Dale 10-5 in round one and it looks like he's created a platform to go on and play even better.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Trump made two centuries in the match to take his 2012/13 tally to 56, which is a record for a single season. One of these was a break of 142.

These are all good signs for Judd who has had a fragmented season. He won the International Championship back in November but has since struggled for form in the other two BBC events, where ideally he would have hoped to produce his best.

Judd is only one match into his bid to become world champion and has already hit the headlines for his break building. Reaching these kinds of milestones and setting the bar so high will feed his confidence and, in my opinion, make him more dangerous in this tournament.

This doesn't cover Trump's biggest advantage this year. It's great to see him going quietly about his business. The media hurrah surrounding Ronnie O'Sullivan's return and Mark Selby's push to win the triple crown is providing Judd with a diversion of attention away from his own game.

In his press conference after knocking out Dale, he looked satisfyingly relaxed and ready for business. He is still among the favourites to lift the trophy but, so far, being spared the hype.

A year ago, he was the outright favourite to win the World Championship at this stage. His stunning potting display that took him to the final in 2011 was still fresh in everyone's minds.

In fact, he was playing so well and potting so much the year he got to the final that he never needed a plan B game to fall back on. His safety was still raw and untested at the very top level.

He has had a few setbacks since this great run and probably learned a thing or two. His tactical game is much stronger these days and he looks more prepared to battle through the scrappy frames, but he's proved he can still score along with the best of them.

I just wonder with the pressure being relieved slightly, whether this is his time he will produce his best again. Like any player, Judd would love to be crowned world champion, but it feels as if the hysteria has died down, expectations are back where they should be and he's matured into a bigger contender.

Time will tell, but eveything inside Trump's camp looks positive.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Dechawat Thais up Crucible win

Dechawat Poomjaeng lit up the Crucible Theatre today with a giantkilling of Stephen Maguire that won him a legion of new fans.

The world number 70 - known as Jack to his friends - stole a famous 10-9 win against another of the tournament's big favourites, but this was only half the story.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Dechawat's debut on the biggest stage was a breath of fresh air. The public have found one of the game's real unearthed characters here.

His performance was superb and the match made for compelling viewing. The Thai wore his heart on his sleeve throughout and beamed a great big smile from start to finish. He's as animated as any player I've seen at the Crucible, interacting with the crowd and putting on a great show of entertainment.

He enjoyed every moment of his win, and so he should. Dechawat won four matches just to book his place Sheffield and his remarkable run is still going.

This afternoon's BBC commentator called him the Mr Bean of Thailand. There was never a dull moment as he bantered with the crowd and laid bare every emotion.

His celebrations at the end of the match showed just how much this meant to him. This win comes as huge shock and again shows the great depth of quality in the sport.

Dechawat has a good all-round game and really trusts his technique. This match couldn't be decided over the allotted two sessions. Instead, they had to come back late at night with Poomjaeng leading 9-8. The pressure must have excruciating, but he found a way.

He is very methodical player and when the heat was on gave every shot the care and attention it deserved. He ran out of position a few times but stayed on the attack and grabbed his opportunity. He remained very composed, even when the biggest victory of his career was just in his midst.

Whatever happens from here, people will always remember Dechawat at this year's World Championship. His antics were enjoyed by everyone in the crowd.

He has shown he is another of snooker's great characters.

Long live the King

Mark King is one of the game's real fighters – but his great win against Mark Allen was more than just a good old scrap.

The Chelmsford potter really took the match to the Ulsterman and, in the end, produced his very best in the pivotal spell of the match.
Picture by Monique Limbos

King looked like he'd let his first session lead slip when he trailed 8-6, but it appears he saved his best until last. He won four frames on the spin including breaks of 74, 89 and 81 to seal a huge win against one of the favourites for the title.

This is King's 14th appearance at the Crucible and this win will probably rank up there as the very best. He was hitting the ball beautifully by the end of the match and always made Allen pay for his mistakes.

Not many people gave King a prayer in this match but although his fighting attributes and dedication to the game haven't changed, maybe his attitude has. Coming into the match as such a heavy underdog, King decided to take the pressure off himself, not expect too much and instead enjoy the experience.

King's list of scalps in major ranking events this season is impressive. He adds to Allen to a list of players he has beaten including Mark Williams, Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui.

In a recent interview with Mark he told me he finds it frustrating that whenever he beats one of the top stars, the focus is on how poorly they have played, not how well he has. That is sometimes a natural reactions to a shock, but King was well worth this victory. He took the game to Allen, asked him plenty of questions and he didn't have the answers.

Allen will be mightily disappointed with his defeat. This is the second year in succession he has been beaten in the first round at the Crucible, but he was very gracious in defeat.

There are so many exciting young players at the World Championship this year. Everyone is talking about the new generation and the new wave of players breaking into the big time, but this was one for the older, more experienced players.

The King lives on.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Davis days

Mark Davis completed a memorable Crucible win against John Higgins and hailed it as his best ever.

The Battler of Hastings beat the four-time world champion 10-6 making it a fine double this season against one of the sport's all time great.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Davis has now knocked Higgins out of both the UK and World Championships, meaning the greatest year of his career just keeps getting better and better.

At the ripe old age of 40 Davis is in the form of his life. He has achieved his career-best ranking event performance of the semi-finals three times and is now up to number 13 in the provisional world rankings.

This is a fairytale spell for a player supposedly in the twilight years of his career - but it all just comes down to belief.

Davis has always been able to play, but after two years under the mentorship of Terry Griffiths and having enjoyed a few good runs, he seems to be brimming with confidence.

The feelgood cycle has a habit of going on and on. The more you keep winning, the more he keep enjoying playing and the more you enjoy is, the more you keep winning. Success is infectious. He has acquired great winning mentality.

He's no longer afraid of playing someone of Higgins' ilk on the greatest snooker stage. Maybe there's a sense of belonging with the big boys these days. I dare say his victory against the Scot in York gave him the confidence to go and do it again over an even longer format and with even more at stake.

His success has been one of the real stories of the season and no one will begrudge him it. This is his reward for a career of hard work.

In contrast, Higgins has had a disappointing couple of years since last winning at the Crucible and can't seem to match the high standards he has set for himself in a career including so many highs.

He spoke about decline after this defeat. Despite being three years Davis' junior, he questioned whether he's missing balls he shouldn't be just because he's getting older.

Higgins has built a career on playing well and then in other moments managing to win matches he really shouldn't, but that tried and tested B-game appears far less accessible these days.

Coming to terms with turning up at tournaments and making up the numbers instead of fighting for the title is understandably going to be difficult for a player who was 25 ranking titles in total.

I can't imagine he's the kind of player who finds it easy to lose matches he once used to win. But I still think Higgins has more to give. He has fought back from plenty of positions throughout his career. He has a summer break coming up and then needs to dust his disappointment under the rug and come back fighting next season.

For Davis, his season is very much alive. He has a great opportunity ahead of him.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The new Welsh wizard

Michael White has already created a Crucible debut to remember.

The 21-year-old Neath potter completed an impressive 10-6 win against Welsh legend Mark Williams and it was almost as if history was repeating itself.
Picture by Monique Limbos

Two-time world champion, Williams, famously beat Terry Griffiths on his debut at the venue back in 1997 and 16 years later this was another case of a national legend handing over the mantle to the younger generation.

White was well worth his win. He looked relatively comfortable in the surroundings of the most terrifying and intimidating snooker arena. He also played with the same intent and attacking purpose we have seen from him in qualifying.

Williams was far from his best but this shouldn't devalue his victory. He was asked to play two sessions against an experienced Crucible campaigner and beat him twice. His reaction to what could have turned out to be a pivotal moment in the match was the most impressive though. White led 4-1 and missed a red that would put him 5-1 up. Williams hit back to level 4-4. This could have dented his confidence, but he came back stronger. This says a lot.

White has been threatening to breakthrough onto the big stage for a little while now. He is one of a few young players making steps to burst onto the scene right now. He is a fearless young potter who looks brave enough to take his opportunity.

His attacking game is very dangerous. He scores very well in the balls and quickly creates chances for himself.

This is a dream come true for White, who spent much of his youth looking up to example being set by Williams.  To be on the same table as his hero was one thing, but beating him is even better.

White can go into his next match against Stephen Maguire or Dechawat Poomjaeng with great confidence. He has proved he is a player to watch out for in future seasons and we'll be seeing much more of him at the tops venues in the years to come.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Rocket takes off

Ronnie O'Sullivan returned to snooker today and it was like he was never even away.

He beat Marcus Campbell 10-4 in his first major match since defeating Ali Carter in the World Championship final a year ago, and any signs of rustiness were curiously absent.
Picture by Monique Limbos

The cue ball was moving around the table effortlessly and in amongst the balls, Ronnie scored smoothly and efficiently.

It was almost as if he just had to flick a switch back into snooker mode. This deserves credit because playing well in practice is very different to performing in an intense competition and under the spotlights of the Crucible. He made the transition with ease.

O'Sullivan has clearly been putting the work in and was sharp in dispatching Campbell, but this wasn't the finished product.

This was a comfortable start for Ronnie but things will get a whole lot tougher yet.

The Rocket will have to improve his long game and toughen up in the scrappy frames if he is return to win his fifth world title, but the signs so far are very good.

He took advantage of the chances he was always going to get against Campbell, who has never produced his best at televised stages of major events. This was a case of a job well done.

His performance was good enough and he looks in a serious frame of mind to go all the way. But it could still go either way. Ronnie has other gears to glide through but also looked beatable today.

He has a whole week before his second round match against either Carter or Ben Woollaston. He will be working hard to brush up his game further.

O'Sullivan completely, and understandably, stole all he media attention today. Until next Saturday, the tournament will return to the situation the sport has been in all season: one without its star attraction.

There are many other great players bidding to become world champion this year. We can take a look at them now and prove the show goes on, as it has all year.

Ronnie created a memorable opening day at the Crucible. There is plenty more to come.

The Crucible is calling

The famous World Championship is about to begin for another year and the anticipation, as ever, is through the roof.

Anyone who has ever been to the Crucible knows this is a special snooker place.

Every year it gives us all that same tingling feeling as we prepare for 17 days of wall-to-wall snooker to discover who will be our next world champion.

We can look forward to all the usual excitement. There will be twists and turns in matches, intense pressure and drama at every corner. There will be glory for some, heartbreak for others.

This is snooker's premier event. The jewel in the crown of the season. This is the event that will sit up and grab the wider public's attention. This is the event every player dreams of winning, a tournament that can make or break a season.

This year, of course, we have an extra source of spice: Ronnie O'Sullivan's return.

The four-time world champion has played just one competitive match in the past year - but is back to defend his crown.

Everyone expects the Rocket to come back with a blaze of glory - but no one knows for sure. There's no form to study. O'Sullivan comes into the heat of intense competition today close to cold but still with a weight of expectation.

He has all the natural ability and the buzz of this fresh challenge to spur him on against Marcus Campbell. It's time for him to deliver.

The atmosphere inside Sheffield's snooker paradise is going to be fantastic when he walks out to kick-off this year's World Championship.

This is the greatest snooker show in the world, and it starts right now.

Enjoy the tournament.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Crucible predictions: part 2

The second half of this year's World Championship draw is as juicy as the first.

OnCue takes a closer look at eight more matches and explains how they could pan out at the Crucible....

Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins

It's been three years since Robertson was crowned world champion and now he has his sights set on becoming one of a only a small group of elite players to be a multiple Crucible winner. This year feels like his best chance since 2010. He's had a strong season and has come close to winning lots of titles. It feels as if he is building up to the big one. Robertson isn't overawed by occasion. He'll settle quickly and will be comfortable. This could be ominous for Milkins who is playing at the Crucible for the first time in eight years. Milkins is a great scorer but Robertson has everything: good long potting, excellent break building and a solid tactical game. He should have too much and will do most of the damage in the first session.

Verdict: 10-4 Robertson

Ricky Walden v Michael Holt

This match begins over the partition and in the shadow of Ronnie O'Sullivan's opener. It's a real shame because this one could be a classic. Here are two very even players who are desperate for Crucible success. Between them they have only won one match at the venue and will feel they have under-achieved. Expect a flowing start but it could get scrappy as the winning line becomes closer. Neither player would have been too displeased with the draw so you could see them both really go for it. This match has a deciding frame written all over it for me.

Verdict: 10-9 Walden

Mark Williams v Michael White

A batttle of two Welsh wizards. This is a dream draw for Michael on his Crucible debut against a fellow Welshman who is a national legend and two-time World Championship winner. This sounds quite daunting on paper but he might just fancy his chances and feel even extra motivated to do well. Williams has had a difficult season and struggled to find form. White has nothing to lose and will be dangerous just enjoying the match. He won't care too much for reputation and is a fearless little potter. This could be a real attacking contest and there could be a shock on the cards.

Verdict: White 10-8

Stephen Maguire v Dechawat Poomjaeng

It's been an excellent run by Poomjaeng to win four matches and qualify for his first appearance at the Crucible. He has shown himself to be a solid player, able to kill matches and calm under pressure. These attributes will be tested like never before here. Maguire is a great aggressor and will be looking to bully his way through to round two. He's recently got himself back into the winners' circle with triumph at the Welsh Open. He's reached the semi-finals here twice and will be gunning to be at the business end of the tournament again. There's an air of unknown about Poomjaeng for most. This could turn into a baptism of fire.

Verdict: Maguire 10-4

Mark Allen v Mark King

The battle of two Marks. It was a real shock a year ago when Allen was dumped out in the first round by Cao Yupeng, and it probably hit him quite hard. Losing early at the Crucible puts a dampener on your entire season, especially for a player who lives for the great occasions. I can't see him letting that happen again. He's shown great form this season and won't be taking any prisoners. King is capable of doing some damage and picking up on any chances left but I think Allen will be positive and take the game to his opponent.

Verdict: Allen 10-6

Ding Junhui v Alan McManus

You never really know what kind of performance you're going to get from Ding at the Crucible. It has been a venue where he has frozen at times and felt the huge burden of the pressures. McManus is experienced enough to pick him off should he not quite to be firing but I have a feeling he will hit the ground running this year. If he finds his rhythm and gets into his dangerous break-building mode he will be like a runaway train. This probably isn't something McManus can live with these days. It's good to have him back at the Crucible for the first time in seven years, to a place where he has twice reached the semi-finals. I'm sure he'll get all those great feelings as he walks out into the arena. I've got big hopes for Ding this year, though. He could be the star performer of round one.

Verdict: Ding 10-4

Barry Hawkins v Jack Lisowski

This match is a mouthwatering prospect. It will be another tight battle between two players who like to keep matches open and attack their chances. Hawkins is a much under-rated top 16 player but Lisowski is among one of the most difficult qualifying opponents. He has lots of confidence, especially after his recent run to the quarter-finals at the China Open. There will be long spells in this match where it will be difficult to identify who is the seeded player. The pendulum is likely to be swinging and I envisage both players playing well. It could go the distance. Jack will probably have learnt a thing or two from his UK Championship appearance and will look a lot more comfortable on the TV.

Verdict: 10-9 Lisowski

Mark Selby v Matt Selt

A lot of people believe this could be Selby's year. He has already won the UK Championship and Masters this season and is now bidding for the full house. He has everything you need to be world champion including ability, desire and his trademark battling attributes. There are no easy starts at the Crucible and he won't be wanting to give anything away. The intensity at which Selby plays at times could take its toll and affect his stamina so he'll be eager to get the first couple of matches won without too much fuss if possible. Selt is a debutant and has a mountain to climb. He has a very sound safety game and will make life difficult for the world number one in spells, but I think he will be ultimately be too strong. 

Verdict: Selby 10-5