Snookerbacker

April 19, 2018

World Championship 2018 Preview – Williams Can Turn Back The Clock

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:25 pm

*Goosebumps*

Some people call Christmas the most wonderful time of the year, someone even wrote a song to that effect. But loyal readers, let us all join hands, zip up our anoraks and get the soup in that thermos flask, for we all know better than that don’t we? Oh yes. The most wonderful time of the year is now, as we embark on the 17 day marathon to find our new world champion. What on this planet could be better than that?

Case Closed Santa. We’ve got Snooker Loopy.

The added spice this year comes from all angles. The reigning champion and winner for the past two years Mark Selby aims to become the first man this millenium to win 3 on the spin. Only Hendry and Davis have ever done it in the modern era and Selby is in with a real shout of adding his name to this elite list of great champions.

His relatively poor season was forgotten and banished to the snooker scrapheap two weeks ago in Beijing as he retained his China Open title. He’s aiming, as he did last year, to win back to back rankers and make us all wonder what all the fuss was about. Can he be stopped over this tailor made longer format?

Despite being defending champion and winning the last big title, he’s not the favourite this year with the bookies, which may surprise a few people, but only those with quite short memories.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has been in magical form for the majority of the season, winning title after title, goading numpties and showing us all why he is still the main man to put bums on seats. His stamina over the 17 days is the main question mark for some doubters, but he’s won it 5 times before despite having a few dodgy years since the last time. For me he comes into this as sharp as he has ever been, if he can last the distance, he is surely the man they all have to beat, including long match specialist Selby.

But it’s not just about these two. Two more of the old guard Mark Williams and John Higgins have again been lifting silverware this season, Williams’ form in particular has stood out recently and he has to have a big chance of a long overdue third title. Higgins ran out of whack last year in the final so that has to place a question mark over him, but how many times has he proved us wrong in the past?

Ding Junhui again aims to be the first champion from China and shrug that particular monkey off his back and he is showing glimpses of a return to form, as is Aussie Neil Robertson who hopes to become snooker’s next multiple champion along with Stuart Bingham, who since his return to the game has been looking pretty good to me.

Shaun Murphy, another looking to add to his single world crown, has been plagued by back and neck problems recently after a great spell of form at the beginning of the year. He was hammered in China the last time we saw him by Chris Wakelin, but he’s had time to rest and if he’s back to his best he is another big contender. Masters Champion Mark Allen who may face Selby in the second round has also been showing some of his best form this season, he is definitely a player overdue a big run here.

Judd Trump will be looking to avenge his shock first round defeat last year and comes into this a bit under the radar, which may suit him. Kyren Wilson has got as close to Selby as anyone over the longer distance recently and is an outside fancy of many shrewdies. Back to form Barry Hawkins looks to shrug off the modern day Crucible Curse of a number six seed never winning the World Championship. Yes, all in all, there are many potential players that could upset the big two.

What about the qualifiers? Can one of them achieve the impossible, or rather improbable dream after a gruelling week at the EIS? It’s yet to be done under the current qualifying structure but that doesn’t mean it can’t be. There are ranking event winners and a World Champion in amongst that lot too. The likes of Maguire, Day and Dott are the draws that most wanted to avoid, but there are many other dangerous names taking on the top sixteeners, some are saying it’s the strongest set of qualifiers ever this year, I wonder how many will make it through Round 1?

So that’s the annual preamble, let’s now take a look in depth at the first round quarters. If you click on the match you will be magically transported to the Cue Tracker website where you can lose yourself in stats, including the head to head record between the two players in question, a true haven for snooker anoraks.

Before I begin, anyone who likes to play snooker or is thinking of taking it up might also be interested in the links to John Parrott Cuesports in between quarters below, they are offering discounts on some of their hand picked products exclusively for all readers during the World Championship. As well as the Taom chalk exclusive promotion here.

Now then, what have we here…..           

QUARTER 1 (TABLE ONE)

Mark Selby (1) v Joe Perry (Saturday 10am and 7pm)

The defending champion has drawn one of the toughest qualifiers in former semi-finalist Perry. After qualifying Joe seemed very balanced about the task ahead and claimed he didn’t care who he drew as his days of being a rabbit in the headlights at this place are long gone. So without a doubt this is an early test of the champion’s mettle and we’ll be able to gauge quite quickly here what shape his game and his mental state are in following China and going into yet another marathon. They have never met here but as recently as 2005 they actually met in the qualifiers, which Selby won 10-2, but since then if you exclude the minor contests their record has been remarkably even. I can see this being a late one on Saturday evening, with Selby just edging it in his customary granite style and giving himself most of the week off before coming back to grapple. His recent record in two session matches is really quite something, he hasn’t lost a two session match since September 2016 and has won all 13 he has played in since then.   

PREDICTION: Selby to win 10-8.

Mark Allen (16) v Liam Highfield (Sunday 10am and Monday 10am)

One of the most improved players of the season in the lower ranks, Liam Highfield comes here for the first time in his career in very good form. It’s taken 8 years since the first meeting between this pair for them to come together again and it’s fair to say that this is mainly because they have been hanging around in different company rankingswise since. Masters Champion Allen scraped in to the 16th spot by the skin of his teeth and had to wait until late on in Beijing to find out if he’d have to go to the qualifiers having looked certain to do it without the agonising wait at one point against Williams over there. My guess is that he will be happy to have drawn a debutant, it should be an attacking affair this but in terms of scoring firepower I think there is a pretty big gap between them. 

PREDICTION: Allen to win 10-4.

Kyren Wilson (9) v Matthew Stevens (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)

Like Selby and Perry, these two have met once before in the World Championship but again it wasn’t here, it was a qualifier which Kyren won back in 2016 to qualify for The Crucible. It sounds a bit weird this but I don’t think either of these two will mind this draw, I think they’ll both think they can beat each other so I reckon we’ll see them both bring something very close to their A game. Matthew of course is a Crucible veteran having been runner-up twice, he qualified with relative ease against Ken Doherty after having a deciding frame tussle in the previous round, but claimed after beating Ken that he was confident of winning as he’s playing too well at the moment and crucially for him, putting in the hours. Kyren is someone that I think has future champion written all over him and for me he’s the man, if anyone can, that could possibly stop Selby in this quarter, he’s got closer to him than anyone has recently over the longer distance and I think this tournament really suits his style of play and temperament, he’s in my outright book.   

PREDICTION: Wilson to win 10-6.

Shaun Murphy (8) v Jamie Jones (Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm)

One of a couple of question marks hanging over this match in terms of the player’s general health. Murphy had a great run earlier in the season but all of a sudden his back and neck started playing up and it’s clear that the recent trip to China was probably a bad idea. We’ve not heard anything since so we can possibly assume he’s back to fitness but on the other hand his silence may simply be because nothing has changed. It was six years ago now that Jamie came here, beat Shaun in the opening round and went on a run to the Quarter Finals. Lots of people expected him to kick on from that but he never really has. He made headlines by whitewashing Liang Wenbo in the qualifiers, as odd a result as this was he still played very well. I’m not confident in any prediction for this match but I think if a big seed is to topple in round one, it could be Murphy.   

PREDICTION: Jones to win 10-8.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Selby

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QUARTER 2 (TABLE ONE)

John Higgins (5) v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Wednesday 10am and 7pm)

Another Crucible debutant in the form of the explosive Thepchaiya Un-Nooh takes on one of snooker’s best ever matchplayers on his first appearance here, so no big ask there then. The age old tale is that seeds are always happier playing someone who hasn’t played here before, but with Un-Nooh, I’m sure Higgins would rather have had someone he could boss from the off. The Thai player can reel off frames at a rate of knots and if, but it is a big if, if he takes to this place quickly he could be a real handful for John. Usually however when faced with a challenge Higgins rises to it and I’m sure he’ll take this in his stride even if he finds himself behind early on, slow and steady should win the race here I reckon.     

PREDICTION: Higgins to win 10-7.

Stuart Bingham (12) v Jack Lisowski (Tuesday 10am and 7pm)

Can you imagine if Un-Nooh did win and Lisowski did too? Surely the quickest ever best of 25 frame match would follow in round two. Anyway, this is a funny one, as before the draw was made I was going to flag up Stuart as a lively outside bet but now he’s got Jack I’m not going to. The reason being that I sense Jack is at last beginning to become the player he has always promised to be and I genuinely think he has a chance of at least winning this quarter if he keeps his composure this year. It’s 3-1 to Bingham in terms of the head to heads but I’d argue that since they last met Jack has improved quite a bit. He’s been here before, he gave a list of players he wanted to avoid after he qualified and Stuart wasn’t on it. If Bingham wins I’ll probably back him each way, but I’m going to take a punt on the lightning fast Lisowski turning up here and doing a job. 

PREDICTION: Lisowski to win 10-7.

Luca Brecel (13) v Ricky Walden (Monday 7pm and Tuesday 2.30pm)

I’d argue that this is the draw that all the qualifiers wanted. Luca’s recent form has been woeful and this is a chance for Ricky to kick start his season right at the end. Ricky’s back problems have been well documented down the years and this season they have really affected his performances and results. As if that wasn’t bad enough he sounded pretty dreadful after qualifying and looked like he needed the weekend in bed, which he can now have. Quite what has happened to Luca is anyone’s guess, he’s been chopping and changing his cue, even turning up at The Masters with two, but I sense it’s more than that. Their three meaningful matches have all been won by Luca, but unless he has sorted out whatever has been bothering him recently, this is a different player to the one Ricky’s faced in the past and he is there for the taking. Ricky is a big price to win this quarter for any value seekers, he’s made the semi finals before.  

PREDICTION: Walden to win 10-5.

Judd Trump (4) v Chris Wakelin (Wednesday 2.30pm and Thursday 7pm)

An extremely impressive qualifier, Chris Wakelin is also stepping into the arena for the first time this year. Regular readers here will know that I really rate Chris and have done now for some time, he seems to have the right attitude to really progress at this game. However, just look at that head to head, this kind of thing can enter your head when you have failed so many times to beat the guy sat next to you. Especially when that guy is probably still fuming about losing here at this stage the previous year. As I said in the preamble, Judd may quite like not being talked about too widely as a possible winner and this may take the pressure off him in the short term, he’s got quite a decent draw and has a good chance of making the one table set up again. But for me he just still throws in the odd wobbly session and if you do that, this place tends to find you out. But I fancy him to win quite comfortably here.   

PREDICTION: Trump to win 10-4.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Judd Trump.

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QUARTER 3 (TABLE TWO)

Ding Junhui (3) v Xiao Guodong (Monday 2.30pm and Tuesday 10am)

In a quirky twist of fate this section sees all four Chinese/Hong Kong players facing each other, giving the East a fighting chance of having a player in the business end of the tournament for the millions of viewers over there to watch. The Snooker Gods now appear to have viewing figures as part of their remit. Anyway, another Crucible journey begins for Ding, he must be sick to death of being reminded that he hasn’t won it but his performances here have improved these last two years, possibly because there are a few more Chinese players now sharing the publicity. But it’s still quite a low head count for China at The Crucible this year and the expectation fairly and squarely rests with him again. Xiao hasn’t really got anywhere near Ding in their last few meetings and nothing I saw in qualifying suggests that will change here. I think we’ll see a strong opening session from Ding and then a mini-comeback from Xiao before Ding finishes him off.  

PREDICTION: Ding to win 10-6

Anthony McGill (14) v Ryan Day (Wednesday 7pm and Thursday 1pm)

Another qualifier that they all wanted to avoid here is Ryan Day, the man who narrowly missed out on an automatic spot lines up against McGill, who always seems to enjoy it here. This could easily be the other way around in terms of who is seed and who is qualifier and I think these two are pretty evenly matched these days. Both players that play something like their best at The Crucible, Day comes into this for the first time as a ranking event champion and seems to be oozing confidence. McGill hasn’t had a spectacular season but in amongst it there are whitewashes of Day and of John Higgins so he’s clearly not a player that can be taken lightly. I think a lot of people will go for Day in this and that will suit McGill down to the ground, I’m siding with the Scot to just nick it.    

PREDICTION: McGill to win 10-9

Marco Fu (11) v Lyu Haotian (Saturday 10am and Sunday 7pm)

The other big question mark of this year’s championship is how much has Marco Fu recovered from his recent eye problem. He’s not been seen on tour for a few months but has decided to play in this claiming that it is no worse but no better, which hardly instills confidence for his fans. The good news is he’s drawn a debutant but the bad news is Lyu is one of the most improved players on tour and will definitely prove a handful if Marco isn’t in good nick. It seems silly making a prediction on this so I am not even going to, if Marco’s eye is OK he’ll win, if it isn’t he’ll lose. I don’t have enough information to know which is the case so in an eight year World Championship First Round preview first……  

PREDICTION: See above.

Barry Hawkins (6) v Stuart Carrington (Monday 10am and 7pm)

The man outside of Selby with the most consistent recent Crucible record Barry Hawkins takes on Stuart Carrington who comes here for the third time trying to win his first match. Hawkins is fast adopting the label as a Crucible specialist and he showed some signs in China that once again this time of year is when he peaks. He’s had a bad season, but he’s had problems off the table which explain that. Now he seems back to his old self and perhaps the time he’s had away from the tour through lack of wins will mean he has more in the locker than last year when he disapppointed in his semi-final against Higgins. In this quarter I think you have to add Hawkins to your outright selection book, while Stuart has played very well to get here again, I just think in terms of a first round hoodoo, he’s not going to shake it off against a Crucible specialist like Barry.  

PREDICTION: Hawkins to win 10-6

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Barry Hawkins

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QUARTER 4 (TABLE TWO)

Mark Williams (7) v Jimmy Robertson (Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)

It’s another one of those head to head stats that you have to take into account when looking at this match up. Of the 5 times these two have met, MJW leads 5-0 and in terms of frames he holds a 25 frame advantage. Add to this that the Welshman comes into this third on the one year money list behind Ronnie and Selby and you have yourself what should be a first round banker (just like Judd last year, that went well). Jimmy again has been here before and is yet to win a match in three attempts, though he did give Mark Allen a good match here last year. Williams has rediscovered that taste for winning and despite his laid back public presence has been preparing hard for this, he knows that the years are running out but he’ll also know that this year represents his best chance to add that third title, his opening match shouldn’t really tax him too much. I fancy him to make a real push for a third title.    

PREDICTION: Williams to win 10-4.

Neil Robertson (10) v Robert Milkins (Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm)

It’s five years since Rob Milkins came here at this stage and knocked out a heavily fancied Robertson 10-8 and now they are back to do it all over again. Since then Robbo has won the following four ties before The Milkman won their last one in 2017 in Northern Ireland. Rob was typically understated on qualification and basically said he only got through because his final opponent, Michael Holt, didn’t play very well. Like Lisowski, he has also drawn a player that wasn’t on his stated list of ones to avoid and I think he’ll be fairly happy with this seeing as he’s done it successfully before. Robbo eventually got back to trophy winning ways just before Christmas in Scotland and plenty thought that was a sign that he was back, but he’s remained trophyless since but climbed up the rankings and he has been looking sharper overall. I think contrary to their playing styles this one might be a bit of slog out, I think Robbo will want to keep it tight and if he does I think he’ll turn the scoreline from 5 years back on its head. 

PREDICTION: Robertson to win 10-8.

Ali Carter (15) v Graeme Dott (Saturday 7pm and Sunday 2.30pm)

It’s another Crucible rerun here on the same table that they played on at this very stage last season. I was sat in the press seats for the whole of that match and witnessed at first hand just how good Dott still is. He kept Ali at arms length following a 4-0 opening session and played some superb snooker. A few years earlier they also had an epic battle here which Graeme also won so will it be third time lucky for The Captain or business as usual for Dotty? In terms of their seasons Dott has had much the better one, he stands at 15th in the one year list with Ali down at 30. Recent form also suggests that Dott has the edge and there is a definite feel that this might be a repeat of what has gone before. But something is telling me that this time Carter will be ready for a battle, which perhaps last year took him a bit by surprise when he was playing catch up from the start. As ever with Ali though, if he wins, he probably won’t do it easily.     

PREDICTION: Carter to win 10-9.

Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) v Stephen Maguire (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 10am)

The scheduling of this match has thrown me a bit. The slots allocated are usually the domain of the 14th seed, but this time it’s Ronnie that competes with London Marathon coverage on Sunday morning on the BBC, perhaps in an attempt to get Eurosport figures up by Mr Hearn. Who can forget Ronnie lauding Mags up all those years ago as the next big thing, almost as an attempt perhaps to get some kind of psychological advantage over him. Well if it was that it’s worked, only once in the last decade has Maguire beaten Ronnie and even by Ronnie’s standards, his head to head dominance over the Scot is pretty conclusive. They have met at this stage twice before, though the last time was 13 years ago, Ronnie won both times. No reason to suspect he won’t do so again.       

PREDICTION: O’Sullivan to win 10-6.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Williams.

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PREVIOUSLY RECOMMENDED AND PLACED BETS: Each Way on Mark Williams @ 40/1 (January), Win on Mark Selby @ 11/2 (March), Each Way on Kyren Wilson @ 40/1 (March), Each Way on Jack Lisowski @ 175/1 (Wednesday, pre-draw).

RECOMMENDED BET: Each Way on Barry Hawkins @ 28/1.

RECOMMENDED FIRST ROUND ACCA: Pays over 5/2 at Marathon Bet – Mark Allen, John Higgins, Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

DOUBLES AND A TREBLE: Treble pays over 19/1 at Betfair on Jamie Jones, Jack Lisowski and Anthony McGill.

RECOMMENDED FIRST ROUND HANDICAP ACCA: Pays over 8/1 at Bet 365 – Perry (+4.5), O’Sullivan (-2.5), Dott (+2.5), Allen (-1.5), Williams (-2.5), Trump (-2.5).

QUARTER BETTING: Ricky Walden to win Quarter 2 at 25/1.

PUNTERS BREAKS BET: Pays 44/1 on the centuries market at Bet 365

 

FURTHER BETS WILL BE ADDED IN THE RUN UP TO SATURDAY. YOU CAN ALSO FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER HERE.     

Click here for an exclusive offer to blog readers on Taom Version 2.0 chalk. If you are in the UK you will not get this cheaper anywhere else. Be sure to go through this link or you will be charged the full price at the checkout.

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