The perceived wisdom when it comes to the longer match format is that the cream will usually or always (age dependent) rise to the top and with 7 of the world’s top 8 players lining up alongside a qualifier who shamelessly took advantage of a mystical, often denounced, but now 100% irrefutable curse, to fight out the Quarter Finals, it appears that there is something to be said for this well worn, much quoted and misquoted adage. Who said it first anyway?
It’s already been a good tournament, though for me not yet exceptional, but you sense looking at this line up that it’s about to get a whole lot better. All of them, without exception, are playing well enough to win the tournament outright and whoever does come out on top will be a worthy champion, whether it be a sick one and a sixth one for Ronnie, a pleasant second for Robbo or Smurf, or a first and foremost for McGill, Hawkins, Ding, Judd or Ballrun (each of whom will be cursed next year).
Bettingwise, it’s not been fantastic but not a disaster either, some success in the outrights will correct all that anyway. Judd was the original preview pick and he’s in with as good a chance as any of them, so I’ll cling to that and cheer him on from the pocket, the one that’s not sponsored by BK. You got it.
As for who I would like to win, it’s a very difficult one. The old shameless and helplessly foolish romantic in me that listens to Richard Hawley albums when I read this back, will obviously say McGill as everyone likes a fairytale. Don’t they? But when it comes to the two players left in it that I feel deserve to be a world champion sooner rather than later it has to be the winner of Judd and Ding. Anyway, let’s have a look at each of the matches still left and see what the bookies are offering up to entice us in again.
CLICK ON THE MATCHES FOR THE HEAD TO HEAD.
Tuesday 10am & 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm
What an achievement whatever the result of this match might be, by Anthony McGill. His ‘Licensed to Thrill’ tag has been well earned with tension filled victories over Maguire and the cursed champ Selby. His demeanour around the table and general approach is to me one of a player who can’t quite believe this is happening; but as another old adage warns; beware the smiling assassin. Can he beat Murphy, the last qualifier to lift the trophy a decade ago, in his sixth long match? Well obviously as the tournament goes on it will get harder and harder for him to blot out what is actually happening, on the other hand he has already far exceeded his own expectations and might just relax. Anthony doesn’t strike me as the kind of character that will let this get to him too much but surely, if he’s going into the final session of this with a chance, whether he be ahead, level, or a couple of frames behind (probably the best place to be), the realisation will begin to dawn on him of what he stands on the precipice of? Murphy, who appears to be taking his Magician nickname a little too far by dressing up as one, claiming that the snooker dress code is too restricting (though obviously not restricting enough in his case), is cueing well and his long game in particular looks in tip-top shape. He is winning easily but in the matches against both Hull and Perry he won a lot of frames that he could easily have lost so perhaps the scorelines were slightly flattering, alternatively, perhaps Shaun commands so much respect on the table that his opponents are rendered useless. Either way, this is a match where I’m not going to recommend a bet on the outcome as I don’t know how McGill will react either at the start or at the end, nobody does, it’s guesswork. The facts are that Murphy is much more experienced here and in general, he has never lost to McGill and is flying out of the traps in every match he plays and asserting himself early, make of that what you will, but like I say, beware the smiling assassin….even if he gets beaten easily, there should be plenty of chances for Ants to land the bet below over this distance, it should be quite an open match.
Prediction: Murphy to win 13-11
Recommended Bet: 3 points on McGill to make at least one century break at 4/6.
Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am & 7pm
Robbo remains a lot of people’s big fancy for the title, including his mentor and mate Stephen Hendry so who am I to argue? He is undoubtedly cueing very very well and dominating proceedings in the matches he has had so far. But arguably he hasn’t been tested at all yet, for whatever reason both Jamie Jones and Ali Carter didn’t get a foothold in their matches with him when players in sharper form may have done so and given him more of a test early on. However well he is cueing, Robbo is giving chances to his opponents and I think he will continue to do so, his safety and tactical nous remain one of his strongest assets and undoubtedly win him more frames than a lot of people who just see the century maker bully give him credit for. Barry Hawkins did a mini-Houdini act to come back and beat Mark Allen, who looked in decent form and he is clearly once again enjoying the Crucible atmosphere from the natural beauty of his rural escape just a few miles outside Sheffield. The very likeable Barry has had such a quiet season, mainly because he’s kept on losing, that he’s a bit of a surprise package here despite his high ranking. He’s come through two close ones already but is probably still pretty fresh and up for this having had such a bad run of form prior to coming here; his lack of focus being largely, according to him anyway due to his general attitude towards practice and travelling, both an unfortunate and highly inconvenient by-product of being a top level snooker player. But the Rampant Robbo (they’ll nick it, trust me) has won all their really meaningful matches and you have to fancy him to do so again. But he’s no kind of price to back and I reckon Hawkins could easily make a decent match of this, I also think the centuries bet is probably worth a go between two players who don’t get distracted when they have won a frame and tend to mop them up for the ton-up punters. I think the first session of this is key and assuming Robbo doesn’t get off to a flyer and romp away to 6-2 up or better, this one could be closer than some might expect, I’d actually not be a bit surprised if Barry ended up winning.
Prediction: Robertson to win 13-10.
Recommended Bet: 4 points on over 2.5 centuries at 4/5.
Tuesday 10am & 7pm and Wednesday 10am
What a match we have in prospect here between two players that will have their sights set a little higher than a Quarter Final exit. As if we weren’t looking forward to it enough the pre-match talk from both gives it that bit of (albeit pantomime) edge. Ding proclaimed with a cheeky grin that Judd was ‘lucky’ last time he beat him here and that he’d ‘beat him this time’, in response Judd claimed that Ding’s opponents so far have ‘made him look like he’s playing better than he is’ and that he would be ‘showing him how good my form is on the table’. Come onnn….I love all that me. Personally, I think both of them, even without all the bravado which they are obviously both being told to do by the powers that be, look ready to win their first world title and a big part of me thinks that the winner of this will do just that. Their head to head sheds very little light on things, it’s incredibly close as you might expect with Ding having won a few more frames than Judd, but their matches in big tournaments have been more or less equal, so no real advantage there for either player despite how much past encounters will be raked up to try and find some psychological clues. I suppose it comes down to who plays the better on the days of the match. To some extent, Judd has a point, Ding, however different his attitude might be this season has benefited from a terrible performance by Dark Mavis and a total collapse from John Higgins, who should really have won the last frame of their match when Ding wrapped up the win, as well as a fair few others. In truth, if you were to turn the clock back 3 years, Ding would definitely have lost to Higgins without a shadow of a doubt. Judd however has been solid and measured, making his way through in quiet rather than crash, bang, wallop style but his game to me looks more or less the finished article these days. I hope this is a cracker and I’m going to stick with Judd, I just feel that going into this, he is playing the better match snooker of the two and that is what will be the difference between them.
Prediction: Trump to win 13-10
Recommended Bet: 4 points on the winning margin being under 4.5 frames at 4/6.
Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 2.30pm & 7pm
A great performance from the understated and underrated Stuart Bingham against Graeme Dott books him a place in only his second Crucible Quarter Final, in which he faces the same player that walloped him here two years ago, 13-4. Indeed the head to head is heavily weighted in favour of O’Sullivan as you might expect, but Bingham has beaten him twice over the longer/ish distance so he shouldn’t go into this with any sense that history is stacked against him. Indeed Ballrun is a much better player now than he was even back in 2013 and inflicted a defeat on Ronnie in York just a few months after his Crucible disaster when The Rocket looked to be playing very close to his best and heading for the title. The two also have a bit of previous and the needle is never far from reaching boiling point if Ballrun ever has the audacity to push Ronnie close, interestingly, it’s never the other way around. Right, that’s the case for Stuart out of the way. As for Ronnie, he’s been very different this week to the Ronnie of the past three years, his discipline isn’t there and he is behaving at times like a petulant child, despite the fact that he’s nearly 40. He’s almost snapped his cue, taken his size 8’s off for dramatic effect, talked about his passion for shagging, pimped for more media work and been warned for ‘lewd’ cue gestures (basically wanking); so a standard week in the life of snooker’s biggest barnpot. But on the table he’s sharp, whether he is up for the fight more now that his nemesis Selby is out of the equation remains to be seen, but I reckon that he’s probably quite pleased that someone else beat The Jester before he’d have to give it another shot as I am certain that the defeat in the Final last year hurt him like no other ever has. I don’t necessarily think that Ronnie is that far ahead of some of the others now and something still tells me he won’t be winning this, but I can’t realistically see him losing this one.
Prediction: Ronnie to win 13-7.
Recommended Bet: 5 points on O’Sullivan (-4.5 frames) at 4/5.
Recommended Acca: 2 points acca at Bet 365 pays over 7/1 on: McGill and Hawkins to make at least one century each, Ding v Judd over 21.5 frames and Ronnie v Bingham under 20.5 frames.