32 players arrive in Sheffield with the dream of becoming world champion, but quite often it pays to concentrate on just 16 – the seeds.
Shaun Murphy was the last qualifier to lift the title in 2005 and whilst you wouldn’t rule out a shock in what has been a season of surprises, the Crucible is quite simply a different proposition.
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We take a look at the form of the seeded players and assess their chances of lifting the trophy on 2nd May.
Somewhat unusually for the top seed, Mark Selby arrives at the tournament with little form to write home about. Despite reaching just one semi-final in an uncharacteristically quiet season, write him off at your peril. The Jester from Leicester is a four-time world champion, one the greatest ever match players and is more than capable of grinding out victories whilst he finds his touch.
In search of a record-equalling seventh world title, Ronnie O’Sullivan arrives in Sheffield as world number 1 and seemingly enjoying his snooker. The long format hasn’t always been to his liking in recent times, but the Rocket is in superb form and could easily find himself at the business end of the tournament without hitting top gear.
To put it simply, Neil Robertson is the man to beat, the best player in the world and he’s favourite to lift the trophy. He’s won the Masters and three ranking titles this term and rounded off his preparations with a sensational Tour Championship comeback success. The only slight caveat is his patchy form at the Crucible, but he couldn’t be in a better place to shake that off and add to his 2010 triumph.
It’s testament to his high standards that a poor season for Judd Trump has still seen wins at the Champion Of Champions and the Turkish Masters, but he clearly hasn’t been himself. It’s hard to tell what sort of form the 2019 champion will arrive in and he’s another top-class player that it would be foolish to write off.
Kyren Wison is another player who will be left scratching his head at the back of this campaign and he’s had far too many early exits considering his quality. Although he will be disappointed with his Gibraltar Open final defeat, it was a sign of some form and his recent record here his good having reached at least the quarter-finals in each of the last six years.
Undoubtedly one of the greats of the game, John Higgins is top of the list for any event he shows up at and it’s hard to see anything but a bold bid for a fifth world crown. He’s been superb for the last 18 months but his record in finals would have to be a concern having lost five this season, and his Tour Championship agony will be fresh in the memory.
It’s been a breakthrough season for Chinese sensation Zhao Xintong and he’s surely a world champion waiting to happen. A lack of experience in the longer format will be something he has to overcome but he won’t be overwhelmed by the occasion. The 25-year-old is very exciting and already has a Triple Crown title to his name having won the UK Championship in December.
47 years of age and still playing snooker with a smile on his face, Mark Williams would be a popular winner. He started the season by landing the British Open and cued superbly in Llandudno when narrowly missing out to Ronnie O’Sullivan. The Welshman goes in search of his fourth title and it certainly isn’t out of the question.
Shaun Murphy burst on to the scene when winning this as an amateur in 2005 and he still plays with the same aggression that was fundamental to that success. There’s been little to suggest he’s playing well enough to return to the top, but similar could be said before he reached last year’s final.
Another player to fulfil his potential this season is Luca Brecel, who was UK Championship runner-up before going one better at the Scottish Open. Despite being vastly improved, his ultra-attacking style of play perhaps doesn’t suit this format and he’s departed in the first round at all four attempts to date.
Stuart Bingham’s finest hour came as he lifted the famous trophy back in 2015 and he’s still one of the best break-builders in game. His quality is complimented by nerves of steel and he is more than capable of a deep run despite a quiet spell.
On the wrong side of a classic semi-final against Kyren Wilson in 2020, Anthony McGill followed that up with a run to the quarters in 2021. Hitting top form at the Crucible isn’t a bad habit to pick up, but you suspect the top players may have too much firepower for the Scotsman.
If potting balls and making breaks was all that was needed to win tournaments, Jack Lisowski would have won many. He’s one of the most gifted players on tour but he lacks the craft and match-play required to get over the line. ‘Jackpot’ has never progressed past the second round in Sheffield and similar can be said about many events this season.
A very heavy scorer at the peak of his powers, Mark Allen is a match for any player as he proved with victory at the 2018 Masters. The Pistol sits firmly in the inconsistent category, but he will be feared by almost all his rivals if he arrives in good form.
Perhaps not the most naturally gifted among the array of young Chinese talent in the game, but Yan Bingtao’s snooker brain and temperament are unrivalled. The World Championship format seems the perfect fit for his style of play, and it’s surely a matter of time before he makes an impact at this event.