Well here we,after a long season that has seen more snooker been played then ever before,we stand now on verge of one of the most eagerly anticipated World Championships we have ever seen.
Never in my lifetime watch snooker can I remember a World Championship with the potential for so many stories,Can Ronnie return after a year out to claim a 5th world title? can Selby join a very exclusive club to have won the games three major prizes in one season,having already won the UK and Masters titles ?can Trump or Higgins refind their early season form that at one stage seemed set to see them dominate?can Robertson claim a second world title? or will someone come out of left field and shock us all?
There are so many potential outcomes here that, I have decided to take a similar approach to New Zealand Rugby and split those who I see with a chance of lifting the trophy into two categories "The Possibles" and "The Probables"
Tonight I will be looking at the "possibles",by which I mean those players who could very well lift the world title but in my opinion would need a strong tailwind and everything to go right for them to do so.
First up is last years runner up Ali Carter.When it come to a tournament as unique as the world,perhaps the most important factor in picking potential winners is looking for someone with proven form over the course and distance.Every Crucible winner,with the exception of Robertson, over the last thirty years has appeared in more then one final.That shows that if a player is suited by this event they will consistently do well .and few of the more fancied players have better records here then Carter.In his career he has twice reached the final where he has run into Ronnie on both occasions and also reached a semi final.This season despite his continued battle with poor health,he has won a third ranking title,lifting The German Masters.If he is to progress here,he will in all likelyhood have to face O'Sullivan again in round two but if he were to get by that test he would start to fancy his chances.
This has been a very strange season for Shaun Murphy.The 2005 world champ has consistently got himself into contention at the business end of tournaments,but in truth has never really looking like winning one.He spoke of his frustration at this recently when he said he didn't dream as a kid of reaching quarter finals and semi's.For all this,he still possesses one of the most natural and smooth cue actions in the game and as he showed against Carter in that UK semi final , is capable of producing a string of frames where he is just unplayable. If he capable of doing it over 17 days again,I'm not so sure but I can certainly see him reaching another semi final.
When Stephen Maguire ended his five year ranking event drought in February,lifting the Welsh Open he very nearly busted his hand thumping it on the table ,such was his relief at been in the winners circle again.Maguire has never been able to hide his emotions and at times it seems his love of snooker is so great that it borders on hating it.When he won the 2004 UK championship many were predicting a period of dominance for the Scot but it never materialized.He has at times played very well at the Crucible,most recently last year when he reached the semi final but whether or not he can keep his emotions in check for the 17 day marathon is debatable.If he could he is more then capable of matching anyone.
It seems strange to be putting one of the games true legends,who has won everything in the,as well as this famous trophy twice in the "possibles" category but thats where Mark Williams finds himself after a couple of indifferent seasons..Two years ago it seemed Williams had fully recovered from a few lean tears to be almost back to his best form as he climbed back to the top of the world rankings and only was beaten by an inspired Higgins in the world semi final.He started the next season full of confidence as well,but losing close finals to Bingham in Australia and Selby in China having been in control in both,seemed to knock the normally unflappable Williams and he has struggled to find his game ever since.It might be stretching it at this,at the age of 38 to see him win another world title but if he could somehow find his "A" game he could surprise a few.
A question that is often asked in snooker and in sport in general,is what separates the top players from the rest? I think often it can just be just a matter of self belief and that has certainly been the case in recent seasons with Stuart Bingham. After many years of toiling away on the fringes of the the games elite Bingham finally won a ranking event lifting the 2011 Australian Open.That victory earned him a place in this seasons Premier League and he showed there that he was more then capable of mixing it with the best beating Judd Trump in the final.The Crucible draw puts him in the same quarter as O'Sullivan and Higgins so he will possibly have to play better then he ever has before to make an impact here but thanks to those wins he wont be afraid of anyone.
The final player I'll put in the "possibles" category is Mark Allen.This has been a good season for the Ulsterman who defended his World Open title in China and has turned in a number of great performances only to run into players playing at their peak.This has happened so often you have to wonder if it is a coincidence or possibly something to do with Allen's style of play that allow players to find their natural rhythm.Allen is a very talented player and I think him capable of winning many more ranking titles as well as lifting a world title but looking at the draw for this years,(he is the same quarter as Ding and Selby) I find it hard to think someone wont play at their peak again and eliminate him.That said I think it would be great for the game if Allen were to lift the title...
Thats the "possibles" dealt with then,Tomorrow I move on to the "probables"and give some betting advice for those who fancy a flutter.