Well after a season of ups & downs,with a few breakthrough performances,some of the games bigger names struggling,but mostly the dominance of the "class of '92",who refuse to go away,we arrive at Sheffield with 32 players still dreaming of lifting the famous trophy come the first Monday in May.
If the betting is to be believed this years championship is a two horse race between Ronnie O'Sullivan & Mark Selby. Ronnie comes here on the back of what on paper has been his best ever season with 5 ranking titles already under his belt.He has at times been simply unplayable & perhaps more significantly he seems to have found a perfect balance in his life on and off the table which is key for him.If he can produce that sort of form again here surely a sixth world crown is well within range.
While Ronnie this season has cemented his place as the games greatest ever exponent,talk of Mark Selby deserving a place among the all time greats quietened down as he endured a season to forget.He did win the International Championship in November,but there followed a series of early round exits as he struggled to get a foothold in any tournament. This was until of course the newly revamped China Open a fortnight ago,where after a slow start in the early rounds,he suddenly clicked into gear to clinch the title with a run of impressive displays,to put himself right on target to launch his title defence here.
If Selby is to be vulnerable here it may well be in the early rounds again,with a potential 2nd round clash with Mark Allen on the cards.If he gets through to the second week he will take a bit of stopping again.
Though if I'm honest I would be shocked if neither of these two made the final,the level below them in the betting, we have a few hoping to take advantage of any slip ups that may occur.
This season has also seen those two other greats from "'92",John Higgins & Mark Williams enjoy some title success,with Williams in particular playing his best snooker in many seasons.I just wonder though,great as they've been this year if either still has another world title in them.Higgins came here last year in probably better form than he does this,but just couldn't see it out in a final its hard to think a few years ago he would have lost.That was a big blow to him & I'm not sure he believes himself he can win another one.
Williams too for all his brilliance this year has also had those odd bad days from nowhere & its hard to imagine him getting through here without one awful session that may wipe his chances.
Third in the betting on many lists is Judd Trump,who has had only an ok season by his lofty standards.His problem has seemed at times to be that he is in a rush to beat everybody and once someone starts to dig in against him,his confidence appears to be so fragile that he can't handle it.If he can get it together a good run is possible,but I'd fear for him again against any of the games real match players.
You can't look through the contenders without considering Ding Junhui,who was runner up here two
years ago and was arguably the best player in last years championship.He seems to be putting some eye issues early in the season behind him & I wouldn't be surprised if he made another bold attempt here again.
If we're considering Trump & Ding then we have to also look at our Masters champion Mark Allen.For many years people had Allen down as a potential "Major" winner and he finally fulfilled that potential last January & though his form since then has nose dived slightly,he will come here with some confidence & wont be intimidated by that potential round 2 clash with Selby.
A player with great course and distance form in recent years is Barry Hawkins,who has finally started to find some form in recent months after an understandably poor season coming on the back of a family tragedy last year.Looking at the draw it wouldn't be a surprise to see reach another semi final here,but I would be surprised if he went further than that.
Elsewhere I suppose we have to mention the likes of former champions Shaun Murphy & Neil Robertson, but both come here with season disrupted by various off the the tale issues & again it would be a surprise to see them involved at the business end.
Outside of the players listed above,there may well be someone who will shock us all,but I can't find them!
Here are a few recommended bets for a bit of financial interest.
First round Lucky 15
Lyu Haotian 13/8
Graeme Dott 5/4
Ricky Walden 11/10
Jack Lisowski 6/4
Ding to win his quarter 5/2
Outright betting: Mark Allen e/w 28/1