I think we have the prospect of one of the most exciting renewals of the World Snooker Championship ahead of us at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for the next seventeen days.
Rightly, Neil Robertson enters as favourite having been the best player in the world since winning the 2020 UK Championship. His recent struggles in winning a second World Championship are charted but this event is on the tip of his cue if he plays like he has, and can sustain it.
Judd Trump similarly has question marks to answer but he’s looked far from his best and he will need to play his way into form during the event.
Ronnie O’Sullivan has been consistent all season, yes, his game is on the decline slightly, but it was in 2020 when he last won and if he has a good frame of mind a seventh title is a realistic goal.
Hard to know how Mark Selby is feeling about playing but either way, his lack of recent match practice will make him nervous and potentially vulnerable early doors. There’s never been a tougher competitor at the Crucible so if he plays his way back into form and confidence, no one, would want to draw him.
John Higgins has been a new man all season and if it wasn’t for attacks of ‘clinchers disease’ in three finals he would have been second favourite. He’s liable to start slowly after the disappointment of the Tour Championship final but if he does, more potential heartache is around the corner with another runner up slot awaiting the Scot.
We have the younger brigade from China taking centre stage with Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao. If either, falls in love with playing snooker at the Crucible, longer format matches likely suit them better.
Kyren Wilson seems ideally suited by the demands of the World Championship but in harsh truth hasn’t won a decent event since the 2019 German Masters. He has pulled Ding Junhui in round one, but I believe he needs to win good matches against top players for his confidence to return so if he wins it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

I was talking to my tipping friend Ciaran and said the overall profiles of the qualifiers disappointed from a tipping perspective but remarkably all, but two qualifiers have drawn a range of seeds that I would have cherry picked for them.
Jamie Jones is twice a quarter finalist and last season made the last 16 here and is a tough enough cookie to not make Mark Selby’s introduction to competitive snooker easy. I rarely play odds on but the handicap looks solid.
Attending the qualifiers with my good friend and snooker tipping guru, George Weyham I am well aware how well Chris Wakelin played to beat Jimmy Robertson. Yan Bingtao isn’t the most intimidating of opponents for the lower ranked making Wakelin a live prospect if he reproduces the form that he produced here against Judd Trump a few years ago.
Head to head matters less these days, unless it’s skewed one way or the other and Michael White has drawn Mark Williams, a player he has an impressive head to head against. On his return to the Crucible White will be another live dog if he settles down early into the match.
Watching Jackson Page in qualifying with my friend George, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his performance against David Grace. If he was to reproduce against Barry Hawkins he would have a chance but it’s always a big ‘if’ on Crucible debut. Exciting talent but Hawkins is a Crucible specialist in good form.
Ding Junhui has pulled event specialist Kyren Wilson in the tie of the round. Whoever wins will have a shot of confidence at the right time and will have a live chance of reaching the semi final. To get further than the semi final is close to impossible for all qualifiers given the build up of mental fatigue in a short space of time.
Lyu Haotian was impressive in qualifying for the second year in succession. Having won a match previously at the Crucible he’s a live underdog against former champion, Stuart Bingham.
Liam Highfield like Wakelin has drawn a player that’s unlikely to intimidate him and could be live against Anthony McGill who needs to find his best form at the Crucible, but we know he can.
Hossein Vafaei makes his debut in a match up he could win against Judd Trump having dealt with the 2019 champion a few times before. His comments about Ronnie O’Sullivan are likely poor timing and will distract him from the more important job at hand. Shame because this was a perfect draw for the Iranian on debut.
Ashley Hugill has finally found his form on the Tour and his reward or poison chalice on debut is Neil Robertson. Hugill will need an early foothold to get over the nerves of a debut and a one sided defeat awaits if he doesn’t. If he was to play his way into the match the pressure would transfer to Robertson but again it’s a huge if. 16/1 seems too big if he does and it’s cheap to find out at the price. Stranger things have happened at the Crucible over the years.
Matthew Stevens put up a superb display to oust Ali Carter 10-8 from 4-0 behind. It’s hard to trust the ageing former runner up to reproduce but if he did, he would have the measure of Jack Lisowski.
Thepchiaya un Nooh never gets easy draws at the Crucible and this year is no different with John Higgins. John may be slow out of the blocks after the disappointment of the Tour Championship final and if the talented Thai gets into his flow he could be dangerous.
Noppon Saenghkam impressed here in 2020 when losing to Mark Selby in the last 16, 13-12. He has been in good form all season and the draw has been kind to him. Luca Brecel has yet to win a match at the Crucible and until he does, he will be vulnerable despite a brilliant season.
Stephen Maguire looks a bad draw for Shaun Murphy who has been out of form all season. Beset by off the table problems, Murphy will struggle to hold a sharp Maguire unless the Crucible lifts his spirits, which it did last year.
Jamie Clarke is potentially an awkward match for the young Chinese player to negotiate if he gets a foothold. Clarke has won a match at the Crucible which Xintong is yet to.
Scott Donaldson is one of two poor match ups for the qualifiers as he attempts to overturn a 1-7 head to head with Mark Allen. He is playing well enough and we’ve seen the effects Allen’s off table problems have had.
David Gilbert like Donaldson has pulled a wicked match up against Ronnie O’Sullivan who dominates their head to head 7-0. Still Dave is sharp and would benefit from a big match victory to lift his confidence at a venue he likes. Ronnie will need to be in a good frame of mind and there have been occasions here over the years when he hasn’t.

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