Someone asked me the other day who I thought would win the World Championship. There was a time, not so long ago, where I could answer that with a reasonable degree of certainty.
Not anymore. Snooker is in a state of flux, with fewer tournaments meaning fewer players in form, some of the established elite lacking motivation and more and more younger cuemen fancying their chances.
The Crucible victories of Shaun Murphy and Graeme Dott have boosted the confidence of other lower ranked players who now believe the top guys are there for the taking. Indeed, a top four player hasn’t won a ranking title since the 2005 Irish Masters.
So what about this year’s 17-day snooker marathon? Here’s my semi-final prediction:
Mark Williams v Neil Robertson
Shaun Murphy v Stephen Hendry
This has been arrived at by studying the draw, although sticking pins in it will probably prove to be as accurate (last year I went for John Higgins, a first round loser)
I’ll explain my working out. Firstly, Williams seems an odd choice bearing in mind he hasn’t won a match in 2007. But at least he’ll be fresh and, contrary to what you may have heard, he is practising hard. He’s the sort of player who can click into gear and look a million dollars, and he’s won the title twice before.
Williams is in the same quarter as Dott, who I think will reach the quarter-finalss. The Scot is certainly playing well enough to defend his title, as he showed in China recently, but has a tough couple of opening matches, starting with Ian McCulloch, who beat him 10-9 at the same stage two years ago. If Dott comes through that he’ll play Anthony Hamilton or, more likely, Marco Fu, a semi-finalist last year and playing some solid stuff of late.
I think Williams would just about shade a quarter-final against Dott, but this is based on nothing other than idle conjecture – please don’t blame me if you have a bet and it doesn’t come off.
Robertson is arguably the player of the season but finds himself in the most brutal section of the draw: Ryan Day to play Ronnie O’Sullivan or Ding Junhui. The Aussie could easily lose to Day but I’d fancy him to beat O’Sullivan, whose mental attitude hasn’t been right all season. Being around Ronnie this year it’s clear he isn’t the same person who won the 2001 and 2004 world titles.
That said, I expect him to see off Ding, who himself is struggling a bit after his Wembley meltdown. I felt he needed a good run in his home event to restore some lost confidence, but his defeat to Barry Hawkins means he heads to Sheffield with some questions to answer about his temperament.
The other dangermen in the top half would seem to be Stephen Maguire and Higgins, neither of whom have shown much form this season.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Perry beat Maguire and Michael Holt could conceivably cause an upset against Higgins.
Watch out, too, for Fergal O’Brien against Hawkins, who must still be reeling from his 6-5 semi-final defeat to Jamie Cope in Beijing.
The bottom half of the draw would appear to be slightly easier, but still brimming with quality.
Murphy arrives at the Crucible with the Malta Cup under his belt and should have too much for debutant Judd Trump and the winner of the veterans match between Steve Davis and John Parrott.
In the quarter-finals, Murphy would most likely play Ken Doherty, though Matthew Stevens can’t be written off at Sheffield.
Hendry starts off against Dave Gilbert, who I wouldn’t completely write off, even though I expect the seven times winner to come through.
I expect Hendry to face Peter Ebdon in the quarter-finals and feel sure it would go very close. I just feel Hendry will start playing well at some point and where better than the place he made his own backyard in the 1990s?
However, Ebdon is such a tough player and is a useful man to back if you’re looking for value in the betting.
And who could be this year’s Murphy or Dott? Possibly Mark Selby who has a reasonably favourable draw.
However, the real dark horse could be Mark Allen. He has a very tough opener against Ken Doherty but the draw opens up a little after that. He is fiercely confident and if it all comes together will take some stopping.
So anyway, Williams v Robertson and Murphy v Hendry. What happens after that?
I’d suggest Robertson and Murphy would contest the final and that it would be a very exciting shoot-out, which Murphy will just shade.
With how much confidence do I make these predictions: zero, but that’s the fun of snooker these days – the only way to find out is watch what happens.