It’s safe to say that Ronnie O’Sullivan has been granted a very favourable draw at the World Championship at the Crucible this year.
He faces Finnish qualifier Robin Hull in the first round. With no disrespect to Barry Hawkins, Shaun Murphy or any of the other players in the top half of the draw, I don’t see anyone other than Ding Junhui as having a real chance at beating Ronnie in the semi-final.
Conversely, the bottom half of the draw will be a titanic struggle, with three former champions and three former runners-up to battle through. There are potentially mouth-watering quarter-final clashes between Ken Doherty and John Higgins, Judd Trump and Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson and Mark Allen.
The bookies’ odds reflect the fact that you can never rule out Robertson, Trump, Selby or Higgins but all four are in the bottom half so the likelihood is that the finalist from this half will be more tested and more tired come the final.
Doherty did well to qualify and will face Stuart Bingham, seeded sixth, in the first round. As he has all the experience and absolutely nothing to lose, it will be very interesting to watch if and how he progresses.
Doherty has been quoted as saying “there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about beating Stephen Hendry” in the 1997 final. Given the news this week of Hendry leaving his wife of 19 years, I’m sure she now shares that sentiment in a very literal ‘beat him with a baseball bat’ kind of way.
However, Northern Irishman and 15th seed Mark Allen could very well be the dark horse of the tournament as he definitely has the skill and mentality to prevail and 28/1 are very tidy odds for him.
The bookies are perfectly optimistic of the outcome of the tournament with Ronnie already at 5/4 to win outright. He has been kept very busy with TV commitments and has said that win or lose this year, he wants to take another break from the baize. Focus on the part of the five time former champion will prove the key variable in his defence of the title and effort at equalling Steve Davis on six world titles.
Like most things in life worth fighting for, it will take more than balls to win this tournament. It demands world-class skill, ingenuity, mental strength and, above all, the stamina of a porn star.
Here’s hoping for a thoroughly entertaining few weeks of sexy snooker, whoever will be lifting the trophy on May 5th.
The prize money has increased to £300,000 this year thanks to new sponsors Dafabet.
The Rocket gets play underway at the Crucible at 10.00 on Saturday 19th April.
Pundit Arena, Tina McCarthy