Snooker: Crucible welcomes world’s top potters

Mark Selby is a world champion waiting to happen - but the wait has gone on for long enough. PA
Mark Selby is a world champion waiting to happen - but the wait has gone on for long enough. PA

Never has a World Championship field been more open. In all the time I’ve been covering this special event – and that’s too long to care to

remember - I’ve never known a draw like it.

Of course many punters will be waging their money on Ronnie O’Sullivan to a win a fifth world title.

But for the first time in his illustrious career no one really knows how the ‘Rocket’ is going to play. Not even himself.

The standard is so high these days that you’d be a fool trying to pick a winner.

John Higgins, winner of the title on no fewer than four occasions, comes to the Crucible this year badly-starved of form.

And, even if he does win his first couple of matches, then O’Sullivan could be a quarter-final opponent.

Either way one of the green baize big guns will be sent packing before the business end of this year’s £1.1million event.

An enticing £250,000 first prize is up for grabs this season – and that will increase to £300,000 next year for the sport’s blue-ribbon event.

And there are a host of players who could win the crown. You’d be hard-pushed to see any of this year’s six Crucible debutants going any further than the second round, but watch out for Jack Lisowski against compatriot Barry Hawkins, as well as Michael White against fellow Welshman Mark Williams.

Lisowski and White, two of the sport’s most promising players, could quite easily spring upsets. But the real contenders will be the likes of former winners Neil Robertson, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Selby, this season’s UK Championship and Masters champion, the Leicester man gunning for a clean sweep of snooker’s majors in the same season.

Of course there’s the former Rotherham potter Shaun Murphy to watch for, a 150-1 outsider when he won the coveted crown in 2005.

Local interest remains with Sheffield-based Chinese cueman Ding Junhui, also a UK and Masters winners, but yet to prove his worth on the greatest stage of all.

*Today’s matches (all best of 19 frames): 10am – O’Sullivan v Marcus Campbell, Ricky Walden v Michael Holt – max of 10 frames; 2.30pm – Murphy v Martin Gould, Hawkins v Lisowski – max of 10 frames; 7pm – O’Sullivan v Campbell – max of nine frames to a finish, Mark Williams v Michael White – max of 10 frames.