From DC Sport:
The 2011 World Snooker Championships gets under way tomorrow morning as Australian Neil Robertson begins the defence of his crown at The Crucible in Sheffield.
The ‘Thunder from Down-Under’ lifted the famous trophy aloft after a gruelling triumph over former champion Graeme Dott in the final 12 months ago and immediately has his work cut out if he is to progress beyond the opening round this time around.
The 29 year-old, who has endured a difficult campaign despite winning the inaugural World Open in October, must tackle recent China Open victor Judd Trump in the first match of the 17-day marathon event.
Young hot-shot Trump has finally began to show the kind of form that his talent merited when he won in Beijing a couple of week ago and now looks certain to be among the elite Top 16 in the world for the beginning of next season.
This could compound Robertson’s worries as the 21 year-old, known as Mr. Haircut 100, will be relaxed in the knowledge that he is assured to be free from qualifying rounds in the imminent future and can have a genuine stab at a run in Sheffield at only his second attempt.
The defending champion from Melbourne will have other ideas, though, and will be unlikely to give up his status as world champion so easily.
In Robertson’s favour is that he is arguably in the easier half of the draw despite having the likes of Mark Selby, Ding Junhui and Ali Carter for company. Against him is the fact no first time champion has defended the title.
In truth, it is almost impossible to predict the outcome of the championship this year given the nature of how many players are on or near the top of their form.
Mark Williams is the provisional world number one and will be hoping to enjoy that status officially for the third time in his career come the end of the two weeks but must dispatch of countryman Ryan Day if he is even reach the last 16.
Scotland’s John Higgins has barely lost a match since returning to the Main Tour in November at the end of his suspension and is rightfully the bookies favourite to claim his fourth world championship.
However, he too faces a very difficult encounter in the challenge of Stephen Lee, a player that is nearing the form that brought him to the last four at The Crucible in 2003.
Matthew Stevens and Mark Allen is the other notable tie of the first round with the latter the only representative from the island of Ireland.
All of the above clashes take place in the bottom half of the draw and doesn’t even mention Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy, Jamie Cope and a certain Ronnie O’Sullivan – meaning the cueist who scythes their way through to the final in this bracket will have earned their wages.
O’Sullivan’s pre-tournament build-up has been typically controversial. The three-time champion rang World Snooker last week to say that he was withdrawing only to reverse his decision the following day.
The Rocket is seeing a sports psychologist in an attempt to regain his love for the sport after losing his last four ranking event ties.
Many will feel that it is the perfect opportunity for Welshman Dominic Dale to take a scalp at the home of snooker and there is no doubt that he will put it up to his unpredictable opponent.
But that is what Ronnie is so notoriously good at – being unpredictable. The raw natural ability of the 35 year-old ensures that he always has a chance and, after such a quiet year, it would not be surprising to see him mount a charge for a fourth world championship ten years after his first.
First Round Draw (DC’s Predicted Winner in BOLD)
Neil Robertson vs Judd Trump
Marco Fu vs Martin Gould
Graeme Dott vs Mark King
Ali Carter vs Dave Harold
Ding Junhui vs Jamie Burnett
Peter Ebdon vs Stuart Bingham
Stephen Hendry vs Joe Perry
Mark Selby vs Jimmy Robertson
Mark Williams vs Ryan Day
Jamie Cope vs Andrew Pagett
Mark Allen vs Matthew Stevens
Stephen Maguire vs Barry Hawkins
Shaun Murphy vs Marcus Campbell
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Dominic Dale
Ricky Walden vs Rory McLeod
John Higgins vs Stephen Lee