So the first round of the World Championship comes to a conclusion today, simultaneous to the opening bout of play in two of the last 16 ties.
With all the shocks in this year’s tournament, it’s no surprise that I didn’t hit a 100% success rate with my last 32 predictions but, as long as Mark Williams emerges victorious against Liu Chuang later this evening, I will have got 11 out of 16 results correct – which I guess isn’t too bad all things considered.
In my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to give it another crack for the second round encounters so let’s see how it fares this time.
John Higgins vs Stephen Hendry
Contrasting performances from two of Scotland’s most successful exports in the sport gave them the opportunity to surprisingly meet each other at the Crucible for the first time ever. Higgins did what he does best to scrape over the winning line against Liang Wenbo while Hendry was superb in his destruction of Stuart Bingham, particularly in the first session when he compiled a maximum break. It’s a tough one to call this because with Hendry’s form improving and Higgins still struggling following a poor campaign by his high standards, the playing field has been levelled somewhat. The deciding factor for me is that I don’t think seven-time champion Hendry has enough consistency over three sessions and could go walkabout for a succession of crucial frames – something Higgins will never do.
Joe Perry vs Stephen Maguire
Two former semi-finalists battle it out for a place in the last 8 here but with one clear favourite. Perry’s 10-1 demolition job on Graeme Dott was made all the easier thanks to an opponent that was uncharacteristically missing attempted pots by feet at times rather than inches. Still, he did what he had to, similar to Maguire who overcame teenage wonder kid Luca Brecel 10-5 while not producing anywhere near his best. The Scot has been a form horse in 2012, reaching the finals of the German Masters and China Open, and, even though Perry is no mug, it’s Maguire’s to lose in my opinion.
Jamie Jones vs Andrew Higginson
Well, anyone who predicted that both Jones and Higginson would upset their top 8 opponents in Shaun Murphy and Stephen Lee needs a hardy pat on the back. While both dangerous players, many would have assumed former champion Murphy and 2012’s best player Lee would have progressed. As it is, two qualifiers now have a golden opportunity to reach the business end of the quest for snooker’s holy grail after equally excellent displays. A close one on paper, Higginson might have the edge boasting more experience around the circuit but debutant Jones is clearly an up-and-coming star and his time to burst onto the scene might be now.
Ali Carter vs Judd Trump
An ill Judd Trump did well to scramble over the line against Dominic Dale – the latter wasteful in the array of guilt-edged chances he was granted to claim frame after frame. For Carter, who suffers from Crohn’s disease and has been in dire form this season, it was a welcomed turn around in fortune as he enjoyed a marked improvement to hammer Mark Davis 10-2. Both are former finalists in Sheffield so are well aware of how to embark on a deep run and even though Trump will start as the clear favourite ‘The Captain’ should not be written off too quickly. Having said that, it’s hard to back against the UK champion now that he is past the potentially fatal first hurdle.
Liu Chuang vs Ronnie O’Sullivan
Mark Williams and Liu Chuang resume tonight at 6-3 in favour of the Welshman so I’m going to do something a little risky here and assume that the two-time champion will advance. Famous last words! If he does, Ronnie O’Sullivan will be waiting for him after the ‘Rocket’ beat Peter Ebdon 10-4 in a clash that turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. O’Sullivan played well in spells and his record over Williams is menacing – indeed, the latter has failed to defeat Ronnie in the last ten years. Having watched a couple of their matches together recently Williams almost appears to go into them with a defeatist attitude so it’s primarily for that reason that I’m gunning the other way.
David Gilbert vs Neil Robertson
This was the first tie of the second round to get under way with Robertson coming from 3-1 down this afternoon to reel off four impressive frames to lead 5-3 overnight. The Australian looked devastatingly good in that flurry and remains my man to beat over the course of the two weeks – he has the safety, the break-building ability, the long game and the temperament to claim his second title. Basically, he’s the complete package. Gilbert did excellently to edge Martin Gould in the first round and will probably give a very good account of himself again against Robertson, but it’s just a step too far this time.
Ryan Day vs Cao Yupeng
The players that knocked out the two people who have caused the most controversy in the last few days – along with Williams I guess. Rookie Cao played superbly to emerge victorious over Mark Allen, who then all but labelled the Chinese and many of his compatriots as cheats. Day, meanwhile, came from three behind to oust Ding Junhui 10-9 in dramatic fashion only for the latter to, somewhat out of character really, launch a furious attack at the crowd in the arena in his press conference. Like Higginson and Jones, another rare chance for a pair of qualifiers to continue their journey perhaps longer than expected and you would have to fancy Ryan’s experience to be enough on the, erm, day.
Prediction: Ryan Day
Matthew Stevens vs Barry Hawkins
Both of these seasoned pros looked good in their respective 10-3 triumphs over Marco Fu and Mark Selby. For Hawkins, it was more a case of maintaining his concentration throughout because, as the match progressed, it became clear that world no1 Selby was still struggling from the neck injury that he suffered in China. Stevens was quite ruthless in his opening match, making it 11 first round wins out of 13 at the Crucible – a venue he has both fond and painful memories of. A man for the longer format, the Welshman has been runner-up in the Worlds twice but at least he knows how to get that far – and I think he’ll edge closer to a third final here.