Crucible Contenders Down to Final Four

What started as 144, now stands as quite simply the last four.

Alan McManus Crucible15
Can McManus become the oldest finalist since Ray Reardon (49) in 1982? – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

One of Mark Selby, Marco Fu, Ding Junhui or Alan McManus will be crowned the 2016 Betfred world champion on Monday.

For Selby and Fu, they have each already won 36 frames of snooker to get to this stage.

For qualifiers Ding and McManus, they have amassed an incredible 66 frame victories already.

Another grueling 35 frames are needed in order to be crowned as this year’s world champion.

With Ding and McManus set to face each other, there is guaranteed to be a qualifier in the final; can one of them join Terry Griffiths and Shaun Murphy as the only players to have emerged from the preliminaries to prevail?

World no.1 Selby is the only competitor who already knows what is required to lift the trophy on the Crucible stage, having memorably done so in 2014 when he overcame Ronnie O’Sullivan in a dramatic final.

Fu, like Ding, features in only his second semi-final in the World Championship.

Could there be an all-Asian final to guarantee the first ever champion from the continent?

Both semi-final encounters boast clear favourites and underdogs, but there’s every reason to suggest that neither will become runaways.

The final is expected to be Selby against Ding, such are the obvious credentials that they equally boast, but the other two challengers have already proven how capable they are over the last fortnight or more.

For 45 year-old McManus, it is a remarkable third last four appearance – 23 years after his last.

Griffiths himself held the previous record between jaunts to the penultimate round, in between capturing the title in 1979 and finishing runner-up nine years later in 1988.

Scot McManus’ run has been no fluke, as he has twice come from behind in stellar fashion to knock out Ali Carter and John Higgins.

Against close pal Higgins, the 1994 Masters champion’s scoring was superb with two tons and nine further breaks above 50 to his credit in the quarter-final win.

Ding scored heavily in his session-to-spare triumph over Mark Williams too, although was lucky to run into a player who suffered with tip issues on the eve of the match.

Ding rightly starts as favourite but alongside that expectation will be the big question surrounding his temperament, something which is unlikely to affect his level-headed opponent so much.

One senses that it’s a different Ding entirely this year, though, in stark contrast to the timid versions of himself who tried and so often failed at the Crucible in the past.

The 29 year-old appears composed and relaxed, indeed possessing all the traits necessary to collect a maiden and overdue world title.

Selby remains Ding’s biggest stumbling block to accomplishing that feat.

The ‘Jester’ hasn’t played at his best but has performed solidly enough to get this far and will continue to be as tough as granite to dislodge.

Fu, in spells during all three ties, has looked excellent in among the balls but should be concerned by the manner in which he allowed an inspired Barry Hawkins almost retrieve the situation from a seemingly unassailable 9-1 lead in a thrilling last eight clash that eventually ended 13-11.

That said, the Hong Kong cueist did hold himself together fantastically well in the last frame when a wonderful 74 clearance ruined Hawkin’s desperate lunge for a decider.

Yet, one suspects that Selby’s experience and sheer will to win no matter what his form – the true master of brinkmanship – will see the 32 year-old through in the end.

This World Championship has been anything but predictable, though, and there’s sure to be plenty of more drama as we enter the enduringly special single table set-up which transforms the Crucible Theatre into one of the sport’s most inspiring arenas.

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