Well, it’s fair to say that the first round predictions didn’t go according to plan.
There were a few near misses, like with Shaun Murphy, Ryan Day, and Graeme Dott bowing out in tight affairs with Jamie Jones, Anthony McGill, and Ali Carter respectively.
But there were also some shockers, with Marco Fu and defending champion Mark Selby crashing out courtesy of hidings from Lyu Haotian and Joe Perry – the youngest and oldest players in the draw this year.
All in all, the first round predictions finished with a miserable nine out of 16 correct – nine!
Considering I always aim for a 75% success rate every year, it’s rather on the disappointing side, to say the least.
Still, there’s always round two to help with the redemption and it’s turning out to be an interesting line-up despite the number of seeds (6) and former world champions (5) that have made a premature exit.
Click on each match to view their head-to-heads. (CueTracker.net)
All the way back on opening day Saturday, Joe Perry kickstarted a wave of first-round exits for the seeded players when he upset two-time defending champion Mark Selby with a 10-4 drubbing. As a former top 16 member and a ranking event winner, Perry’s victory wouldn’t go down as one of the biggest shocks of all time at the Crucible but it was still unexpected. The Englishman, who reached the semi-finals ten years ago, will next face Mark Allen after the Masters champion saw off a spirited effort from debutant Liam Highfield. With the greatest of respects to Perry, Allen will surely secretly be delighted with this draw as it now offers him a much greater chance of reaching the business end for the first time in years. In fact, Allen hasn’t won a best of 25 frames encounter in Sheffield since 2011 and you have to go all the way back to 2009 to recall his memorable run to the last four. Allen and Perry’s head-to-head is evenly matched and the latter actually prevailed in their most recent tie at the UK Championship before Christmas but Allen must be considered as the slight favourite and a defeat at this stage for the Northern Irishman would represent a major disappointment again in a World Championship.
When: Thursday, April 26th – 1pm; Friday, April 27th – 10am and 7pm
Isn’t it amazing how someone apparently random can become a bogey player? That certainly seems to be the case for Shaun Murphy with regard Jamie Jones, who got one over on the “Magician” for the second time in the last 32 at the World Championship after a dramatic 10-9 success on Monday. Six years ago when he first overcame the 2005 world champ, Jones proceeded to make a quarter-final appearance, one of only five he has made in his entire career in ranking events. To match that run, the 30 year-old from Neath will need to oust Kyren Wilson, who is turning into one of the most consistent and bankable competitors on the circuit. Wilson turned in a routine performance to see off former runner-up Matthew Stevens in the opening round and will be a strong favourite to beat Jones over the longer format. Indeed, with Selby and Murphy both out, Wilson is arguably the frontrunner in his quarter of the draw to advance to what would be a maiden semi-final at the Crucible. Of course, a possible clash with Allen could await in the last eight, which would obviously represent an intriguing repeat of their Masters final showdown in January. For Jones to cause another upset, he’ll have to score heavily when he gets his opportunities, of which there might not be many because Wilson’s tactical game is so adept.
When: Friday, April 27th – 2:30pm; Saturday, April 28th – 10am and 7pm
Many, many moons ago, it seemed like I was constantly bigging up Jack Lisowski as a star of the future but there was a period around this time last year when it looked as though all was lost with regards his potential. Lisowski earned less than £30,000 in prize money last season and he was looking more and more like a relegation candidate rather than a top 16 member. What a difference a few results and a bit of confidence can make. The “Big” Lisowski is finally living up to his billing as a big entertainer and boy can he play. Lisowski’s tactical game is still rough around the edges but, in terms of his attacking prowess, he is as exciting a player as there has been since the emergence of Judd Trump at the Crucible seven years ago. Back then, only John Higgins could stop Trump and it’s the very same man who stands in the way of the Dude making a quarter-final appearance in Sheffield for the first time. Despite Lisowski’s obvious pedigree, of which we’ll hopefully see a lot more of from now on because he’s one of the most enjoyable players on the tour to watch, it’s hard to envisage how he’s going to be able to outlast Higgins over such a long distance. The 26 year-old needs to be at his quickfire, power scoring best but, even then, that might not be enough because four-time champion Higgins is just so solid in every department. In Lisowski’s favour is his victory in their most recent meeting earlier this month at the China Open but whether that will be enough to inspire him to a second triumph this week against a former world champion is doubtful and could prove to be a step too far, for this year at least.
When: Saturday, April 28th – 2:30pm; Sunday, April 29th – 2:30pm; Monday, April 30th – 7pm
In typical fashion, Judd Trump made seriously hard work of his first-round victory over Chris Wakelin, squandering an 8-4 lead as he just about scrambled over the winning post with a dramatic 10-9 triumph. On the eve of his match, Trump was once again quoted as saying that he “can’t see it being a particularly close game” and that “it’s going to be a lopsided scoreline either way.” It drew comparisons with last year when the 2011 runner-up entered the event as one of the favourites and brashly labeling himself as one, only to bow out in a limp display against Rory McLeod. History almost repeated itself and it seems as though Trump has learned precious little in the last twelve months. That the 28 year-old survived will go in some way to offering him with the opportunity to redeem himself with a more Trump-like performance in the second round but it’s hard to know what kind of standard he’s going to produce. Against Walden, the former world number one comes up against a former top 16 member and a multiple ranking event champion who is beginning to feel confident again after a long spell struggling with injuries. Walden poses an even greater threat than Wakelin, who was unfortunate not to seal what would have represented the win of his career against Trump, and as a former semi-finalist in Sheffield Walden knows what it takes to win over the longer format. Still, you’d have to think that Trump will settle down and strut his stuff eventually. Maybe.
When: Sunday, April 29th – 10am and 7pm; Monday, April 30th – 1pm
How Anthony McGill survived his opening round fixture is anyone’s guess. The Scot was awful, but thankfully for him he ran into an old version of Ryan Day who completely choked with the winning line in sight. Day constructed breaks of 145 and 141 to orchestrate a healthy 6-3 lead after the first session and buffered that early on in the second to move to within two frames of the second round. But after the final mid-session interval he could barely pot a ball and McGill, who was poor as well, gratefully mopped up. Against Ding, McGill is unlikely to be so fortunate. The Chinese number one was in imperious form as he recovered from a slightly slow start to thump compatriot Xiao Guodong 10-3 – the joint heaviest defeat of the last 32. After experiencing years of hardship at the Crucible, Ding’s second home of Sheffield has finally become a place where he can enjoy competing in over the last couple of years. Only Mark Selby has stood in the 31 year-old’s way of a maiden world crown in each of the last two seasons and, of course, the defending champion has already gone by the wayside on this occasion. Ding is speaking like a person who thinks he is a proper contender this year as well, which can only be a positive sign for his legion of fans back in China. Whether he will finally realise the dream of becoming his country’s first world champion, with notably Ronnie O’Sullivan in his half of the draw, is still hard to predict but the former UK and Masters champion should have more than enough in the tank to at least overcome McGill, who he has never lost to.
When: Sunday, April 29th – 10am and 7pm; Monday, April 30th – 1pm
Lyu Haotian vs Barry Hawkins
Like Lisowski, Lyu could be in line to become one of the stars of this year’s edition of the World Championship. At only 20, Lyu represents the youngest player in the field and it’s clear that he has got bundles of pedigree. There are probably quite a few fans of the game who haven’t come across Lyu before but, after his high-scoring 10-5 success against Marco Fu, the young Chinese cuiest certainly announced himself onto a greater platform. Lyu defied his debut showing with a confident display that thoroughly took advantage of his opponent’s rustiness, with Fu making his comeback after a spell on the sidelines with injury. The former world under-21 champion will have to produce that and more in his last 16 bout with Barry Hawkins – a Crucible stalwart in recent years. Since 2013, Hawkins has never failed to reach at least the quarter-finals stage and the 39 year-old will be highly fancied to match that again this year. That said, the “Hawk” didn’t put in a particularly impressive performance against Stuart Carrington in his opening match and he’ll be looking for a marked improvement going forward if he has aspirations of claiming a maiden world title. Lyu is a dangerous challenge as he has nothing to fear and has already surpassed most people’s expectations, including probably his own, but Hawkins will put up a sterner test compared to Fu and whether or not the youngster can cope with sustained pressure remains to be seen. The pair has never met before so it’s new territory for both but Hawkins’ major championship experience should be the telling difference.
When: Thursday, April 26th – 7pm; Friday, April 27th – 2:30pm; Saturday, April 28th – 10am
The last time Mark Williams and Robert Milkins met in a World Championship encounter was in the first round 13 years ago, when the former fired in a maximum break in the last frame to deliver a 10-1 thrashing of the “Milkman”. It’s unlikely that the scoreline will be as one-sided again on this occasion but the result will most likely be the same. It seems like a sudden fad at the moment that a lot of the players and media have taken to the opinion that being in the World Championship qualifiers is an advantage because coming through the three rounds at the EIS sharpens you up before the real test at the Crucible. Why it’s only this year that this is being fully realised, when Ding Junhui and Alan McManus contested a semi-final as two qualifiers in 2016, and Stephen Maguire advanced to the quarter-finals twelve months ago, is beyond me. In any case, it’s ridiculous and the likes of Neil Robertson, who tamely bowed out to Milkins on Wednesday, quipping that it might be better for him to be in the qualifiers is downright ludicrous. If he hasn’t noticed, there are enough matches on the calendar for top 16 players to get themselves in shape in time for the Crucible without the need for such outlandish excuses for failure. Anyway, fair play to Milkins for taking advantage and it marked the second time that he’s gotten one over on the Australian in the last 32. Milkins has never been beyond the second round and it’s hard to see him shocking Williams, who is in the midst of producing his best form in almost a decade and is an outside bet for an unlikely third world crown.
When: Saturday, April 28th – 7pm; Sunday, April 29th – 2:30pm; Monday, April 30th – 7pm
They meet again. For the fifth time in the World Championship, Ali Carter must face Ronnie O’Sullivan. The previous four encounters in Sheffield, including a couple of finals, have all gone the way of the “Rocket” and, in fact, Carter has never beaten his fellow Englishman in 14 encounters outside the short format Championship League. Could it be 15th time lucky? The evidence would suggest that it’s unlikely. O’Sullivan began his round of 32 encounter with Stephen Maguire like an imposter, such were the number of mistakes that were coming from his cue, but by the end of the tie normality had resumed and he was again producing snooker akin to how he has amassed a record-equalling five ranking event titles this season. Carter dug deep in trademark fashion to edge 2006 world champion Graeme Dott in a proper scrap, a result that will provide a touch of gloss to what has otherwise been a dreadful 2018 for the “Captain”. If Carter were to upset O’Sullivan, all of his prior woes from this season could be banished but it’s difficult to see how that outcome can materialise. The only modicum of hope for Carter is O’Sullivan’s record at the Crucible since his defeat to Mark Selby in the 2014 final. When he has come under serious pressure – against Stuart Bingham in 2015, Barry Hawkins in 2016, and Ding Junhui last year – the 42 year-old has ultimately crumbled. But can Carter even provide such a test?
When: Friday, April 27th – 10am and 7pm; Saturday, April 28th – 2:30pm