The World Snooker Championship last 16 is almost upon us after a gripping opening chapter to this year’s tournament in Sheffield.
Rarely has there been so many talking points crammed into the first few days of the sport’s showpiece event.
Pick of the headlines was of course world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan’s incredible defeat at the hands of amateur debutant James Cahill.
But there was drama in almost every session with comebacks, deciders, and even a whitewash providing the tournament with a thrilling beginning.
It’s a good thing this website isn’t a betting tipster because, if the brutal first round predictions are anything to go by, an expensive remortgaging of the house would probably be in order.
Still, we’re going to give it another go for the next round and see if any sort of redemption is possible.
World Snooker Championship Last 16
Click on each match to view their head-to-heads. (CueTracker.net)
Mark Williams and David Gilbert both booked their spots in the World Snooker Championship last 16 with hard-fought 10-7 victories. The duo was generally in control of their ties but still received a strong workout ahead of the second round, where the format will increase to the best of 25 frames played across three sessions. While reigning champion Williams is no stranger to this set-up, Gilbert has reached this stage for only the second time in his career. The 37 year-old is in the form of his life, breaking into the top 16 for the first time and reaching two ranking event finals during this campaign. One of those title deciders was against Williams, when the Welshman stormed back from 9-5 behind to deny the Englishman his maiden success in a decider. One wonders whether that result will have an impact on this match too. Gilbert is well capable of living with the three-time champion but the experience of Williams, not to mention his coolness under pressure, is what tips this outcome in his favour.
When: Friday, 26th – 2:30pm; Saturday, 27th – 10am and 7pm
Kyren Wilson became the final player to reach the second round on Thursday, ensuring that the top half of the draw didn’t lose a single seed. Wilson boasts the right kind of temperament to be a strong performer in the World Championship. The Kettering cueist has a top level game that matches the high degree of patience required to achieve success in Sheffield. In the last two years, the German Masters champion has made steady progress at the Crucible, with a couple of quarter-final appearances and a semi-final run in 2018 under his belt. Yet, Wilson’s opponent Barry Hawkins is the king when it comes to consistency in the season’s showpiece. After reaching the final in 2013, Hawkins has only failed to feature at the single table set-up once – and even that year wasn’t a disaster as he appeared in the last eight. Hawkins has endured a disappointing term but there’s something about the longer matches at the Crucible that coaxes the best out of him. Now 40, the “Hawk” might not have too many more opportunities to threaten for the top honour, so he’ll be as motivated as ever to advance to the business stages.
When: Sunday, 28th – 10am and 7pm; Monday, 29th – 1pm
In an illustrious quarter of the draw that is packed with four former world champions, it’s important not to underestimate anyone. Stuart Bingham said that he felt like he lost despite surviving a late onslaught from Graeme Dott to prevail in a Crucible classic. Against John Higgins, the Englishman will face a formidable opponent who is attempting to rediscover his winning mentality after a season of inner struggle. Higgins, of course, is a four-time champion but lost in each of the last two finals in Sheffield. That he emerged from his initial task with a strong display against Mark Davis will be of some cause for concern for his rivals. Higgins is a player who has been written off on so many occasions, only to predominantly bounce back and show his pedigree for the big-time. The Scot’s superior head-to-head record against Bingham, winning eight of their previous 11 fixtures, would indicate that the 43 year-old possibly has the number of the 2015 world champion. Bingham, with a brace of ranking titles to his credit this term, is a dark horse for this year’s title but Higgins’ credentials are vast and the longer he remains in the hunt the more dangerous a predator he’ll become.
When: Saturday, 27th – 2:30pm; Sunday, 27th – 2:30pm; Monday, 29th – 7pm
The second battle of former world champions in this bracket sees Shaun Murphy face the man in form Neil Robertson. Has there ever been a World Snooker Championship last 16 clash that has featured two players who have conceded so few frames? Simply, the answer is no. Murphy inflicted the first bagel at the Crucible in 27 years on poor Luo Honghao while Robertson almost repeated the trick against Michael Georgiou, letting the side down by dropping the penultimate frame en route to a 10-1 hiding of the Cypriot. Robertson is undoubtedly one of the favourites for this year’s crown after reaching the final in the last four ranking events he contested during the campaign, while capturing two trophies. The Australian’s only defeats in that spell were to Ronnie O’Sullivan and that obstacle has already been taken care of. Robertson hasn’t really threatened properly at the Crucible since his triumph nine years ago so, in many respects, it’s about time he made a return to the latter stages. After a dreadful season, Murphy will be buoyed by his first round performance but what can really be learned from that? The true test of his renewed form will now ultimately be put to the test.
When: Thursday, 25th – 1pm; Friday, 26th – 10am and 7pm
Mark Selby successfully negotiated a potential banana skin in the last 32 when he fought back from 5-1 down to deny the talented Zhao Xintong. Now that the three-time world champion is up and running, he could become a more formidable proposition, particularly as his draw is becoming kinder and kinder by the day. Potential quarter-final opponent Mark Allen bowed out on Wednesday and Selby’s next challenger is a player he’s never lost to. In a repeat of the 2015 China Open final, Selby entertains fellow Englishman Gary Wilson. The latter was delighted to edge Luca Brecel in a gruelling last frame to move beyond the opening hurdle for the first time in his career. Yet, even though Selby’s form has been patchy for quite some time, it’s difficult to envisage him slipping up here. Wilson is a solid competitor but is lacking in every department when compared to the world number two. It might sound obvious to say but, like Higgins in the opposite side of the draw, the further Selby advances the more credible a serious contender he’s going to become.
When: Thursday, 25th – 7pm; Friday, 26th – 2:30pm; Saturday, 27th – 10am
In the first round preview, it was queried whether Ali Carter had been properly tested in the qualifiers, having not met a player ranked higher than number 78. In many respects, the 2008 and 2012 runner-up still hasn’t been put under it despite being drawn with the recent China Open finalist Jack Lisowski in the last 32. The latter, who has undergone an immense improvement overall since an embarrassing 13-1 second round thrashing at the hands of John Higgins last year, was very poor and Carter gratefully took advantage. Against Zhou Yuelong, the 39 year-old will be the favourite and a second successive quarter-final appearance beckons for the “Captain”. For the majority of his opening task, Zhou performed well but was perhaps somewhat fortuitous that he encountered a Mark Allen who opted not to turn up until he was 9-2 behind. Zhou is among a group of four or five young Chinese competitors who are on the cusp of emerging into the big-time. Beating Carter would certainly be a momentous step for the 21 year-old former world amateur champion to take, but it’s difficult to look beyond the Englishman’s vast experience at this stage.
When: Sunday, 28th – 10am and 7pm; Monday, 29th – 1pm
There are compelling ties all the way through the World Snooker Championship last 16 draw. But surely the most eye-catching of them all is the meeting between Judd Trump and Ding Junhui. Two of this era’s best cueists to never etch their names onto the most prestigious silverware, one of them will be left disappointed again for another year. In judgement of their first round matches alone, Ding would probably have just about swung it. Trump was fortunate that his opponent Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, blessed with talent though he may be, cracked under the pressure as the winning line came into view. Reflecting on the campaign overall, however, and it is easier to come up with the conclusion that the Englishman is the man more likely to progress. The 29 year-old secured glory in two ranking events either side of his landmark January triumph in the Masters at Ally Pally. Ding, on the other hand, has achieved nothing of note since reaching the final of last season’s World Grand Prix. The Chinese number one’s game has transformed over the years and, although he still has the ability to score heavily, Ding relies far too heavily on winning frames that become drawn out and scrappy. In the past, this might have troubled Trump but the 2011 runner-up, a year in which he beat Ding in a truly memorable semi-final affair, boasts a much more rounded temperament now and is less likely to be as fazed by such taxing tactics.
When: Saturday, 27th – 7pm; Sunday, 28th – 2:30pm; Monday, 29th – 7pm
So much attention has surrounded James Cahill’s upset of the pre-tournament favourite. The 23 year-old has been constantly in demand and in the news, so it is a wonder how he will have managed to maintain his focus with another tough match to come. Stephen Maguire, who three times lost to O’Sullivan in prior World Championships, must have been secretly delighted with the result that sent the “Rocket” packing. The Glaswegian, somewhat like Trump and Ding, has been a failure in this tournament after a career full of early promise. Maguire lost six out of the eight first round ties he played in the World Championship before this year and it looked like 2019 was going to follow a similar path when he needed snookers from 9-7 behind against Tian Pengfei. An unbelievable fluke led to his turnaround and Maguire will be thinking that this is a golden opportunity to make a return to the second week of the championship. Cahill, the first amateur to ever qualify, has never before contested a match of this length and, at any rate, it generally proves difficult for giant-killers to substantiate their initial surprise in the following round. Cahill was underestimated once so it’s important not to make that mistake again, but Maguire would still be expected to take advantage.