WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
By Nigel Slater
WITH the hugely anticipated return of snooker’s biggest star, nobody can accuse this year’s World Championship of getting off to a slow start.
Defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan kick starts this year’s 17-day extravaganza in Sheffield with a bang as he faces qualifier Marcus Campbell in his first competitive match since September last year after taking a break away from the sport.
Since O’Sullivan announced his return for snooker’s biggest competition in February, tickets sales have gone through the roof with a flurry of excitement ahead of the tournament’s opening day.
The excitement is so big that even the BBC are showing the first session live on BBC 2 from 10am rather than transmit the opening action on its interactive red button service which has been done in previous years.
Seeing Ronnie enter the Crucible stage at the beginning of he match is sure to be one of the sport’s most memorable moments. The perfect way to begin what should be a thrilling tournament.
But what can we expect from Ronnie at the Crucible this year? The answer is no one knows – not even Ronnie himself.
Speaking at the World Championship press conference this week, the four-times world champion said: “It could be a car crash, it could be good, you just don’t know.
“I’ve never been one for doing Big Brother, but this is about as near as it gets. Who knows what will happen?”
This maybe spin and a case of playing mind games to his rivals, who knows? But any type of victory over Campbell, be it in ruthless fashion or by scrapping through, will certainly steer him towards the right direction en-route to his fifth world title – the complete opposite to a car crash!
Former world Champion Peter Ebdon, who has been practising with Ronnie ahead of the competition, has said Ronnie is in fine shape.
The world number 31 told BBC Sport: “If anybody thinks he’s not going to be ready for Sheffield, they are really badly mistaken.
“He’s playing at an unbelievable level and, if anything, he’s improved.”
But aside from all the Ronnie excitement, snooker’s other top names including Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, John Higgins and Judd Trump (to name a few) will also have their say and will feel that this is their year to shine on the biggest stage of them all.
Selby is chasing what will be a prestigious honour in winning all three of BBC’s major events after winning both the UK Championship and The Masters earlier in the season. Having not won snooker’s biggest prize before, the Leicester man will be determined to put a huge monkey off his back and silence the critics.
Australian Neil Robertson will be chasing his second world title and goes into the tournament full of confidence after winning the China Open last month.
Judd Trump will want to put the demons of his last 16 exit last year to rest and rarely do you see punters shying their money away from John Higgins, who during the past decade and more has delivered his very best snooker at the Crucible.
Other ranking event winners this season such as Mark Allen, Ding Junhui and Stephen Maguire also will fancy their chances of glory in what is a very open tournament.
Meanwhile, this year will have a fresh feel to it with six players making their Crucible debuts during the coming days.
Talented 21-year-old Jack Lisowski, who many inside the game believe could be the next big star, is sure to be one to watch after enjoying an impressive season which has seen him beat Selby and Trump in recent weeks. He faces Barry Hawkins in the opening round in what could be a thrilling contest.
Joining Lisowski as the new boys of the Crucible include Michael White, Dechawat Poomjaeng, Sam Baird, Matthew Selt and Ben Woollaston. Again how they will fare adds another exciting element to this season’s World Championship.
In contrast, a couple of regular names on the circuit will be coming back to snooker’s biggest stage with Alan McManus and Robert Milkins making their first appearance in seven and eight years respectively.
Undoubtedly, all eyes will be on Ronnie’s return on Saturday but who will be the focus when the final begins in just over two weeks time.
If Ronnie is there come the final, we will no doubt be witnessing a magical snooker fairytale – something much better and enthralling than any Big Brother episode.