World Championship Snooker: Hamilton will relish underdog status

Snooker player Anthony Hamilton
Anthony Hamilton won't be daunted by the Crucible stage

Snooker's World Championship begins on Friday so Gary Moss picks out four qualifiers, including well-known names and newcomers, to watch at the Sheffield Crucible...

"Thepchaiya Un-Nooh has been handed another humdinger of an opening tie against Ronnie O’Sullivan - a mouth-watering prospect for the fans who can see the two fastest players on the tour go head-to-head."

After snooker's World Championship was postponed earlier this year, it's finally time to head to the Sheffield Crucible for a unique summer edition of the sport's blue ribband event. While some things will clearly be different, the sport's chief Barry Hearn deserves huge credit for maintaining some sense of normality as we get ready for the big one.

There will be a limited crowd allowed into the venue to cheer on the players and,, after the nerve-shredding qualifiers produced their usual dose of pre-Crucible drama, the signs are good for the main even.

This year, we have an eclectic field of qualifiers joining the top 16 stars including five debutants and some experienced war horses, with Alan McManus, Anthony Hamilton, Mark King and Matthew Stevens back on the big stage. Here's my guide to the qualifiers to watch.

Anthony Hamilton

If you're looking for a player who won't let the enormity of The Crucible get in his way one bit then Hamilton is your man. This is a big return to Sheffield for the Sheriff and will be his first time at the venue since 2008.

To think it would take him quite so long to seal a return would have been inconceivable. He's become one of the game's journeymen but he's also become a ranking event. He has a philosophical approach to the game these days and doesn't put himself under too much pressure.

He has a tough opener against Kyren Wilson, who has reached the quarter-finals in each of the last four years. Hamilton, though, looked in solid nick to brush aside Sam Craigie and Scott Donaldson - despite being the underdog in both matches. This will be a familiar role and he will be happy to play it again.

Hamilton has bags of experience and, most importantly, the bottle to get over the line if he can keep himself in the match.

Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

How different last year's tournament could have been if Thepchaiya had come out on top in the deciding frame shoot-out against eventual champion Judd Trump in round one. This year, the Thai player has been handed another humdinger of an opening tie against Ronnie O'Sullivan.

This is a mouth-watering prospect for the fans who can see the two fastest players on the tour go head-to-head.

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Thepchaiya is one of the most dangerous qualifiers with his heavy scoring and barrage of attacking snooker a threat to anyone. He has a realistic chance of a big win against the Rocket who since losing in the 2014 final has not reached the last four.

The Thai potter will welcome O'Sullivan's speedy and open approach as it may provide a good platform to find his own fluency. There could be a surprise on the cards.

Elliot Slessor

After sweeping aside Ben Woollaston and Martin O'Donnell with ease, Slessor can look forward to a massive match against China's Yan Bingtao.

While Slessor might be new to the whole Crucible experience, he has proved he loves the big stage with two career wins over O'Sullivan in three meetings. This proves he isn't scared of anyone.

Yan knows what the latter stages of the bigger events are like but has only been inducted into the top 16 this season. Like his opponent, he has yet to win a match at The Crucible and prepares for his first match in Sheffield as a seeded player.

As a top 16 player, this will bring its own pressure and drawing one of the form men from qualifying means he cannot afford to start slowly. Slessor has the benefit of top-class match practice behind him which sets him up to have a real shout here.

Anthony McGill

The Scot has a potentially favourable and evenly-matched draw against Jack Lisowski.

McGill looks to have rekindled some form in qualifying, coming through a tough group to secure his sixth Crucible visit. He's won three of his previous five first-round matches and enjoyed a last 16 victory over defending champion Mark Selby on his debut in 2015.

He has an unflappable temperament and enough experience to take the event in his stride. Tough to call a winner in his match against Lisowski but if Mcgill wins it, his confidence should grow.

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