World Snooker Championship: 10-year trends point to...

Dave Tindall looks at the make-up of the last 10 world champions to try and find this year's winner...

"It seems that those who rather flopped the previous year have a great hunger than those who went deep into the tournament. That's shown by eight of the last 10 winners failing to progress beyond the quarter-finals of the previous edition."

As with my Masters golf trends piece for 2020, last year's debut snooker version was always going to run into difficulties due to the tournament being staged in July/August rather than its usual April/May slot.

The regular rhythms and patterns of the season were altered and with fans (restricted in number) only allowed in on day one and then again for the final, the atmosphere felt somewhat unusual too.

That Ronnie O'Sullivan completed a sixth win suggests there was a high degree of normality. But even the Rocket himself admitted that he may have benefitted from the lack of well-intentioned supporters pestering him for selfies all fortnight.

Ronnie clearly enjoyed aspects of a quieter Crucible/Sheffield although it's impossible to ever know whether it was decisive.

Anyway, we can only work with what we have and this year the event is taking place in its regular slot and on the back of a busy season despite the China events being cancelled/replaced.

Crowds are restricted to some level but thanks to Barry Hearn's relentless energy and campaigning, the world championship is again a pilot programme with the return of fans being staggered throughout the tournament.

The plan is that the venue will operate at 33% capacity for round one, 50% for round two, 75% for the quarters and semis and, if all is well, the maximum of around 980 seats for the final.

Not so good for Ronnie? More pressure on the first-timers? Or did the debutants feel a little flat last time due to being denied the full Crucible experience?

As it happens, the stats don't work out well for the Sheffield newbies so that's a rather moot point.

In addition, one thing that's become pretty clearly in these COVID times is that, crowds or no crowds, snooker's elite tend to dominate. Jordan Brown caused an almighty shock by beating O'Sullivan in the final of the Welsh Open but that's very much an exception.

So, let's start then and look at the last 10 winners and how they shaped up at the time of their triumphs:

2020 - Ronnie O'Sullivan

ronnie o'sullivan 1280x720.jpg

Age at time: 44
Seeding: 6th
Crucible appearances: 27
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: R1
Won a ranking event that season: No

2019 - Judd Trump

Age at time: 29
Seeding: 7th
Crucible appearances: 9
Previous Crucible Best: Final
Previous year: QF
Won a ranking event that season: Yes

2018 - Mark Williams

Age at time: 43
Seeding: 7th
Crucible appearances: 19
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: DNQ
Won a ranking event that season: Yes

2017 - Mark Selby

Age at time: 33
Seeding: 1st
Crucible appearances: 12
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: Win
Won a ranking event that season: Yes

2016 - Mark Selby

Age at time: 32
Seeding: 2nd
Crucible appearances: 11
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: R2
Won a ranking event that season: No

2015 - Stuart Bingham

Age at time: 38
Seeding: 10th
Crucible appearances: 8
Previous Crucible Best: QF
Previous year: R1
Won a ranking event that season: Yes

2014 - Mark Selby

Mark Selby - 1280.jpg

Age at time: 30
Seeding: 3rd
Crucible appearances: 9
Previous Crucible Best: Final
Previous year: R2
Won a ranking event that season: No

2013 - Ronnie O'Sullivan

Age at time: 37
Seeding: 1st
Crucible appearances: 20
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: Win
Won a ranking event that season: No

2012 - Ronnie O'Sullivan

Age at time: 36
Seeding: 14th
Crucible appearances: 19
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: QF
Won a ranking event that season: Yes

2011 - John Higgins

Age at time: 35
Seeding: 2nd
Crucible appearances: 16
Previous Crucible Best: Win
Previous year: R2
Won a ranking event that season: Yes

Trends of past winners:

Age

- 1 of last 10 Crucible winners was in his 20s
- 7 of last 10 Crucible winners were in their 30s
- 2 of last 10 Crucible winners was in their 40s

Seeding at the time

- 5 of last 10 Crucible winners were seeded in the top three
- 8 of last 10 Crucible winners were seeded in the top eight
- 9 of last 10 Crucible winners were seeded in the top 10

Past appearances

- 10 of last 10 Crucible winners had played there at least eight times previously

Past success

- 7 of last 10 Crucible winners had won the title previously
- 9 of last 10 Crucible winners had reached the final previously
- 10 of last 10 Crucible winners had reached at least the quarter-finals previously

Previous year

- 2 of last 10 Crucible winners had won the year before
- 8 of last 10 Crucible winners didn't go past the quarter-finals the year before

Won a ranking event that season

- 6 of last 10 Crucible winners had won a ranking event that season
- 4 of last 10 Crucible winners hadn't won a ranking event that season

What we're looking for

Taking the strongest trends, the ideal fit for a world champion is as follows:

- Is in his 30s
- Seeded in the top 10
- Played at Crucible at least eight times
- Had reached the final before
- Didn't go past the quarter-finals last year

Winning a ranking event that same season doesn't appear too important given that four of the last 10 hadn't.

Does anyone fit the bill?

Let's start with the top 10 seedings as history says the winner will come from this bunch. It's a 9 out of 10 trend so one of the best (it should really be 10 but for Ronnie's unrepresentative seeding in 2012).

(1) Ronnie O'Sullivan, (2) Judd Trump, (3) Neil Robertson, (4) Mark Selby, (5) John Higgins, (6) Kyren Wilson, (7) Shaun Murphy, (8) Stephen Maguire, (9) Ding Junhui, (10) Yan Bingtao.

Sorry Barry Hawkins, Mark Williams, Mark Allen, Jack Lisowski, Dave Gilbert and Anthony McGill - seeds 11-16 - the stats are against you.

Maguire and Bingtao have never reached the final before so out they go (Bingtao is also too young). Wilson, who lost to Ronnie in last year's final, has only played at the Crucible six times (two short of the required eight) so history doesn't like him.

In addition, it seems that those who rather flopped the previous year may have a great hunger than those who went deep into the tournament. That's shown by eight of the last 10 winners failing to progress beyond the quarter-finals of the previous edition.

On that basis we lose defending champion O'Sullivan and the man he beat in their epic 2020 semi-final, Mark Selby.

And then there were five...

Still standing (or sat in their chairs sipping water) are Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui.

Current form

We need to reflect latest well-being so here's a stat to measure form coming in to the Crucible.

- 9 of the last 10 Crucible winners had made at least a semi-final in one of their previous three starts.

Murphy's best is a Welsh quarter-final so the 2005 winner leaves us here.

Ding, the beaten finalist in 2016, hasn't reached a semi-final all season so it's goodbye to him too.

Fatigue

A long, gruelling season can be detrimental in any sport and it certainly applies in snooker.

Judd Trump puffs cheeks.jpg

Ronnie can't be doing with playing in every event of such a busy schedule but it seems that some players cannot help themselves.

This stat taps into workload:

- 8 of the last 10 Crucible winners had played 96 or fewer matches that season

O'Sullivan, famously, had the 2013 season off before winning and he again benefitted from freshness last year. Judd Trump had only played 83 matches before winning in 2019 but it's a different story this time.

Matches played by three surviving players:

104 Judd Trump
75 John Higgins
42 Neil Robertson

Trump is famous for racking up centuries but this one hurts him. Fatigue levels are deep into the red zone and, although he missed the Masters due to a positive COVID test, 104 matches is overdoing it.

Robertson has had a very light schedule after spending more time with his family and Higgins has managed his workload well too.

They're in opposite halves of the draw so one option could be to back them in the 'Name The Finalists' market when those prices are released.

However, I'm happy to have win bets on both: the exchange odds are Robertson at 6.411/2 and Higgins at 1312/1.

Narrowing it down to one

For those wanting just one pick then the trends would lean towards Neil Robertson.

Neil Robertson long pot.jpg

Why? The Aussie is 39 and Higgins is 45. The stats say eight of the last 10 winners were under 40. However, all snooker fans will be aware of the enduring excellence of the 'Class of 92' so it seems a strange move to rule out anyone over 40.

O'Sullivan and Williams have won two of the last three world championships between them and Higgins has reached three of the last four finals. They were all in their 40s at the time.

Another way of framing the 'age' stat is that each of the last 10 winners - indeed, every Crucible champion - was under 46. In which case, O'Sullivan and Higgins both qualify as they're the same age, 45, as Ray Reardon in 1978.

But Williams at 46 would be deemed too old. I guess you need to draw the line somewhere although the Welshman also misses out this time due to being ranked outside the world's top 10.

Perhaps at 45 and without O'Sullivan's thirst for running, Higgins is on the brink of being just a little long in the tooth to win a Crucible marathon. I'm definitely not ruling him out although, if having to select just one, the younger man, Robertson, gets the nod.

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