World Snooker Championship 2016: One player to back from each quarter

Ronnie once again proved unstoppable in Wales
Ronnie once again proved unstoppable in Wales

Following this morning's draw, Paul Krishnamurty previews the World Snooker Championship, which starts at the Crucible Theatre on Saturday morning...

"If the five-time champion turns up in determined spirits and good form, he is virtually unbeatable...The draw has been very kind to O'Sullivan, with this section packed with players he has owned over the years."

Back Ali Carter 0.5u @ 100.099/1

The Crucible Curse is snooker's most famous trend, referring to the fact that no first time world champion has ever defended his title. The man bidding to break the spell this year is Stuart Bingham but, at odds of 40.039/1, last year's hero is rated one of the least likeliest champions ever to do so.

On the face of it, these are good odds. Bingham was truly outstanding last year, winning the hard way by eliminating Ronnie O'Sullivan, Judd Trump and then player of the season Shaun Murphy. Granted, he's struggled for much of this season, but a run to the World Grand Prix final suggested he's turning it around.

The first round draw, however, could barely have been harsher, with a true Crucible specialist awaiting on Saturday morning. Twice runner-up, both times to an invincible O'Sullivan, Ali Carter loves this place and usually steps up several gears.

Ignore his ranking - without a plethora of health problems over the years, Carter would probably have been a mainstay in the top-eight. After three wins to qualify, he is well capable of continuing the run through this section.

The likeliest champion amongst these is four-time winner John Higgins, who has looked resurgent at times this season. I wonder whether he can maintain top form for 17 days, though, given a tendency nowadays to throw in terrible sessions.

Otherwise perennial underachiever Stephen Maguire and the inconsistent Ricky Walden are best, but neither stand out as particularly stronger than Carter.



Back Neil Robertson 7u @ 7.26/1

It seems odd that Robertson hasn't won this title since 2010, given that he's become twice the player in the meantime and has the perfect temperament for these long, high pressure matches. Sometimes, he's seemed jaded at the end of a long season. On others, he's simply run into a magnificent performance - O'Sullivan in the 2012 quarters, Selby in the 2014 semi.

With the game's second biggest crown - the UK Championship - already under his belt this term, there is plenty to suggest this is the year he regains the crown and earns his rightful place among the game's legends.

It is very hard to see Robbo not reaching the quarters at least, at which point things may get tougher, with one of world-class, yet unreliable pair Judd Trump or Ding Junhui potentially waiting. Don't bank on that, though, with Martin Gould and Liang Wenbo also in that mini-section.


Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 15u @ 3.02/1

As usual, the tournament ultimately hangs on Ronnie. If the five-time champion turns up in determined spirits and good form, he is virtually unbeatable.

Despite missing the first half of the season, Ronnie showed he can find that level almost immediately when desired, dominating the Masters and Welsh Open. The fact he comprehensively beat Robertson and Mark Selby en route to those titles - the two likeliest players to beat him - speaks volumes.

The draw has been very kind to O'Sullivan, with this section packed with players he has owned over the years. Potential last-16 opponent Barry Hawkins has lost their last nine encounters, including 10-1 in the Masters final, and comprehensively here in the 2014 and 2013 semi and final.

Next in the quarters, the hardest opponent would be Shaun Murphy, whom Ronnie trounced 13-3 at the same stage two years ago and 13-10 in 2011. One minor word of warning though - Ronnie will need to be on his game early as David Gilbert is one of the more dangerous qualifiers.


Back Mark Allen 1.5u @ 34.033/1

With Selby's form an unknown after withdrawing from the last two events for personal reasons, this could be the weak quarter. Michael White is probably the weakest seed, Joe Perry one of the weakest and, Kyren Wilson aside, the qualifiers are nothing special.

It is high time that Mark Allen delivered in this event, after failing to reach the last four quarter-finals. Extremely talented and world-class on his day, Allen's problem is the lack of a 'B game' when fluency isn't there. I doubt he'll need to be at his best to beat Mitchell Mann first up, after which the draw could open up.

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