As the days begin to lengthen and the blossoms start to appear on the trees and hedgerows, the minds of snooker fans across the country, and indeed the world, turn to one thing: the World Championships. For a little over two weeks at the back end of April and the start of May, the otherwise fairly nondescript Crucible in Sheffield is the focus of the world’s attention. Apart from the obvious candidates, whom should you be looking out for to make their mark at this year’s tournament?
Aside from the usual suspects (the O’Sullivans, Trumps, and Selbys—all of whom, of course, stand a very good chance of winning), John Higgins perhaps represents the best value. He has several things in his favour as he goes into the tournament. First and foremost, he is in good form, having picked up the Welsh Open at the beginning of the month. Higgins is the ultimate player when it comes to grinding out results, especially in Sheffield, and he is a fantastic big-match player. He also knows what it takes to win the worlds, having done it four times previously. The last time he lifted the trophy might have been back in 2011, but after his loss in the final last year, he has indicated that improving his fitness may be the key to going one better this time around.
The Northern Irishman will be looking forward to the World Championships after his impressive performance at the Masters. The 32-year-old put in arguably his best tournament performance, dispatching Higgins in the semis and holding his nerve to edge out Kyren Wilson in the final. One of the things that will give him most confidence going forward is the way he was able to put together frame-winning breaks (at crucial points in the match, when the pressure was at its greatest). Allen also represents considerably better value, in terms of the bookies’ odds, than many of those players either with whom he is on a par or whom he could turn over (on his day).
After almost two decades of plugging away, but falling just short, Day has already pocketed two ranking tournaments in 2018. After adding the ManBetX Gibraltar Open to his maiden victory at the Riga Masters, the Welshman will be hoping the adage about London buses comes true. Despite being an outsider, he is also just the type of player who can suddenly make a name for himself, and he is in the form of his life. He will, of course, have to come through the qualifiers first.
It is only a matter of time before one among the army of Chinese and Asian players wins the World Championships. With Marco Fu struggling after his laser eye surgery, that task falls to Ding Junhui. The Star of the East turns 31 shortly before the tournament and has won practically every ranking event there is, apart from the big one. The closest he came was when he was beaten 18-14 in the final two years ago by Mark Selby.
The final pick might surprise a few. Murphy is seen by many as having peaked, but he is still one of the best long-potters in the game. Added to that, his break building is ideal for the longer format of the World Championships. This year has seen him in the final of three ranking tournaments, and it was only three years ago when he reached the final in Sheffield. The one-time winner will not be fancied by the bookies, especially after going out in the first and second rounds in the last two years, but he could be somewhat of a surprise package this spring.