The 2008 World Snooker Championship is just around the corner. It's my favourite sporting event of the whole year. The first match I remember watching was the 1998 World Snooker Championship, a First Round match between Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White. I knew little of their famous rivalry a few years previously, and I was shocked when White led 8-0, and then 8-1 at the end of the first session. I remember it ended at about half-past nine, and the following evening (that was a Thursday), Hendry rallied to 8-4, before White finally finished him off to win 10-4. I remember being hugely impressed to see John Higgins dominate that Championship, and he won it with a century break in the Final, beating reigning champion Ken Doherty 18-12 in the Final.
I love this tournament for so many reasons. Lasting 17 days, it is the only true snooker tournament left. Matches last several days, and increase in length from 19 frames in the Last 32 to 35 frames in the Final. I have grown to adore the history of the competition. Without the pioneers of Joe Davis and his friend Bill Camkin, we would probably be watching pool instead, or having a passing interest in the repetition that is professional billiards. Still, the championship has endured through dominations, lack of interest, and many other things that have contrived against it.
The 2008 edition promises to be just as exciting, right from the off. I shall now preview each player, and discuss their chances of winning the title.
- Template:Flagicon John Higgins - The 1998 and 2007 World Champion hasn't had the greatest of seasons. He was ranked 1 this season, but has struggled, finding Mark Selby a thorn in his side in many tournaments. He is provisionally number 5, which is no disgrace. Recently, gritty players have won the Championship, and Higgins can be one of the grittiest. His ability amongst the balls in open styles will always put him in with a chance.
- Template:Flagicon Graeme Dott - The 2006 World Champion tends to do well at The Crucible, but ever since losing his opening round match to Ian McCulloch last season, he hasn't won a single match on tour. Dott is struggling to retain his top 16 place. His style of play is suited to longer matches, but I doubt whether he will be a contender this time.
- Template:Flagicon Shaun Murphy - The 2005 World Champion is playing better than he did when he won the title in 2005. One of the four strong favourites to win, Murphy has been incredibly consistent his season. He won the non-ranking 2008 Malta Cup this season.
- Template:Flagicon Ken Doherty - The 1997 World Champion is diving down the rankings after a recent swansong. Doherty will need to win his opening round to stay in the top 16, but he is more than strong enough to do so. His style of play is well suited to long matches, and is always in with a shout at The Crucible.
- Template:Flagicon Ronnie O'Sullivan - The 2001 and 2004 World Champion has won the 2007 UK Championship, the second longest snooker tournament. That has longer matches, which may suggest he'll do well at the World Championship. Recent troubles in China however may hurt him, but he is still the fans favourite, and one of the strong contenders.
- Template:Flagicon Peter Ebdon - The 2002 World Champion is known as the most determined player on the circuit. Ebdon can never be accused of not putting in the effort, and he is always a safe bet to make the second week of the tournament.
- Template:Flagicon Neil Robertson - Robertson won two events last season, but has been desperately disappointing this season. He is struggling to retain his top 16 place next season if he performs badly at The Crucible, but the Aussie will be trying to become the first Aussie World Champion, with two others (Horace Lindrum and Eddie Charlton) losing in five finals between them. Realistically, no better than the Quarter Finals.
- Template:Flagicon Stephen Hendry - The seven time World Champion in the 1990s is regarded to be the best player to ever pick up a cue. Hendry is dropping down the rankings these days, and will struggle to retain his top 16 place in the next three seasons. He is still incredibly capable, but has struggled in recent times, with only 1 Semi Final to his credit this season.
- Template:Flagicon Ding Junhui - The young Chinese will try to become the first Asian World Champion, but has had a disappointing season. He consistantly matches the top players however, and is always going to be in the hunt for a trophy. Ding could cause a few upsets in the event.
- Template:Flagicon Stephen Maguire - Maguire forms one of the elite four this season, having won the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy and 2008 China Open. Maguire has been in contention for many other events, and will look to go one further than his Semi Final defeat last season.
- Template:Flagicon Mark Selby - Last year's runner-up has won his first ranking event in Wales, aswell as the Masters this season. He will look to return to the Final this year, as he tries to become the first ever Pool and Snooker World Champion, and only the third multi-cuesport World Champion (after the Davis brothers).
- Template:Flagicon Mark Williams - The 2000 and 2003 World Champion says he will retire if he drops out of the top 32, but his seems very unlikely after a good run at the 2008 China Open. The Welshman will be seeking to stay in the top 32 though, and have no expectations of victory.
- Template:Flagicon Stephen Lee - Despite reaching the Final of The Masters, Lee is struggling to retain his top 16 status. His aim will be to get to the Quarter Finals to retain his place.
- Template:Flagicon Allister Carter - The only semi-professional player in the top 16, Carter has been impressive this season, reaching Quarter Finals on two occasions. That will be his aim this time at the World Championship.
- Template:Flagicon Steve Davis - The six time World Champion in the 1980s is probably second only to Hendry in terms of ability at his peak. Davis is now 50, and achieved his ambition of retaining his top 16 place. A lack of motivation has perhaps hindered Davis since then, as he is likely to drop out of the top 32 unless he wins a game at The Crucible.
- Template:Flagicon Ryan Day - Day is improving all the time, and has reached two ranking event finals in the last two seasons. An outside chance of getting to the top of the World Championship mountain.
- Template:Flagicon Joe Swail - Swail is twice a Crucible Semi Finalist, and will hope to do as well this time around. Always goes well at the World Championship.
- Template:Flagicon Joe Perry - Perry is more than capable of causing an upset, reaching the Quarter Finals in the past.
- Template:Flagicon Barry Hawkins - After reaching two Semi Finals two years ago, Hawkins had a terrible season last year, getting thrashed 10-1 by Doherty in the First Round. Hawkins has got back to the position he was in two years ago, and will hope to do well.
- Template:Flagicon Matthew Stevens - The 2000 and 2005 World Championship runner-up should have won a World Championship, giving up big leads in both finals. Stevens has dropped down the rankings in recent times with other interests, but always does really well at the World Championsip. He enjoys the longer matches.
- Template:Flagicon Mark King - King beat Jimmy White to get to The Crucible, and will hope to do get into the last 16 to boost his chances of a surprise return to the top 16.
- Template:Flagicon Jamie Cope - The swashbuckling youngster goes for everything, which makes him unlikely to get too far at the World Championship. One of the most entertaining players to watch.
- Template:Flagicon Stuart Bingham - Bingham once beat Hendry in the First Round, and has been consistently around the top 32 for many seasons.
- Template:Flagicon Nigel Bond - Bond reached the Quarter Finals in China, and was a runner-up way back in 1996. The veteran will hope to do well this time.
- Template:Flagicon Anthony Hamilton - Hamilton has been around and about for many seasons, but the career that promised so much is dwindling. Hamilton has great break building skills, but will need to do well to have a chance at the World Championship.
- Template:Flagicon Marco Fu - Fu is likely to get back into the top 16 next season after winning the 2007 Grand Prix. He has been brilliant this season, and will hope to do well at The Crucible.
- Template:Flagicon Mark Allen - Allen has already beaten Hendry and Doherty at the World and UK Championships, and will hope to do well at the Worlds to get into the top 16.
- Template:Flagicon Dave Harold - The veteran Stoke potter will hope to perform respectably. Harold was in the top 16 a decade ago, but has dropped down since.
- Template:Flagicon Michael Judge - The Irishman has improved over the last couple of seasons, and will hope to do well at The Crucible.
- Template:Flagicon Mark Davis - Davis (no relation to Steve, Fred or Joe) last played at the World Championship a decade ago, and this promises to be his swansong.
- Template:Flagicon Liang Wenbo - A young Chinese player that has done brilliantly to get this far ensures that Ding will have a team of Chinese players around him to help out.
- Template:Flagicon Liu Chuang - A third Chinese that dominated qualifying, winning one game 10-0. An unknown quantity, as this is his first year on tour.
When it came to March Madness, you all love tournament brackets. So here's mine! It's a World Championship bracket, however. I shall try to predict each match, and hence a winner.
My prediction is for Mark Selby to win the tournament. The "big 4" at the moment are Selby, Murphy, O'Sullivan and Maguire. The winner will be one of those four. Three of them are in the same half, so it looks like Ronnie O'Sullivan will "coast" into the Final. He will play one of the younger players, but Murphy is already a World Champion, and Maguire and Selby are sure to one day be champions.
The History & Venue
You've got the history, preview of the players in this tournament, and a prediction, time to "wrap-up" the preview.
It can be viewed live on the BBC website to UK viewers, or US users if you use a bit of skullduggery. Not that I condone it...