Qualifying is currently underway, and on Saturday 16 April, it’ll be time for the biggest event in the snooker calendar – the World Snooker Championship. At this stage, we’ve already had a number of headlines – former world champion Graeme Dott made his second 147 break in a third-round qualifying match against Pang Junxu, Hossein Vafaei has become the first Iranian player to compete at the tournament, and Liam Davies became the youngest ever winner of a World Championship match at the age of 15. As the tournament gets fully underway, here are some of the players and matches to keep an eye on.
More Thunder Down Under?
Neil Robertson is the favourite for the tournament – he’s been the form player all season, racking up wins with some phenomenal snooker, including a remarkable Tour Championship comeback against John Higgins. This season, when Robertson gets into a flow, he is nigh-on unstoppable, and so he’ll be looking to add a second World Championship title to his collection. His record at the tournament is not the greatest – he won in 2010, and has since only managed to reach the semi-final stage just once – but there’s no reason to think he couldn’t go all the way this year.
Number seven for Ronnie?
Of course, you can never rule out Ronnie O’Sullivan, and it’s entirely possible that this year will see hm equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven World Championship wins – about the only record O’Sullivan doesn’t hold. If they both get that far, O’Sullivan would face Robertson in the semi-final stage, and their most recent match saw the Australian win 10-9 after quality snooker from both players. I’d expect another similarly enjoyable match – if these two do meet, expect the winner to claim the eventual tournament crown.
Could 2022 be the year that China finally sees a player take the biggest title in snooker?
Will the former world champions deliver?
There are a number of former tournament winners in the draw, but after some developments this season, they may or may not be able to deliver. Mark Selby is the defending champion, and a tactical master in the long format, although he has taken a break from the game in recent months due to mental health issues – snooker has taken a backseat as Selby rightly focused on his wellbeing.
Judd Trump is either on fire or not, producing top-quality snooker or collapsing at the table, and there’s no knowing which we’ll get until he starts playing. He won an incredible number of titles in recent years, but then ran out of form, with an unexpected 4-0 loss to Ricky Walden in the Gibraltar Open and a defeat to Luca Brecel in the Tour Championship examples of the highs and lows of his game.
And lastly, there’s John Higgins – he’s a great player, but the crushing Tour Championship defeat to Robertson will be lingering in the back of his mind. He admitted he didn’t know if he’d recover from it, and we may be seeing the closing days of his tour career if this tournament goes poorly.
A year for China?
The Chinese players are slowly notching up more and more tournament wins, but a World Championship win has thus far escaped them. Could 2022 be the year that the nation finally sees a player take the biggest title in snooker? It’s certainly possible – both Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao are in the top 16, and they certainly have the ability to cut through the field and go deep into the tournament. Zhao has never won a game at the Crucible, and Yan has had a difficult season, but rule them out at your peril.
The other name to keep an eye on is Ding Junhui, who survived a scare to qualify for the Championship. He’s the most successful Asian player in the history of the sport, and he reached the World Championship final before in 2016 (where he was defeated by Selby). Ding is a formidable player, and the top 16 players will be hoping that they don’t come up against him in the draw.