Mark Selby has the best form of the season ahead of the snooker World Championship and can win the title for the second time in three years. The tournament has a history of players winning back-to-back titles. However, before Ronnie O’Sullivan was the world champion in 2012 and 2013 Stephen Hendry was the last player to successfully defend in 1996 which counts against Stuart Bingham.
Judd Trump lost in the world final to John Higgins in 2011 and is the player showing the best recent form. At the start of the month he won the China Open for the second time which was his fifth major ranking title. Form does not always translate from Beijing to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield but Trump will arrive in the birthplace of the new US Masters champion, Danny Willett, with his game in good order.
The World Snooker Championship is rightly the most important event of the season for prestige and prize money. In the olden days matches were played over hundreds of frames in a smoke filled room at the back of a pub in the East End of London. The tournament was transformed with the move to Sheffield in 1977 and the Crucible is now the spiritual home of snooker. Organisers and promoters are happy to remain at the theatre as long as attendances hold up and the event benefits Sheffield.
The format of the tournament has been fixed since 1982 whereby 32 players compete on a knock-out basis. The top 16 players in the rankings or the top 15 and the current world champion qualify automatically and the rest of the field is determined by a qualifying tournament. Matches in successive rounds are played over 19, 25, 25 and 33 frames while the final is best of 35 frames. The semis and final are played on one table but up until then matches are played at the same time on two tables. All living world champions can enter qualifying but sadly that now does not include Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.
The modern era dates back to 1969 when the tournament was played on a knock-out basis rather than a challenge match in which the current world champion played another leading player. Stephen Hendry has the best record with seven titles but he never quite managed another which would have been described as ‘Hendry the Eighth’. Steve Davis and Ray Reardon are six times world champions and are amongst eight players who have won the title more than once in the modern era.
Jimmy White has played in six finals but never won the world championship. He has made the semi-finals or better 10 times in 25 appearances. Three other players have been runner-up twice without lifting the trophy but nobody can match White’s losing record and only Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis have qualified for more finals since 1969. Ronnie O’Sullivan is a five times champion who could win more world titles depending on his mood and motivation. No first-time world champion at the Crucible has retained the trophy the following year.
O’Sullivan is the clear favourite to win the World Championship but that is more based on reputation than form. He is currently sixth in the rankings but he has shown in the past that he can raise his game when it matters most in Sheffield. However, last year under similar circumstances O’Sullivan looked the best player in the tournament before losing to Bingham in the quarter finals. Selby looks a more solid betting proposition at fourth favourite behind Ronnie, Trump and Neil Robertson.
Selby was born in Leicester so is one of the sporting greats from that city that includes Willie Thorne, Gary Lineker and 11 footballers who are on the verge of causing the biggest upset in sport by winning the Premier League as 5,000/1 outsiders. He has won six ranking events in total including two last season but it is his consistency this time that has taken him to the top of the rankings. He has the game and form to win the World Championship again this year.
Jump was the emerging talent at the start of the decade. In 2011 the 21-year-old was the youngest finalist since Stephen Hendry in 1990. He came through qualifying but was beaten 18-15 in the final by Higgins and looked a certain future winner. That elusive first title has not come about since but Trump is still young and will have many more opportunities to be the world champion and this year he could realise his potential in the biggest tournament of the year at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.