Betfred World Championship 2009: Tournament Preview – Part One

With the Betfred World Championship fast approaching, here is part one of my tournament preview in which I take a look at the four round one matches in the top quarter of the draw which of course features the world number one and defending champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan…

Before I get onto the matches themselves, a quick word of thanks to Jim who has provided me with the head to head statistics for each of the matches.

Match One: Ronnie O’Sullivan (1) v Stuart Bingham (21)

One of the best days at every World Championship is always the opening Saturday as the defending champion gets his campaign up and running, and as that player is Ronnie O’Sullivan this year it should be a thrilling tournament from the start.

Ronnie’s opponent in the last 32 will be practice partner and world number 21 Stuart Bingham from Basildon, a man who will be looking to improve on his run to the last 16 in 2008.

Head to Head

Surprisingly these two have only met once in competition, back in the last 32 of the Citiwest Irish Masters in 2003. Despite a 139 from Stuart it was Ronnie who ran out a 5-3 winner and leads the head to head 1-0 as a result.

Crucible History


  • 1993 – R32, lost 10-7 to Alan McManus
  • 1994 – R16, lost 13-3 to John Parrott
  • 1995 – QF, lost 13-8 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1996 – SF, lost 16-14 to Peter Ebdon
  • 1997 – R16, lost 13-12 to Darren Morgan
  • 1998 – SF, lost 17-9 to John Higgins
  • 1999 – SF, lost 17-13 to Stephen Hendry
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-9 to David Gray
  • 2001 – WINNER, defeated John Higgins 18-14
  • 2002 – SF, lost 17-13 to Stephen Hendry
  • 2003 – R32, lost 10-6 to Marco Fu
  • 2004 – WINNER, defeated Graeme Dott 18-8
  • 2005 – QF, lost 13-11 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2006 – SF, lost 17-11 to Graeme Dott
  • 2007 – QF, lost 13-9 to John Higgins
  • 2008 – WINNER, defeated Ali Carter 18-8


  • 2000 – R16, lost 13-9 to Jimmy White
  • 2002 – R32, lost 10-8 to Ken Doherty
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-9 to Joe Perry

Season So Far

After a strong start to the ranking event season with victory in the Northern Ireland Trophy and a run to the final in Shanghai, Ronnie has struggled for form slightly as he has failed to make the semi-final of a ranking event since. He has however continued to impress in the invitational events, maintaining his hold over the Premier League whilst adding a fourth Masters title to his name this January.

As for Stuart it has been a disappointing year as he has failed to capitalise on starting the season ranked 15th provisionally, losing four of his eight first round matches and slipping down to 19th on the list. His best run came at the Shanghai Masters where victories over Mike Dunn and Peter Ebdon took him to the last 16 before he lost out 5-3 to Stephen Maguire. He did however manage to qualify for the winners group of the Championship League where he again excelled, going all the way to the semi-finals before falling victim to an excellent fight-back from eventual winner Judd Trump who won 3-2.

Why Ronnie Will Win


This is stating the obvious I know but Ronnie is the world number one, defending champion and frankly, the best player in the world at the moment. Whilst he has not been too successful at some of the smaller ranking events recently, he generally saves his best for the Crucible and over the best of 19 frames, will prove a hard man to beat.

He has also won the only previous meeting between the two and being Stuart’s practice partner should know his game inside out, though his can of course work both ways. Stuart by his own admission has not shown great form himself in the ranking events this season and unless he can produce something special, will struggle to contain Ronnie’s scoring which at its best is in a class of its own right now.

Even if Ronnie does not bring his A-game to the table, as he said himself following his victory over Xiao Guodong in the China Open, if he can play at 85% then he will still stand a good chance of beating anyone.

Why Stuart Will Win


Stuart has of course been in this position before. Coming into the 2000 World Championship as an unfancied qualifier, he drew the defending world champion Stephen Hendry, who twelve months previously had won that elusive seventh Crucible crown. With over 90 places separating the pair in the rankings few gave Stuart a chance but he caused a sensation by coming through to win the match 10-7. Furthermore nobody has successfully defended the world title since Hendry back in 1996 so perhaps history is not on Ronnie’s side.

History though does not win snooker matches so what else does Stuart have in his favour? Although he has not enjoyed a particularly strong season, he did play some good stuff in the winners group of the Championship League recently and looked to be cueing well himself.

Looking at Ronnie, it is still only a few months since he changed his cue before the Masters at Wembley, so he may not be as comfortable with it as he might have been otherwise. Still, he did manage to win the Masters with it so this may be a little optimistic! It is fair to say though that the Rocket has struggled for consistency this season, not just from match to match but even from frame to frame. If Stuart can maintain a consistently high level himself and punish Ronnie’s errors then he could put him under some pressure, just like Joe Perry did in Telford…

My Prediction

Though Ronnie will start the match as the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers, if Stuart can find his best form as he has at times in the Championship League then he could well push Ronnie hard in this match. It is absolutely crucial though that he gets off to a good start because Ronnie is probably the best front-runner in the game and if he gets an early advantage he could well run away with it.

On balance it should be a close match but I expect Ronnie to have enough to see off Stuart. I’ll go for 10-6.

Match Two: Mark Allen (16) vs Martin Gould (63)

For me this is now a really tough match to predict in the last 32, something which would have sounded ridiculous at the start of the season given their respective rankings. This will be Mark’s third campaign at the Crucible now as he looks to go beyond the last 16 for the first time and perhaps more importantly, put that agonising loss to Stephen Hendry last season out of his mind, while Martin will be making his debut.

Head to Head

This will be the first meeting between the two players so their record is currently level at 0-0.

Crucible History


  • 2007 – R16, lost 13-9 to Matthew Stevens
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-9 to Stephen Hendry


  • N/A

Season So Far

Having started the season as a top 16 player for the first time, Mark Allen has had a mixed season, but thanks to a semi-final appearance in Bahrain and a quarter-final in the Northern Ireland Trophy, he has given himself a good chance of consolidating his position in the rankings. His most impressive performances however came at the Wembley Masters where having defeated Judd Trump and most impressively Ryan Day in the last 16, he gave defending champion Mark Selby a really close match before eventually losing out.

For Martin he is probably the form player at the moment of those ranked outside of the top 32. Following a strong run to the venue stage of the UK Championship where he pushed eventual winner Shaun Murphy hard, he then also qualified for the last 32 of the Welsh Open and defeated Stephen Hendry to move into the last 16. Furthermore he also recorded hugely impressive wins in qualifying for the Crucible, defeating both David Gilbert and former finalist Matthew Stevens along the way. I watched both of those matches at the venue and he looked to be absolutely full of confidence and would have given most players a good game in that form.

Why Mark Will Win

One of the most promising young players in the game at the moment, Mark is a player with real potential who is due another run deep into a tournament sooner rather than later. Unlike Martin he already has both positive and negative experiences of the Crucible Theatre and will be keen to make amends for last season, when from 6-3 up and in a dominant position in frame ten against Stephen Hendry, he lost out 10-9.

Though he has slipped to a few early exits this season including two in the last two tournaments, he has shown some flashes of the talent that he clearly posseses. Furthermore in many of those defeats he was unfortunate to run into an opponent in inspired form such as Joe Swail in Newport who reached his first ever final, Stuart Pettman in China who reached his first ever semi-final and the eventual champion Shaun Murphy in Telford.

When not running into an opponent in such brilliant form, he has shown what he can do and performed strongly, particularly in the Masters at Wembley where he reached the quarter-finals for the first time. Like the World Championship this is a major event in front of the BBC cameras and again he showed that he is comfortable in the big stage. Against an opponent who has not played before at the Crucible Theatre, this could make all the difference.

Why Martin Will Win

Martin comes into the tournament in the form of his life, having defeated players like Stephen Hendry and Matthew Stevens recently to  guarantee a place in the top 48 of next season’s rankings. As a result, the pressure is off him to some extent and he can just go out there and enjoy the occasion, with the reward of a possibl dream tie against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the next round to play for.

While he does not have a great deal of experience in front of the TV cameras, the matches that he has played have been  encouraging for him. As well as defeating Stephen Hendry in Newport, he also pushed eventual winner Shaun Murphy hard in the UK Championship at Telford and at one point looked like he might go on to complete a memorable comeback. While the atmosphere at the Crucible is very unique, debutants have won before at the venue (as Mark Allen himself can testify), and who is to say that Martin cannot be the next? He certainly appears to have the confidence and personality to make an impression.

My Prediction

Martin is in such good form at the moment and if he can settle quickly, could cause an upset here. That said I am going to just give Mark the edge as I really do rate the guy highly and think he is due another good run in a big event. Also you never know how players are going to perform at the Crucible on their debut and as a result I will predict a 10-7 victory for Mark.

Match Three: Peter Ebdon (9) vs Nigel Bond (23)


While it is always good to see young players make their debuts at the Crucible, it is also good to see the old heads renewing rivalries and this is exactly what we have here  as Peter Ebdon and Nigel Bond collide once again.

Head to Head

As you might expect with two such experienced players, there are a number of past meetings to look back to and it shows you that over the years there has been nothing between them, each winning four matches as they stand at 4-4.

All of Nigel’s wins have come prior to the start of this decade: 5-4 in the last 16 of the 1991 Grand Prix; 5-2 in the last 64 of the Strachan Open later that season; 5-3 in the quarter finals on the way to the 1996 British Open title, and 6-2 in the first round of the 1998 Masters.

Peter meanwhile has won: 9-7 in the 1995 UK quarter finals;  9-7 in the Thailand Open final the following season; 5-3 in the last 16 of the 2004 Irish Masters and 10-7 at this stage of the World Championship two years ago.

Nigel has recorded five centuries in this fixture to Peter’s three.


  • 1992 – QF, lost 13-7 to Terry Griffiths
  • 1993 – R32, lost 10-3 to Steve Davis
  • 1994 – R32, lost 10-6 to James Wattana
  • 1995 – QF, lost 13-8 to Andy Hicks
  • 1996 – F, lost 18-12 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1997 – R32, lost 10-3 to Stefan Mazrocis
  • 1998 – QF, lost 13-11 to Mark Williams
  • 1999 – R32, lost 10-7 to Matthew Stevens
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-6 to Dominic Dale
  • 2001 – QF, lost 13-6 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2002 – WINNER, defeated Stephen Hendry 18-17
  • 2003 – QF, lost 13-12 to Paul Hunter
  • 2004 – R32, lost 10-8 to Ian McCulloch
  • 2005 – SF, lost 17-12 to Shaun Murphy
  • 2006 – F, lost 18-14 to Graeme Dott
  • 2007 – R16, lost 13-8 to Mark Selby
  • 2008 – QF, lost 13-9 to Ali Carter


  • 1992 – R32, lost 10-7 to Alain Robidoux
  • 1993 – QF, lost 13-7 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1994 – QF, lost 13-8 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1995 – F, lost 18-9 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1996 – SF, lost 16-7 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1997 – R32, lost 10-8 to Stephen Lee
  • 1998 – R32, lost 10-5 to Mark King
  • 1999 – R16, lost 13-11 to Ken Doherty
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-7 to Alan McManus
  • 2001 – R32, lost 10-3 to Stephen Lee
  • 2003 – R32, lost 10-7 to Alan McManus
  • 2006 – R16, lost 13-9 to Graeme Dott
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-7 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-4 to Neil Robertson

Season So Far

Until the recent China Open tournament, for Peter the season had been something of a nightmare as he lost all but two of his ranking event matches, as well as losing heavily in both the Masters and the Championship League. This all changed in Beijing however as he turned it all around and defeated the likes of Stephen Hendry, Dave Harold and John Higgins on the way to his eighth ranking title, securing his place in the elite top 16 for yet another season.

For Nigel the season has also largely been a struggle as he lost his opening five matches of the season and plummeted down the one-year rankings as a result. Thankfully for him however, though he has not quite had the same resurgence as Peter, as the season nears its conclusion he has found some form and qualified for both the China Open and the World Championship.

Why Peter Will Win

Well this is sure going to be a different story to the piece that I had planned prior to China! After the season that Peter had endured up until then, it was easy to write him off but as he has now proved, you do that at your peril. After all he is not a former World and UK Champion for nothing and with renewed confidence following his victory in Beijing, he will be out to show that it was not just a one-off and that he can sustain this form in the long-term.

What will also help is that following his Beijing success, he is now free from the added pressure of needing to run deep into the tournament in order to extend his long unbroken spell in the top 16. While in some instances it can help a player when they know that they have to win, there is enough pressure on their shoulders as it is with just being at the World Championship without having that to worry about!

If he can maintain the hard work that he has put in on the practice table over the last two weeks and come into the tournament fully focused then perhaps the scene of his greatest triumph will inspire him to produce something special once again. It would not be the first time.

Finally the other obvious factor in Peter’s favour is that Nigel himself has not had a strong season and after losing 5-0 to Ali Carter out in China, may be short on confidence. During the season he has won just two matches and is only just hanging on to his place in the top 32 as a result. Even if Peter is not at his best, perhaps he might still have enough in the tank to fight his way past the 1995 finalist.

Why Nigel Will Win

In many ways the arguments for a Nigel win are much the same as those for Peter. He has happy memories of the Crucible, reaching the final back in 1995 final and more recently, defeating old nemesis Stephen Hendry in one of the all-time classic matches there in 2006. Furthermore just by qualifying for the tournament he has made sure of his top 32 status, so he is under a lot less pressure than he might otherwise have been.

Though his form has not been good this season, it has at least picked up slightly towards the end of the campaign so he should go into the match with some confidence. With the unique surroundings at the Crucible then the form book can often go out of the window in any case and it would not be the first time that someone like Nigel has saved their best snooker until the biggest event of the season.

He will know that despite Peter”s glorious run in China, otherwise he has been struggling too so if he can get off to a good start and apply some pressure early, perhaps some doubts will start to enter Peter’s mind again. It is often the case that the man who wins the China Open then struggles to repeat that form over at Sheffield and Nigel will be hoping that proves true on 2009.

My Prediction

Given the class and experience of both players, this is another match that could realistically go either way. Ultimately though despite the fact that victory in the China Open can often be something of a curse, the confidence that Peter will take into the tournament I think has to make him a favourite to win their ninth professional meeting. Of all the players in the field over the last 20 years, there are fews as good as Peter at peaking for the World Championship and it looks like he may well be set to do the same again. As a result I’ll say 10-7 to Peter.

Match Four: Ryan Day (8) vs Stephen Lee (26)

Now what a tie we have in store here as this season’s Grand Prix finalist Ryan Day comes up against four times ranking event winner and conqueror of Judd Trump Stephen Lee.

While Ryan Day is up inside the top six of the provisional rankings for the first time and has undoubtedly been one of the best players in the world over the past couple of seasons, Lee is no mug and for me it would not be a major surprise to see another upset here…

Head to Head

Perhaps surprisingly these two have only met twice before, but on each occasion it was Stephen who came out on top to lead their battle 2-0. His victories came in the last 32 of the 2002 LG Cup where he won 5-4, hitting a 141 in the process, and 3-2 in the quarter finals of the 2007 Austrian Open.

Crucible History


  • 2004 – R32, lost 10-9 to John Higgins
  • 2006 – R16, lost 13-10 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-5 to Neil Robertson
  • 2008 – QF, lost 13-7 to Stephen Hendry


  • 1995 – R32, lost 10-8 to Nigel Bond
  • 1997 – R16, lost 13-7 to James Wattana
  • 1998 – R16, lost 13-8 to Ken Doherty
  • 1999 – QF, lost 13-6 to John Higgins
  • 2000 – R16, lost 13-8 to Fergal O’Brien
  • 2001 – R16, lost 13-12 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2002 – QF, lost 13-10 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2003 – SF, lost 17-8 to Mark Williams
  • 2004 – R32, lost 10-7 to Lee Walker
  • 2005 – R16, lost 13-9 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2006 – R16, lost 13-9 to Neil Robertson
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-7 to Mark Selby
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-4 to Joe Swail

Season So Far

It has been something of a season of two halves for Ryan Day who of course started so well with runs to the last 16 in Northern Ireland, the quarter-finals in Shanghai and then that brilliant run to the final of the Grand Prix in Glasgow. Following that result he was up to third in the provisional rankings but since then he managed to win just one match in the next three ranking event tournaments and looked like he was beginning to struggle. He did however respond well in Beijing last week, reaching the semi-finals before losing out to John Higgins.

For Stephen it has been a really mixed season, losing his opening match in three tournaments but making the last 16 in two others as well as going to the quarter-finals of the UK Championship in Telford. Also just to qualify for Crucible he had to produce a memorable comeback to defeat the talented Judd Trump from 6-2 down in the final qualifying round so will be full of confidence after that.

Why Ryan Will Win

Of the two players it is clearly Ryan who has been the more impressive of the two over the past couple of seasons, reaching ranking event finals and pushing on up the rankings. His break-building skills in particular are absolutely excellent and it is difficult to find any faults with that side of his game.

In addition although he has had a few difficult tournaments just recently, he looked to be cueing well in China and played well to ease past strong opposition like Jamie Cope and Shaun Murphy with ease. If he can play to a similar standard in Sheffield as he did in Beijing then he will have every chance of winning matches once again.

He has also shown before that he can not only compete at the Crucible as he did in 2006 when he pushed Ronnie O’Sullivan hard in the second round, but defeat the very best as in 2008 when he knocked out the defending champion John Higgins before losing out to Stephen Hendry in the quarter-finals. Now returning for his fifth campaign at the venue, he can only benefit from all that experience and hopefully from his point of view, go even further this time.

Why Stephen Will Win

Form is temporary, class is permanent so the saying goes, and that is very much the case with Stephen Lee I think, a player who is just starting to show signs of a return to form. Although he is unlikely to return to the top 16 of the rankings for next season, his one-year ranking is pretty decent and with another solid season in 2009/10, I would not be surprised to see him back in there eventually.

One reason for this is that he has really used his experience to good effect at times this season. He did not play well in the opening session against Stephen Hendry at Telford and fell well behind against Judd at the World qualifiers, but came back to win both matches in some style. During the latter in particular he was excellent, producing the best clearance I have ever witnessed at a live snooker event to secure victory and generally maintaining his composure well against his young opponent.

Whilst Ryan himself is far from inexperienced as I have identified above, Stephen is a former semi-finalist at the Crucible and this should serve him well. Also, whilst Ryan is a fantastic break-builder, I do think that his safety game and general shot selection could be improved and that Stephen will have his opportunities in the match…

My Prediction

Again, another tough call and the easy option would be to go for Ryan here given their respective results over the past couple of seasons. Despite Ryan’s higher ranking though, I can’t help but think that coming into the match as the underdog will suit Stephen and if he can take some of the confidence gained from that win over Trump, he could just pull off an upset.

As ever though, he will have to start well otherwise I can see him being left behind as he was last year and slipping to a heavy defeat. Still, I have backed a lot of seeds to win in my preview and there has to be some upsets somewhere down the line so I will go for one here. Lee to win 10-8.