As was the case in 2009 I will again be previewing each of the last 32 matches scheduled for the upcoming 2010 Betfred.com World Championship and today sees me look at the top quarter of the draw…
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: John Higgins (4) v Barry Hawkins (17)
The opening day of the tournament will see provisional world number one and defending world champion John Higgins take on Barry Hawkins, a man who has lost all four of his previous matches at the Crucible Theatre. Will the match be as straightforward as it appears to be on paper or will Barry cause what would be a huge upset?
Head to Head
Surprisingly, despite John having been a professional since 1992 and Barry since 1996, these two have never previously met in a match longer than the best of five frames. Of their five meetings, only one came at a ranking event as John ran out a 3-1 winner during the round robin stages at the 2006/7 Grand Prix, while their other four all came in the 2008/9 Championship League as they each won two matches. Their head to head therefore stands at 3-2 to Higgins.
- 1995 – R32, lost 10-3 to Alan McManus
- 1996 – QF, lost 13-12 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 1997 – QF, lost 13-9 to Ken Doherty
- 1998 – WINNER, defeated Ken Doherty 18-12
- 1999 – SF, lost 17-10 to Mark Williams
- 2000 – SF, lost 17-15 to Mark Williams
- 2001 – F, lost 18-14 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2002 – QF, lost 13-7 to Matthew Stevens
- 2003 – QF, lost 13-8 to Ken Doherty
- 2004 – R16, lost 13-10 to Graeme Dott
- 2005 – R16, lost 13-8 to Shaun Murphy
- 2006 – R32, lost 10-4 to Mark Selby
- 2007 – WINNER, defeated Mark Selby 18-13
- 2008 – R16, lost 13-9 to Ryan Day
- 2009 – WINNER, defeated Shaun Murphy 18-9
- 2006 – R32, lost 10-1 to Ken Doherty
- 2007 – R32, lost 10-9 to Fergal O’Brien
- 2008 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ali Carter
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-8 to Graeme Dott
Season So Far
For John Higgins the season has been almost an unqualified success as he has won the Welsh Open, reached the final of the UK Championship and the semi-finals of both the season-opening Shanghai Masters and the Grand Prix where he lost a thriller to Neil Robertson on the black. Defeating world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan three times along the way, John has ensured that he will take top spot next season and despite a last 16 exit to Mark Williams at the China Open, will head to Sheffield in good spirits again as he looks to become the first player to retain the World Championship trophy since Stephen Hendry back in 1996.
For Barry Hawkins meanwhile his season can best be described as average. Following a run to the last 16 of the Shanghai Masters tournament he was to experience qualifying defeats during both the Grand Prix and UK Championship. He has since been able to win his opening matches but without going any further, faces another season ranked outside of the world’s top 16. He did at least win the fifth event of the Pro Challenge Series with a 5-1 victory over Michael Holt.
Why John Will Win
Reigning world champion, reigning Welsh Open champion, provisional world number one and all-time great, it is not too difficult to make a case for John winning this match. Throughout the season he has looked at worst solid, at his best absolutely devastating as the Scot has continued to show just why he is the best player in the world right now and will be regarded as a favourite to win this tournament.
John’s experience is another obvious factor in his favour and his record at the last 32 stage at the Crucible is ominous too, having lost there just twice before during his career. This is in stark contrast to Barry who has a 100% record of falling at the first fence!
Furthermore having seen Ronnie O’Sullivan crash out early in China, John heads into the match knowing that he will be guaranteed to finish the season as world number one, regardless of what may happen in Sheffield. There is enough pressure upon the players at the World Championship without them having to have an eye on the rankings and this may release John to an extent and allow him to play his best snooker.
Why Barry Will Win
So could Barry cause an upset? Stranger things have happened, though it would possibly be the biggest shock at the tournament since Stephen Hendry crashed out to Stuart Bingham back in 2000.
In his favour is the fact that John has not played a great deal since winning the Welsh Open back in January and may have lost some of the momentum that took him to the semi-finals of six successive ranking event titles before his China defeat.
In addition the fact that John is already certain to finish the season as world number one could mean that he is not quite focused on the event, though in truth as it is the World Championship I would doubt this very much!
Barry himself is a useful player and as he has shown (albeit in shorter matches), he is capable of defeating his illustrious opponent. If John is not at his best then Barry is a good enough player to keep him honest.
Ultimately though I just cannot see anything other than a Higgins win here and while I could see Barry keeping in touch during the first session (as Michael Holt did in 2009), I would expect Higgins to pull away and I shall call it 10-5 to the Scot as a result.
Match Two: Mark King (16) vs Steve Davis (23)
A draw that I expect both players will be quite pleased with, Mark King takes on the evergreen Steve Davis who will be looking to improve upon his performance at the Crucible last season which saw him take just two frames against Australia’s Neil Robertson.
Head to Head
Mark and Steve first met back in 1997 at the Regal Welsh Open with King coming out as a 5-4 winner. Following that match they were not to meet again until the 2002 UK Championship where Steve gained some revenge with a 9-7 win, before he repeated the feat a couple of seasons later with a 5-3 win in Wales.
Their two most recent meetings came during the 2007/8 season in which Mark recorded a 5-2 victory at the China Open while Steve triumphed 5-3 at the Welsh Open. As a result therefore there is very little to choose between the two here as Steve leads their head to head 3-2.
- 1994 – R32, lost 10-5 to Darren Morgan
- 1998 – R16, lost 13-9 to Matthew Stevens
- 1999 – R16, lost 13-4 to John Higgins
- 2000 – R32, lost 10-8 to Drew Henry
- 2001 – R16, lost 13-5 to Patrick Wallace
- 2002 – R16, lost 13-12 to Ken Doherty
- 2003 – R32, lost 10-5 to Drew Henry
- 2004 – R32, lost 10-9 to Graeme Dott
- 2006 – R32, lost 10-6 to Stephen Maguire
- 2008 – R16, lost 13-9 to Peter Ebdon
- 2009 – R16, lost 13-6 to Stephen Maguire
- 1979 – R16, lost 13-11 to Dennis Taylor
- 1980 – QF, lost 13-9 to Alex Higgins
- 1981 – WINNER, defeated Doug Mountjoy 18-12
- 1982 – R32, lost 10-1 to Tony Knowles
- 1983 – WINNER, defeated Cliff Thorburn 18-6
- 1984 – WINNER, defeated Jimmy White 18-16
- 1985 – F, lost 18-17 to Dennis Taylor
- 1986 – F, lost 18-12 to Joe Johnson
- 1987 – WINNER, defeated Joe Johnson 18-14
- 1988 – WINNER, defeated Terry Griffiths 18-11
- 1989 – WINNER, defeated John Parrott 18-3
- 1990 – SF, lost 16-14 to Jimmy White
- 1991 – SF, lost 16-10 to John Parrott
- 1992 – R32, lost 10-4 to Peter Ebdon
- 1993 – R16, lost 13-11 to Alan McManus
- 1994 – SF, lost 16-9 to Stephen Hendry
- 1995 – R32, lost 10-7 to Andy Hicks
- 1996 – QF, lost 13-10 to Peter Ebdon
- 1997 – R16, lost 13-3 to Ken Doherty
- 1998 – R16, lost 13-7 to Mark Williams
- 1999 – R32, lost 10-9 to Joe Perry
- 2000 – R16, lost 13-11 to John Higgins
- 2003 – R32, lost 10-6 to Stephen Lee
- 2004 – R32, lost 10-7 to Anthony Hamilton
- 2005 – QF, lost 13-4 to Shaun Murphy
- 2006 – R16, lost 13-7 to Shaun Murphy
- 2007 – R32, lost 10-9 to John Parrott
- 2008 – R32, lost 10-8 to Stuart Bingham
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-2 to Neil Robertson
Season So Far
Mark King has enjoyed an ultra-consistent season so far, winning his opening match at every tournament but only managing to go beyond the last 16 once, at the recent China Open. Although his results have not been spectacular, he has done enough to ensure that he will remain inside the world’s top 16 for a third successive year and will enter this event hoping to make it to the quarter-finals at least for the first time in his career.
For Steve Davis meanwhile the season has been a fairly torrid one which has seen him win just two matches. Importantly however these came at firstly the UK Championship when he saw off Michael Judge in the final qualifying round and secondly during this tournament where he dispatched Adrian Gunnell to qualify for his 30th appearance at the Crucible. His defeats to the likes of Dominic Dale, Matt Selt, Mark Davis and Mike Dunn in the other tournaments though have left him in need of a good run here to move him up the one-year ranking list ahead of next season.
Why Mark Will Win
Having not lost an opening round match at a ranking event since the 2008 Bahrain Championship, it is hard to argue with Mark’s consistency in the early rounds. He may struggle to defeat the top players (though he did of course see off Mark Selby here in 2008), and run deep into the tournaments these days but against the qualifiers he has had no such problems.
Also in his favour is the fact that while Steve is vastly experienced, a quality that can give him a significant advantage against some of the players that he might not otherwise be able to beat at the moment, Mark himself knows enough about playing at the Crucible for this not to be a decisive factor in this match. This will be his 12th appearance at the venue and he should be able to handle the occasion against a crowd favourite, indeed you only have to look back to his performance against Jimmy White at this season’s Masters to see that.
Mark may not be the heaviest scorer that the sport has ever seen but with Steve struggling in that area of his game this season as demonstrated by the fact that he has not made a single century break so far, this should be one department where King holds a significant advantage. If he can remain competitive during the safety exchanges in which Steve is still very good and make the most of the opportunities that come his way by winning frames in one visit, Mark will stand every chance of booking another last 16 place.
Why Steve Will Win
The six-time world champion may not have enjoyed the best of seasons so far but one thing you can be sure of is that ahead of the World Championship he will have put in more practice than at any other point during the season so far.
What is encouraging for Steve Davis fans is that his performance against Adrian Gunnell to qualify for this event was in stark contrast to his others so far this season. Experimenting with a new grip reminiscent of that employed by Alex Higgins in the past, he recorded five breaks over 50 and generally looked to be as happy with his game as he has done for a while. If he can take the confidence gained from this win to the Crucible and get off to a good start against King, perhaps he could be inspired to make it all the way to ten frames.
As mentioned above, Steve’s tactical game is still very sound, as was evident against Stephen Hendry earlier this season at the UK Championship. During that match he probably had the upper hand as far as the safety exchanges were concerned, but he was let down by his scoring as he would make breaks of around 40 before letting Stephen in to steal the frame. If however he can maintain such a strong tactical game while managing to kill off more frames in one visit, then an upset is far from out of the question.
A far tougher match to call than the one between Higgins and Hawkins, depending on the start I could definitely see this one going either way. If Steve can get off to a good start and crucially score heavily enough to win a few frames in one visit, an upset is not out of the question. Ultimately though I am not convinced that Steve will be able to do so and will tip the underrated King to come through 10-7.
Match Three: Neil Robertson (9) v Fergal O’Brien (31)
Having impressed at the tournament last season on his way to the semi-finals, Australia’s Neil Robertson will be looking to get his 2010 campaign off to a strong start against Irishman Fergal O’Brien…
Head to Head
Neil and Fergal have met five times in all and surprisingly it is Fergal who holds the upper hand having prevailed in the Masters qualifiers back in 2005/6, the Kilkenny Masters and Group 7 of the Championship League in 2007/8.
Perhaps tellingly however it is Neil who has won both of their matches in ranking event play, a tense match at the 2004/5 Malta Cup as well as their last 32 clash at the 2008 Roewe Shanghai Masters. Nevertheless, 3-2 to Fergal it is.
- 2005 – R32, lost 10-7 to Stephen Hendry
- 2006 – QF, lost 13-12 to Graeme Dott
- 2007 – R16, lost 13-10 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2008 – R16, lost 13-7 to Stephen Maguire
- 2009 – SF, lost 17-14 to Shaun Murphy
- 1994 – R32, lost 10-7 to Alan McManus
- 1998 – R16, lost 13-5 to Peter Ebdon
- 1999 – R32, lost 10-4 to Tony Drago
- 2000 – QF, lost 13-5 to Mark Williams
- 2001 – R32, lost 10-8 to Mark King
- 2002 – R32, lost 10-8 to Robert Milkins
- 2005 – R32, lost 10-5 to Jimmy White
- 2007 – R16, lost 13-4 to John Higgins
Season So Far
For Neil Robertson the highlight of his season so far undoubtedly came at the Grand Prix where he defeated Ding Junhui to capture his fourth ranking event title so far. Since then he has not quite been able to hit those heights as he has fallen at the last 16 stage of the following three ranking events but he will be cheered by having made his first professional 147 at the recent China Open and head to Sheffield as one of the favourites.
Fergal O’Brien meanwhile has experienced a season of two halves in which he lost his opening match at each of the first three ranking events, despite actually playing very well against the likes of Matt Selt and Ken Doherty. Since then he has began to translate his form into results as he has won his next three qualifiers to retain a place inside the top 48, but he has not been able to win a match at a venue, a statistic that stretches back to the 2007 World Championship.
Why Neil Will Win
After a tough season back in 2007/8 which saw Neil fall back somewhat in the rankings, the Australian has looked much more like his old self in the years since and in winning the Grand Prix last season put together arguably the tournament of his career to date. Having also defeated the likes of Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire to reach the semi-finals of the World Championship for the first time a year ago, Neil has for me established himself as one of the top six players in the world right now and has the firepower to defeat most, including Fergal O’Brien.
As well as his famed single ball potting however, what impressed me most during the Grand Prix final this season was Neil’s tactical game which surprisingly for me at least was superior to that of Ding Junhui. If he can combine both strong safety play with his excellent potting and break building game against Fergal then I would expect him to have too much for the Irishman.
Also Neil appears to be a player who enjoys playing at the Crucible, having won matches at the venue during each of the first four years and only been stopped by a top class player on each occasion. He has rarely looked in danger of losing his opening match against lower ranked opposition at the venue and it will take some performance from Fergal if that is to change here.
Why Fergal Will Win
The seemingly ageless Fergal O’Brien (he actually hasn’t changed a bit since ten years ago!), will play at the Crucible for the first time since 2007 and comes into the event playing relatively well at the moment. As indicated above when looking at his season so far, he was very unfortunate to lose his opening ranking event match during the first three events and has actually been in relatively good form. Whether he can play to such a standard against someone of the quality of Robertson is another matter but as a former ranking event winner and Masters finalist he should not be overawed by either the venue or his opponent.
As far as his actual game is concerned, Fergal is a gritty player capable of scoring heavily when required and also digging in and fighting for every ball. He might not have made an impact at tournaments recently but as he demonstrated by reaching the final of the Northern Ireland Trophy a couple of years ago, if he can hit a rich vein of form then he could cause Neil some problems.
Last year when Neil Robertson played Steve Davis in the first round I raised the question of whether a methodical, tactically astute player such as Davis might cause Neil problems and Neil answered the question with an emphatic 10-2 victory at the last 32 stage.
While I expect Fergal to win more than two frames, I cannot see past a Robertson victory as he looks to set up a mouthwatering quarter-final with John Higgins and I will go for 10-5 to the Australian.
Match Four: Marco Fu (8) vs Martin Gould (46)
A former semi-finalist here at the Crucible, Marco Fu will be looking to improve upon what was a poor performance at the venue last year when he was swept aside with a session to spare by world number 3 Shaun Murphy. Standing in his way however will be Martin Gould, a dangerous opponent who will know what to expect after his debut at the venue last season…
Head to Head
This will be the first meeting between Marco and Martin so their head to head is 0-0.
- 1999 – R32, lost 10-8 to James Wattana
- 2000 – R32, lost 10-4 to Anthony Hamilton
- 2001 – R32 lost 10-8 to Chris Small
- 2003 – QF, lost 13-7 to Stephen Lee
- 2005 – R32, lost 10-4 to Ali Carter
- 2006 – SF, lost 17-16 to Peter Ebdon
- 2007 – R32, lost 10-3 to Anthony Hamilton
- 2008 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ding Junhui
- 2009 – R16, lost 13-3 to Shaun Murphy
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-6 to Mark Allen
Season So Far
On the ranking event circuit at least, Marco Fu has struggled for form as he was able to win just one match heading into the recent China Open tournament. Though he was able to defeat both Nigel Bond and Bjorn Haneveer to reach the quarter-finals of that event, he heads into the Crucible ranked 25th on the one-year list and sure to lose his top eight place on the two-year list. During the Premier League it was a similar story as he won just one match and finished bottom of the table as a result, but encouragingly he was able to play some fabulous snooker during the recent Championship League tournament, eventually defeating Mark Allen in the final to ensure that he will be back in the Premier League in 2010.
After an outstanding 2008/9 season Martin has been unable to build on that success during 2009/10 as he was able to win just one match prior to the World Championship qualifiers, losing two following deciding frame finishes. By defeating Bjorn Haneveer and Nigel Bond at the EIS in Sheffield however Martin has at least ensured that he will be back at the Crucible for a second time and will come into the event with some confidence.
Why Marco Will Win
A former World Championship semi-finalist and Premier League winner, Marco is at his best a player who has it all. Blessed with a superb temperament, a strong safety game and a break-building game which has seen him amass 187 career century breaks to date, he is a formidable opponent for any qualifier to face.
It must be pointed out that Marco has struggled to find that form so far this season, losing his opening match in three of the ranking events staged and looking lost in both the invitational Premier League and Masters tournaments. Importantly however, he has looked much improved recently during the Championship League tournament which he won with a 3-2 victory over Mark Allen. He also managed to make his first quarter-final of the ranking event season at the China Open to ensure that he will not only head to Sheffield with some recent wins behind him, but also that he will not be needing to win to retain his top 16 status for next season, a factor that can often bring about added pressure which none of the players need at the World Championship.
Up against a man making just his second appearance at the Crucible, one who noticeably found it difficult last year against Mark Allen, Marco’s vast experience and quality could prove to be too much for Martin in this match. Marco has also said that during the last couple of months he has changed his technique and based on recent performances he does look to be playing as well as he has done for at least a year.
It should also be noted that while Marco’s record at the Crucible is not the best, the players that he has lost to are all excellent players and with the exception of Ding Junhui in 2008, very experienced. While Martin is a talented player, this will be just his second match at the Crucible and his first on television since his Sheffield defeat to Mark Allen a year ago. Marco’s added comfort on the big stage could be decisive.
Why Martin Will Win
Although Martin has not enjoyed a great season so far, it is not all that long ago since he pushed eventual winner Shaun Murphy hard at the UK Championship, defeated Stephen Hendry at the Welsh Open and gave Matthew Stevens a battering at the World Championship qualifiers last season. Performances like that do not happen by accident and I saw enough during last season to see that Martin could be a threat to Marco at the Crucible.
For all the quality of Fu, it hard to ignore the fact that he has lost at the last 32 stage here at the Crucible on six of his nine visits to the venue so far. Marco’s problem has always been consistency, indeed he is a player who can easily lose to a player who you would expect him to beat and if Martin can settle early on and get a foothold in the match, he has the scoring game to win frames quickly and put him under pressure.
Martin will also know what to expect this year at the Crucible and hopefully from his point of view, will feel more comfortable than a year ago when he let the match get away from him during the first session.
Not a straightforward match to call this, indeed of all of the matches in the quarter it is the one where I think it could be the one where we are most likely to see an upset. Much will depend on the start that Martin makes as if he falls behind as he did against Mark Allen last year, he could again see the match slip away from him by the end of the first session. If he were to start well however I could see him gaining confidence from it and possibly winning comfortably himself.
Ultimately however Marco with his greater experience will start as the favourite and if I had to put money on it, I would back him to take the match…10-7.
Check back for Part Two soon…