The most open World Championship Ever?

What a tournament we have had so far! Even before Steve Davis managed to do the unthinkable and knock out the defending world champion and provisional world number one John Higgins on Saturday morning the tournament was hard to call but after nine days I’m no closer to being able to pick a winner…

Five of the experts interviewed for this season’s programme selected Higgins v O’Sullivan as their dream final this year and given their form during the course of 2009/10 it was easy to see why. While I had suspected that this would be too obvious and that John in particular would fall before the final, I certainly did not expect him to do so at this early stage, and not to the resurgent Steve Davis!

As well as provided the tournament with its first major upset, what that result has also done is blow the top section of the draw wide open as you can make a case for almost every player in it making the final now.

After his incredible comeback later on Saturday afternoon, if I had to pick one player right now I would name Neil Robertson as my favourite to do so as not only is he one of the best players in the game at the moment, the pressure will be off him to a certain extent and we have seen many a player in the past manage to scrape through a match they looked like losing and go on to produce their best in the subsequent rounds. As stated in yesterday’s blog, while renowned for his long game I was quite impressed with the maturity of some of his shot selections and if he can compete in the safety department then he will be a genuine contender.

While he may have defeated his next opponent Steve Davis with ease last season however, their 2010 rematch is far from a formality this time around as Steve is looking as good as he has done since at least the 2005 UK Championship. Not only is his tactical game as strong as ever but crucially he is managing to score relatively heavily when in amongst the balls and if he can get off to a good start, could cause another upset and in the semi-finals…well, who knows. I would expect Robertson to win but frankly I expected John Higgins to win too!

Elsewhere in the half are Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy, the UK Champions from the last two years and players who know what it takes to win the big trophies. Having come through some close matches in the past here, I wonder if his easy 10-1 victory over Stuart was just the sort of win that he needed at the venue to give him a little bit of confidence here and I fancy him to continue to play well this week. Murphy though despite a poor season cannot be ruled out as a former champion and 2009 finalist here and if he can overcome someone of Ding’s quality would have to be installed as one of the favourites.

But what about Ali Carter, a player not always fancied by many but one who during the past few tournaments has looked to be getting back to his best after a tough start to the season and also knows how to win matches here having reached the final back in 2008. The real test for him would come against someone like O’Sullivan in the final but he certainly cannot be ruled out, assuming of course that he can finish off Joe Perry tonight whose top 16 place now hangs in the balance at 6-10.

The bottom half meanwhile is just as interesting, the match between Mark Allen and Graeme Dott in particular looking to be an intriguing fixture. Having been in the arena for a lot of the matches this week I do not think it would be untrue to say that between them they have played the best snooker that I have seen this week, albeit their styles could not be more contrasting! Mark has potted his way through Tom Ford and Mark Davis, recording a landmark 146 in the process while Graeme managed to move past a couple of opponents who on paper were tough draws with relative ease. In all honesty I would say that he has played as well as I have ever seen him play this week and regard him as a real dark horse for this title now…

The four remaining players in the half meanwhile could all just as easily do well in this tournament too! Stephen Hendry on paper would probably be the least likely, particularly for me having missed the chance to open up a first session lead over Mark Selby this afternoon. Mark I felt looked anxious and it was crucial for Stephen to come out with some sort of lead but having not done so I fear that Selby will not play that poorly again. We shall see though, Stephen has played some terrific snooker at this venue during the last couple of seasons and is bound to be inspired by the heroics of Steve Davis on Table 1.

Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan meanwhile head into their final session level at 8-8 having played some terrific snooker between them so far. Given their pedigree and experience it is hard not to fancy the winner to make it to at least the final, but given how good the likes of Dott and Allen have looked, it is hard to say anything with certainty!

Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating second week…