World Championship 2011: Tournament Preview – Part Four

The final part of my 2011 World Championship preview sees the entrance of another three former world champions, not to mention four-time ranking event winner Stephen Lee…

Thanks to both Jack for playing along as well as Jim for his assistance with the head to head stats.

To view my the previous parts, please click the here:


Match Thirteen: Shaun Murphy (7) vs Marcus Campbell (32)

Heading up arguably the toughest quarter of the draw are 2005 champion Shaun Murphy and Scotland’s Marcus Campbell, the latter hoping to crown a fine season by causing a shock here…

Head to Head

The first meeting between these two players actually came at the last 64 stage of the World Championship at Pontin’s back in 2005. In the immediate aftermath of Shaun’s emphatic 10-3 win I imagine that some eyebrows were raised but as we know now, that was to be just the beginning for Shaun in the competition that year!

Their only other meeting came in the fourth round of the EPTC5 event this season when again Shaun won with a top break of 100, the final score being 4-2. As a result their head to head currently stands at 2-0 in favour of Murphy.

Crucible History


  • 2002 -R32, lost 10-4 to Stephen Hendry
  • 2003 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ken Doherty
  • 2005 – WINNER, defeated Matthew Stevens 18-16
  • 2006 – QF, lost 13-7 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2007 – SF, lost 17-16 to Mark Selby
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-4 to Ali Carter
  • 2009 – F, lost 18-9 to John Higgins
  • 2010 – QF, lost 13-12 to Ali Carter


  • 2001 – R32, lost 10-4 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2010 – R32, lost 10-5 to Mark Williams

Season So Far

Topping the PTC Order of Merit, Shaun began the season in fine style, with a series of consistent performances in the new series, capped by victory in the EPTC2 event as well as a final appearance in the EPTC5 event where he lost out to John Higgins.

His start to the full ranking event season was less spectacular, early exits coming in Shanghai and at the World Open against Matthew Stevens and Dave Harold. He did however make the final of the Premier League before carrying that form through to the UK Championship in Telford where he saw off Patrick Wallace, Ryan Day and reigning world champion Neil Robertson before losing in a decider to Mark Williams in the semi-finals.

Disappointing results came at the Masters, German Masters and Welsh Open tournaments before the former world champion returned to form at the PTC Grand Finals, taking the title with a 4-0 defeat of Martin Gould, though it was his earlier comeback against Stephen Lee that really impressed. Clearly in form, he followed this up with a run to the final of the Championship League where he lost out to Matthew Stevens, before then reaching the semi-finals of the China Open.

Marcus meanwhile is also a player who has also impressed this season, climbing up into the top 32 of the rankings and notably winning his first professional title, the EPTC3 title in Russelsheim.

Otherwise his performances in the major ranking events have been mixed, losing his opening qualifying on three occasions but also making the last 16 of two tournaments. The first such run came at the World Open where he saw off Daniel Wells, Simon Bedford and Mike Dunn before losing out to Ding Junhui in Glasgow. His second last 16 appearance came at the China Open where having qualified with a win against Rory McLeod, he then defeated Mei Xiwen and Mark Allen before losing to Ali Carter.

He qualified for this tournament with a 10-6 victory against Mark Selt in the final qualifying round.

Why Shaun Will Win

Mentally formidable and with a cue action to die for, Shaun Murphy returns to the scene of his greatest triumph once again and will be hoping to improve upon his run to the quarter-finals last year where he lost out to Ali Carter on the colours. Looking at his form, Shaun could hardly be in better shape having recently won the PTC Grand Finals as well as beaten John Higgins during the China Open at his last outing.

Also in Shaun’s favour I feel is his strength over the longer format matches having won reached the semi-finals of the UK Championship earlier last season, as well as having won the two biggest events in the game previously. It is one thing to be able to impress away from the cameras in cubicles, which to be fair Shaun is also well capable of, but it is quite another to be able to do so in front of 1,000 people at the Crucible Theatre over 19 frames.

While Shaun is a proven winner in Sheffield, his opponent Marcus is not having comfortably lost his previous two matches here to Anthony Hamilton and Mark Williams. Indeed Marcus has often struggled to produce the sort of form that he is bringing to the table at the qualifiers in front of the television cameras and that is something that Shaun will be hoping to take advantage of.

As far as their respective games are concerned, both players are capable of recording the big breaks but with 35 tons to his name already this season, Shaun has to be favoured to win the greater amount of frames in one visit and as strong as he is mentally, I would also fancy him to win the majority of the scrappy frames…

Why Marcus Will Win

A pro for nearly 20 years, Marcus has enjoyed a fantastic season to date, winning his maiden title during the PTC and pushing himself up to 23rd place in the provisional rankings. More than most he has benefited from the increased playing opportunities this season and his performance against Matt Selt from 3-1 down in qualifying for this tournament was very impressive indeed.

Also while Marcus has struggled to consistently win matches at the venues, he does come into the event on the back of a 5-4 victory against Mark Allen in Beijing which demonstrated that he can win matches in front of the television cameras against the top players and must have given his confidence a boost.

Furthermore while Shaun is a formidable opponent, he can sometimes throw in a poor performance seemingly from nowhere, having lost two last 32 matches this season and three last term. Could he slip up here again?

My Prediction

While Marcus is playing some fine snooker these days, Shaun Murphy at the Crucible is a formidable opponent and with his experience at the venue as well as his heavy scoring, I think that the 2005 world champion will have too much for him. 10-5.

Jack’s View

I’m going to go with Murphy, he’s usually pretty dangerous over the longer games. I think that he will be hard for anyone to beat and will fancy winning it for a second time this year.




Match Fourteen: Ronnie O’Sullivan (10) vs Dominic Dale (31)

He might not have enjoyed a strong season but as ever, all eyes will be on Ronnie O’Sullivan this season at the Crucible as the three-time champion begins his latest campaign against Dominic Dale …

Head to Head

Look away now Dominic, this does not make great reading for you! These two have met on 11 occasions now in all competitions and as of yet, Dom is yet to win one with O’Sullivan leading 11-0.

Their first meeting actually came during this competition and was as far back as 1993 in qualifying when Ronnie came out on top with a 10-5 victory. After that however they had wait until the 1998/9 season when they met during the Nations Cup, albeit in a doubles clash which was won by Ronnie and Jimmy White. Their next two meetings also came during one-frame matches in the same competition the following season, again Ronnie coming out on top each time.

Their next clash came at the 2001 China Open, Ronnie winning it 5-2 before he improved to 5-1 at the British Open in 2002. It was to be their next two clashes however which proved to be the most significant, coming at the semi-final stages of both the 2004 Welsh Open and 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy tournaments respectively. While Ronnie’s 6-1 win in the former was impressive enough, his 6-0 victory at the Waterfront Hall really captured the imagination, lasting just 53 minutes making it the fastest ever best of 11 frame match.

Things were not to get any better for Dominic during their next two meetings at the 2007 Grand Prix and this season’s PTC1 event as Ronnie again won both best of seven encounters without the loss of a frame. Their next encounter at the PTC4 event was closer at least as O’Sullivan won it in a decider having made breaks of 136 and 116.

They were scheduled to meet at this season’s German Masters but O’Sullivan’s withdrawal from that event saw Dominic move safely into the last 16. As a result Ronnie’s advantage stands at 11-0 strictly speaking, 8-0 minus those Nations Cup ties.

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
  • 2009 – R16, lost 13-11 to Mark Allen
  • 2010 – QF, lost 13-11 to Mark Selby


  • 1997 – R16, lost 13-5 to John Higgins
  • 1999 – R32, lost 10-6 to Nigel Bond
  • 2000 – QF, lost 13-9 to Joe Swail
  • 2002 – R32, lost 10-2 to Jimmy White
  • 2004 – R32, lost 10-7 to Mark Williams

Season So Far

For Ronnie the season began well enough as he reached the quarter-finals of the PTC1 event and the final of the PTC4 event where he lost out to Barry Pinches in a deciding frame. Following that appearance however he elected not to enter any of the subsequent PTC events, as well as the season-opening Shanghai Masters which left him somewhat on the back foot heading into the World Open. That said, following his controversial 147 against Mark King in the first round, eye-catching ties against Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry inspired him to make it all the way to the final where he was to come unstuck against an in-form Neil Robertson.

Following that event however, aside from his win in the Premier League, the season has been a difficult one for O’Sullivan as he has lost his opening matches in each of the following four major tournaments staged which has resulted in him falling outside of the top eight of the rankings.

Dominic Dale meanwhile has enjoyed an excellent season, particularly during the PTC in which he won the sixth event, defeating Martin Gould in the final having needed three snookers in the deciding frame.

His success though has not been limited to the PTC as unlike many players such as Tom Ford and Barry Pinches who struggled to maintain their good form after winning an event, he has taken his into the full events. Aside from the two Chinese events, Dominic has won his opening match in each of the other five tournaments staged, going on to qualify for the venue stages of three of them. His best run came at the German Masters where he defeated David Morris, Xiao Guodong and Gerard Greene to qualify before receiving a bye through to the last 16 following O’Sullivan’s withdrawal.

Up into the top 32 ahead of the World Championship, Dominic qualified for the Crucible with an excellent 10-6 win against Michael Holt.

Why Ronnie Will Win

Three times a champion at the Crucible and one of the all-time greats, Ronnie O’Sullivan finds himself in the unusual position of third favourite for the World Championship with the bookmakers following a poor season which has led some to question even his very future in the game. Having either withdrawn from or not performed during his ranking event matches since his run to the final of the World Open last year, it is inevitable that questions will be asked and understandable that many do not expect O’Sullivan to win his fourth world crown this year.

But to write off a player who can perform as well as O’Sullivan is a dangerous thing to do and perhaps coming into the tournament without quite the same level of expectation upon him is something that will help him to relax and to find his strongest form. Whether he will be able to last for the during of the 17 day marathon is another matter but it is not often that he crashes out in the first round, indeed he has not done so since 2003 and only three times in total. He has shown flashes of his form recently but perhaps over a longer format he will have more time to play his way into the matches and produce the barrage of scoring that he remains capable of.

Also in O’Sullivan’s favour is the fact that he is playing an opponent who he has such a dominant head to head record against having won all eight of their previous meetings during ranking events. Head to head records might not count for everything in snooker but without so much as a single win against O’Sullivan, it will be a real test for Dominic to break his duck on the biggest stage of all.

Having seemingly struggled for inspiration during the past few months, might the unique atmosphere of the Crucible Theatre and the inevitable warm reception give him a lift and help to bring out the best of the former champion? There are few out there who doubt that he still has the ability, but it will all depend on where he is mentally…

Why Dominic Will Win

Returning to the Crucible for the first time since 2004, Dominic could not have asked for a harder draw than the man whom he has lost to on eight previous occasions during ranking event matches, but there are reasons for optimism for the two-time ranking event winner.

Looking first at his own form, Dominic has enjoyed an excellent campaign as outlined above and unlike many to win during the PTC has been able to translate that form into the major ranking events, pushing him back into the top 32 of the rankings. Certainly against Michael Holt in qualifying he produced some magical snooker when required and if he can do the same against O’Sullivan then he could give the former champion a real scare.

Turning to that rather ominous head to head, while it does not make good reading it should also be pointed out that there have been other players to come up against O’Sullivan this season and win having struggled in the past. Indeed both Stuart Bingham and Ryan Day have been able to upset the head to head stats and record impressive victories against him at the last 32 stage of events of late. Not only are these players improving their own form by playing more often and gaining confidence, but they will see the fact that O’Sullivan is struggling and surely be inspired by that. Dominic will be hoping that he is the latest to do so.

Furthermore it is probably also fair to say that O’Sullivan is suffering from having played so little snooker recently, indeed barely four matches in major tournaments in the past six months. While he has of course entered events such as the Championship League, there is no substitute for the full venues and without doubt his opponents are coming into their matches better prepared than he is at the moment.

There are several schools of thought and theories at the moment surrounding O’Sullivan’s game, for example is he interested? Does he care? Is the release of his dad from prison playing a part? Is he in natural decline? Whatever the reasoning behind it, the results are simply not there at the moment and probably more so than at any point in the past, Dominic should come into the match believing that he can win, not least because of his own impressive form at the moment.


Another intriguing match on so many levels, all eyes will be on O’Sullivan as ever but perhaps the match will in fact come down to whether or not Dominic deep down believes that he can finally register a win against the man who has comfortably had the better of their previous meetings to date. If he does then if he gets off to a good start, something as important in this match as in any of the other ties in the draw this year in my opinion, then he could do it. Alternatively O’Sullivan could turn up and remind everybody why he is a three-time champion and how he last won this event as recently as 2008.

Over a shorter format I would fancy Dale to cause an upset here but over the best of 19 I fancy that O’Sullivan will be able to stop the rot and take a 10-6 win.

Jack’s View

I hope that Ronnie has a good tournament. Viewing figures are always better when he is at an event. He hasn’t had a great season but no one would be surprised if he wins the tournament.




Match Fifteen: Ricky Walden (15) vs Rory McLeod (35)

At the Crucible for the first time as a top 16 player, Ricky Walden makes his second appearance here against another player doing the same, Rory McLeod…

Head to Head

The first meeting between Ricky and Rory came as far back as the second qualifying round of the 2003 Welsh Open and with both players making a century break, it was Ricky who came through a 5-3 winner. Their next meeting was to come three years later in qualifying for the Northern Ireland Trophy with Rory winning on that occasion, again by a 5-3 scoreline. Seemingly gaining the upper hand, Rory then added further wins at the 2009 Paul Hunter Classic and Masters qualifying tournaments to extend his lead to 3-1 before Ricky stopped the rot with a 4-2 win at the EPTC event this season. An interesting one though with Rory holding the upper hand 3-2.

Crucible History


  • 2009 – R32, lost 10-6 to Mark Selby


  • 2009 – R32, lost 10-6 to Mark King

Beginning the season ranked outside of the top 16, Ricky began the season well by qualifying for the first four major ranking events as well as performing consistently during the PTC events. His best run was to come at the World Open where he saw off Andy Hicks, James McBain and Jamie Cope to reach the quarter-finals before losing out to eventual winner Neil Robertson.

Moving up into the top 16 following the UK Championship, Ricky reached the last 16 of both the German Masters and the China Open tournaments before losing out to Scots Stephen Maguire and John Higgins respectively. His only first round loss came at the Welsh Open in Newport where he lost out to Dave Harold 4-3 in a dramatic match.

Rory meanwhile experienced a slow start to the season, struggling to make a real impression during the PTC events while losing his opening qualifier for the Shanghai Masters to Ireland’s Joe Delaney. Slight improvement came at the World Open with a 3-1 win against Kuldesh Johal before losing to Nigel Bond, before two very good wins against Kyren Wilson and Liang Wenbo at the UK Championship took him to his first venue of the season.

Despite a 9-1 thrashing at the hands of world champion Neil Robertson in Telford followed by an early exit in qualifying for the German Masters, Rory has since won his next three openers, qualifying for two venues including the Crucible with an excellent 10-5 victory against Mark Davis.

Why Ricky Will Win

A former ranking event winner, Ricky makes his second appearance at the venue this season although crucially following his 2009 appearance against Mark Selby it is he who is now the seeded player and with on paper at least, an easier draw.

Having become more used to playing in front of the cameras since his previous appearance and now knowing what to expect from the unique Crucible atmosphere, Ricky will be hoping to win this match not only in order to secure his place in the top 16 at the start of next season but also to show the wider audience who might not have witnessed his Shanghai victory back in 2008, just how good a player he is.

In Rory he faces an opponent who while certainly capable, does not have a good track record in front of the television cameras and surprisingly has not yet reached the last 16 of a ranking event despite having qualified for the last 32 on several occasions now. Rory seems to be a player who can close up at the major venues and find himself becoming embroiled in a real scrap, just look at his match here against Mark King a couple of years ago! While both are capable of winning scrappy frames, I would fancy Ricky to hold the advantage in the scoring department, particularly in front of the cameras.

Why Rory Will Win

While he might not have had the results at the venues that he might have hoped to have, Rory remains a capable player having last season won the Masters qualifying tournament and earlier this season made his first career 147 break during the Players Tour Championship. Against Mark Davis in his final qualifying round he raced into a 7-2 lead and rarely looked back, in contrast to his marathon defeat to Gerard Greene the previous year.

In Rory’s favour this year I feel is the fact that Ricky is under pressure to win the match in order to remain in with a shout of retaining his top 16 position in the rankings. With Rory coming into the match with less to lose against a player who is more used to being the hunter rather than the hunted, it will be interesting to see how Ricky deals with the situation.

Their head to head record too is also interesting as unusually it is the qualifier here who holds the advantage, Rory having won three of their past four meetings. Is this mere coincidence or does Ricky struggle to counteract Rory’s game?

Also while Ricky is the higher ranked player, both of these players have exactly the same level of experience here having both lost 10-6 on their respective débuts in 2009 which also goes to level the playing field somewhat.

My Prediction

Of all 16 matches in the draw I have to say that this is perhaps surprisingly the one that has presented me with the most difficulty. Of the seeded players Ricky is probably the one with the thinnest Crucible CV while Rory too has made just one appearance here in the past. With the head to head record an interesting factor here, I can quite easily see it going either way but on balance I will favour Ricky to come through and secure his top 16 status with a 10-8 win.

Jack’s View

Ricky Walden has a good chance but I think that it will be closer than people expect.




Match Sixteen: John Higgins (2) vs Stephen Lee (21)

The draw that I suspect both players would have wanted to avoid, John Higgins takes on an opponent who now looks to be returning to something like his very best form of a decade ago…

Head to Head

The most extensive history among this year’s draw began at the Newport Centre back in 1995 as John edged a deciding frame at the last 32 stage of the Welsh Open. From there, John was to win his next four matches against Lee, all coming in ranking events between 1996-7, most notably at the quarter-final stage of the European Open when the Scot won 5-3.

Stephen was finally able to break his duck with a 5-3 win of his own at the 1998-9 Irish Open before John soon got back on the winning trail, winning later that season at the quarter-final stages of both the Regal Scottish Open and then notably the World Championship, 13-6 on that occasion. Another close win for John followed during the 1999/2000 season at the Welsh Open, 9-8 in the final with the Scot making breaks of 101 and 100 to Stephen’s 129. John also added a one frame win at the Nations Cup for good measure during the following campaign.

Interestingly there was something of a momentum shift during the following season as Stephen then won their next three meetings, all at the quarter-final stages of ranking events including a landslide first win at a major event, 9-2 at the 2001 UK Championship. John though did win at the quarter-finals of the British Open before adding two victories during 2002/3, both on home soil at the Scottish Open and Masters tournaments.

Having met so often up until that point, surprisingly they have met on just three occasions since then – all coming during the elite big three events. The first came at the Masters back in 2004 when John won 6-4 to book his place in the semi-finals at Wembley before he produced a fabulous performance at the UK Championship in York  in 2006, making four centuries on his way to a 9-2 win.

Their final meeting as I am sure many of you will remember again came at the UK Championship earlier this season, the two matching each other toe for toe until Higgins eventually pulled clear to win 9-6 and extend his overall advantage to 15-4. With four of those wins having come in deciders however, in truth perhaps the match-up is not quite as bad as it would first appear for Stephen.


Crucible History


  • 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
  • 2010 – R16, lost 13-11 to Steve Davis


  • 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
  • 2009 – R32, lost 10-4 to Ryan Day
  • 2010 – R32, lost 10-4 to Stephen Maguire

Season So Far

As has been well-documented, John Higgins was suspended at the start of this season which meant that he would miss the first ten PTC events as well as the Shanghai Masters and World Open tournaments.

Since returning to action however his response has been emphatic, winning the EPTC5 event with a final victory against Shaun Murphy on his return before reaching the final of the EPTC6 shortly after, losing out to an inspired Michael Holt. If that was impressive however, his performance at the UK Championship was something else as he defeated Lee on the way to an eventual third UK crown. His unbeaten run continued through the German Masters until his second round withdrawal, as well as the Welsh Open which he won with a 9-6 victory against Stephen Maguire. Although his streak was eventually to end against Shaun Murphy at the China Open quarter-finals, John’s form has nevertheless been impressive.

For Stephen meanwhile the season has been much improved, notably at the PTC events where he performed consistently well, winning the EPTC4 event in Gloucester, defeating Stephen Maguire in the final. At the full ranking events he has also been consistent, reaching the last 16 of the World Open as well as the last 32 of both the Shanghai Masters and the UK Championship, at the latter producing his best performance on television in many years before losing out to Higgins.

2011 began with more of the same as he lost out to Ali Carter at the last 32 stage of the German Masters before he lost his only qualifier of the season at the Welsh, losing out to Rory McLeod. Following that however he put in a couple of impressive performances, firstly at the inaugural PTC Grand Finals where he defeated Mark Davis 4-1 before falling victim to an incredible comeback against Shaun Murphy in the last eight.

Shortly afterwards he was also to impress at the China Open which he had already qualified for with a dramatic 5-4 win against Alfie Burden, despite having being docked a frame following the mid-session interval for lateness. Once in Beijing he began with an incredible match against Mark Williams in Beijing, again winning 5-4 but with his opponent having made four century breaks in the frame that he did win! Stephen then followed this up with another good win against a Welshman, this time Ryan Day before eventually losing to Ding in the quarters. He also qualified for this event with a comprehensive 10-2 victory against Steve Davis.

Why John Will Win

The bookies favourite for the tournament and rightly so, John comes into the tournament having won almost every match of consequence that he has played this season, losing only to Shaun Murphy at the recent China Open and Graeme Dott at the Masters in January. Generally speaking he has looked to be back to his brilliant best following his suspension and armed with the best all-round game in the sport today, will be hoping to run deep again in 2011.

It goes without saying that John’s record at the Crucible is one to be envied, three times a winner, once a finalist and only twice a loser at the first round stage since his début back in 1995. Contrast this to his opponent who has  lost his last four opening round matches at the Crucible, six in total and on paper that looks to be a big advantage for Higgins.

The other aspect of this match-up that jumps out is the head to head record which is emphatically in favour of Higgins, even when looking at the period during which Stephen Lee was at his peak around the turn of the decade. Even though Stephen is currently playing as well as he has done in a long time then, John has shown previously that even this may not be enough and this was arguably encapsulated by their UK Championship clash earlier this season.

While John has always been hungry for success, this will be the first time that he has entered the World Championship without his father and perhaps this will be another factor that will motivate John further to win it for John Senior. In any case, since his return to the sport from suspension he seems to have had a renewed focus and having played less snooker than his main rivals this season, without being rusty, perhaps this will be an added advantage for him.

Why Stephen Will Win

Stephen Lee meanwhile comes into this tournament looking as good as he has done since reaching the semi-finals of the tournament back in 2003 and will be hoping to reach the quarter-finals of the event for the first time since then. Although he has been handed the toughest draw possible, there are reasons for optimism as I am sure that John would not have wanted to face someone as experienced as Lee first up.

Indeed while Higgins has generally performed well at the Crucible during the past five years, there have been a few signs of early nerves, for example last season when he laboured against Barry Hawkins before falling to Steve Davis, 2009 when he struggled to hang on to Jamie Cope before staging a brilliant fightback and 2008 when losing to Ryan Day. If Stephen can come out firing and build up an early lead then unlike some of those other names he does have the experience to see the job through.

Lee’s own form has been impressive too, particularly his resilience as demonstrated by the fact that he has twice come up against former world champions in ranking events this season who have started with two century breaks, but on each occasion come back to level a 2-2 and make a real match of it. At his best Lee is still one of the top eight players in the world for me and if he can reproduce that sort of form here, John will have to match him.

Furthermore there is also added pressure on his opponent here as John requires a strong showing in order to stand any chance of retaining his spot at the top of the world rankings following the tournament.

My Prediction

Another toughie but while Stephen looks to be close to his best, so is John and that being the case I can’t see any further than the Scot. 10-8.

Jack’s View

I think that this game will have the best standard out of the first round matches. John Higgins is too good to ever bet against. I see him as the tournament favourite.