So then, a little late to the party but for the fourth successive year I bring you the first part of my preview articles for the 2012 World Championship as I cast my eye over a somewhat Scottish top quarter, as well as the hopes of 2011 finalist Judd Trump…
Thanks to Jim for his assistance with the head to head stats.
Match One: John Higgins v Liang Wenbo
For the fourth time in his career, John Higgins heads to the Crucible as defending champion and hoping to defend his title for the first time, but following a disappointing season by his standards, few are tipping him to do so. One thing I have learned down the years however is never to write off John Higgins…
Head to Head
John and Liang have to date met on three previous occasions and it would be fair to say that Higgins’ dominance during those meetings has been emphatic.
Their most significant match to date came at the quarter-final stage of the 2009 UK Championship when John hit breaks of 129, 115 and 110 on his way to a 9-2 victory over two sessions.
Prior to this John had defeated Liang 5-1 at the last 16 of the 2008 Northern Ireland Trophy, while earlier this season he was a comfortable 4-1 winner at the Welsh Open in Newport to give himself a 3-0 advantage overall.
- 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
- 2011 – WINNER, defeated Judd Trump 18-15
- 2008 – QF, lost 13-7 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-8 to Ding Junhui
- 2010 – R32, lost 10-7 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
Season So Far
Following his near unstoppable run of form during the second half of the 2010/11 season, culminating in his capture of a fourth world title at the Crucible last May, this season has been a relative struggle for John Higgins.
Indeed despite a remarkably consistent PTC campaign during which he was a regular in the latter stages of the events, he is yet to progress beyond the quarter-finals of a full-ranking event during 2011/12, while also losing at the semi-final stage of the Masters.
Liang Wenbo meanwhile has returned to form to an extent following a lean couple of years which have seen him drop not only out of the top 16, but at one stage almost the top 48 as the points from his strong start to the 2009/10 season have been deducted.
Impressively, Liang has won at least one match at each of the full-ranking event tournaments excluding the UK Championship, with his best run coming at the Australian Open where he was only denied a quarter-final appearance by a miracle clearance from former world champion Ken Doherty.
Since then he was also able to qualify for the venue stages of the Welsh Open, before qualifying for this tournament with a narrow 10-9 victory against Marcus Campbell.
At his best, John Higgins with his combination of heavy-scoring and tactical nous remains the strongest all-round player in the game for my money and despite his lack of success this season, is someone who can never be written off.
While it is stating the obvious, John’s record at the Crucible is one to be envied, not just his four world titles, but also just two last 32 exits since his début back in 1995. Whether he has come into the tournament in good or bad form, his results come Sheffield have generally been strong, at least in the opening round if he has not been able to make the latter stages.
Another obvious factor is his head to head record against Liang which standing at 18-4 in terms of frames won during their three meetings, including one match over two sessions and another this season, has to be taken into consideration. From what I saw of Liang’s final qualifying round match against Marcus Campbell, his style remains as attacking as ever and whatever happens, Higgins is bound to be given chances.
What of his form? As mentioned above, he has not been beyond the quarter-finals of a full-ranking event, but in recent tournaments his results have been better, a narrow defeat to eventual champion Peter Ebdon in China being far from a disgrace.
When it comes to Liang Wenbo, on his day his attacking style can cause even the very best players a headache as he demonstrated by reaching the top 16 just a couple of years ago. With previous runs to the quarter-finals of both the World and UK Championship tournaments behind him, he has proven that he can win matches over the longer formats.
While Liang has suffered a drop down the rankings in recent months, his fall owes more to his form during last season than his recent results which have instead been much improved. While he has not threatened to win silverware in recent times, he has consistently won his qualifying matches and steadily rebuilt some of his confidence that must have been eroded during the previous year.
In addition, while John’s Crucible record is one to be envied, he has openly admitted recently that he has not practised as much as he should recently and even for a player as strong as Higgins, it remains to be seen whether can he just turn it on when it comes to it. Even the best players cannot go on forever…
With John having failed to set the baize alight this season and sure to be nervous walking out to defend his title, many will be wondering if he will become the latest man to fall at the first hurdle in 2012. That said, as the old saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent and while I do not fancy Higgins to go all the way this year, I do expect him to make it through to the second round and will tip the Scot to come through 10-5.
Match Two: Stuart Bingham vs Stephen Hendry
Back in 2000 Stuart Bingham caused one of the biggest upsets in Crucible history when having qualified for the World Championship for the first time in his career, he stunned Stephen Hendry by recording a 10-7 victory against the defending champion.
Twelve years on and at different stages of their respective careers, the pair are set to meet again at the same stage of the event, remarkably having managed to avoid each other in competition since then…
Head to Head
As mentioned above, there has been just one meeting between Stuart and Stephen, coming on the opening day of the tournament back in 2000 when Stuart ran out a 10-7 winner, despite having come into the evening session trailing at 5-4. As a result, Stuart leads their head to head 1-0.
- 2000 – R16, lost 13-9 to Jimmy White
- 2002 – R32, lost 10-8 to Ken Doherty
- 2008 – R16, lost 13-9 to Joe Perry
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-5 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2011 – R16, lost 13-12 to Ding Junhui
- 1986 – R32, lost 10-8 to Willie Thorne
- 1987 – QF, lost 13-12 to Joe Johnson
- 1988 – R16 lost 13-12 to Jimmy White
- 1989 – SF, lost 16-9 to Steve Davis
- 1990 – WINNER, defeated Jimmy White 18-12
- 1991 – QF, lost 13-11 to Steve James
- 1992 – WINNER, defeated Jimmy White 18-14
- 1993 – WINNER, defeated Jimmy White 18-5
- 1994 – WINNER, defeated Jimmy White 18-17
- 1995 – WINNER, defeated Nigel Bond 18-9
- 1996 – WINNER, defeated Peter Ebdon 18-12
- 1997 – F, lost 18-12 to Ken Doherty
- 1998 – R32, lost 10-4 to Jimmy White
- 1999 – WINNER, defeated Mark Williams 18-11
- 2000 – R32, lost 10-7 to Stuart Bingham
- 2001 – QF, lost 13-5 to Matthew Stevens
- 2002 – F, lost 18-17 to Peter Ebdon
- 2003 – QF, lost 13-7 to Mark Williams
- 2004 – SF, lost 17-4 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2005 – QF, lost 13-11 to Matthew Stevens
- 2006 – R32, lost 10-9 to Nigel Bond
- 2007 – R16, lost 13-6 to Ali Carter
- 2008 – SF, lost 17-6 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2009 – QF, lost 13-11 to Shaun Murphy
- 2010 – R16, lost 13-5 to Mark Selby
- 2011 – R16, lost 13-4 to Mark Selby
Season So Far
For Stuart Bingham the 2011/12 could not have started any better as he defeated the likes of Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Shaun Murphy and Mark Williams to capture his first ranking event title at the 2011 Australian Goldfields Open in Bendigo. Combined with a run to the final of the season’s first PTC event in Sheffield as well as the last 16 of the Shanghai Masters, his performances were enough to see him move into the top 16 for the first time in his career.
Since then Stuart’s results have not been so strong, an opening round defeat at the UK Championship proving particularly costly from a ranking point of view, while he has been unable to progress beyond the last 16 stage of any ranking event since his Australian success.
Having narrowly avoided falling out of the top 16 at the end of the previous season, there was a feeling of inevitability that this would happen at some point during 2011/12 for Stephen Hendry and so it proved as the Scot lost 5-1 to Robert Milkins in the opening round of the Shanghai Masters tournament ahead of the first seedings revision.
Since then however, it is fair to say that Stephen’s results have been relatively impressive, the Scot winning five of his six qualifying matches, whilst also defeating Neil Robertson at the Welsh Open and reaching the semi-finals of the PTC12 event in Munich before narrowly losing out to Stephen Maguire.
With his victory in Australia earlier on this season, Stuart Bingham proved that he is capable of producing at the highest level when it really matters and while his results of late have not been so eye-catching, they have been enough to see him remain comfortably among the elite top 16 bracket. He appears to be enjoying working with coach Stephen Feeney and despite not threatening to repeat his success in Australia, he was won the majority of his opening round matches.
Certainly earlier in the season, Stuart was in a very good place both on and off the table following the birth of his first child and coming back to the Crucible against the man whom he first made his name, he will be hoping to draw on positive memories from 2000.
Also in his favour could well be the fact that his opponent is currently in China undertaking promotional work for a sponsor and is not scheduled to return to the UK until Thursday afternoon. With their Crucible encounter beginning on Saturday afternoon, surely Hendry’s preparation for the tournament will put him at a disadvantage for their match, either physically or mentally?
In any case, over the best of 19 frames it is fair to say that the Scot is not as consistent as he was 12 years ago, often starting matches strongly before fading as sessions have progressed and presumably this is not something that will be helped if he is suffering from any effects of jetlag…
While Stephen has struggled to live up to his own very high standards in recent years, it remains a fact that in 26 previous appearances at the Crucible, he has lost just four times in the opening round, the most recent defeat coming in 2006 to Nigel Bond on a re-spotted black.
As he has often said, it is as if the pipe and slippers are out there in the arena he is so comfortable out there and in recent years as he has been taken the distance in the early stages, his experience has certainly been a significant factor for him and he will hope that it is again.
Also in his favour is the fact that generally speaking, he has actually played quite well of late, indeed in qualifying against Yu Delu he looked particularly strong in the balls, taking several frames in one visit and while a stronger opponent would have punished his mistakes more often, he was impressive nonetheless. Earlier in the season he came close to defeating the likes of John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Stephen Maguire in PTC events, before recording that elusive win against a top player against Neil Robertson in Newport.
What may also help Stephen is the fact that coming into the tournament as the qualifier, with little pressure in terms of his ranking on his shoulders in comparison to a year ago, perhaps the pressure will be off to a degree and the level of expectation upon him that little bit lower. I am sure that Stephen always expects a lot of himself anyway, but the constant speculation as to his top 16 status cannot have helped him in 2011.
Both having been involved in close matches at the Crucible during recent seasons, I have a feeling that this could very well be another, Stuart hoping to make it a Crucible double against his illustrious opponent, while Stephen will be looking to avenge his defeat of twelve years ago and remind everyone of his class. Which way will I go? I will tentatively go with the man with more deciding frame victories than any other at the World Championship and predict Hendry to come through 10-9.
Match Three: Graeme Dott v Joe Perry
One of snooker’s underrated men, Graeme Dott arrives at the Crucible looking to reach his fourth final in the last decade, but standing in his way initially will be Joe Perry who will be looking to make up for his agonising defeat to Stephen Hendry at the same stage a year ago…
Head to Head
Graeme and Joe first met in a competitive match at the last 16 stage of the China Open during the 1999/2000 season when Joe was able to emerge as a 5-3 winner, before he doubled his lead with a deciding frame victory at the Regal Scottish Open a couple of years later.
Graeme was able to break his duck shortly afterwards with victory in the 2001 British Open, after which they were not to meet again until their best five five frames match at the 2006 Grand Prix, again won by the Scot in a decider.
Their next meeting proved to be their most important to date as Joe recorded a 10-7 victory at the first round of the 2008 World Championship, notching breaks of 132, 104 and 102 in the process.
Since then their meetings have been shared, Graeme winning their match at the 2010 Welsh Open as well as that year’s PTC6 event, while Joe has since defeated the Scot twice this season in PTC events to give the Englishman a 5-4 overall advantage.
- 1997 – R32, lost 10-9 to James Wattana
- 2000 – R32, lost 10-6 to Steve Davis
- 2001 – R32, lost 10-4 to John Higgins
- 2002 – R16, lost 13-2 to John Higgins
- 2003 – R16, lost 13-12 to Ken Doherty
- 2004 – F, lost 18-8 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2005 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ian McCulloch
- 2006 – WINNER, defeated Peter Ebdon 18-14
- 2007 – R32, lost 10-7 to Ian McCulloch
- 2008 – R32, lost 10-7 to Joe Perry
- 2009 – R16, lost 13-10 to Mark Selby
- 2010 – F, lost 18-13 to Neil Robertson
- 2011 – QF, lost 13-5 to Judd Trump
- 1999 – R16, lost 13-8 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2002 – R16, lost 13-7 to Peter Ebdon
- 2003 – R32, lost 10-4 to Shaun Storey
- 2004 – QF, lost 13-10 to Matthew Stevens
- 2006 – R32, lost 10-3 to Ryan Day
- 2007 – R32, lost 10-3 to Stephen Maguire
- 2008 – SF, lost 17-15 to Ali Carter
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-6 to Jamie Cope
- 2010 – R16, lost 13-11 to Ali Carter
- 2011 – R32, lost 10-9 to Stephen Hendry
Season So Far
For Graeme the season has been a curious one during which he performed very well at the various PTC events, reaching the final of the PTC3 event, as well as the semi-finals of the PTC1, PTC9 and PTC11 tournaments, but has struggled to find his form at the major tournaments.
Indeed following his withdrawal from the season opening Australian Goldfields Open, he then lost 5-2 to Michael Holt in Shanghai before losing at the last 16 stage of the UK Championship to Neil Robertson. The second half of his season has been a similar story, his best run coming at the Haikou World Open where he lost out 5-1 to eventual finalist Stephen Lee.
Like Graeme, Joe was a strong performer during the PTC series, reaching the final of both the PTC1 and PTC12 tournaments on his way to qualifying for the Grand Finals. His performances at the major tournaments however have been solid if not spectacular, last 16 runs at the German Masters and Haikou World Open proving his best results to date, while he has also lost out in the qualifying rounds of three tournaments.
Taking into account their respective form, the head to heads and experience, of all of the last 32 matches in the draw, this is one of the more evenly-matched contests for me and one where I feel that a convincing argument could be made for each of the players.
Turning to Graeme firstly, while he is rarely mentioned among the list of players tipped to take the title, the fact remains that since 2004, the Scot has reached the final on three occasions, lifting the trophy back in 2006 with his late-night victory against Peter Ebdon. He has proven himself over the longer formats and last season once again demonstrated his guile at the Crucible during his second-round victory against Ali Carter, during which he won several matches on the colours to defeat his high-scoring opponent.
While his form has not been the best during the 2011/12 season, the Crucible and its longer format matches are a different proposition entirely to the best of seven frame matches that we tend to see all to often these days, and should suit Graeme.
That said, the same could apply to Joe, who having qualified well with a 10-8 victory against Jamie Burnett last week, comes into the tournament with momentum behind him, as well as the knowledge that he can defeat Dott at the Crucible having done so at the same stage four years ago.
Having previously reached the semi-finals at the venue, as well as having once made the tournament high break and defeated the defending world champion Mark Williams back in 2004, Joe has proven himself more than capable of performing at the Crucible.
Furthermore, it has to be said that Graeme’s form has not been strong so far this season and while in the past this has not stopped him from finding his game at the Crucible, I am sure that the Scot would rather come into the World Championship with a few more wins under his belt.
A close match in prospect then and one that could well go either way, but despite his indifferent season to date, I will back Dott to avenge his 2008 defeat to Perry with a 10-7 victory.
Match Four: Stephen Maguire vs Luca Brecel
Moving on, match four sees an intriguing clash between one of the year’s form players to date in Stephen Maguire and another who will have all eyes upon him as he becomes the youngest player ever to compete at the Crucible during the World Championship.
Head to Head
This will be the first meeting between Stephen and Luca, therefore their record stands at 0-0.
- 2004 – R32, lost 10-6 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2005 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2006 – R16, lost 13-4 to Marco Fu
- 2007 – SF, lost 17-15 to John Higgins
- 2008 – QF, lost 13-12 to Joe Perry
- 2009 – QF, lost 13-8 to Neil Robertson
- 2010 – R16, lost 13-6 to Graeme Dott
- 2011 – R32, lost 10-9 to Barry Hawkins
Season So Far
Though consistent during the early-season PTC events, Stephen’s season started slowly at the full-ranking tournaments with opening round defeats at the Australian Goldfields Open and Shanghai Masters tournaments.
Since the turn of the year however, Stephen has been consistently impressive, winning the PTC12 event in Munich, as well as reaching the finals of both the German Masters and China Open tournaments, losing only to inspired performances from Ronnie O’Sullivan and Peter Ebdon respectively.
Luca meanwhile has understandably found this season to be something of a learning curve, winning a few matches during the PTC events, while improving his game all the time as evident by his run to the third qualifying round of the China Open, before his incredible qualification for the Crucible just last week…
When I first attended the World Championship back in 2005 and saw Stephen Maguire take on Ronnie O’Sullivan on the opening day of the tournament, I was immediately impressed by the Scot, not only because of his talent but also his presence around the table.
While he has not gone on to underline his class with a world title to date, this year he has looked to be playing as well as he has for two or three years and has regularly recorded victories against those ranked at the very top of the rankings. More than anything, he looks to be as confident as I have seen him since he was ranked at number two and I would not be surprised to see him make a run this week.
What of Luca? As those of you who saw him on the livestreams last week will have seen, he has noticeably improved in comparison to earlier on in the season and as well as potting ability, he has bottle in abundance. With nothing to lose and seemingly little fear, I expect him to give a better account of himself than perhaps some would expect, given that he will break Stephen Hendry’s record as the youngest ever player to compete at the Crucible.
Also, one interesting point revealed by Luca’s coach Chris Henry on Sunday is that he spent a lot of time at the tournament last year, increasing his comfort zone ahead of his inevitable début at the venue. While that has come sooner than even Luca could have imagined, perhaps that will help him to settle down more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.
Another fascinating match in prospect therefore, but while I think that Luca will certainly impress enough to gain himself a few fans, I cannot see him having enough against a player of Stephen’s class at this stage of his career and will back the Scot to take a 10-5 victory.
Match Five: Shaun Murphy v Jamie Jones
2005 world champion Shaun Murphy begins his quest for a second Crucible title with a match against one of the tour’s most improved players of the last 18 months, Welshman Jamie Jones, who like Luca Brecel will be making his début at the final stages of the World Championship in 2012…
Head to Head
These two have met just once before in professional competition, a long time ago at the 2006 Grand Prix in Aberdeen when Shaun came through a 3-2 winner to lead their head to head record 1-0.
- 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
- 2011 – R16, lost 13-10 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
Season So Far
Having last season topped the PTC Order of Merit, before taking victory in the Grand Finals in Dublin, this season has proven to be a real contrast in the competition for Shaun Murphy has he struggled to make an impact on the best of seven frame tournaments, failing to qualify for this season’s Galway finals.
In the season’s major tournaments however, Shaun has enjoyed one of his most consistent seasons yet, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Goldfields Open, German Masters and Welsh Open events, as well as the final of the invitational Masters in January. Despite his consistency however, he has suffered a few one-sided defeats, 6-0 to Stephen Maguire in Berlin, as well as 5-0 to Mark Selby at the Haikou World Open.
Jamie meanwhile has continued his consistent form from the second half of last season, regularly winning matches during the PTC events while recently qualifying for his first major venues other than the PTC Grand Finals (where he recorded an important win against John Higgins recently), at the China Open and now the World Championship.
Having not lost at the first stage of the tournament since 2003, indeed having only lost before the quarter-finals twice since, Shaun’s record at the Crucible is an impressive one and against an opponent new to the surroundings, he will be confident of getting his 2012 campaign off to a strong start.
I have noticed it said elsewhere that Shaun has not enjoyed a particularly good season, but while he has not been able to capture a major title, I have been impressed with him at times, particularly during the Masters where his long game looked to be on a par with during his world title run seven years ago.
On the whole I feel that Shaun’s results have been relatively strong, despite his early exit in Beijing at the start of the month. Certainly he has accumulated a large amount of ranking points and as a result heads into the tournament with a chance of returning to the top four come the season’s end.
Despite all of that, Jamie should not be underestimated, indeed I think that is probably what a lot of people did last Saturday when he lined up against Ricky Walden in the tournament’s final qualifying round. Few were tipping Jamie to win, but following an opening session dominated by the Welshman as he secured an 8-1 lead, there was widespread shock around the EIS. Indeed I think that Jamie himself was shocked as he gave his post-match press conference later in the evening.
The result and indeed the performance however only served to underline the improvement in his game during recent months, which is now being rewarded with appearances at the major venues. His win against Higgins in Galway recently showed that he can produce on the big stage, against the big names and as he explained following qualification, he has nothing to lose against Shaun.
While Jamie has enjoyed an impressive season so far, I again have to side with the seeded player in this section. It is always hard for Crucible débutantes to do themselves justice given the unique nature of the venue, while Murphy remains a class act and one who often seems to save his best for the World Championship. I’ll go for a 10-6 win for the Magician.
Match Six: Stephen Lee vs Andrew Higginson
Just twelve months ago Stephen Lee had qualified for the tournament and was about to find himself on the wrong end of a one-sided match at the hands of eventual champion John Higgins. A year on however and Stephen is back up inside the top eight of the provisional rankings and comes into the tournament as on form at least, the man to beat…
Head to Head
Stephen and Andrew have met a total of eight times, six of those meetings coming during the past two seasons.
Their first clash came at the 2008 Welsh Open when Lee came through a 5-3 winner, but their next three meetings were all to go the way of Andrew as he turned the tables in Newport a couple of years later, before adding victories in the 2010 Championship League and Paul Hunter Classic.
Since then however their history has been dominated by Stephen, who has dropped just six frames in winning their last four matches, all coming in PTC events culminating in the recent Grand Finals in Galway. As a result, Stephen holds a 5-3 overall lead, 5-2 in ranking events.
- 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
- 2011 – R32, lost 10-5 to John Higgins
- 2009 – R32, lost 10-8 to Shaun Murphy
Season So Far
Stephen got his campaign off to a slow start with early exits at both the Australian Goldfields Open and Shanghai Masters tournaments, but thanks to consistent performances during the season’s PTC events, he was able to move back up into the world’s top 16 at the season’s first seedings revision.
His season however really sparked into life at the German Masters in February as reached his first ranking event semi-final for some time before losing out to Ronnie O’Sullivan, before only being denied a repeat in Newport by a badly timed mobile phone which contributed to a miss on the green against Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals.
He was not to be disheartened however as he made it to the final of the Haikou World Open, before then going one better at the PTC Grand Finals with a 4-0 victory against Australia’s Neil Robertson in the final.
For Andrew meanwhile the season has been a solid one as he has consolidated his position just outside of the world’s top 16. The clear highlight came at the PTC5 event in Sheffield where he defeated John Higgins to capture his first professional title, while he also impressed at the Grand Finals in Galway en route to the semi-finals, where co-incidentally he lost out to Lee…
There is little to be said about Stephen’s form that has not already been said, but his form so far this year has been second to none, his PTC Grand Finals victory a deserved rewards for his performances.
A former semi-finalist at the venue, Stephen has proven himself capable of performing in Sheffield and now playing as well as he has since his 2003, is fancied by many to translate that form into a tilt at the title.
His past record against Andrew, including that recent win in Galway, is a positive one and it is arguable that Andrew has in recent years not performed as well at the major venues as he has in the cubicles at the qualifying tournaments, indeed other than the PTC Grands Finals, he has failed to reach the last 16 of a full-ranking event since the 2010 UK Championship.
Still, history is not all in Stephen’s favour as incredibly, he has won just two matches at the Crucible since his 2003 semi-final run, losing his past five opening matches at the venue. While Stephen is undoubtedly in much better form than in recent seasons, could this be something that plays on his mind?
While Andrew is fine player and ran former champion Shaun Murphy close on his début back in 2009, Stephen’s class and form in 2012 means that I can only see this one going one way, and accordingly will tip Lee to come through a 10-6 winner.
Match Seven: Ali Carter vs Mark Davis
Almost certain to drop out of the top 16 at the season’s end, Ali Carter comes into this season’s World Championship on the back of a poor season and with a clash against Mark Davis to look forward to…
Head to Head
Ali and Mark first met back at the British Open during the 2002/3 season when Ali ran out a 5-3 winner, before Mark turned the tables shortly afterwards at the European Open with a 5-4 victory.
More recently, Ali recorded comprehensive victories at the Northern Ireland Trophy and Welsh Open, while Mark has since won their two meetings over shorter formats at the 2010 PTC5 event and most recently at the 2012 Championship League.
Ali then holds a 3-2 overall advantage.
- 2003 – R32 lost 10-5 to Paul Hunter
- 2004 – R32 lost 10-7 to David Gray
- 2005 – R16, lost 13-7 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2006 – R32, lost 10-8 to Stephen Lee
- 2007 – QF, lost 13-12 to Mark Selby
- 2008 – F, lost 18-8 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
- 2009 – R16, lost 13-8 to Neil Robertson
- 2010 – SF, lost 17-12 to Neil Robertson
- 2011 – R16, lost 13-11 to Graeme Dott
- 1994 – R32, lost 10-6 to Terry Griffiths
- 1995 – R16, lost 13-7 to Peter Ebdon
- 1997 – R32, lost 10-8 to Ken Doherty
- 2001 – R32, lost 10-5 to Stephen Hendry
- 2008 – R32, lost 10-3 to Mark Williams
- 2010 – R16. lost 13-5 to Mark Allen
Season So Far
For Ali the season has thus far been one to forget, opening round defeats coming at four of the full-ranking events staged, while he was unable to compete in the Haikou World Open due to ongoing problems with his health. His best result came at the season’s most recent event as he defeated Dominic Dale and wildcard Lu Ning, before losing to Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals.
As for Mark, he has enjoyed another consistent season, qualifying for all but two of the full-ranking events while also reaching the final of the PTC4 event in Germany. It has however been a case of so near, but yet so far as far as the top 16 is concerned, most notably at the PTC11 event where he came within a frame of moving into that bracket at the season’s second seedings revision.
Of the seeds mentioned in this preview so far, on paper at least, Ali is the most vulnerable so far having experienced a tough season which has seen him drop down as far as 20th in the latest projected seedings list.
Ali’s problems are of course nothing to do with his ability, but unfortunately his health as he has described recently on the BBC website:
“I’ve just struggled really. I haven’t played particularly well,”
“My Crohn’s disease has played up a lot and prevented me from practising. I’ve felt really tired all the time but hopefully I’m getting on top of that now – or at least trying to.”
“I’ve done it for the last 10 years but it’s got hold of me a little bit this year. Hopefully I can put this year behind me and move forward and get back up the rankings.”
“I want to start feeling a little bit better in myself and hopefully the enjoyment will come back. It’s horrible when you’re turning up to practise and you’re not feeling very well and having to force yourself to play.”
As such only Ali will know what state he is in, both in terms of his game and his health. With his top 16 place all but gone, unless he can run deep in this tournament of course, to some extent the pressure is off and it will be interesting to see whether this allows him to relax and play his best snooker.
Such a high scorer at his best, under normal circumstances I would fancy Ali to have too much for Mark, but Ali’s current form has to be taken into consideration. Mark too has demonstrated during recent seasons that he is currently playing at a consistently high level, in 2010 producing a strong performance to advance to the second round at the expense of Ryan Day.
Also working with Terry Griffiths in recent months, Mark has said that the mental side of his game has improved of late and out there in the Crucible Arena it can only help to have someone like him in his corner. He will also draw encouragement from having won their last two meetings, albeit in relatively minor events.
The toughest match in the draw to predict so far, on the face of their respective seasons it would be easy to tip an upset here and for Mark to inflict another defeat upon the 2008 Crucible finalist. While I would not blame anybody for doing that however, Ali’s record at the Crucible in recent seasons combined with promising signs at the recent China Open are enough for me to back him to just come through this one, a 10-8 winner.
Match Eight: Judd Trump vs Dominic Dale
The final match in the top half of the draw sees last season’s runner-up Judd Trump begin his 2012 campaign against Dominic Dale, the man who but for a couple of flukes earlier on in the season, could have ended Judd’s eventually successful bid for a maiden UK Championship crown at the first hurdle.
Head to Head
There have been two past meetings between Judd and Dominic, the first coming back in the 2007 Pontins Pro-Am series when Judd hit a 131 break en route to a 4-2 win, before their first ranking event meeting at this season’s UK Championship when Judd recovered from 4-2 down to secure a 6-4 victory on his way to the title.
As such, the Ace holds a 2-0 lead overall, 1-0 in ranking events.
- 2007 – R32, lost 10-6 to Shaun Murphy
- 2011 – F, lost 18-15 to John Higgins
- 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
- 2011 – R32, lost 10-2 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
Season So Far
Following his remarkable end to the 2010/11 season, Judd experienced a slow start to the current campaign with opening round defeats at the Australian Goldfields Open and Shanghai Masters tournaments. His performances during the PTC events were improved however as he took the silverware at both PTC2 and PTC9 in Gloucester and Antwerp, before going all the way at the UK Championship at York in December.
Since then Judd has been solid if not spectacular, a semi-final run at the Masters representing his best run at that tournament to date, while quarter-final runs at the German Masters, Welsh Open and China Open tournaments have helped him up to second place on the latest projected seedings list.
Dominic meanwhile has also continued his rise up the rankings, his best result coming in Australia as he was denied a place in the semi-finals only by a stunning performance from compatriot Mark Williams. Other highlights include a run to the final of PTC10, while he has also qualified for more events than he has not.
So how is Judd looking as he hopes to improve upon his final run in Sheffield almost a year ago?
In short, the answer is reasonably good, in truth after his runs and the UK Championship and Masters tournaments I sense that Judd has been preparing himself for another assault at a major, and will as such be a different proposition to in recent tournaments.
It could be argued that Judd’s results are indicative of a downturn in form, which on paper is true, but these days I cannot help but feel that Judd thrives on playing on the big stage and that at the Crucible he will again embark upon a run, if not all the way then certainly close.
Can Dominic stop him? In his favour is his experience, though for a player who has been a professional since 1992, it is surprising that this will be only his seventh appearance at the venue. As Dominic told me earlier in the season having qualified to play Judd at the UK Championship, these days the Welshman is a wiser player compared to back in his youth and for a while in York it looked as though he would come out on top against his much-fancied opponent before eventually losing 6-4. Though he could not win, Dominic will take heart from his performance that day.
Also could Judd feel the pressure of coming into the tournament as highly fancied as he is? Favourite with some bookmakers to go all the way in Sheffield, Judd must guard against complacency in the early rounds if he is to avoid a shock exit.
Without a win at the Crucible since his run to the quarter-finals back in 2000, I cannot see Dominic reversing that run against Judd twelve years on. While the match is likely to be closer than some might expect, over 19 frames I expect that Trump will ultimately outscore his opponent to book his place in the last 16. 10-7.
Check back tomorrow for part two of my tournament preview…