First Round Importance

robertsonLooking ahead to this afternoon’s second round match between Judd Trump and Ryan Day, it was interesting to note the amount of people tipping a victory for Ryan there, understandably so given the respective first round performances of both players.

But how important to a player’s title prospects is it for a player to start well in this tournament? I’ve had a look back through the archives to see how the eventual winners of the World Championship got on in their opening matches down the years and the results are interesting…

There have been many examples of tournaments down the years where players have had to come through tough early matches before coming through to lift the trophy, notably Ronnie O’Sullivan at the 2012 German Masters, when he hit back from 4-0 down to defeat Andrew Higginson at the last 32 stage, on his way to the title.

At the Crucible however there are fewer examples than you might expect. Indeed, since Stephen Hendry’s 10-8 victory against the late Paul Hunter back in 1999, only once has the defending champion lost more than five frames in the opening round, Ronnie O’Sullivan defeating Stephen Maguire 10-6 in 2004 on his way to world title number two.

Never has an eventual champion been pushed to a decider in their opening round match here at the Crucible and in recent years the opening round victories have been particularly large, O’Sullivan winning 10-4 during the last couple of seasons, while in 2006 Graeme Dott saw off former winner John Parrott 10-3.

Further back, current WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson was responsible for providing two of the closer first round tests for eventual champions, pushing Stephen Hendry and John Higgins to 10-8 in 1996 and 1998 respectively, while Mark Davis also took Doherty to an 18th frame in 1997 and long time BBC commentator did the same to John Virgo in 1988.


It is a different story for the runners up, Ali Carter and of course Ken Doherty back in 2003, among six who have managed to make it all the way to the final over the years following an opening round decider.

Does it mean anything? While it would be ridiculous to say that those who have struggled through in the opening round cannot win the title, it does certainly suggest that those who can make a strong, convincing start to the tournament, such as Neil Robertson this year, are best placed to challenge for the title come the end of the 17 days.

Whether this is because of the relative lack of mental energy expended compared to those who come through closer openers, or just purely because the one-sided scorelines are indicative of their inherent form, is open to question, but it will be interesting to see whether the likes of Selby and Murphy, who were pushed all the way in their opening matches, can go all the way this season.