Betfred World Championship 2009: Tournament Preview – Part Three

Part three of my Betfred World Championship preview and we are up to what is, for me, the most interesting section of the whole draw as Stephen Hendry, Shaun Murphy, Marco Fu and Ding Junhui have all drawn tough qualifiers…

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.

To view the previous parts of this preview, please click here:


Match Nine: Shaun Murphy (3) vs Andrew Higginson (38)

2005 world champion Shaun Murphy will be hoping to go further than last year when he fell at the last 16 stage, and this season gets his campaign underway with a potentially tricky tie with debutant Andrew Higginson.

Head to Head

No advantages to be had here, this will be their first meeting, 0-0.

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


  • N/A

Season So Far

The first half of the season was something of a disaster for Shaun as he lost his opening four ranking event matches of the season, but by winning the UK Championship in Telford for the first time he more than made up for this. Since then, although he has not been able to add another title to his CV, he has at least cut out the early exits and made the quarter-finals of both the Welsh and China Open.

For Andrew Higginson this was always going to be a big season, with his ranking points for that amazing run to the Welsh final in 2007 due to come off. Thankfully for him after a poor 2007/8 campaign though, he has risen to the challenge and had a strong year, qualifying for the TV stages in four events, including the biggest three of all – the Grand Prix, the UK and of course the World Championship.

Why Shaun Will Win


As the second youngest player ever to win the World Championship back in 2005 and a semi-finalist two years later, Shaun has already racked up a lot of experience at the Crucible Theatre and knows how to win there. Against an opponent such as Andrew who has not experienced the venue before, this could be a big advantage and allow him to build up a lead early on.

Even if Andrew does settle, he could have a hard job containing a player who has enjoyed some strong results recently and will be determined to make up for what was an absolute hammering last season against eventual finalist Ali Carter in the last 16. He might have lost the element of surprise that helped him to the trophy in 2005 but his all-round game is arguably stronger now, and he should be more than able to compete in both the break-building and safety departments.

Why Andrew Will Win

Having finally qualified for the Crucible Theatre after over a decade of trying, Andrew has said that you will not see him in Sheffield with a sad face and it might just be this that helps him. Having had such a strong season, he will come into this tournament knowing that he will remain inside the top 48 next season and to some extent can relax and give it a real go against Shaun.

Though he might not have been able to repeat the heroics of Newport in front of the cameras since, Andrew is still a very good player and when I saw him dismantle Anthony Hamilton during the UK Championship qualifiers in December, I could see why he has been able to beat the players that he has. Furthermore when his tournament runs have come to an end, invariably they have been against strong players, for example Mark Selby in both the last 32 of the Northern Ireland Trophy and the Grand Prix, as well as a determined Peter Ebdon in the UK in Telford.

If he can settle down, play his natural game and keep close to Shaun after the first session then the pressure will be right on the 2005 champion and this could give Higginson a chance.

My Prediction

This is a very interesting match-up, one that I can see going one of two ways, either Higginson getting off to a good start and perhaps edging a shock win, or Murphy getting off to a flier (like he did last year in defeating Dave Harold 10-3), and running away with it. Ultimately though I don’t think that Shaun has been at the top of his game this season, I expect him to come through relatively comfortably and move into the last 16. Let’s say a 10-6 scoreline in favour of the former champion.

Match Ten: Marco Fu (14) vs Joe Swail (20)

Well what a tie this promises to be as two former semi-finalists at the Crucible collide in the last 32, having both made a ranking event final this season too…

Head to Head

Surprisingly, Marco and Joe have met just twice in professional competition and their head to head currently stands at 1-1. First blood went to Joe, who recorded a whitewash in the last 32 of the Thailand Masters seven seasons ago, whilst Marco gained some revenge with a 5-1 win in their Malta Cup group match last season.

Marco also has a couple of minor wins over Joe….he won their single frame in the China-Northern Ireland Nations Cup clash in 2000, and teamed up with Da Hai Lin to beat Swail and Terry Murphy in the same match.

Crucible History


  • 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


  • 1993 – R32, lost 10-4 to Jimmy White
  • 1995 – R16, lost 13-11 to John Parrott
  • 1998 – R32 lost 10-5 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2000 – SF, lost 17-12 to Matthew Stevens
  • 2001 – SF, lost 17-11 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2002 – R32, lost 10-6 to Joe Perry
  • 2003 – R32, lost 10-8 to Tony Drago
  • 2004 – R16, lost 13-11 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-5 to Matthew Stevens
  • 2007 – R16, lost 13-8 to Stephen Maguire
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-12 to Liang Wenbo

Season So Far

It is a measure of how highly I rate Marco that I do not think he has often played at his brilliant best this season, yet he has reached one final, two quarter-finals and is up to a career-high 7th on the provisional list! Like John Higgins in many ways, crucially he has been able to win matches when not quite at his fluent best and this has ensured that he is capable of beating anyone – just ask Ronnie O’Sullivan.

For Joe Swail it has been a season of two halves, as up until the UK Championship he was unable to win a single match, sliding down the rankings as a result. Following a last 48 victory over Liang Wenbo at the EIS in December though, things have turned around dramatically as he went on reach his first ranking event final at the Welsh Open in February.

Why Marco Will Win


At his best Marco is a fluent break-builder (eighth on the all-time list with 167 tons) who is more than capable of beating any other player in the world.

As I have alluded to above however, Marco is also one of the very best match players in the sport right now, no doubt in part due to the excellent coaching he receives from former world champion Terry Griffiths. A recent example of this was course is the final of the UK Championship final last December where, despite appearing to struggle for much of the match, his strong safety game and excellent temperament took the match to a deciding frame. No matter how poorly he is playing, emotionally he rarely gives anything away and this is something that must unsettle his opponents to some degree and allow him to take the opportunities that he is given.

Having reached the semi-finals at the Crucible back in 2006 with some excellent victories over Ken Doherty, Stephen Maguire and Alan McManus, he also has the experience of running deep into the tournament and knows what to expect out there. He was unfortunate last year to lose out to Ding Junhui in the first round and I think is more than capable of making up for that this time around.

Why Joe Will Win

While Marco does have a fair amount of Crucible experience, his opponent Joe Swail is not short of a bit either! Most famously of course he reached the semi-finals in 2000 and 2001, but he has also reached the last 16 on four further occasions and will be looking to improve on that against Marco.

While Joe did seem to suffer something of a hangover from that defeat to Liang Wenbo at the Crucible last season, by gaining revenge in the UK Championship and then going all the way to the final in Newport he is now very much over that! He may have only reached the last 48 in China but with that final still fresh in the memory and having recorded a comprehensive 10-1 win over Matt Couch to qualify, he should come into the event full of confidence and ready to cause an upset yet again.

As I have said above, Marco has had a good season resultswise and is an excellent match player, but if he is not firing on all cylinders then I would say that Joe is a player capable of capitalising on this. He might have suffered more than his fair share of heartbreak during his career but he is strong when it matters and if he performs to somewhere near his best level, should make this a really tight match.

My Prediction

This is going to be one of my more daring predictions but, despite Marco’s strong all-round game and superior season, I would still not be surprised to see Joe write another chapter into his already eventful story at the Crucible. As a result I’m going to go for Joe and seeing as he never makes it easy for himself, I have to say 10-9!

Match Eleven: Ding Junhui (11) vs Liang Wenbo (40)

In many ways it is a shame that of China’s two leading lights, only one will be able to progress beyond the first round as Ding and Liang meet early this season. What it does give us though is a fascinating clash and one that will see just a few people watching back in China. A few million that is.

Head to Head

Of this season’s round one meetings, this has been one of the more one-sided fixtures historically as in their previous three competitive meetings, Ding has emerged as the winner on each occasion. As well as two victories in the Chinese national championship (unknown scores) recently, Ding also won the gold medal at the 2006 Asian games by beating Liang in the final, 4-2 in Doha. As a result Ding leads their personal battle 3-0.

Crucible History


  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-2 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-7 to Stephen Hendry


  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-7 to Ronnie O’Sullivan

Season So Far

Following a below-par 2007/8, Ding has not managed to turn it around so far this season as in the seven ranking events staged so far, he has failed to reach a semi-final, extending a streak that goes all the way back to his victory in the 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy. He has fared better in the non-ranking events such as the World Series and the Championship League, but apart from a famous 147 at the UK Championship and a quarter-final run in the Grand Prix, there has been very little to celebrate otherwise.

Liang meanwhile has failed to quite make the impact that he did at the Crucible last year when he reached the quarter-finals, but nevertheless has enjoyed a strong season, losing just one first-round match and accumulating enough points to move safely inside the top 32. The high point of his season undoubtedly came in qualifying for the Bahrain Championship when he produced an amazing display to see off Martin Gould with four centuries, including his first 147 and two of 139.

Why Ding Will Win

Though Ding has struggled to find his very best form when it really matters this season, the fact remains that he is a hugely talented individual who just a couple of years ago appeared to have the snooker world at his feet. That talent can not just have disappeared and if he can relax and enjoy the occasion, he is capable of beating anybody and I think should prove too strong for Liang.

Whether this will work in his favour I am not so sure to be honest, but following two seasons of disappointment, he comes to Sheffield having not secured his top 16 place for next season, indeed he currently stands 15th on the very latest list. This added pressure could prove problematic, but it could also make him even more determined to work at his game in the run-up to the tournament and ensure that he comes into the match fully prepared.

Last season he was not in quite as much trouble in the rankings but his form was similarly disappointing and he managed to hold himself together well to edge past Marco Fu in a deciding frame. If he can do it once, he can certainly do it again.

Why Liang Will Win

Having reached the quarter-finals on his debut last season, the ultra-attacking Liang Wenbo showed that he is not scared of anything and can win at the Crucible despite his lack of experience. Although he has not quite managed to repeat his debut run since, he has shown flashes of brilliance, consistently won matches and remains capable of blowing anybody away with his sensational long-game.

Though it is of course his long-game and his aggressive style that he is well-known for, in his last two TV matches against Dominic Dale and Robert Milkins he has appeared to play a bit more safety, something that despite losing these matches will surely help him in the long-run.

Also in Liang’s favour is that he comes to the Crucible having already secured a place in the top 32 next season, a significant improvement from his current position of 40. With the pressure off him to some extent and instead right on Ding (who not only will be expected to win as the higher seed but also might have to win the stay in the top 16), there could be a real opportunity to cause an upset. Ding has not exactly handled pressure well over the last couple of seasons and, as has been well documented, appears to lose interest if he falls behind.

My Prediction

Having said all of that, you could be forgiven for expecting me to predict a Wenbo victory and I would certainly not rule that out if he can put pressure on his more experienced opponent early. Despite Ding having endured some disappointing losses this season though, he still has the superior all-round game to Liang and for me should come through. I’ll go for 10-7, though if Liang can get off to a good start, I’m not sure that Ding would be able to recover.

Match Twelve: Stephen Hendry (6) vs Mark Williams (22)

On paper this is surely the tie of the round as two legends of the sport collide at the Crucible. Though they are of course great friends off the table, this will be put aside as they bid for a place in the last 16 in the World Championship.

Head to Head

Where to start with this one! Well the best place is probably with their overall record which sees Stephen hold a narrow advantage as he leads 18-15 (plus four draws).

Hendry leads 11-9 in ranking events (2-1 at the Crucible), 4-1 in Premier League clashes, 3-1 in minor (best of 3 or less) events and 3-2 on “other” invitationals. Williams leads 3-0 in Masters encounters. Century wise, Hendry leads 35-13.

They first met in the last 64 of the 1994 UK, with Hendry hitting 3 tons on the way to a 9-8 win; Williams took him to a decider the next time they met, two seasons later in the Thailand Open last 32.

Since then, there’s been little between them over 39 meetings(!), here are a few of the more memorable ones: Williams picked the 1997 British Open final to beat Hendry for the first time, an emphatic 9-2 win; Hendry won 13-8 at the Crucible later that season; Williams won the 1998 Masters on the black in the decider….against Hendry; Hendry won a 7th world title with an 18-11 win over Williams in 1999 after Williams had beaten him 3 times that season, including an epic Welsh Open final, 9-8; Hendry won the 1999 Champions Cup with a 7-5 win over Williams in the final; Williams won the Thailand Masters later that season with a 9-5 win over the world champion in the final; Hendry hit a maximum on the way to crushing Williams 7-1 in the 2001 Malta GP final; Williams swamped Hendry 10-4 in the 2003 Masters final and 13-7 in the Crucible quarter finals to avenge a 4-ton blitz by Hendry in the Welsh Open final.

Since then, as they both hit a rankings slide, Hendry has won their two biggest clashes, both in the last 16 of the UK: 9-3 in 2005 & 9-6 in 2006. Most recently, they recorded a 4th career draw in group 2 of this seasons Championship League.

Crucible History


  • 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


  • 1997 – R16, lost 13-8 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1998 – SF, lost 17-14 to Ken Doherty
  • 1999 – F, lost 18-11 to Stephen Hendry
  • 2000 – WINNER, defeated Matthew Stevens 18-16
  • 2001 – R16, lost 13-12 to Joe Swail
  • 2002 – R16, lost 13-9 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2003 – WINNER, defeated Ken Doherty 18-16
  • 2004 – R16 lost 13-11 to Joe Perry
  • 2005 – R16 lost 13-12 to Ian McCulloch
  • 2006 – QF, lost 13-11 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-9 to Joe Swail
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-7 to Ronnie O’Sullivan

Season So Far

Stephen has by his standards had a poor season, losing his opening match in four of the seven ranking events played this season and slipping down to 11th place in the latest rankings as a result. The highlights have been runs to the semi-finals in Bahrain (where he played some exceptional snooker to get there), as well as a run to the quarter-finals in China recently which has probably ensured that he will maintain his unbroken spell in the top 16 for another year.

Mark meanwhile has had a good, if not great season, reaching the quarter-finals in both the UK Championship and the Shanghai Masters, as well as qualifying for this tournament with an impressive victory over Tom Ford. He has lost three of his round one matches, including a shock reversal to Simon Bedford at the Grand Prix, but on the whole he has done a good job and should be back in the top 16 for next season.

Why Stephen Will Win


While both of these players are two of the finest to ever have picked up a cue, as both have began to struggle in the last two or three years, it is Stephen who has generally been able to maintain a higher standard, keeping his place in the top 16 without too much trouble until now. In addition he has also won their two biggests matches recently, both in the last 16 of the UK Championship with big ranking points on the line like here.

His form has not been good this season, but in his defence he has had some tricky draws for a player struggling to get a run together, for example drawing the experienced Stephen Lee twice, Neil Robertson once and John Higgins in the Grand Prix. Also since the 2008 Masters, Stephen has lost to the eventual winner in eight of the thirteen WSA tournaments he has competed in, so he has been unfortunate to come up against some in-form opponents. Mark is another, but despite his own improved form, he is not quite back to his very best yet and this match could give Stephen the lift that he has needed.

One good run that he has had recently came in the China Open where he made the quarter-finals before losing out to eventual winner Peter Ebdon. As well as giving him a slight confidence boost, more importantly this should secure his place in the top 16 for next season and take some off the pressure off his shoulders at the Crucible. As I have said a few times, sometimes the pressure can drive a player on to produce something special, but in Sheffield there is enough pressure as it is without having the rankings to worry about!

Indeed what might also help Stephen is the fact that given Mark’s superior form this season, many snooker fans and experts are anticipating an upset here and some are even writing Stephen off. This will probably suit Stephen and give him even greater motivation than ever to put one over a guy who although he is great friends with, he loves to wind up too. Whoever wins you can bet that there will be a few text messages sent between the two over the summer…

Why Mark Will Win

Following a poor couple of seasons Mark has turned something of a corner this year, upping his practice time and starting to string a few wins together. He might not have any trophies or the final appearances to show for it, but he has won the majority of his qualifying matches and by making a couple of quarter-finals, should have secured a return to the top 16 again, like Stepen reducing some of the pressure.

While he can be reasonably happy with his own game, having watched Stephen struggle for much of the season he will no doubt fancy his chances of putting one over his close friend. Hendry at times has looked a shadow of his former self, struggling to string centuries together (just the ten this season) and looking devoid of any sort of confidence. While Mark might not be quite at his 2003 best, this will surely give him confidence and it might just be that this is the week where he announces his return to the top flight. Having tipped him to do well in China it would be typical!

One thing that could help Mark here is that as well as score heavily, throughout his career he has also been brilliant at winning the scrappy frames, while Stephen would much prefer to be in amongst the reds and making big breaks. He has admittedly improved in that area over the last few seasons but I would still give Mark the edge in those and they could be the frames that turn the match in his favour.

Added to that if his long game is as strong as it has been for much of his career and he is floating the balls in as confidently as he was during his qualifying match against Tom Ford, then he has more than enough in his locker to give Stephen a lot to think about.

My Prediction

Can I just skip this one? No? Ok. Well yet again this is a match that could go either way. Both players might not be at their best right now but you just know how good they were, how good they can still be and, with all that is at stake here, can’t help but expect something special between the two once again.

I’ll just give Mark the edge and go for a 10-8 win on the basis that I think he will steal more of the scrappy frames, but I could just as easily see it going the other way if Stephen can score heavily…