April 21st sees the beginning of the biggest event of the year for every snooker fan. Attention once again turns to Sheffield as the World Championship begins in the immense Crucible.
What starts as a 32-competitor draw becomes a marathon of skill and mental strength as players attempt to navigate their way to the Best of 35 frames final.
The favourite for the tournament is no surprise. Ronnie O’Sullivan is favourite for everything he enters. The most naturally talented player to pick up a cue in history is 2/1 to win a sixth world title.
O’Sullivan transcends the sport. The charismatic Brit will go down as one of the greats, if not the greatest player.
O’Sullivan belongs in the elite group of sportspeople of this century, alongside Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Lionel Messi. His success at major tournaments, though, has been short of relentless, as The Rocket has had to battle his own focus.
The Masters disappointed for Ronnie this season, thanks to a quarter-final exit. We have seen some of his best snooker this season, however. His victory in the UK Championship last year featured vintage O’Sullivan, a dangerous prospect for any opponent.
On his day, The Rocket is a cut above the rest of the field but evading an off day during two testing weeks is a big ask. I still like the 2/1 price.
The Jester from Leicester, Mark Selby, follows at 7/2 in the outright market. Selby is the reigning World Champion, let’s not forget, but has had an indifferent season.
He remains world number one, though, and will benefit from that in the draw. Selby can go toe-to-toe with O’Sullivan, as we’ve seen before. The concern will be if he can make it through the early challenges.
It looks a good price for a reigning champion. I think the 7/2 is on the short side, personally, particularly given Selby’s fortunes in the UK Championship, Masters and German Masters over the last few months.
World number four, Judd Trump, sits as leader of the chasing pack at 8/1. Trump’s talent is unquestionable. His attacking snooker makes him a joy to watch.
A last 32 exit from the World Championship last season frustratingly reflects a lot his career to date, however. Seven ranking titles is no mean feat, of course, but seldom has he replicated the heights of his 2011 run to the final at the Crucible.
Trump on form is a hard man to face. His potting is superb, and he has the potential to take a match away from you in one session. That makes the 8/1 price tempting, at least, even if he’s still got plenty to prove on the biggest stage.
Slightly surprisingly, the man ranked third in the world, Ding Junhui, is way out at 14/1. Inconsistency is the issue for Ding, who has not made the last four of a major event this season.
The last of his 13 ranking wins came in 2016. While the odds seem long for such a household name, his struggles of late make him a hard guy to back.
I find it tricky to see past an O’Sullivan versus Selby final. Upsets are possible, of course, but it would take a real hot streak from someone in the middle of the field. If the odds on that pair are a bit short, the veteran John Higgins at 11/1 might be worthwhile after his run to the semi-final at the Masters.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*