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Snooker: Crucible field has plenty of contenders

The World Snooker Championship is one of the spring's sporting highlights and it is finally upon us, with a 32-strong field all chasing the same dream at the Crucible Theatre.

There are going to be thrills and spills aplenty over the course of the next two weeks as the sport's leading lights come together to put on a show in Sheffield, which has been the venue for this event since 1977.

After ten days of qualifying, the final field and first-round draw is now known to us and action gets under way on Saturday, with defending champion Mark Selby bringing up the curtain on the event against Welshman Jamie Jones.

Selby defeated Shaun Murphy 18-15 in a dramatic final to clinch his fourth world title last year, while Ronnie O'Sullivan was crowned champion for a sixth time in 2020 with an 18-8 victory over Kyren Wilson.

Other world champions in the star-studded line-up include Murphy, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Judd Trump and Stuart Bingham.

Among the 16 qualifiers are star names like Ding Junhui, Dave Gilbert and Stephen Maguire, while there are three Crucible debutants in Ashley Hugill, Hossein Vafaei and Jackson Page.

Most Crucible World Championship titles

NameNo. of titlesYears
Stephen Hendry71990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999
Ronnie O'Sullivan62001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020
John Higgins41998, 2007, 2009, 2011
Mark Selby42014, 2016, 2017, 2021
Mark Williams32000, 2003, 2018

Reasons to oppose snooker's fantastic four

Robertson, O'Sullivan, Trump and Selby dominate the betting and many will expect one of that brilliant quartet to be crowned champion on May 2nd.

Those four names rightly spearhead the betting and if at their best would take some stopping, but there has to be a strong chance neither will be.

Robbo has been snooker's standout performer this season and is 7/2 favourite to take to the title after landing three big titles at the Players Championship, Tour Championship and the Masters.

That Tour Championship form in March is strong, as he recorded best-of-19 wins over Mark Allen, O'Sullivan and Higgins. The Aussie ace also has a decent draw to work with, opening up debutant Hugill, before a likely second-round showdown with Jack Lisowski or Matthew Stevens.

However, legendary Scot Higgins is housed in his quarter of the draw and his poor Crucible record is a niggling doubt.

Since winning the event in 2010, Robertson has failed to make a World Championship final, going beyond the quarters only once in the last 11 years.

That leaves the left-hander with something to prove and there must also be some concern about Selby, who is 8/1 to defend his title, but who has endured a tough year on and off the table.

Trump not firing on all cylinders

Trump, champion in 2019, is 9/2 for the title and will also have his supporters.

However, he has been wildly inconsistent during this campaign and is prone to a bad session in Sheffield, which could cost him dearly.

He looked well below-par when losing 10-6 to Luca Brecel in the Tour Championship at the end of March and he faces a tricky opener against Vafaei, while Crucible specialist Wilson is also in his quarter of the draw.

O'Sullivan has also had an excellent season and is 5/1 to reproduce his Sheffield heroics of two years ago.

However, an opening-round clash with Gilbert is thwarted with danger and 17 days is an awfully long time for the Rocket to stay fully focused.

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Williams may have another big success in him

There are six Welsh players represented at this year's snooker World Championships and they are spearheaded by three-time world champion Williams.

The 47-year-old won his third world title in 2018 and, although a beaten quarter-finalist in each of the last two years, there are reasons to believe he could have another big win in him.

Williams is seventh on the one-year rankings list and he was unfortunate to suffer a 10-9 defeat to old foe O'Sullivan at the Tour Championship last month.

However, that indicated that the Welshman was in decent nick and another two weeks to fine-tune his game should ensure he is spot on for another crack at the Crucible and reports suggest he is extremely happy with his well-being.

The 47-year-old may have also landed in the softest quarter of the draw with defending champion Selby, who is 24th on the one-year rankings list, potentially rusty after not playing in a competitive event since the Welsh Open at the beginning of March.

Williams opens up against compatriot Michael White, before a potential second-round clash with Barry Hawkins or debutant Page.

That gives him excellent credentials to at least make the semi-finals and at 28/1 he looks a lively outsider. He is 4/1 to win that first quarter at the expense of Selby.

Higgins may have one last hurrah

Another member of the Class of 92, Higgins, should also not be discounted in his pursuit of a fifth World Championship title.

The Scot tends to peak for Sheffield's spring showpiece and many may be doubting if he can win another world title after losing in three consecutive finals between 2017 and 2019.

However, time and time again Higgins comes back from a knock down and, even after finishing runner-up five times this season, should not be ruled out at 10/1.

The Wizard of Wishaw has arguably been more consistent this season than he has for some time and he showed at the recent Tour Championship - where he beat Zhao Xintong 10-9 and Luca Brecel 10-7, before losing in a final-frame decider to Robertson - that long format matches are his forte.

He is very much a Crucible specialist and has the draw to prosper, with an opening game against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh before a potential second-round clash with Brecel.

Robertson could be waiting in the quarter-finals, but he outplayed him for much of the Tour Championship final - he had led 9-4 - and the Aussie can underwhelm in this event.

O'Sullivan may be lurking in the semi-finals, but Higgins has had the Rocket's measure in recent times, winning six of their last seven meetings. The Scot is 5/1 to make a sixth final of his campaign.

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