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Up for grabs

Neal previews this year's Crucible showpiece

Neal Foulds Posted 19th April 2012 view comments

It seems a cliché to say that a tournament is wide open but this year's World Championships certainly is.

No player has won two events all season so it is difficult to gauge who the favourite is and a lot of people will have different names on their list.

It marks a bit of a change from the years when Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry dominated the game, and in more recent times when Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins were at their prime; those players' odds were very short.

Higgins: out-of-sorts Scot unlikely to reatin his crown, says Neal

Higgins: out-of-sorts Scot unlikely to reatin his crown, says Neal

Judd Trump is the bookies' preference but there are a lot of reasons why other players could start favourite, based on form and world rankings. I have a shortlist of about 10 who I think can genuinely win the event.

Expectation

There are a host of enthralling first-round matches and everyone chuckled when O'Sullivan and Peter Ebdon were drawn against each other.

John has a reasonable draw, but no-one has defended this title since Stephen Hendry in 1996. I may be sticking my neck on the line but I don't think Higgins is going to change that.

Neal Foulds
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It is a game that Ronnie, one of the major contenders for the title, wouldn't have wanted. The two men he doesn't enjoy playing are Ebdon and Mark Selby, due to their methodical styles.

The other fascinating clash is 17-year-old Luca Brecel, who will become the youngest player to feature at the World Championships, pitting his wits against Stephen Maguire.

If Brecel was playing O'Sullivan or Higgins there would be no expectation placed upon him but, playing Maguire, people will give him a chance.

I think it may be a bridge too far for the Belgian but he is a fascinating young man and certainly one for the future. He is a right-hander who can also play with his left, and has made 147 breaks in tournaments in his homeland.

I watched him early season in one or two matches and was quite disappointed, but I was very impressed by his maturity after seeing his qualifying games for this tournament.

Playing a tough match-player like Mark King is not easy and to beat him in a gruelling contest tells me Brecel has real mental fortitude.

Mature

I'm not sure we will see a qualifier repeat Judd Trump's feat of 2011 and make it all the way to the final, but I am intrigued to see how the clutch of young Chinese players get on.

Liu Chuang qualified back in 2008 and lost to O'Sullivan, but he was the guy to get nearest to Ronnie during the tournament. He has had a lean period since then and has taken a while to mature, but he is doing that now and his route through qualifying was impressive.

Cao Yupeng, who began in the first round of qualifying, is another one to keep an eye one. Both Chinese players have tough opening matches against Mark Williams and Mark Allen respectively but they are the qualifiers with the most scope.

Higgins, meanwhile, will be looking to defend his title but the signs don't look too good.

The lows and highs of last year, his six-month suspension and the death of his father followed by triumphs in the UK Championship, Welsh Open and at the Crucible, were always likely to leave him flat this season and so it has proved.

John has a reasonable draw, but no-one has defended this title since Hendry, who Higgins could meet in the second round, in 1996. I may be sticking my neck on the line but I don't think Higgins is going to change that.

Backing him would be going against all the stats and against current form, as he hasn't really looked like winning a tournament this season.

I don't think he will be the one, but my top three contenders are...

Judd Trump

You have to respect Trump. He has been a little bit quiet over the last couple of months but he reached the World final last year and has subsequently won the UK Championship, so his record in long-frame matches is there for all to see.

Neil Robertson

The Australian, who won the crown two years ago, would also be on my shortlist. He is just about the finished article now and believes he is a better player than when he won the tournament. He has played a lot of snooker this term and may not be the freshest, but he should be up there.

Mark Allen

This lad has a real chance and has gone up in people's estimations. He has a fiery style of play and won't shirk the battle if a match is not going his way. He enjoys being under the spotlight and is certainly capable of lifting the trophy in two-and-a-half weeks' time.

Intimate

The Crucible's history makes it such a stirring venue. We have been playing there for 35 years now and that coincided with people beginning to take a keen interest in snooker.

It's not perfect and you could argue that the arena could be a little bit bigger and hold more than 980 people, but the intimacy of the place adds something and anyone who has played there will tell you it's a great venue.

Young players can find it intimidating with the crowd right on top of you and breathing down your neck, but I love it and the Crucible has become an integral part of snooker. I'm expecting another cracking World Championships to be contested there this year.

Who do you think will win the 2012 World Snooker Championships? Lets us know using the feedback form below...

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