|The Fountain||#14, April 13th 1998|
World Championship Preview
Once again the World Championships are upon us, and this year we have a feast of snooker entertainment to look forward to. We have the strange situation of the four top form players being drawn in the same half (O'Sullivan, Hendry, Parrott, Higgins). This came about because Ken Doherty is seeded number one. In effect this means only one of the top four players in the world can make it to the final. This also weakens the top half of the draw.
For those of you who have never paid a visit to Sheffield's Crucible Theatre where the world championships are held, I am sure the image you get by watching on television is of a huge arena with thousands of seats. This is not the case. It appears much bigger than it actually is. In fact for it's title of the 'home of snooker' it is really quite small. However because the audience are seated so close to the tables it is quite nerve racking for the players who are experiencing it for the first time. The place reeks of nostalgia, matches which live on in the memory of every snooker fan, the Thorburn 147, the Higgins 81 victory, the Taylor- Davis final black and of course there are many more. Players either thrive or die in this arena of dreams. It is the single most wished for venue for any budding professional. The trouble is many arrive with great expectations only to leave empty handed.
This year I thought I would try to pick out winners from each of the first round matches and then try to forcast the outright winner, although it is becoming harder each year as the quality from the lower ranks keeps breaking more and more in to the top flight.
Ken Doherty V Lee Walker
Ken Doherty, last year's champion, faces a reasonably hard first rounder against a suprise quarter finalist last year, Lee Walker. It is obvious from last year that Lee loves the Crucible atmosphere and Ken will I am sure remember this and give Lee the respect he deserves. However Lee has not maintained his form through this season so was it just a flash in the pan? Ken on the other hand has not had the best of seasons either, although his showing in the British Open went some way to restore some of his confidence, however I think Ken should win by a 10-4 or 10-5 scoreline.
Stephen Lee V Andy Hicks
Steve is a great lad who is a far better player than many people realise. For points scored this season up to the British open he is the fifth highest ranked player. In fact the only players to score more than him are Hendry, Higgins, O'Sullivan and Parrott. Andy Hicks on the other hand has dropped down the rankings. Andy showed great promise earlier in his career and in fact was a semi finalist at the Crucible. However on form Lee should win comfortably although Andy can beat anyone on his day so Lee will have to be careful. This could go all the way but I think Lee should get over the line ok.
Alain Robidoux V Matthew Stevens
This is a hard one. On one hand we have the experience of the loveable Canadian Alain (and of course class too!), on the other we have one of my favourite young players, who is gifted with such a lovely touch. Alain has had a terrible season and has looked out of salts. In fact he has done nothing this season to suggest he could cope with one of the best young potters in the business. Stevens is coming along nicely but I do wonder if he just could do with a bit more of a killer instinct. If this young man gets in to his stride then he will take a lot of stopping. Alain will be very tough to beat here and he knows he needs a good championship to stop his slide down the rankings, so this match could go either way but because I like the more attacking style of Stevens I think he will win through 10-7 or 10-8.
A match very close to my heart. Mark has continued an upward climb in the rankings this season as in every since he turned pro. He has been a lot more consistent this season and is very capable. He still has one of the best long games around and is learning more all the time. Nigel has not had a very good time of late and is in need of a good world's to put his season right, he is a solid performer who never puts on a bad show. On current form Mark should win but that may depend if he gets fired up. If he does then he will win by a fair margin if not it could go either way. Call me an old softy but I have to give Mark my vote as he is still on the way up.
Peter Ebdon V Terry Murphy
I suppose the bookies will make Ebdon a clear favourite here even though he has had a terrible season. Peter has been his own worst enemy this season and has allowed a flood of doubts to enter his mind, even changing his cue at one point. I have seen players self destruct like this before. The truth is Peter is the same player now as he was when he was world number three, and a tournament winner, but he has to start believing in himself again. Terry is a little known player to the general public but he is a real cueman. He works hard and will I am sure break in to the top flight soon. He has not done as well as he might but many of the younger players seem to at last be showing the kind of form many thought they would when the game opened up. I am sure Peter will win this one but how much further he can go will depend on how far he thinks he can!
James Wattana V Fergal O'Brien
As each season passes James seems to be more and more detached from snooker. Maybe it is his incredible wealth which is dampening his desire to win. The world championships may still hold some challenge for him, if he can turn it on in any tournament this should be the one. Fergal is a lovely lad who tries his boots off, so solid he is like the rock of Gibralter, entertaining he is not, but hard to beat he is. Fergal's style of play does not appeal to me and I cannot believe that Wattana will get frustrated by his slow methodical play, so I go for Wattana but it could be close.
Steve Davis V Simon Bedford
I know very little of Simon Bedford, being the only player I have not seen play in the Crucible field, but, to be at the Crucible you have to be pretty good! However Steve is still a wiley character and he will do well to beat the six times champion at his first attempt, the only thing he has in his favour is the element of surprise. Davis gets my vote 10-3 or 10-4.
Mark J Williams V Quinten Hann
Mark Williams is for me one of the most down to earth player on the circuit. He has never allowed fame to change him or his game and this is all to his credit. He still goes for all of his shots and this will always make him a great player and a crowd favourite. Quinten Hann is a player I know well, without any doubt he is a class act and does with no doubt posess the talent to one day be a world champion. Wether he posesses the discipline and determination, well, we will have to wait and see. For me his temperament has always been questionable. If he is right in the head then he can beat anyone. I know this may seem crazy but although my head tells me Mark will win, my heart says Quinten can do it. This should be a great match and I am going to stick my neck out here and tip Quinno to win (but don't bet your shirt on it).
John Higgins V Jason Ferguson
I bet if John Higgins could have picked his own first round opponent I think Jason may just have been it. No disrespect to Jason as he is a good player. However Jason Ferguson is not in the same class as Higgins and unlike a rookie player he has been around a while so Higgins knows his game. No suprises here. Higgins should win by a knockout in three (whoops sorry wrong sport), probably 10-3 or 10-4.
I have been dreading picking a winner here, because the form makes Hamilton a clear favourite, with his ultra smooth Frank Callan trained cuemanship etc. But Harold is a real ogre of a player who can dominate and intimidate an opponent. He has not done much since winning the Asian some time ago but is still a great player waiting to re-emerge. Hamilton seems too nice to win a tournament so I find it hard to back him, but he is a class performer no mistake, but just so nice. So again I stick my neck out here and go for Harold (unless someone makes Anthony Angry:)).
Tony Drago V Alfie Burden
Drago is a bit below par this season so far, but who knows maybe this is the year for the Maltese Falcon. He has the shots but can he keep it together? His opponent Alfie Burden is a little terrier of a player who equally goes for his shots. It should be a very open affair but I think Drago will blow little Alfie away 10-6 or 10-7.
John Parrott V Peter Lines
John Parrott is one of the most consistent players who seems to have been around forever. He has stayed up there even with the new kids on the block, a star performer who always gives a great show. His opponent Peter Lines used to be a good amateur who has never seemed to perform on the pro circuit. I think his Crucible debut wil be short lived. Verdict Parrott 10-3 or 10-4.
Alan McManus V David Gray
Alan is another solid performer who just when you think he is slipping down the rankings goes and wins something. Alan could do with a good worlds as his season is been a little below par by his standards. His opponent David Gray should be a star himself one day if he carries into the pro game what he acheived as an amateur. However this may be a bit of a goliath task for him to upset Macca's first round. I still do not feel this will be all one way traffic, and Macca should beware as we all know what David did to goliath. Verdict McManus 10-7 or 10-8.
Darren Morgan V Jason Prince
Darren has had a terrible run of late and he is certainly in the doldrums. I feel for him as he tries very hard and is a bit of a character on and off the table. His opponent has been around for a long time and if he was going to achieve anything you would think he would have done it by now. Even playing below his best I still think Darren has too many gears for Prince. Verdict Morgan 10-4 or 10-5.
Ronnie 'O' V Joe Swail
Ronnie is in tremendous form this season and I feel Joe would have a mountain to climb to beat him here. Ronnie is too consistent of late. Joe has showed a lot of talent in seasons past but I feel he has to re-apply himself before it is too late. Ronnie should win comfortably 10-4 or 10-5
Jimmy white will beat Stephen Hendry 10-9 on the black! Well this is the fairy tale which many snooker fans would love to see, but it is not going to happen. Poor old Jimmy, just when he thought it could not get any worse he draws Hendry in the first round. Of course he has a chance, not much of one but he has one none the less. I know many people think it is a shame about Jimmy, but as much as they and me would love to see Jimmy win the worlds, I think he has left it too late. To make matters even worse Hendry has got his form back just in time for the annual trek to Sheffield. Jimmy on the other hand is talking yet again about another comeback. Verdict Hendry 10-2 or 10-3.
Well that is it. Now I know I have probably got them all wrong so please do not write to me complaining if you lose bets on my tips, or if I have not tipped your favourite player! Snooker is so open at the moment that there are no guaranteed winners in any match.
My outright winner tip this year is the same as last, Ronnie O'Sullivan. I think he has ridden the storm and now is starting to produce the consistency that could make him the man to beat. It all depends on the quarter finals. If Ronnie and Hendry win their first two matches, then the winner here should be champion. Hendry has just come back to form in time it seems. However given that Ronnie has beaten him the last four times I think he now has the edge, but it will be close. Of course the winner has to still get past the current leading points scorer this season John Higgins. This will not be easy, any one of these three could make it through and be a great champion. Such is the depth of talent at present.
Former Champ John Parrott is one of the players who are always there or abouts. He is a great entertainer and a great player. He does have a chance but he will have to be at his best.
Last year's champion, Ken Doherty, has a great draw as he does not have to face any of the top four points earners this season until the final, having said that there are some good players in his half of the draw. I feel he is a good each way bet and should reach the final. One man who could stop him is Mark Williams. If he is on song not many could stop him but wether he can keep up consistency over such long frame matches remains to be seen.
Here are the obvious favourites
The winner should come from those four but if you like an outsider try these ...
Mark Williams. Has the game and the temperament, but maybe a bit too open for the longer matches. Worth an each way bet.
Wattana. If this guy wakes up he could wipe the floor with anyone (always a dangerman).
Quinten Hann. The 'Aussie Posse', a class performer who if he doesn't beat himself can beat anyone. If he wins his first match who knows?
Mark King. When flowing has one of the best long games. Underrated by the bookies, still maybe too inconsistent to go too far in this one.
Parrott. Never write him off. He can still do it.
Stephen Lee. A solid performer who will do his best, but maybe not yet a tournament winner.
Matthew Stevens. Lovely touch game and superb potter. This lad could be world champ one day. Maybe needs a bit more agression.
Well that is it. Now we just have to sit back and see who will be picking up that lovely trophy and cheque a month from now. However I am sure that Ken Doherty will tell you it is not the cheque or the trophy which mean the most. It is the title of 'World Champion' which means more than anything.
Richard Fountain (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Fountain is a column written by Richard Fountain from England. He is an ex snooker coach and used to be the manager of Mark King. He will be writing to you throughout the snooker year and will try to give you all the inside info on this great game. Please feel free to write him <email@example.com> with any questions you may have.
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