Richard Mann provides a profile of the top 16 players ahead of the World Championship, which begins in Sheffield on Saturday.
The reigning world champion and ironman of snooker. Out of sorts for most of the season but seemingly comes alive when Sheffield approaches and he looked in ominously good nick when winning the China Open recently. Has lifted the Crucible crown in three of the last four years and seemingly approaching peak form once more, he could take some stopping again with his side of the draw appearing favourable.
The greatest player to ever grace the green baize and still the most popular figure in the sport. Five times a winner of this great event, he has enjoyed some memorable moments in front of the Crucible crown and his magnificent 147 against Mick Price in 1997 lives long in the memory. Even at the age of 42, he remains as hungry as ever – five ranking titles so far this season a clear illustration of that.
The hope of Chinese snooker and he remains one of the top players in the game. Won the World Open earlier in the season before bouncing back from a quiet spell when reaching the final of the World Grand Prix. Has looked in decent nick since and having knocked hard on the Crucible door in the last few years, could this be his year? Don't count against it.
The apparent heir to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s throne but he is still without a World Championship title despite making the final in 2011 and the semi-finals in both 2013 and 2015. This season has been typical Trump; brilliant on the way to his European Masters success but frustrating when losing semi-finals in the Masters in London and the recent Players Championship. Pots balls off the lampshades and always a big threat to all.
One of the greats of the game and four-times a world champion. Hadn’t made a Crucible final since his victory in 2011 until proving that he remains a major force when pushing Mark Selby close last year. Has enjoyed another solid season, the highlight when winning a fifth Welsh Open, and with the longer matches in Sheffield playing to his strengths, don’t underestimate the Wizard of Wishaw.
Despite never managing to lift the world title, Hawkins has made snooker's blue riband one of his favourite events. Runs to the semi-finals stage in three of the last four years have seen the left-hander produce some of his best snooker in Sheffield and having struggled earlier in the campaign, there have been clear signs in recent weeks that he is gearing up for another bold show.
As well the success enjoyed by O'Sullivan and Higgins this season, the resurgence of Mark Williams, another of the older generation, has been one of the big stories. Twice a winner here earlier in his career, Williams had found such riches harder to come by in recent times, but his endeavour has been rewarded with a couple of ranking title victories this season and he cannot be underestimated.
Shaun Murphy became only the third qualifier to be crowned world champion when beating Matthew Stevens in the 2005 final. Murphy quickly established himself as one of the game’s leading performers thereafter and has since added numerous titles his impressive CV. This current campaign has been another good one for one of the most consistent performers on the tour, but a recurrence of an old neck injury has troubled him in recent weeks and he crashed out of the China Open in the first round.
Kyren Wilson has been one of the talking horses of the last few years and is now beginning to deliver on his immense potential. Wilson has enjoyed a strong season, highlighted with his runner-up finish in the Masters, and more importantly, he has already demonstrated a liking for the Crucible Theatre. It took a brilliant John Higgins and a broken tip to halt his charge last year, though he will need to tighten up his cue-ball control if he is to better that quarter-finals finish.
2010 world champion Neil Robertson has found his very best form harder to come by of late but he remains a huge talent and has given notice more recently that he is approaching his peak. Robertson lifted the Scottish Open in December and played really well when reaching the semi-finals of the China Open earlier in this month. The Australian scored heavily all week there, an ominous sign if he can back it up.
This season is one Marco Fu will want to forget. The Hong Kong cueist has been dogged by an eye injury, missing numerous events, and it was widely expected that he would skip the Crucible as he continues his recovery. A quarter-finalist here last year, it will be lovely to see Fu back on the big stage but a lack of results and game-time suggests he could struggle.
Stuart Bingham enjoyed his finest hour as a professional snooker player at the Crucible, when defeating Shaun Murphy in 2015 to become world champion, completing a remarkable double having won the Amateur World Snooker Championship back in 1996. Bingham has remained one of the biggest hitters in the game since and played some fine snooker when making the final of the Romanian Masters in March.
Luca Brecel has been touted as one of the most promising talents in snooker ever since qualifying for the World Championship in 2012, aged 17, though he is yet to deliver as much as some might have expected. Brecel began this season in good form, lifting the China Championship, but more recent results have been disappointing and he won’t find the Crucible any more forgiving.
Anthony Gill will be desperate to improve on a modest Crucible record, his quarter-finals finish in 2015 the only time he has looked at home in Sheffield. It is still early days for him, though, and he has enjoyed a solid season this term, regularly progressing to the latter stages of tournaments without managing to claim the ultimate reward for his efforts. It would be a surprise to see that change here, however.
Ali Carter is also known as The Captain, due his love of flying aeroplanes in his spare time, and he has navigated his way to two World Championship finals, in 2008 and 2012. Carter found Ronnie O’Sullivan too strong on both of those occasions but has enjoyed plenty of ranking title success away from Sheffield, all the while battling Crohn’s Disease and then testicular cancer, and although his more recent Crucible visits haven’t been as successful, this fighter remains capable of putting a good run together.
It is hard to believe that Mark Allen only scraped his way into the final automatic qualifying spot with three wins at the recent China Open, so good was his snooker when crowned Masters champion in January. A brilliant single-ball potter who is a very heavy scorer, Allen has the game and mentality to take it to the very best. Consistency remains his biggest challenge, though.