Richard Mann, Nick Metcalfe, Chris Hammer and Ben Coley nominate their Crucible predictions ahead of the World Championship which begins on Friday.
I can't look past the current champion and world number one JUDD TRUMP for a winner of the Sheffield marathon. It's not a new feeling either - it struck me in the immediate aftermath of Trump's brilliant title triumph last year that we might finally see a lifting of the infamous 'Crucible curse' after more than four decades.
This season has certainly done nothing to dissuade me from that view. Trump has been simply magnificent, claiming a record six ranking events and looking almost certain to cement his status as an all-time great in the years to come.
I do think the 30-year-old Bristol man would have been an even bigger favourite had the tournament taken place when originally planned in the spring. Those months of shutdown have added an extra layer of unpredictability to proceedings.
But sheer class usually tells in Sheffield, and Trump, who avoided the trickier first round draws when being paired with Tom Ford, has been too good for his rivals time and time again in the last two years. I see him being the last man standing on August 16.
As for a qualifier who might fare well, I'm going to hang my hat on ANTHONY MCGILL. The past couple of seasons have been tough going for the Scot, but he still seems to have the temperament and qualities to achieve plenty in the game.
McGill has some decent Crucible experience under his belt, going as far as the quarter-finals on his debut in 2015. John Higgins and Stephen Maguire, who both practise with him regularly, have been saying it's only a matter of time before he starts going deep in tournaments again. And he certainly looked the part in his final qualifying match on Tuesday, thrashing Sam Baird 10-1.
His first round opponent at the Crucible, Jack Lisowski, is someone who blows hot and cold. McGill has only won two matches in his last four Crucible appearances, but I'm backing him to add to that tally this summer.
I'm really keen on Mark Allen at a big price in the outright market, despite the fact he's without experience of the one-table set-up. The Northern Irishman looks to have found form at just the right time and having been volunteering locally during lockdown, the hope is his selflessness is rewarded.
However, he's put up in Richard's outright preview so in the interests of providing a little something for everyone, the banker is NEIL ROBERTSON to win the fourth quarter.
The Australian was in electric form at the start of 2020, and any concerns that he'd run his race are alleviated by the long wait for this. It's clear he's spent time asking himself some hard questions - chiefly, what has he done wrong since last reaching the semi-finals here in 2014.
That unwanted sequence should come to an end this year as he's got a nice introduction to the tournament, before a seeded quarter-final meeting with either Mark Selby or Shaun Murphy. I quite fancy the latter, against whom Robertson has a 24-12 record, but either way there's a good chance they've softened each other up if that match does come to pass. Robertson has been operating at a higher level this season and, at 6/4, is a rock-solid bet to reach the last four.
It's hard to disagree with Nick's assessment that Anthony McGill might be the one to teach Jack Lisowski a lesson in winning multi-session matches, and I'm sure he'll attract support at 6/4. My qualifier to watch though is JORDAN BROWN, who is tempting at as big as 9/1 to beat Selby.
We all know how effective the latter is here, but he's won one match in the last two years and was made to work hard to Zhao Xintong in 2019. He was thumped 6-4 by Joe Perry a year earlier, and in both 2014 and 2015 he was taken the distance, by Michael White and Kurt Maflin respectively. Brown is well-regarded, he showed some nerve plus an ability to score heavily in qualifying, and he can get close to Selby if the three-time world champion is not at his absolute best.
I can already sense Nick shaking his head at what I'm about to say but having made a case for opposing Judd Trump in my outright preview, I may as well double down and suggest the defending champion won't make it through the First Quarter.
In truth, Trump finds himself in a quarter laced with quality - just as it should be, this is the World Championship after all - but he won't get away with the volume of unforced errors he produced at the Championship League and subsequent Tour Championship.
Maybe it was a case of ring rust after a spell of inactivity during the lockdown but I expected much better at the Tour Championship, particularly with such a big prize on the line, and it was noticeable that Trump grew increasingly tetchy as he failed to get to grips with Stephen Maguire.
A few comments from Trump about Maguire before that match clearly hadn't go down well with Scot, a man who doesn't strike as someone to back down from a barroom brawl, and it was he who was first to the big punches when the gloves were off when we are so used to seeing Trump land the knockout blow.
Perhaps a good break since to work on his game ahead of his World Championship defence is exactly what Trump has needed but at the end of a record-breaking season - one that has yielded six ranking titles already - he might just have done his running for now.
Maguire's presence in the First Quarter offers hope of a spicy rematch but before that, Trump must navigate a tricky opening match against the dangerous Tom Ford before a possible clash with Yan Bingtao. The Chinese has a dreadful record against Trump but has many of the tools required to succeed at this unique snooker test and he is certainly on the upgrade.
Only then might we see the rematch many are waiting for but I suspect Trump's prize in the quarter-finals will be KYREN WILSON, another old foe who looks to be coming nicely to boil in time for Sheffield.
Seventeen days of the World Championship with its long and demanding matches has always promised to be Wilson's thing and in five appearances at the Crucible, he has already managed three quarter-final finishes and a run to the last four in 2018.
A frustrating start to the current campaign was put right by finishing runner-up at the Welsh Open and Gibraltar Open where Wilson appeared to have made a more concerted effort to enjoy his snooker as oppose to getting weighed down with the pressures of chasing big dreams and lofty ambitions.
If anything, Wilson's hunger and insatiable desire to achieve great things in the sport he clearly loves might have held him back, as oppose to playing with the freedom that allows his deadly long game and crunching ball striking to flourish.
He's still young but he's getting there and I'm sure another deep run in Sheffield is on the cards. Take the 13/2 for Wilson to win the First Quarter.
Finally, at 9/2, I wonder if LIANG WENBO might be worth a few quid to shock Neil Robertson in their first-round clash. Wenbo is a real enigma but his rich talent has never been in doubt and he played really well to come through qualifying.
Robertson is clearly one of the best players in the world at present but I haven't been convinced by him since his golden run back in February and he could be vulnerable if Wenbo gets out of the right side of bed come match day.
The disappointment of Jimmy White missing out on a Crucible return was somewhat lessened by seeing THEPCHAIYA UN-NOOH battle through his final qualifier to reach the World Championship for the third year in a row.
Just like a whirlwind himself, the Thai Rocket/Speed King - call him what you will - is not only one of the most entertaining players to watch but also turning into one of the fastest improvers on the circuit, rising up to a career high of 20 in the rankings having reached this season's World Open final as well as two other ranking quarters.
The 2019 Shoot-Out champion was denied that second ranking title by Judd Trump, who also defeated him 10-9 in a thrilling first-round contest at the Crucible last year that could have changed the course of history. The year before that he lost 10-7 at the same stage to eventual runner-up John Higgins so he's still waiting for his first victory at snooker's iconic home.
At 35, Thepchaiya is hardly a youngster anymore but he's finally becoming more consistent and less erratic than the version of himself that heartbreakingly missed the final black on two maximum break attempts in the 2015/2016 season in two out on maximum breaks - the first of which famously being at the UK Championship against Neil Robertson and costing him £44,000.
Anyone who has started following his newly-created Twitter account will know he's quite a character, so combining this with his style of play and a growing collection of agonising moments, he has the potential to put some much-needed Jimmy White back into snooker. Even Ronnie O'Sullivan says: "He’s a guy I like playing and one of the few I don’t actually mind losing to as he’s such a nice guy. Everyone on the circuit would love to see him do well and win tournaments as he’s a very humble and respected by everyone."
Well it's a good job he doesn't mind losing to him because the Rocket could be in real danger of crashing out in double quick time even if their opening-round clash went the full 19 frames. Both players average just less than 17 seconds a shot this season and this clash will be the perfect way to thrust snooker further into the limelight this weekend and capture the imagination.
There are two bets I like in this one: the upset at 3/1 and the match to provide MOST FIRST-ROUND CENTURIES at 9/2. Although Trump is way ahead for centuries this season on 98, his match with Tom Ford could well be a procession so on paper, Neil Robertson (69) v Liang Wenbo (23) is arguably the biggest threat. But we all know what the Rocket can do when he's in the mood - even for a handful of frames on a bad day - while I expect Un-Nooh to shine whether he beats his idol or suffers another glorious defeat.
Staying on the centuries theme, I find the 11/4 about a Century of Century breaks with Sky Bet rather appealing. There were of course exactly a ton in last year's record-breaking edition, which featured 11 in that remarkable final between Trump and John Higgins.
Can we really see the same standard in a much less atmospheric Crucible and with players still relatively rusty? If the Tour Championship is anything to go by then perhaps the answer is yes.
The elite eight players competing in snooker's first tournament back last month managed to match the 22 from the 2019 edition, with Trump only managing to contribute one while O'Sullivan, who scored eight of last year's Tour Championship tally, wasn't even there!
Murphy made six in defeat, and it seems worth speculating that the sport's best players, refreshed and no doubt relieved to have this tournament going ahead after all, will combine to put on a show.
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