With only eight men left standing at the Crucible, here is our preview of the Dafabet World Championship quarter-finals…
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN v SHAUN MURPHY
(Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am and 7pm)
I always thought the quarter-finals was where Ronnie O’Sullivan would be most vulnerable – but having seen the determination with which he beat Joe Perry, and the high quality snooker he produced to get over the winning line, it is very hard to back against him.
Murphy has a bad record against O’Sullivan, losing six of seven previous meetings. Where Murphy has impressed this year though is in his fearless aggression, which was the key to him taking control of his match with Marco Fu in moving from 4-4 to 8-4 on Sunday.
Still, this will be a difficult match for him. The key factor is surely that O’Sullivan’s head is screwed on and the old unpredictability seems a thing of the past. That doesn’t make snooker an easier game but it does allow the most talented player there has ever been to concentrate on the job in hand, which is winning.
Murphy will need to go on the attack – and they will have to go in – to get O’Sullivan under pressure.
PREDICTION: O’Sullivan 13-9
BARRY HAWKINS v DOMINIC DALE
(Tuesday 10am and 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm)
Hawkins played really well in his second session against Dave Gilbert but the quality of his second round encounter with Ricky Walden was largely disappointing: Hawkins said he and Walden “bring the worst out in each other.”
Dale has meanwhile been relatively untroubled in reaching the quarter-finals of the World Championship for the first time since 2000. Neither Mark Davis or Michael Wasley have played well enough to seriously push him but Hawkins has experience at this stage of the tournament, having reached last year’s final.
But he knows he will have to start producing the goods and what’s been noticeable about Dale is how serious-minded he has been. Known as an eccentric and a bit of a joker, he’s had his game-face on. He’s as much here to win as any of the other players and I could see an upset in this one.
PREDICTION: Dale 13-11
MARK SELBY v ALAN McMANUS
(Tuesday 10am and 7pm and Wednesday 10am)
Selby has had a few days off watching everyone else sweat since his 13-9 second round victory over Ali Carter. A player not widely tipped to do well at the Crucible this year before the event began is now favourite to reach the semi-finals.
Selby is yet to hit top form but there’s more than enough in his B and C games to trouble most opponents. He hasn’t looked tired in Sheffield like he did 12 months ago although it won’t be a help to him that he’s struggled to kill off his first two matches by more commanding margins.
It will be interesting to see how McManus approaches this one. I’m sure many are predicting a tactical battle but against John Higgins in the first round he came out attacking and played superbly in the first session. His second round affair with Ken Doherty was lower in quality but McManus is back playing much closer to the form he produced when he was a top 16 player.
Self-belief is so important in sport. McManus has been writing himself notes to give himself encouragement during matches. He is one of snooker’s great thinkers and preparers and will be ready for a hard fought slog with Selby, who will be looking to put right some recent Crucible disappointments.
PREDICTION: Selby 13-9
NEIL ROBERTSON v JUDD TRUMP
(Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 2.30pm and 7pm)
This could be a cracker featuring as it does two easy on the eye left-handers who each love the big stage.
Robertson was awesome in easing to victory over Mark Allen, completely dominating the final session, while Trump did what he had to do to see off Ryan Day.
My concern for Trump is his scoring. He has won 23 frames of snooker in the tournament so far but has made only seven half century breaks. Contrast this with Robertson’s six centuries and 13 half centuries and the Australian has clearly been far more clinical in the balls. That said, Trump won several close frames against Day with good clearances, suggesting a solid temperament.
These two left-handers are both great talents but Robertson is a better player. He has won all three of the game’s major titles and values achievement over image. Trump beat him in the first round in 2011 but the dynamics then were different: Robertson had the pressure of being a first time defending champion while Trump had just won the China Open.
Robertson looks bang up for world title no.2. He has played to a consistently high level all season and is determined that the campaign ends on a high note in Sheffield.
Trump says he likes being the underdog. Good, because he is.
PREDICTION: Robertson 13-8
Photographs by Monique Limbos.