WE’VE HAD 11 days of snooker at the Crucible but the players through to the quarter-finals of the Betfred World Championship have only won 23 frames and still need another 48 to win the title.
The quarter-finals feature three former champions, two runners-up, a former semi-finalist and a Crucible debutant still going strong.
Ronnie O’Sullivan remains the favourite to win a sixth world title. He has beaten Stuart Bingham twice before in Sheffield and only lost to him on two occasions.
O’Sullivan has flirted with controversy during the championship but removing his shoes, banging his cue on the table and making an off-colour gesture register pretty low on the list of misdemeanours. The main thing for O’Sullivan fans is that he has played well enough so far to overwhelm his first two opponents. The question, though, is how will he respond when put under real pressure in a close match.
O’Sullivan has one of the best of all Crucible records, which points to a solid big match temperament. He has cracked before, but so has everyone else. Bingham will have to play the match of his life to beat him – certainly better than two years ago when O’Sullivan drubbed him 13-4 at the same stage.
This is the half which includes what could turn into one of the matches of the tournament. Ding Junhui was beaten 17-15 by Judd Trump in the semi-finals in 2011, the only time China’s no.1 has featured in the one-table set up.
At 4-0 down to Mark Davis in the first round, things weren’t looking good for a player who has endured a disappointing season but Ding turned that round and played much better against John Higgins in the second round.
He did struggle to kill this match off but in general has looked relaxed and less fractious than on previous outings at the Crucible.
Some felt Trump was taking Marco Fu for granted at 9-3 in their last 16 encounter. Certainly, he played more sensibly when it went 10-6 overnight and closed out victory with a classy, composed 133 total clearance – his 75th century of the campaign.
These two exceptionally talented twenty-somethings are capable of serving up a feast of snooker to satisfy even the most demanding of appetites. Let’s hope they do.
In the top half, Neil Robertson will be favourite to beat Barry Hawkins but it’s worth noting that Hawkins has not lost a match in the two-table set up in Sheffield for three years.
He found inspiration late – but not too late – against Mark Allen in the last 16 and is through again to the business end of the World Championship.
But Robertson is not a man to take anyone lightly and looks fully determined at the championship this year. If you knew nothing about snooker and were just observing body language he would be the player you would say was most comfortable so far.
It is five years now since Robertson won the world title. He’s a player who seems destined to win it again and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be this year.
Shaun Murphy may disagree as he is a potential semi-final opponent. First, though, Murphy – red suit and all – must deal with giant-killing Scot Anthony McGill, who has made many friends at the Crucible this year with his smiling assassin act, which has already done for Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby.
Unlike some other debut quarter-finalists over the years, McGill does not look like he is about to crumble as the pressure comes on. Far from it, his feet look to be firmly planted on the ground.
Wisely, he has not talked up his own chances but reminded everyone that he is second favourite whoever he plays, which places the pressure squarely on their shoulders.
Good for him. Anthony loves snooker and it would be easy to get carried away, but he remains sensible about his own chances.
Even so, if he beats Murphy he stands a chance of emulating him and Terry Griffiths as only the third qualifier to win the world title.
The stakes are raised now for all eight remaining players. Whether they’ve won it before, been in the final or are seeking a maiden triumph, the situation is quite simple: everyone wants to be world champion.
The fight for the 2015 title, after a couple of quiet days, begins again in earnest.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.