Here is our preview of the matches starting on Tuesday at the Dafabet World Championship…
MARCO FU v MARTIN GOULD
(Tuesday 10am and Wednesday 2.30pm)
If Gould can bring out the form and confidence he displayed in the qualifiers then he could be a real threat – and not just to Fu.
The Londoner has had a strangely inconsistent season, dropping out of the top 32 but at times playing superbly. The Championship League may be best of fives but it’s all top players and he got to the final, losing out to Judd Trump. At other times Gould has been disappointing but like all the other qualifiers – and this might be why we’ve seen so many close matches – he comes to the Crucible just days after making it through from Ponds Forge and therefore the euphoria has yet to subside. The players who have qualified have come to the Crucible pumped up, full of confidence and, perhaps most importantly of all, match fit.
Fu, winner of the campaign’s Australian Goldfields Open and runner-up in the International Championship, has enjoyed his best ever season but remains a tough player to predict. You can usually tell early on whether he will play well or struggle. These two have twice met in the first round, in 2010 and 2011, with Gould winning 10-8 each time.
If he takes that same positive attitude he displayed last week into this match then a hat-trick of victories over Fu awaits.
PREDICTION: Gould 10-5
JUDD TRUMP v TOM FORD
(Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)
Trump has been runner-up and a losing semi-finalist in the last three years so has a good Crucible record for someone who has only played there four times. His season has been relatively quiet. In a year he has fallen from no.1 in the world to eighth.
However, this may conversely work in his favour in Sheffield. He is fresh because he hasn’t over-played. Trump has youth on his side and the stamina to last the course. Also, there’s been hardly any attention on him coming into the tournament.
Ford has only qualified once before, in 2010 when he beat Trump 10-3. However, the Crucible is a different environment to the qualifying set-up and Trump has to start favourite.
This seems likely to be an open game with many chances. For Ford to cause an upset he will have to take his. Trump’s safety game is better than people realise and this may also be a factor.
PREDICTION: Trump 10-6
BARRY HAWKINS v DAVE GILBERT
(Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)
Hawkins returns to the Crucible where he so impressed last year, beating Jack Lisowski, Mark Selby, Ding Junhui and Ricky Walden to reach the final and putting up a really good account of himself before losing 18-12 to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Hawkins said that in the early part of the season he felt a bit flat as he returned to play in more bog-standard tournaments but the World Championship could well inspire him again.
It certainly helps that he comes to Sheffield having won the £100,000 first prize at the Players Championship in Preston, where he underlined his transition from journeyman to champion with victories over Stephen Maguire and Judd Trump.
Hawkins does not fear the top players because he now is a top player, and this could be another fruitful Crucible campaign for the Kent man.
Gilbert can certainly cause problems for top players. He beat Mark Selby 4-0 in Preston but is still yet to really break through in a big tournament, despite reaching the second round at the Crucible in 2012.
Hawkins represents a tough challenge. He is back on a happy hunting ground and fully confident ahead of what could be another good run in the sport’s main event.
PREDICTION: Hawkins 10-5
MARK ALLEN v MICHAEL HOLT
(Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 7pm)
Allen has been a surprise first round loser in each of the last two World Championships and could be vulnerable here against a player who can certainly blow hot and cold.
Holt was thumped 10-1 by Ricky Walden in the first round last year but was a Shanghai Masters semi-finalist this season and has grafted for some good results during the campaign.
The Nottingham man has curbed his more emotional reactions to adversity in recent times. The problem, though, is that if they are to resurface anywhere it will be at the Crucible, where many a player has lost the plot – Ding Junhui has been serene all season but was banging his cue in frustration on Sunday.
Allen was beaten by Cao Yupeng in 2012 and Mark King last year so desperately needs to make amends at the Crucible. He is in a tough section of the draw but has the self-belief – and the game – to go a long way.
Many feel Allen can land one of the sport’s really big titles. Like Holt, he can also get hot under the collar so this could be a lively affair.
PREDICTION: Allen 10-7
Photographs by Monique Limbos.