The BIG World Championship preview

Are you ready? For the most wonderful time of the snooker year.
The wait is almost over as the jewel in the crown of the season gets underway at the Crucible.

It’s the one we all look forward to most and it’s so close we can almost feel it.

Here’s our match-by-match preview wrapping up all the talking points and giving you our predictions of who will progress to the last 16.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Pang Junxu

The defending world champion sets off in pursuit of a record-breaking eighth word title against one of the five Crucible debutants in the tournament this year. The size of the challenge ahead for 23-year-old Pang needs no little explanation. He reached his first ever ranking final just last month and looked impressive in qualifying but this is a baptism of fire as he takes on the pressure cooker that is the Crucible on top of facing the sport’s greatest ever player. O’Sullivan has a formidable record in the first round in Sheffield having only lost at this stage three times in his 30 visits. Expect him to take no prisoners again.

Prediction: A routine opening win for the Rocket, although expect Pang to show some glimpses of quality. 10-5

Mark Selby v Matt Selt

Selby is the name on the tip of the tongue of many people picking a winner this year. With two ranking titles under his belt this season, it feels like he’s back to winning ways and having won all four of his world titles in the past nine years, he’s got a tremendous recent strike rate here. No wonder he is so highly fancied by the fans and pundits alike. In many ways, he’s got the ideal starter against Selt who is back at the Crucible for a fourth time and is still yet to win a match here. We know he’s a dangerous player but he openly admits he often lefts the occasion get the better of him. You’d like to think he will be better equipped than previous visits but he’s been given a stinker of a draw.

Prediction: Selby is one of the favourites for a reason. No early slip ups here. 10-6.

Judd Trump v Anthony McGill

Arguably the box office clash of the first round. McGill is the pick of the qualifiers; a semi-finalist just two years ago and has the scalps of O’Sullivan and Selby on his Crucible CV. Trump – despite not having his best season – is the reigning Masters champion and of course reached the final here a year ago without hitting anything near his best, so is starting to prove he can stay in the hunt for the major honours with his B-game. It feels as though he will have to hit the ground running in this one but he will be buoyed by his record against McGill having beaten him 9 times in their 10 career meetings.

Prediction: A close one to call. Both would have liked easier starters. Trump 10-8.

John Higgins v David Grace

Higgins has been quietly playing himself into contention for this year’s World Championship and his Crucible pedigree needs no introduction as a four-time winner and an eight-time finalist. He has found ways to win matches here no matter what form he’s been in and so it bodes well that he’s starting to fly. Grace is back for a second visit six years on from his first and will be better equipped and prepared to take it all in his stride. He played some really good stuff in qualifying and is more dangerous than many may give him credit for in this one but the task in front of him is enormous, make no mistake. He’s one of those players who really loves his snooker and will be wearing a great big smile on his face no matter what happens.

Prediction: Closer than some may predict but Higgins has the experience to edge it. 10-7.

Shaun Murphy v Si Jiahui

A contest which needs little introduction; it’s fair to say this one has history. Si famously knocked Murphy out of the UK Championship 18 months ago as an amateur player which resulted in the 2005 world champion getting in a sulk and claiming he didn’t believe his opponent should have been allowed in the event. Murphy later apologised and, while it would be a bit of an exaggeration to say this one will have spice, it certainly does give us an amusing talking point. Si proved back then he wasn’t afraid of the big reputations on the table and it feels a bit of a case that he’s done it before – and so he can do it again. But throw into the mix that Murphy has been in spellbinding form this year and is rightly one of the favourites to win the World Championship. It is difficult to judge which qualifiers will settle best but Si plays an attacking brand of snooker and you’d expect him to give this a good go.

Prediction: Over the longer format, Murphy should get the job done. An open match will play into his hands. 10-6.

Luca Brecel v Ricky Walden

A topsy-turvy kind of contest this one as it’s the seed Brecel who has never won a match at the Crucible in his previous four visits while the qualifier Walden is back at the World Championship for a ninth appearance and has the memories of his run to the semi-finals a decade ago to draw on. These two met in the same round here back in 2018 and it was Walden who won it, although the head-to-head between the pair favours Brecel overall. A tricky one to pick a winner but Walden’s victory against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in qualifying suggests he will come into this one full of confidence while Brecel may still have trepidations about whether he can produce his best at this venue.

Prediction: You know what you’re going to get with Walden whereas Brecel can be hit and miss. Walden 10-8.

Gary Wilson v Elliot Slessor

You just knew the draw was going to throw this one out. A battle of the North East as friends and practice partners prepare to lock horns. Perhaps surprisingly, these two have only met once before. That was in the semi-finals of the 2021 British Open which Wilson went on to win, so it feels as though meetings between these two tend to be saved for the big occasion. Wilson is a seed here for the first time which comes with a different pressure but he reached the semi-finals in 2019 and pushed O’Sullivan all the way in the first round a couple of years earlier. Slessor is returning to snooker’s holy grail for a first time with a crowd after playing behind closed doors on his debut in 2020. He played well in his second session against Yan Bingtao once he settled and was also mightily impressive to beat Zhou Yuelong in qualifying.

Prediction: Neither will enjoy playing their close friend and it could go close and will almost get tense. Slessor 10-9.

Kyren Wilson v Ryan Day

Two players who are at either ends of the spectrum when it comes to self-belief. While Day was threatening retirement from the game during qualifying, Kyren returns to the venue he often saves his best snooker for. It’s been said before that he is a player built for the longer-format matches at the Crucible and his record of reaching the quarter-finals in seven of the past eight years backs that up. There were glimmers of his form coming to the fore on his run last four of the Tour Championship and he will fancy his chances in this one. He was also tipped by Barry Hearn to be this year’s world champion so we’ll see if that carries any weight. Day is clearly not in a great place mentally although holds the tournament high break of 146 which he made in the early stages of his match against Scott Donaldson in qualifying.

Prediction: Kyren
with a bit to spare. 10-6.

Mark Allen v Fan Zhengyi

There’s a real feeling that Allen could be about to embark on a deep run at this year’s World Championship. Top of the one-year rankings, winner of three ranking titles this season and in the best physical shape he’s been in for years, everything seems in place for the Pistol to finally perform to his best in Sheffield. His record here remains a concern having only reached the semi-finals once back in 2009 but things seem a little different in his camp this year. He’s lost five times in round one before in his 16 visits so we know he can be vulnerable early on and his opponent, although a debutant is already a ranking-event winner and some inconsistency has the potential to be dangerous. Their only previous meeting was in the quarter-finals of the German Masters last year which Allen won 5-0.

Prediction: Allen is one to watch. 10-4.

Mark Williams v Jimmy Robertson

The three-time world champion holds all the experience in this one coming back for a 25th appearance at the Crucible and was in many people’s eyes the standout performer here a year ago. He is so laid back and will take it all in his stride as usual. Robertson on the other hand is winless at the World Championship and back for a fifth bite of the cherry. For many years, it was the TV cameras that seemed to stifle his performances on the big stage but with a ranking win behind him, that is now probably a thing of the past. But winning matches isn’t easy here – especially when you get served up draws like this. Winning this match though is still a massive ask and you’re always fearful that if Williams finds his rhythm, he can rattle in frames at will. Throw into the mix that Jimmy has never beaten Williams in 10 meetings and you’re beginning the get the picture of what might happen here.

Prediction: Williams
off to a flyer. 10-3.
Ding Junhui v Hossein Vafaei

The fans are going to absolutely love this one and it is potentially the hardest match to pick a winner in from the opening round. These are two players who love to play attacking snooker and who in full flight make the game look effortlessly easy. Vafaei is back at the Crucible for a second season in succession and could be a player who becomes a staple at this event in years to come. Ding has been a regular here and hasn’t missed an edition since his debut in 2007. Winning the world title has remained elusive but the dream keeps burning to become the first ever Chinese world champion. He’s had a good season breaking back into the top 16 and reaching the final of the UK Championship but does he have what it takes to be a real contender? Ding has Crucible experience but this is still all new and exciting for Vafaei. Having made his mark beating Selby at both the Masters and the UK Championship this season, it feels as though he might be ready to deliver at the Crucible. The reward for the winner is a potential box office second-round clash against O’Sullivan.

Do we really have to choose? Could be a classic. Vafaei 10-9.

Neil Robertson v Wu Yize

It still remains one of snooker’s greatest crimes that Robertson has only won the World Championship once – 13 years ago back in 2010 no less. But he’s made no secret to the fact that he doesn’t like the venue and it clearly affects his performance here. He last reached the one-table setup in 2014 and it feels like every year we say that it’s time for that to change, but the results don’t lie. If he manages to settle and play his way into form, he can obviously go all the way and being drawn against a qualifier may give him a little bit of leeway to do that. That said, Wu Yize at the age of 19 looks a guaranteed star of the future and a very dangerous opponent. He was one of the stand-out performers in qualifying especially with his sprint to the line on Judgement Day to beat the experienced Chris Wakelin.

It feels like a bit of a free hit for Wu (if that’s even a thing at the Crucible). Robbo to get off and running fuss free. 10-5

Jack Lisowski v Noppon Saengkham

This is the kind of match which is waiting to explode and could produce an absolute classic. Two wonderfully gifted players going toe-to-toe at the biggest event of the season and who are both capable of going on a run if they can win a tricky opener. Recent Crucible memories will give both players something to cling on to as well. In his last two visits, he has won both of his first-round matches against Murphy and Brecel so it’s clear he’s not afraid to take on the seeds. Lisowski made his biggest splash at the Crucible last year knocking out Robertson before losing to Higgins in a deciding frame in the quarter-finals. It looks like he’s got into the swing of things and knows what it really takes to compete here now. Hang onto your hats as you can expect some big breaks and some wonderful pots along the way in this one.

A tough one to call. Lisowski 10-8.

Robert Milkins v Joe Perry

A clash between two of snooker’s most beloved stalwarts here. They first met on the professional circuit back in 1997 and here they are more than 25 years later still competing on the biggest stage. They’ve played in a whole variety of tournaments down the years including here when Perry ran out a 10-7 winner in the first round back in 2004. Crucible pedigree and a glance at the career head-to-head record suggests Perry is the man to back here but recent form certainly favours Milkins who has enjoyed his best and most lucrative season ever. Both are at the stage of their career where you feel they’ll really be able to enjoy the occasion and they can both certainly still play. It might not be the pick of the crop in the first round but it should be entertaining.

Likely to be little to choose between them on the day. Perry 10-8.

Ali Carter v Jak Jones

The Captain’s name springs to mind if we are searching for a dark horse at this year’s World Championship. He has been in splendid form in the run up to Sheffield and is among the top performers of the season. Ali seems to thrive under the spotlight at the Crucible. It is an event where he has twice reached the final and he seems to get himself up for this one more than the rest. With the confidence he should have in his game at the moment, he will be a difficult match for anyone he meets in this tournament. His opponent Jones is the only non-Chinese debutant in the draw. He has waited a long time for this moment to walk out at the Crucible for having first turned professional in 2010. He has really earned his place here having beaten Barry Hawkins in qualifying who was one of the toughest draws he could have asked for. He can take confidence from that and this is an opportunity to show what he’s really about because those in the snooker circles know that he is one of the most under-rated players on the tour.

Prediction: Carter
should have a bit too much for Jones. 10-6.

Stuart Bingham v Dave Gilbert

On paper, you’d expect there to be little to choose between these two but Bingham has never lost to Gilbert across their 12 meetings. Get your head around that. For the neutrals, this promises to be an open and attacking match with two extremely talented scorers going at it. The Crucible hold special memories place for both of these players. Bingham famously went all the way and won the event in 2015 while Gilbert went on a fairy-tale run to the semis in 2019 before agonisingly missing out on a place in the final on a deciding frame to Higgins. Just as in this preview, expect both of these stories to get frequent mentions on the BBC when this match gets underway. They are two of the modern-classic stories of this great event. In the here and now, both players have had quite mediocre seasons in ranking events by their standards although reaching the last four at the Masters was an obvious highlight for Bingham. The World championship could be the perfect way for one of them to finish the campaign with a flourish.

Fancy this one to go the distance. Bingham 10-9.


Now for the million-dollar question. After 17 days of gripping action on the baize, who will be crowned world champion? Sticking our neck on the line, we are tipping Mark Selby to pick up his fifth world title. Don’t be surprised to see Judd Trump in the final either.

Created with