Apr 25

World Championship 2024 - The Story So Far

The World Championship is more than just an event for snooker fans – it is the unravelling of a compelling story.

Set at the world-famous Crucible, it never disappoints and with five days of action behind us, we’ve had plenty to talk about – on and off the table.

How long will we still be paying an annual pilgrimage to Sheffield? Does the place really smell and how come so many seeds have been knocked out so early?

Snooker System takes a look back at five captivating days at the Crucible – before we get stuck into the last 16.

Gilbert sets the tone

David Gilbert got the headlines rolling at this year’s World Championship by sending the defending champion Luca Brecel home on day one.

Little did we know this would set the tone for the first-round matches with at least a record-equalling number of seeds tumbling out at the first hurdle.

The Belgian Bullet – clearly suffering from illness – became the latest first-time world champion to fall foul of the famous Crucible Curse and the sixth to suffer his fate in the opening round.

If we’re honest, neither of the players were at their best and in the end, it was Luca’s pursuit of trying to get over the line too quickly which resulted in him spurning a 9-6 lead on the evening.

Brecel clearly didn’t enjoy the clamour for him to be centre of attention and spoke philosophically after the match about not letting results on the table define his happiness. You get the sense that there’s probably a sense of relief now he’s back home in Belgium for a long summer break.

Stuff of dreams

Crucible debutants have for many a year been a key component of the World Championship story.

Leicester’s Joe O’Connor had to fly the flag solo coming to Sheffield but he certainly didn’t disappoint. His performance in the first session to open up a 7-2 lead against the four-time world champion Mark Selby was arguably among one of the greatest debutant performances we’ve ever seen.

This wasn’t just about snooker either. The way he handled the venue and the task of taking on his close friend in one of the biggest matches of his life was admirable. He was here to do the business and duly did, running out an eventual 10-6 winner.

Such is the class of Selby, he would never try to take the shine off O’Connor’s win but you can’t help but feel that this defeat was another major hammer blow for his confidence at the end of a difficult couple of years.

Troubles off the table combined with trying to come to terms with a lack of consistency in truly competing for major honours on the baize has fuelled talk of retirement.

Business as usual

Amidst all the carnage of many of the seeds being dumped out early, it was business as usual for a handful of the key contenders for the title.

Judd Trump demonstrated excellent game management to beat Hossein Vafaei 10-5 in a display oozing with maturity. Without producing his best, he comfortably navigated through the first round and laid down a marker that he’s here to add to the five titles he’s already won this season.

Question marks are hanging over Vafaei’s head about his game at the end of this match. For all the talent he clearly possesses, his inability to mix it tactically with Trump and make it hard for the top players looks like an area of his game he will need to work on. 

His parting gift to the tournament was a rant about the Crucible and its smell. The practice facilities are also not up to his high standards and the likes of Alan McManus and Jimmy White made sure he got due criticism in return.

It wasn’t only Trump who impressed. Wins for Shaun Murphy, Tom Ford and Mark Allen came largely without drama as they settled their way into the tournament. But Kyren Wilson arguably produced the best play we’ve seen so far. He looked calm and clinical beating Dominic Dale 10-1. This wasn’t the biggest test but his heavy scoring and a return to top form at a venue he often saves his best for looks a very good sign. 

Definitely not a fluke

Rewind 12 months and it was Jak Jones and Si Jiahiui that were two of the biggest stories of last year’s Championship.

They’ve been up to their old tricks again both impressing in progressing through to the last 16 for a second year in succession.

Jones looks tailormade to play at the Crucible on snooker’s biggest stage and slotted straight back into his groove to knock out a poor Zhang Anda 10-4.

Si was made to work much harder for his win and was forced all the way to a decider to beat Mark Williams 10-9. But just as he did a year ago, he showed nerves of steel to get over the line plus his trademark flashes of flair to keep up his World Championship momentum and talk of his hopes to become a future world champion.

Williams used his post-match interview to talk cryptically about his future and whether he’ll ever play at the Crucible again. Comfortably ranked inside the world’s top 16 with a ranking of six, this fuelled discussion around a potential breakaway tour and it is expected his comments may become clear in the coming weeks.

A word for a few others

That’s just a snapshot of some of the great snooker we’ve seen on the table so far. We should also mention big wins for Stuart Bingham, Ryan Day and Stephen Maguire as qualifiers and deciding frame wins for Jack Lisowski and Robert Milkins. 

Lisowski won through in one of the matches of the tournament so far against an always-classy Ding Junhui. This was a hard-fought yet high-quality match. The way he stood up to the pressure near the winning line is a particularly good sign for Lisowski fans.

Milkins had to come through a more gruelling affair with Pang Junxu and will know he will need to improve to continue his run at the tournament.

How long are we staying here?

As you can tell, there’s been plenty to talk about on the table but that hasn’t stopped plenty of chat off the table about the future of this great tournament.

With the Crucible contract running until 2027 and a recent new partnership being signed with Saudi Arabia, days here in Sheffield look to be numbered. Barry Hearn has said nothing to allay fears of a controversial move to the Middle East and fans are fearing the worst.

Money is unsurprisingly the driving factor for any change and Sheffield City Council seem to be under increasing pressure to make huge changes to the venue to have any chance of keeping the event here.

While nothing is definite, it seems it might be time for snooker fans to savour every trip to the venue from here on in.
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