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It's that time again! The 18th of April 2009 heralded the beginning of two glorious weeks of the Betfred World Snooker Championship. Unsuprisingly, the World Championship, held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, is the ultimate tournament in Snooker and worth double the ranking points of any of the other competitions. The winner will receive £250,000 prize money, but they will have to go through a marathon format of games, with the final being the best of 35 frames (aka first to 18).
The 32 players that comprise the World Championship are the World's top 16, who get automatic admission, and 16 qualifiers - which give people who can be way outside of the top 16, e.g. Jamie Burnett (no.45) a chance at the big title.
As usual this year's World Championship was an open book. The season started near the end of 2008, and the results of the major ranking events, leading up to the Worlds, were as follows:
Northern Ireland Trophy: Ronnie O'Sullivan Shanghai Masters: Ricky Walden Grand Prix: John Higgins Bahrain Championship: Neil Robertson UK Championship: Shaun Murphy The Masters (non-ranking): Ronnie O'Sullivan Welsh Open: Ali Carter China Open: Peter Ebdon
Apart from the bookies favorite, the contentious and enigmatic Ronnie O'Sullivan, who had won more than one title this season, there has been a unique winner for each tournament.
MY PREDICTIONS ===============
Going into the Championship, I backed the measured and methodical Peter Ebdon who had just won the China Open. I backed him primarily because he was in breathtaking form in China, has a superb record in long matches, and also because his confidence must have been very high to have just beaten John Higgins to the China title.
I also backed the successful, but not successful enough, ever trying, Chinese sensation Ding Junhui. In my opinion Ronnie O'Sullivan, in his best form can beat anyone, but I also think that if anyone could rival him, then Ding, at his best, would be able to. He is a genius that has not yet had the chance to shine, but could he do so at Sheffield 2009?
=====A shock defeat for Peter Ebdon - one of my guys already out, victim to a 10-5 demolition job courtesy of Nigel Bond. Nigel Bond, a finalist at the 1995 World Championships, had done this before - causing an upset in 2006 when he knocked out Stephen Hendry.
Another highlight was the clash of the Chinese titans - Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo. This game was superb, with both players exhibiting formidable technical and battling skills. I thought it was a shame these two fought each other so early. The fact Liang nearly got the better of his hero was an indication that he has enormous potential, and it was an injustice he had to go out so early to a 10-8 scoreline.
On BBC interactive, '30 years of Interesting times' was playing on loop, showing highlights of Steve Davis' triumphs between 1979 and 2009, leading up to his first game. and it was superb that, at 51 years of age, Steve Davis was making yet another
Pictures of World Snooker Championship 2009
Higgins holds up the World Championship trophy after his victory against Shaun Murphy.
appearance at the Crucible. It was gutting however that in the first match, he was annihilated 10-2 by Neil Robertson.
========My other favourite, Ding Junhui, was knocked out of the tournament by 50-1 outsider, albeit the 7-times World Champion, Stephen Hendry. Again, it was great to see Stephen, past his best, holding his own against the leader of the future stars.
However, a bigger shock was to come when the colossal favourite for a fourth World title, Ronnie O'Sullivan, was crushed by Mark Allen after leading 9-7 going into the final session. I think anyone who knocked out the Rocket was going to be a favourite, but the win certainly established Allen as one of the huge rising stars in the next 5 years.
Despite losing the China Open, John Higgins lived up to his name as the best matchplay Snooker player in the world by winning a fantastic final frame decider against Jamie Cope.
QUARTER FINALS ===============
Despite the absence of Ronnie, the quarter finals consisted of the household names in modern Snooker - Selby, Higgins, Murphy, Hendry, Maguire and Robertson.
Selby v Higgins was the biggest match of the round as they had met in the 2007 World Championship final. Although Higgins emerged victorious then, he had succumed to Selby every time since. Would Selby get revenge for his 07 defeat? It was a terrific match, which Selby dominated at first and looked like winning all the way. John however showed the qualities that had made him champion twice by edging it at the final hurdle, once again winning a nail biting 'to the wire' finish.
The main highlight of the quarters was a marvellous maximum 147 break by Stephen Hendry. However, despite an early lead, Shaun Murphy's brilliance eventually outclassed the ageing Scot. Neil Robertson and Mark Allen made up the other two semi final spots.
====And then there were four - two rising stars in the form of Allen and Robertson against the two former champions - Murphy and Higgins. In both matches, the Champions had opened up seemingly insurmountable leads with Higgins leading Allen 13-3 and Murphy outclassing Robertson 14-7. Would both games be over before with a session to spare?
Sensationally not! Incredibly, Robertson staged an magnificent comeback to level the score 14-14. However, Murphy found an extra gear and won the next three to win 17-14. Allen also made a thrilling come back against a tense Higgins to make the score 13-16. However, inevitably, Higgins delivered that lethal dose to put Allen out of his misery.
THE FINAL - Day 1
Higgins vs Murphy - The Wizard vs The Magician, a final I did not see coming, but nevertheless a very high quality line-up. I thought Shaun Murphy would end up like another John Parrott - a one hit wonder. He won the championship in 2005 and then only won a couple of ranking titles, signifying that maybe he had peaked early. Now he had proved he has the metal to become a multiple champion. Higgins on the other hand was looking to be a member of the 3 times Champion club - which given that he is a legend of the game, and widely known as the most complete player in terms of potting, break building and supreme safety play, it would be a justified membership.
Higgins took a commanding lead, until Shaun caught him on the hook and did not let him get wriggle away. After the first of four sessions, they were level at 4-4. In the second 8-frame session, Murphy took the lead... but Higgins went on to win the next 7 frames to lead 11-5 overnight. Worryingly for Murphy, no-one had ever come back from this score in the very long history of the crucible... things looked bleak.
THE FINAL - Day 2
=========A devastating Higgins nearly finished off Murphy with a session to spare. Shaun continued to make uncharacteristic mistakes, whilst Higgins made some but less so, allowing him to create an enormous gap going into the final session. At 16-8, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins would win, but how soon could he finish off a floundering Murphy? When the final session started at 8pm, in an antithesis to his last title win that finished at a record latest time of 1am, it took less than an hour for Higgins to seal the match with a 18-9 thrashing!
So, was it magic - no! John Higgins' reaction to winning his well deserved 3rd World Championship was as underwhelming as the fashion in which he destroyed Murphy. When someone wins a World title, you want to see immense jubilation, pride and celebration, but Higgins was clearly disappointed by his own showmanship. Shaun Murphy, as ever, was gallant, gentlemanly and professional in defeat, and he summed it up brilliantly "We were playing well up until 4-4". Overall I thought this was the worst final I had ever seen, but the right player won. Higgins did indeed deserve to be in that highly respected position of winning 3 titles. Only Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis have done as good or better.
I will never watch Snooker on Eurosport or Sky Sports - the team on the BBC is exceptional. Normally Hazel Irvine is the lead presenter, like Sue Barker is during Wimbledon. However this year, due to the recent birth of her child, Hazel's place was taken by Rishi Persad. I can only be positive about his performance, he was a good presenter, although he was never going to be a patch on Hazel. The rest of the team include Ray Stubbs, Steve Davis, John Parrott and Ken Doherty - who is certainly getting better, and the commentators John Virgo, Terry Griffiths, Neal Foulds, Dennis Taylor and Willie Thorne and they were their usual first class selves. Admittedly, my blood tends to boil when they say "This is a hard shot, he'll do very well to get on the next ball" and 9.9 times out of 10, the player plays and positions the shot successfully.
I took the second week of the Championship off so was lucky enough to see fantastic action manifesting before my eyes. My main complaint are the hours of coverage, as it is frustrating that for those who work, they will only get one hour of live play on BBC2 at 7pm, and will have to turn to Interactive to watch the rest once some naff historical or cultural programme takes over at 8pm. Highlights are on in the late hours which those in employment will avoid to wake up bright and early for the next working day.
Up to the final, the 2009 Championship was one of the most exciting I have seen over the years. The record highest number of breaks compiled at the Crucible was 68... this year, that figure was smashed - with an inexplicable 83 century breaks. This figure demonstrates that the quality of Snooker is higher than it has ever been.
However, Ronnie O'Sullivan said, back in January, that the sport is dying, and that it needs a Simon Cowell figure to bring back the popularity that Snooker experienced when 18 million watched the famous 1985 final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. This remark came in the aftermath of the Lakeside Darts World Championship, where there the player's entrances are gregarious and ostentatious, but really creates a buzzy and excited atmosphere. Given that hardly anybody I know watches Snooker and that my other half was struggling to stay conscious when we went to the Wembley Masters in January, maybe Snooker is dying. The quality is great, but huge personalities like Jimmy White and Alex Higgins are absent and Ronnie seems to be carrying the sport on his shoulders.
Higgins and Murphy are the greatest ambassadors for the game - well respected, professional and gentlemanly, and the senior people in Snooker want Snooker to stay this way, whereas O'Sullivan is treated as the anti-hero - very exciting and controversial but a personality which clearly appeals to the audience. I think a few more Ronnie's are needed, but I thought the Snooker was phenomenal and very enjoyable and I think this was a fantastic 17 days... or at least 15!
FINAL (best of 35 frames)
John Higgins (Sco) 18-9 Shaun Murphy (Eng)
SEMI-FINALS (best of 33 frames)
Mark Allen (NI)13-17 John Higgins (Sco) Shaun Murphy (Eng) 17-14 Neil Robertson (Aus)
QUARTER-FINALS (best of 25 frames)
Mark Allen (NI) 13-11 Ryan Day (Wal) John Higgins (Sco) 13-12 Mark Selby (Eng) Shaun Murphy (Eng) 13-11 Stephen Hendry (Sco) Neil Robertson (Aus) 13-8 Stephen Maguire (Sco)
SECOND ROUND (best of 25 frames)
Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 11-13 Mark Allen (NI) Nigel Bond (Eng) 5-13 Ryan Day (Wal) John Higgins (Sco) 13-12 Jamie Cope (Eng) Graeme Dott (Sco) 10-13 Mark Selby (Eng) Shaun Murphy (Eng) 13-3 Marco Fu (HK) Stephen Hendry (Sco) 13-10 Ding Junhui (Chn) Ali Carter (Eng) 8-13 Neil Robertson (Aus) Mark King (Eng) 6-13 Stephen Maguire (Sco)
FIRST ROUND (best of 19 frames)
Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 10-5 Stuart Bingham (Eng) Mark Allen (NI) 10-6 Martin Gould (Eng) Peter Ebdon (Eng) 5-10 Nigel Bond (Eng) Ryan Day (Wal) 10-4 Stephen Lee (Eng) John Higgins (Sco) 10-5 Michael Holt (Eng) Jamie Cope (Eng) 10-6 Joe Perry (Eng) Graeme Dott (Sco) 10-8 Barry Hawkins (Eng) Mark Selby (Eng) 10-6 Ricky Walden (Eng) Shaun Murphy (Eng) 10-8 Andrew Higginson (Eng) Marco Fu (HK) 10-4 Joe Swail (NI) Ding Junhui (Chn) 10-8 Liang Wenbo (Chn) Stephen Hendry (Sco) 10-7 Mark Williams (Wal) Ali Carter (Eng) 10-5 Gerard Greene (NI) Neil Robertson (Aus) 10-2 Steve Davis (Eng) Mark King (Eng) 10-6 Rory McLeod (Eng) Stephen Maguire (Sco) 10-5 Jamie Burnett (Sco)