After surviving tough days of snooker in the qualifiers, 16 players have secured their place in the World Championship and will play at the Theater of Dreams, the Crucible, in Sheffield. The greatest snooker tournament of all, the Betfred World Championship begins this Saturday (April 17th) and is the last tournament of the 2020/2021 season. The qualifiers took place between April 5th and 14th at the English Institute of Sport, also in Sheffield, and no less than 112 players competed against each other for one of the 16 available spots for the greatest tournament of them all. The survivors will join the top 16 to complete the set of 32 players who will play for the world title. For those who do not know yet, the top 16 in the rankings do not need to play in the qualifiers. The opponent of each of the top 16 (the seeded players) is one among the 16 players who competed in the qualifiers.
It is tradition that the current world champion plays two sessions on the first day. Ronnie O'Sullivan will start his title defense against Mark Joyce, who defeated the Brazilian Igor Figueiredo in the last round of the qualifiers 10-7. Although failing to secure his place at the Crucible, Figueiredo has accomplished the great feat of staying on the circuit in the next season. Congratulations to our countryman! Returning to the inaugural match of the world championship, Mark Joyce, despite already being on tour for 15 years as a professional, is a debutant at the Crucible. With all due respect, Mark Joyce shall be an easy prey for the current world champion. It would be a huge upset if O'Sullivan loses his first match! We've seen this happen before in 2019.
World number one Judd Trump will face his countryman Liam Highfield. Trump is the big favorite to lift the trophy this year. The 2019 world champion has won 5 titles this season alone. However, one should not underestimate Highfield, who defeated China's Zhou Yuelong (number 17 in the rankings) in the final round of the qualifiers (Highfield won 10-7).
The current favorite of the "top snooker journalists" is the Australian Neil Robertson, who will face Chinese Liang Wenbo. It's not going to be easy. Wenbo hasn't been playing very well lately, but he managed to qualify nonetheless by beating Lu Ning 10-7 in the last round. Neil Robertson became the defending champion of the prestigious Tour Championship last month after a convincing victory against O'Sullivan who was completely shut out in that final. It seems obvious that the Australian's new hairstyle is helping him play to his best.
Mark Selby will face Norwegian Kurt Maflin, who beat Robert Milkins 10-4 in the final round of qualifiers. This match is pretty much unpredictable. Maflin made it to the quarter-finals last year when he lost to Anthony McGill. He will be a challenging opponent for Selby, who missed his chance to clinch last year's semi-final when he watched his great rival O'Sullivan - who was losing 16-14 - produce a remarkable comeback to win the match 17-16.
John Higgins, who became the campion of the Players Championship after demolishing his opponent 10-3 in the final (I am not saying who the victim was because it is no fun anymore), will face China's Tian Pengfei, who defeated Scotland's Graeme Dott in the final round of the qualifiers 10-7. Higgins is a strong candidate to win a fifth title because of the way he has been playing and his outstanding record at the Crucible. Higgins was a finalist in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Kyren Wilson, the last year's finalist and two-time champion of the Championship League will face his namesake, Gary Wilson. Gary Wilson was a semifinalist in 2019, when he lost to Judd Trump 17–11. Gary Wilson easily beat Steven Hallworth 10-3 in the qualifiers to return to the Crucible. As for Kyren Wilson, is it known that he has plenty of talent to become world champion, and who knows, perhaps his time has finally come?
Shaun Murphy, the 2005 world champion, will face Mark Davis, who produced an amazing comeback against Jamie Clarke. Davis trailed 7-2 and still found a way to win the match 10-8. Murphy is expected to win, but again, it won't be easy. Scotland's Stephen Maguire, who has not had a very good season, will face Jamie Jones, who defeated China's Li Hang 10-5 in the qualifiers. China’s top player Ding Junhui will face none other than Stuart Bingham, the 2015 world champion. The fact that Bingham has played in the qualifiers says a lot about the high standard of play we see these days. In addition, Bingham had to beat young Belgian Luca Brecel to play again at the Crucible. This will be another unpredictable match.
The young Masters champion, China's Yan Bingtao, will face Martin Gould. Gould secured his place at the Crucible by defeating China's Bai Langning in the qualifiers 10–5. This match will take place tomorrow, at the same time that the current champion will play at the other table. Barry Hawkins will face countryman Matthew Selt, who comfortably defeated Scott Donaldson in the qualifiers 10-3. Hawkins has returned to the top 16 in the rankings this season and usually plays well at the Crucible. He was a finalist in 2013 and a semifinalist in 2015. Long story short: it is highly possible that he will have a good run again.
2018 world champion Mark Williams will face young debutant Sam Craigie, who booked his place in the tournament by defeating the Chinese prospect Zhao Xintong 10-9. Usually, people don't expect anything from Williams at the World Championship, but that's exactly why he's a dangerous contender. The three-time world champion plays calmly all the time, and that's key to enduring the 17 days of the marathon that World Championship is.
Another unknown force is Mark Allen, the current champion of champions, who will face China's Lyu Haotian. Haotian defeated young Chang Bingyu in the qualifiers 10–6. Allen is a very mysterious player on tour. He's young and has a lot of skill, but for some reason he doesn't win tournaments as often as his talent suggests.
Jack Lisowski, who has appeared in three finals this season, will face veteran and experienced Ali Carter, a finalist on more than one occasion. Carter managed to get a 10–4 win against Switzerland's Alexander Ursenbacher. David Gilbert will face countryman Chris Wakelin, who defeated China's Xiao Guodong in the qualifiers 10-7. Finally, Scotland's Anthony McGill will face Ricky Walden, a semi-finalist in 2013. McGill was a semifinalist himself last year, when he lost to Kyren Wilson 17-16 in a decisive frame filled with drama that lasted more than 1 hour. Walden booked his place at the Crucible with a 10-5 win against Ryan Day, the defending Shoot Out champion.