This week sees the start of the biggest annual event on the snooker calendar as the Snooker World Championships get underway at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England. The final event of the season, which runs from May through to the following April, it boasts a prize pool of over £1.2 million with a first prize of £300,000 and is the best of the prestigious Triple Crown events which also include the Masters and the UK Championship.
First held in 1927, the World Championships became particularly popular in 1977 when they moved to the Crucible Theatre and were televised by the BBC for the first time. With much of that interest coming from within Britain, the fact that UK players have dominated this event might provide a good explanation for that. In fact, in the 79 times it has been run the World Championships has only been won by a non-UK player four times!
This event has undergone a number of format changes over the years. In the early days, England’s Joe Davis was the dominant force winning the first 15 titles although this was in an era where there were very few professionals and in some instances only two players in the entire event! In later years the World Championships was run on a challenge basis with players challenging one another to matches to determine a winner. It wasn’t until 1969 that the tournament adopted the knock-out format that still exists today.
The 2014 format sees the top 16 ranked players go straight through to the first round with each to face one of 16 qualifiers. Qualifying matches started on 8 April with the final batch to be completed tonight to determine who progresses to the main draw.
China has three players in this final round – Liang Wenbo, Xiao Guodong and Li Yan – with at least one of them guaranteed to progress given Xiao and Li play one another. They will join China’s top ranked player and the fourth seed here, Ding Junhui, in the main draw.
Junhui faces a tough road if he is to win here, with a possible quarter-finals match-up with defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan waiting in the semi-finals. O’Sullivan has actually won the last two World Championships and is one of only three players in the modern era to have successfully defended his title.
However, Junhui has been in terrific form this season having equaled the record for most rankings event wins in a year with five and can set a new record should he win here. Junhui downed Australia’s world number one Neil Robertson in the final of the China Open two weeks ago with Robertson stating afterwards that only he and Junhui were capable of beating O’Sullivan at this year’s World Championships.
Time will tell if Junhui can etch his name in snooker folklore over the coming fortnight.