Ronnie O’Sullivan handed Robin Hull opener in World Snooker defence
Reigning World Snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan (5/4 with Coral to take a third successive Crucible crown) begins the defence of his title against Finnish potter Robin Hull, who conquered former winner Peter Ebdon in qualifying.
Punters can expect the Rocket, who has already pocketed the Masters and Welsh Open titles this term, to make serene progress to the quarter-finals, where he could meet fellow seeds Marco Fu (33/1 to lift the trophy) or Shaun Murphy (20/1).
Crucible King in 2005, Murphy, takes on Stoke’s ‘Shotgun’ Jamie Cope in his first round match, while Fu faces Martin Gould. The seeds would then duke it out in the last 16 for the right to tackle tournament favourite O’Sullivan.
‘Gentleman’ Joe Perry could await Rocket Ronnie in round two, if he overcomes Jamie Burnett. Ding Junhui, meanwhile, can feel confident about a semi-final spot as his section of the draw looks straightforward on paper.
Winner of an impressive five ranking event titles this term, Chinese cueman Ding is Coral’s second-favourite at 15/2. Shock Crucible finalist last season Barry Hawkins (33/1) is the highest seed in his path. Ricky Walden and Mark Davis (both 100/1 shots) will be trying to stop this potential quarter-final from happening, however.
In the bottom half of the draw, ‘the Jester from Leicester’ Mark Selby (10/1) could encounter former four-time world champion John Higgins (18/1) in the last eight. Ali Carter (50/1), twice a beaten finalist, shall be looking to stop Selby, who has a notoriously bad Crucible record.
Higgins faces an all-Scotland clash with Alan ‘Angles McManus’ in round one, while 1997 winner Ken Doherty (300/1) could give the last 16 a nostalgic feel, should he upset sixth seed Stuart Bingham.
Glasgow’s Stephen Maguire (33/1) meets Ryan Day in the tie of the opening round. Judd Trump (9/1), and his brand of naughty snooker, could await next. ‘The Pistol’ Mark Allen (25/1) may meet 2010 champion Neil Robertson (also 9/1) in a mouth-watering last 16 match-up.
Coral have opened a number of special markets for the Crucible showpiece. They go odds-on at 4/7 on a first-time winner in Sheffield. A whitewash taking place at the tournament, meanwhile, is a 7/1 shot.
There is an 8/1 price on two or more maximum 147 breaks being recorded at this season’s World Championship, while ‘the Thunder from Down Under’ Robertson is a 15/8 chance to hit 100 century breaks for the campaign. He needs seven more at the final ranking event of this term to achieve that feat.