A counterculture is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm”. In the fast-paced modern world of sport, few events are more countercultural than the World Snooker Championship which is already underway once more in Sheffield.
Whether it be the boom of T20 cricket or the introduction of a shot clock into the Australian Open tennis, sports everywhere have been looking for ways to speed up in an attempt to become more appealing in the instant gratification era. For this reason, it is refreshing to see that snooker’s biggest tournament has stuck to its guns and refused to compromise on its format.
The first-round ties are best of 19 frame matchups, that is the length of a final in most regular snooker tournaments. From there, the matches only get more gruelling with the final being a marathon best of 35 frame match that takes place across four sessions over two days.
Granted World Snooker has tried out new formats in other tournaments to try and get more mainstream attention such as introducing a Six Red World Championship and the Snooker Shootout, the latter of which involves ten-minute frames and a shot clock. Fortunately, however, their flagship event has been left untouched.
The sedate pace that we will see over the next couple weeks is not a negative but actually part of the tournament’s appeal. The fact that is it so out of kilter with the general trends of modern sport makes it all the more unique, and therefore it’s something that should be cherished and protected.
Also, just because something has a slow pace it doesn’t mean it’s boring. Few things in sport can be as tense or gripping as a tight match in the enclosed cauldron of the Crucible, especially when a match drifts past midnight and into the early hours of the next day.
Dennis Taylor’s and Steve Davies’ iconic 1985 ‘black ball’ final is the match that everyone reminisces about but every year there are usually several matches that go down to the wire, albeit none perhaps more dramatic than Taylor’s victory over Davies.
So, what can we expect from this year’s edition? It will come as a shock to no one that Ronnie O’Sullivan is the bookmaker’s favourite to win his sixth World title, especially now that last year’s champion Mark Selby has already been knocked out by Joe Perry.
To put it bluntly, if the sometimes enigmatic but always entertaining cueist plays at his best, he will win this tournament. The player who many regard as the best ever has had a brilliant 2017/18 season so far, winning five ranking events including the UK Championship.
O’Sullivan’s opponents can take solace in the fact he did stumble at The Masters, losing to eventual winner Mark Allen in the quarters. Also, he recently suffered a first-round exit to Elliot Slessor in the China Open three weeks ago, although even in this defeat he still managed to turn on the style notching up a maximum 147 break.
Though ‘the Rocket’ is favourite, he has been tasked with a nightmare draw. Indeed, he was given an early scare by Stephen Maguire in the first round with him having to fight back from 4-0 down to win 10-7.
After the first round, it doesn’t get much easier with Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Ding Juinhui, and Ali Carter all in his half of the draw. O’Sullivan will probably have to play at least two, maybe three of these players just to make the final.
Since the boom of the sport in China, the Snooker world has been eagerly waiting to find out who will be the first man from Asia to lift the title. Just as in previous years, the most likely candidate appears to be Ding Junhui.
On his day Ding can be the best player in snooker, but he can also be frustratingly inconsistent and flatter to deceive. This season alone, he has been knocked out of five major tournaments in the first round including the UK Championship and The Masters. This is far too many early exits for a man of Ding’s ability, and he will know better than anyone that he is more than capable of bettering last year’s semi-final exit by reaching his second Crucible final.
Ding will also be under enormous pressure, with there being an expectant and substantial audience in his native country. His 2016 run to the final was watched by 210 million people in China, and one would imagine similar numbers would tune in again this year if he was to go deep in the tournament.
Considering the massive popularity of the sport in the World’s biggest country, it is surprising that only three of the 32 competitors in the main draw are from China with a further two more from Asia (Hong Kong’s Marco Fu and Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh).
Other contenders should include Judd Trump and John Higgins, while Antrim’s Mark Allen is the sole representative from the entire island of Ireland.
Given that this is a student website, many of you will be in the middle of exams during this tournament, and what better way could there be to destress than by zoning out and watching all the action on the baize. It will always be there in the background if you need it.
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