The climax of the snooker season is almost upon us, and on 15th April the World Snooker Championship gets underway at the Crucible.
Mark Selby is the reigning champion and has been the man to beat all year. But can you ever rule out Ronnie O’Sullivan?
Let’s count down the top ten favourites, check their form and see who has the best chance of pocketing the trophy at the Crucible.
Marco Fu (20/1)
After a dismal start to the 2016-17 season in which he failed to get past the second round in all of the opening eight ranking events, Marco has suddenly hit form.
Since the turn of the year he’s beaten the highest ranked players in the world in Judd Trump and Mark Selby.
He also played his part in a nail-biter against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semis at the UK Championship, edged out 6 frames to 5 and fluffing a golden chance to win at 5-4.
Shaun Murphy (20/1)
The Magician won in 2005 and has appeared in two finals since. The closest he has come to lifting the trophy again was in 2015 when he was overcome 18-15 by Stuart Bingham in a high-quality match.
As for this season, Shaun had a strong showing in the UK Championship, losing out to Mark Selby in the semis. But just this month he’s clinched his first win of the year, beating Judd Trump at the Gibraltar Open.
Stuart Bingham (20/1)
The 2015 champion also has pedigree, and seems to age like a fine wine. When Stuart won it two years ago he became the oldest champion since Ray Reardon in 1978.
He is now ranked third in the world, and coming to the boil at the right time: Last month he came back from 8-7 down to beat Judd Trump to the Welsh Open title.
Barry Hawkins (16/1)
Always a solid outside bet for the Snooker World Championship, Barry fell at the quarters last year. But that was only after beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-12 in a monumental second round effort.
Barry is consistency personified and is ranked seventh in the world this year. He has also reached the quarters or more at every World Championship since 2012.
Neil Robertson (12/1)
The leftie won at the Crucible in 2010 to become the first Australian World Champion since 1952.
Always clinical and a consummate technician, Robertson is about to hit 500 century breaks for his career, placing him fourth behind Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and John Higgins.
And In 2016-17, Neil hasn’t dropped out of the top ten all year, winning the Riga Masters last June and reaching the last eight in six ranking tournaments since.
John Higgins (11/1)
An absolute phenomenon, John Higgins is a three-time World Champion and has hardly finished out of top ten in the last 20 years.
After it looked like his career was winding down, the Wizard of Wishaw has come storming back since 2016.
John’s record this calendar year doesn’t seem great, but he might be saving himself for the big one.
He’s already claimed some major prize money this season, crowned Champion of Champions and claiming the China Championship in November.
This tells you the world no 6 is picking his tournaments. You’d be brave to bet against him clinching his fourth title this year.
Ding Junhui (11/1)
Last year Ding Junhui became the first Asian player to reach a World Championship final. And he made it in style too.
His 15 century breaks was the second highest total of all time.
This season he has slipped back a little, and hasn’t clinched a title since the Shanghai Masters in September.
But a strong showing in the Players Championship just last week suggests that he might be coming into form for the season’s climax.
Judd Trump (11/2)
Currently ranked 2nd in world, Judd Trump is another player who has rebounded from a difficult couple of years to look like a genuine contender.
Trump took the game by storm when he got to the final in 2011, aged just 21.
But he hasn’t progressed past the semis at the World Snooker Championship since then, and fell to a second round defeat against Ding Junhui last year.
Still, if you’re looking for form and consistency Trump is your man: With £593,000 in the bag, he has earned more than £100,000 more in prize money this season than in 2016.
This season he has picked up two tournament wins, and reached three more finals. Odds of 11/2 for the World Championship suddenly look quite long.
Mark Selby (5/1)
By most measures Mark Selby should be outright favourite for the World Championship.
The reigning champion has won this title in two of the last three years, won the UK Championship (beating Ronnie O’Sullivan this season) in two of the last five, and just clinched his first International Championship title back in October.
When there’s big prize money on the line, you can bet that Selby will deliver, and in 16-17 he’s earned £350,000 more than his nearest challenger.
Selby has been far and away the best player in the world this year, and always steps it up for the big occasion.
Ronnie O’Sullivan (9/2)
On the face of it Ronnie O’Sullivan has had a slow 16-17 season, having reached one ranking final, the UK Championship, and lost it to Mark Selby). He’s also languishing down in 13th in the rankings.
But of course there are a few things to keep in mind. O’Sullivan has been on fire in the non-ranking tournaments, winning the Masters and getting to the final of the Champion of Champions.
And more to the point, This is Ronnie O’Sullivan, the greatest of all time. No player shares his gift of rattling past tricky opponents and going the distance in gruelling tournaments.
At the UK Championship last year he barely dropped a frame before that tight semi-final against Marco Fu.
But Don’t Count Out
Liang Wenbo (80/1) remains an unknown quantity, but has had a good year and won the English Open.
Meanwhile, Ali Carter (40/1) has played in two World Snooker Championship finals and is 10th in the world at the moment.
If you reckon someone else is flying under the radar or can upset the odds, you can place your bets with Paddy Power until the tournament breaks on Saturday, 15th April.