- Mark Selby leads the world standings, he is the defending champion and has won in Sheffield for three of the last four years. The ‘Jester from Leicester’ also triumphed in the most recent ranking tournament, hammering Barry Hawkins 11-3 in the final of the China Open earlier this month.
- Selby has been overshadowed this season, though, by the exploits of Ronnie O’Sullivan. ‘The Rocket’ has put together one of the most consistent seasons of his career, winning five major titles including the UK Championship. He is also a five-time winner of the World Championship, although he has not made it past the quarter-finals in Sheffield since his runner-up finish in 2014.
- World No.3 Ding Junhui won the World Open last September but has generally been below his best this year and even pulled out of the Shanghai Masters due to a suspected eye problem. Judd Trump, fourth in the rankings, has also had a mixed campaign, winning the European Masters in October and making the final of the Shanghai Masters, but otherwise struggling to find his ‘A’ game.
- John Higgins is a four-time champion, reached the final last year and has had another impressive season, capturing titles at the Indian Open and the Welsh Open. Another veteran, Mark Williams, has also notched up two ranking tournament wins this year at the Northern Ireland Open and the German Masters.
The draw has not been particularly kind on either of the two favourites. O’Sullivan has to face five-time ranking event winner Stephen Maguire in the first round, while Selby meets the dangerous Joe Perry.
O’Sullivan’s possible path through to the final looks especially awkward, with Ali Carter or Graeme Dott lying in wait in round two, followed most likely by Williams or 2010 champion Neil Robertson. Ding Junhui, Marco Fu and Barry Hawkins are also in the same half and O’Sullivan, despite his outstanding season, could be running on empty even if he makes it to the final. Nobody over the age of 40 has won the World Championship since Ray Reardon did it in the 1970s and O’Sullivan has previously indicated that this year’s event is not one of his main priorities, describing The Crucible as ‘boring’.
There can be no doubting Selby’s hunger for another world title, and the 34-year-old potter seems to be firmly back on track following his recent China Open win. Selby’s odds and draw both look marginally more favourable in comparison to O’Sullivan’s, and with such a proven track record the smart money would appear to be on him to go all the way again. However, anyone looking for more of an outside punt may wish to consider Trump, who has the break-building power to go on a hot streak and cruise through what looks like one of the kinder sections of the draw. He may still have to beat Higgins and Selby just to reach the final, but an Each Way flutter at 15/2 could reap rewards.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
*Please note, odds may fluctuate.