John Higgins’ bid to retain his World Snooker Championship crown will get underway next week, and the defending champion has received a relatively kind draw in the form of Chinese competitor Liang Wenbo.
Three of Higgins’ four World Championship triumphs have come within the past five years, and he will be at or around the head of the betting for another success in this year’s tournament.
His first task will be to overcome Wenbo, who will be making his debut in the competition, and a man who has claimed just one non-rankings title in his seven-year professional career shouldn’t cause too many problems for Higgins.
Elsewhere in the tournament, focus will be placed on another inexperienced entrant, as 17-year-old Belgian Luca Brecel will become the youngest player to compete at the Crucible, when taking on Stephen Maguire in an opening round tie.
Brecel is believed to be one of the brightest prospects in snooker, and having already claimed the scalps of Jimmy White and Ken Doherty in his infantile pro career to date, some could be inclined to back the youngster to pull off a Crucible upset.
Meanwhile, Judd Trump represents a youthful talent who does have pedigree in major tournaments.
Trump was unlucky in defeat to John Higgins in last year’s event, which was his maiden appearance in the World Championship, and after UK Championship success, he will hold no fears in a first round outing opposing Welshman Dominic Dale, whose last rankings success came back in 2007.
At the other end of the spectrum, experienced competitors Ronnie O’Sullivan and Peter Ebdon have been drawn against each other, and three-time World Champion O’Sullivan looks good to prosper as his career winds down.
O’Sullivan has reiterated his desire to compete more sporadically in recent months, and he can progress past Ebdon as the first hurdle en route to what could prove to be his final hurrah.