His final over John Higgins was one of the best for a number of years and will live long in the memory of anyone who witnessed it live or on TV. For those that were in the press room for the naked press conference afterwards, they probably have an image they wish they could erase.
The 2018/2019 season up to this point has been dominated by Ronnie O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson. Both have picked up multiple titles and have actually taken each other on in a couple of finals already, and it is hard to rule out the possibility of the pair contesting this year's world final.
Plenty of other players will have something to say about that though. As Masters champion, Judd Trump will be hoping to complete his Grand Slam by adding a World title to his Masters and the 2011 UK Championship. John Higgins will be hoping it's third time lucky after narrow final defeats in 2017 and 2018, while Selby will want to put a first round exit at this year's UK Championships and a first round exit at last year's World Championships behind him and claim his fourth world title in six years.
Those are just some of the storylines, and there are plenty more in the qualifiers, with James Cahill being the first amateur to grace the Crucible, while four Chinese debutants will appear and a record total of six will feature overall. Cyprus has representation for the first time with Michael Georgiou, while experienced heads like 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott and two-time World finalist Ali Carter have also come through three gruelling rounds at the English Institute of Sport.
Next up is a match where the players involved are only separated by two places in the world rankings as 16th seed David Gilbert takes on world number 18 Joe Perry. 12 months ago Gilbert was outside of the top 16 and failed to qualify for the Crucible, with his last of four previous appearances coming in 2016. In all he has only ever won one match, against Gould in 2012 and lacks the same Crucible experience that Perry has. One year ago he was a match higher in the draw, taking on defending champion Mark Selby and sending him home with ease before losing in the last 16. This year he has qualified comfortably with three easy wins and looks like a player who knows he should be at the Crucible. Gilbert's early exits in the China Open, Welsh Open and Indian Open in recent times plus a narrow failure to make the Tour Championship left him open to a rankings overtake, but while it did not happen he will still go off second favourite against someone in Perry who will fancy his chances of going even further than last year. Having said that, a potential second round match against Mark Williams would be his third meeting of the season with the Welshman, with the aggregate score from the previous two being 10-1. In all though, this looks a tight match and though Perry is the favourite to edge it, either would have a very realistic chance of toppling the champion from his throne in round two.
Then comes the Crucible specialist Barry Hawkins against Chinese debutant Li Hang. Hawkins has reached at least the semi-finals now in five of the last six years, falling just short in 2016 and only winning one of those five semi-finals overall, which is the one damp patch on that record. Given that amount of opportunities, a lot of other players would have won the title at one point or another, but Hawkins has not managed that yet. This season has been a really quiet one for Hawkins. His last appearance saw him lose in the last 64 of the China Open, he failed to make the Tour Championships and lost in round one of the Players Championship as well as losing early in Wales. Usually his good runs in Sheffield have followed good performances in the couple of months prior to the tournament. be that reaching the Welsh and China Open finals last year, winning the World Grand Prix in 2017 or winning the PTC Grand Finals in 2014. Given his form this season you wonder if his good Crucible run may come to an end and whether he could lose his first last 32 match here since 2010. Li is one of four Chinese debutants this year and while he is the highest ranked he is probably the one that could be overlooked by some. He does not offer the excitement of Zhao Xintong, is not in his rookie year like Luo Honghao and nor has he defeated the big names in qualifying like Tian Pengfei did. However, he is a solid player who came through tight matches against Ian Burns and Ben Woollaston in the last two rounds and had good form coming to Sheffield after making the last 16 at the China Open. He can certainly score heavily and has more experience than some of the other Chinese players so may not freeze under the pressure that some debutants do. Overall, Hawkins will be fancied to come through but may not match his usual form this time around.
That leaves Kyren Wilson as a major contender for this year's World Championship when he opens up his campaign against another debutant in Scott Donaldson. A lot will be mentioned about Hawkin's Crucible record but given the number of appearances he has made, Wilson's is just as impressive. After losing in round one on his 2014 debut, he has now appeared in each of the last three years, making quarter-finals in 2016 and 2017 before reaching the semi-finals last year. Those were all against tough opponents, losing to eventual winner Selby in 2016, eventual runner-up Higgins in 2017 and Higgins again last year losing 13-8, 13-6 and 17-13. Last year was incredibly impressive as he came very close to Higgins but could never quite catch him after giving away an early deficit. This season Wilson has added to his trophy cabinet and upped his ranking title tally from one to three with two victories out in Germany. As well as that he made the UK Championship quarter-finals and qualified for the Tour Championships. He will be disappointed to have lost early in events over the last couple of months since winning the German Masters, but given the form of the other players in this quarter that is slightly less alarming, especially given his titles. In round one he faces a tough debutant in Donaldson who defeated Lu Ning 10-9 despite having led 9-4. Donaldson also reached the semi's in China recently as well as quarters in India and Wales, but his collapse in the final round of qualifying may be an alarming sign of things to come. In the end he tumbled over the line after missing several earlier opportunities to win and conceding three snookers in the decider after what had been a good break under pressure prior to that. He may well feel the pressure and those debut nerves and someone as ruthless as Wilson would take full advantage if that is the case. The impressive thing for me with Wilson is his attitude and determination as that seems to win him a lot of big games. If he did play Hawkins in the last 16 he has victories in the 2018 UK and Masters to look back on, and he will be full of confidence that he can continue his Crucible progression again this year.
One of those players is 2015 World Champion Stuart Bingham who starts off his campaign against 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott. Bingham leads Dott 8-3 in the head to head, including a 13-5 win at the last 16 stage in the year Bingham became World Champion. Dott last beat Bingham five and a half years ago and they have met six times since then, which despite all of his Crucible prowess does not bode well for the Scot at all. Dott qualified easily with comfortable wins against Hamza Akbar, Xu Si and Kurt Maflin, so not necessarily the toughest qualifying section but a certain improvement on his form of the rest of the season. This has been one of Dott's worst seasons for a while and he needs to put that behind him if he is to beat Bingham. Overall, you would think Dott will need to score heavily and take his chances because Bingham is likely to be scoring heavily himself. His heavy scoring form has been there for all to see in his run to winning the Gibraltar Open, making the Welsh Open final and reaching the China Open quarter-finals in the last few weeks, as well as winning the English Open final and making the UK Championship semi-finals in the first half of the season. If you look at Bingham's Crucible form outside of 2015 he has only ever reached one further quarter-final, but because of the win in 2015 he has to be considered as a serious contender and with the form he has been in this season, he is the most likely candidate to push my quarter choice in this section.
The former World Champions keep on coming in this section with 2005 winner Shaun Murphy starting his campaign against Chinese debutant and tour rookie Luo Honghao. It is very difficult to make a case for Murphy in this year's tournament. His season has been a nightmare from start to finish, except from one week in Glasgow where he reached a final. Apart from that he has only gone beyond the last 32 of a ranking event once this season and that was last September so he has absolutely no form to bring to Sheffield. It is hard to say what has gone wrong because very little has gone right for him in all honesty. Having said that, a poor season has given him a lot of time to work on his game before the Crucible, putting him in the best possible shape he can be and leaving him very fresh. His Crucible form since losing the 2015 final to Bingham has mirrored that of Bingham's with first round defeats in 2016 and last year as well as last 16 loss in 2017, so that is also a little disappointing for him. His round one opponent Luo is not only a debutant at the Crucible but his run in the qualifiers comes in his first ever World Championships which makes it an even more impressive effort. Along the way he beat a top player in Marco Fu, a three-time Crucible qualifier in Robbie Williams and another experienced player in Tom Ford so he that shows he is more than capable of beating Murphy if he handles those debut nerves. The other highlight of his season was an English Open quarter-final but there were also a number of first round exits besides that so his wins may have come as a surprise to some. Overall, Murphy's season and lack of action in the last four weeks or so, coupled with Luo's lack of World Championship experience make this a real tough game to call and it has the potential to be a first round match that goes the distance.
Finally in this section, 2010 World Champion Neil Robertson who is one of this year's tournament favourites takes on Cypriot debutant Michael Georgiou. Robertson is in some places the joint second favourite with Judd Trump after an excellent season. In all he has picked up titles at the recent China Open, February's Welsh Open and the season opening Riga Masters. Further finals have been made at the International Championship, Players Championship and the Tour Championship, as well as making the Masters semi-finals before losing to eventual winner Trump. Not only does he look back to his best but he may be playing as well as he ever has. At the World Championship overall, he matches the last three years of Bingham and Murphy with two first round losses in 2016 and 2018 and a last 16 loss in 2017. In 2015 he narrowly missed out on the semi-finals after narrowly missing out on the 2014 final. Despite those last three years he has a lot of Crucible pedigree and has been one of the very best players this season which makes him a natural favourite for this title and certainly the most likely player to come through the top half of the draw. His first round opponent Georgiou is someone he has played before this season, at this year's Welsh Open, where Robertson only conceded 44 points in four frames. While it will not be quite that dominant again in this match you have to say that it looks like one of the easier ties Robertson could have drawn, and is a match that he could dominate and get through comfortably. If he scores as heavily, as frequently and easily as he has done for much of the season but especially in the last two months then those around him may have to play one of the games of their lives if they are going to beat Robertson. This feels like a year when Robertson could finally claim a second world title and join an exclusive club of two-time winners.
Next up is Luca Brecel against Gary Wilson in a match where one of the players will score a first Crucible victory in what sets up to be a really close game. Brecel is yet to register a win from his three Crucible appearances, losing from 7-1 up to Marco Fu in 2017 and losing as a seed last year against Ricky Walden. Wilson meanwhile made his debut back in 2017 giving Ronnie O'Sullivan a pretty good game overall and he will be very confident that if he can play near his best and score as well as he can that he has a brilliant chance. Wilson qualified with wins over Sanderson Lam, Dominic Dale and Liang Wenbo, taking the game away from Liang in the latter half of the match after a tight opening session. Brecel meanwhile had suffered a very average season but will have gained a little bit of confidence after making the semi-finals of the China Open. That was the first time Brecel had reached a ranking quarter-final in well over a year though so it shows how long he has been in average form for and is not the form of a World Championship contender. If he plays as he had been prior to Beijing then he is incredibly vulnerable to a quality player in Wilson.
Jack Lisowski faces an incredibly tough test in round one of his first year as a World Championship seed as he faces two-time finalist Ali Carter. This is only Lisowski's third Crucible appearance after making his debut in 2013 and then qualifying again last year, beating Stuart Bingham before being taken apart by John Higgins. Carter meanwhile had to qualify three years ago and on that occasion he too defeated Stuart Bingham so whether a seed or qualifier, Carter can still perform. Last year of course he was a seed, beating Graeme Dott and then Ronnie O'Sullivan to make the quarter-finals and there is only one man in this match with any Crucible pedigree. Carter in the end qualified easily with wins over Jimmy White and John Astley in the last two rounds. He has not been in bad form by any means, making the final of February's World Grand Prix where he came close to Trump, though of course Lisowski was a finalist at the recent China Open and in the season opening Riga Masters, though the middle part of his season, prior to the China Open had been a bit more of a struggle for Lisowski and at times he still seems to show a lack of experience. That certainly does not bode well for a match with someone who is so good over long matches and if Carter could beat Lisowski he could prove to be a serious dark horse in the draw.
Mark Allen though is my third quarter choice and he faces Zhou Yuelong in the opening round. Zhou qualified with good wins in tough ties against Robin Hull, Liam Highfield and Eden Sharav to make the Crucible for the second time, having previously appeared in 2017, losing in round one to Ding on that occasion. He has never faced Allen before so there is nothing to go there but his lack of Crucible experience could be a decisive factor in this one. It had not been the most stand out season for Zhou prior to this but it was not a surprise to see him qualify as he was still the stand out player in his section of the draw when the draw was made. On to Allen, he had an exceptional first half to the season winning the International Championship, reaching the UK Championship final and winning the Scottish Open, seeing him top the money list until the last couple of tournaments. Since Christmas his form has slightly dipped and I think that may just be that he took the foot off the gas slightly. His concession at the World Grand Prix is the concerning thing for those backing him for Sheffield this year. It leaves question marks over his focus and temperament to do something like that, given how big a test this is. Perhaps it goes some way to explaining why last year was the first time since 2011 that he had gone beyond the last 16. Having said that, he has never come to the Crucible off the back of a season like this one. This is the first season in which he had won mulitple ranking titles, taking his tally from three to five and his win in Glasgow only really needed his B game until the final. Last time out Allen withdrew from China for 'personal reasons' and while I hope everything is fine, it may have also given him better preparation time and the rest he needs to make sure his mind is right for an assault on the world title, because this season has shown he can go up a gear and that he could do well here finally.
After last year's collapse, Stephen Maguire will hardly be delighted to find himself in Ronnie O'Sullivan's section but first he must get through against Chinese debutant Tian Pengfei. On paper, Tian is outside of the top 64 and on his Crucible debut the nerves could get to him and this may not be a bad draw for Maguire. In reality, Maguire last won a first round match as a seed in 2012, with his only wins since then coming as a qualifier in 2017. Tian meanwhile has already seen the back of world number 17 Ryan Day and another experienced long match player in Matthew Stevens, beating Day 10-3 and leading Stevens 9-3 before being pegged back to 9-8 and eventually winning 10-8. Tian has also reached two quarter-finals this season at the European Masters and Gibraltar Open as well as the last 16 of the Scottish Open and the last 32 of the UK Championship, showing he is a very capable player. Maguire this season has made three semi-finals and a UK Championship quarter-final but not really threatened to win that illusive first ranking title since 2013 and in the last few events he has lost in the last 32 of the China Open, the first round of the Players Championship and the last 128 of the Welsh Open so much of his good form was in the first half of the season. It would not be a surprise to see Tian cause the upset here, but whoever comes through will be really up against it against O'Sullivan.
Ding Junhui's quest to be the first Chinese World Champion starts off against Anthony McGill in round one this year. Ding has won all four previous meetings with McGill, including a 13-4 win in the last 16 here 12 months ago, which certainly bodes well for Ding. In all, McGill in a similar situation to when he met Ding last year is lucky to be here after coming from 7-2 down to defeat Robert Milkins in the final qualifying round, having already beaten Ashley Hugill and Duane Jones. McGill has not had his greatest season but he has put that behind him somewhat by making the China Open last 16 and then qualifying for the Crucible so that should help his confidence, and as a quarter-finalist in 2015 he has plenty of Crucible experience now in what is his fifth appearance. As for Ding, he is probably going in this year slightly under the radar, at least in the UK media given that he is in the same quarter as O'Sullivan and Judd Trump and as he has had a pretty average season. The latest surprise loss came in the last 64 of the China Open and he has suffered a number of last 16 losses this season, as well as picking and choosing his events since the birth of his first child. A lot is made of Ding's 'failure' to have won a world title but he still has plenty of time left in his career and has reached the quarter-finals in five of the last six World Championships, with a final in 2016 and a semi-final in 2017. If he could find some form and beat McGill in round one he would likely face Trump in the last 16 and he does lead the head to head with Trump 6-5 (excluding Championship League). This includes a 9-4 win in the 2016 International Championship and a 13-10 win in the World Championship of the same year. Trump did win 13-4 a year earlier and famously won their 2011 World semi-final though so he has the slight edge in their Crucible meetings.
That leads me nicely to my fourth and final quarter choice in the joint second favourite in Judd Trump who opens up with a dangerous match against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. The difficulty of his first round match could actually be a help rather than a hindrance to him though. When he was massively fancied in 2017 and lost 10-9 in round one to Rory McLeod he spoke about how he was the best in the world and could not lose to McLeod, and you wonder if he was not quite fully focused and there's no way he can get away with making the same statements here against Thepchaiya. If you look at how Trump won the Masters earlier this year he did so by having tough matches in every round and needing to be on top of his game, which if you look at the draw is likely to be the case again here. As for Thepchaiya, he has qualified for the second year in succession with wins against Mark Joyce and young Joe O'Connor along the way and he has looked very dangerous ever since winning the Shoot-Out a couple of months ago. It looks to have given him a lot of confidence, as he has always been a dangerous player and one of the heaviest scoring. When he qualified last year he took seven frames off of John Higgins who went on to the final so it would be no surprise if he pushes Trump close here, even if Trump is playing well. Trump is undoubtedly playing well, despite a last 64 loss in China recently and is a worthy second favourite for this title, but with that comes a lot of expectation and pressure as there was in 2017 when he lost to McLeod and that expectation is growing every year. This time though he looks in a better place to be able to handle that than he ever has before. After close calls in last year's quarter-final, the 2015 and 2013 semi-finals and the 2011 final, he may finally be ready to take that big leap to the top and take home this title.
With so many dangerous qualifiers and a host of top title contenders this could be another exciting World Championships, so sit back and enjoy the festival of snooker to come.