Betfred World Championship: A marathon, not a sprint

Sportradar is preparing to embark on its eighth year as snooker’s official data provider as the Betfred World Championship gets underway in Sheffield on Saturday.

Seventeen gruelling days of intense competition lie ahead of the 32 runners on the hallowed green baize of the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England. Sportradar, the “source code of sport” takes a look back over the last few years to prove that the Betfred sponsored blue ribbon event is more of a marathon than a sprint by comparing the performances of players with their average shot time (AST).

Speed doesn’t play a part in a sport like snooker…or does it? As part of Sportradar’s in-depth data analysis of snooker, which has taken data from over 20,000 matches, the average time taken by tour players to play each shot has been recorded and now provides an interesting comparison that could well provoke some discussion.

Out of 20 events that we looked at from the 2017/18 season, 14 were won by players with an AST of 20 seconds or less – in fact only Mark Selby (Fuhua Group China Open) and Neil Robertson (Dafabet Scottish Open) get close to the 25-second mark, recording ASTs of 24.34 and 24.15 respectively.

It should be noted that Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan, with five victories to his name, accounts for 25% of these wins, but with nine other individual winners breaking the 20-second barrier, there appears to be a trend that he who hesitates, struggles.

However, it would seem that the longer matches at the World Championship appear to have a slowing effect on a player’s shot time, with O’Sullivan himself averaging 19.05 seconds per shot to claim victory in 2012 compared with his current season AST of 16.92. Selby, with three wins from his last four outings in Sheffield with an AST of 25.82 compared with his current season AST of 22.98 demonstrates his ability to pace himself for the long-haul.

Barry Hawkins is another that supports this theory as a proven Crucible specialist reaching the final, three semi-finals and quarter-final since 2012. His Crucible AST of 24.94 compares similarly with a 2017/18 season AST of 21.96 seconds and, after a quiet start to the season, a recent return to form has seen him reach two finals in 2018 in Wales and China, suggesting that he has what it takes to go the distance.

With the last first-time winner back in 2005, who could appear to fit the bill as a potential winner in terms of AST and previous success? Former winners John Higgins (22.16), Neil Robertson (22.88) and Stuart Bingham (23.26) appear to still have what it takes. Although having never won at the Crucible Kyren Wilson (23.65) did win in Shanghai in 2015 and has come close this season. Meanwhile, Ricky Walden (24.01) stormed through qualifying this week and looks back to the kind of form that has seen him lift 3 major titles.

Among the contenders will be a number of speed-demons looking to buck the trend set by Selby et al, and head home with the trophy on May 7th. Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (17.12) and Englishman Jack Lisowski (17.92) are second and third quickest players this season and have both safely negotiated three tricky rounds of qualifying to reach this stage.

They will be joined by Judd Trump (18.12), Luca Brecel (18.55) and Mark Williams (18.61) who occupy the next three places on this season’s AST list, and have all tasted victory on at least one occasion during the current campaign.

At the other end of the spectrum, figures suggest that ‘slow play’ will not be rewarded with victory. In the past six years, no player has made it through two rounds with an AST above 30 seconds. In fact, there have been 186 matches played at The Crucible since 2012 and only two have been won with an AST above 30 seconds.

Dechewat Poomjaeng holds the record as the slowest winner of a match with an AST of 32.04 seconds in 2013, with Alan McManus (30.09) the other in 2014. So, if the likes of Stuart Carrington, with a season AST of 29.29, are looking to go deep into the 2018 tournament then history would suggest that he will need to get on with it!

It is difficult to look past either Selby or O’Sullivan being the last man standing in just over a fortnight but only time will tell whether they will or whether one of the other 30 players will secure the 71-frames needed to walk away as champion.

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