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When it was confirmed that Stephen Hendry had dropped out of the world's top-16 during last year's championship, there was much speculation concerning whether a Crucible audience would again enjoy the privilege of seeing the greatest player to ever pick up a cue. Happily, Hendry defied the sceptics and, courtesy of a 10-6 qualifying victory over Yu Delu, will make his 27th consecutive appearance in Sheffield. That may well, however, be the limit of his achievement.

To some extent the draw has been kind, as Stuart Bingham is possibly the weakest seed and certainly a much easier first round opponent than most. Nevertheless this is a huge match for Bingham, who is provisionally ranked in the precarious 16th position, and the Essex man has previously shown a capacity to bring his 'A game' to such must-win situations. Twelve months ago, Bingham needed to reach the quarter-finals to qualify for the elite top-16 and would have pulled off that unlikely feat were it not for a magnificent Ding Junhui comeback. Not to be deterred, Bingham went ahead and duly earned his promotion by winning the first ranking event of the year, the Australian Goldfields Open.

Bingham remains a longshot for the title, but he has definitely proved himself to be a player on the up, whereas Hendry is in irreversible decline. Characteristically, he's fought hard to maintain his status and won most of his qualifying matches against lesser players but he has repeatedly been found wanting when reaching the main draw. A further cause for concern is that Hendry spent last week playing exhibitions in China, only returning to the UK on Friday. Whereas that is hardly the ideal preparation, Bingham will surely have been fully focussed on this pivotal match in his career.

Strangely, this pair have only met once before in a ranking event, when Bingham pulled off an enormous shock on his Crucible debut 12 years ago. This time around he's the slight favourite at 1.91 and I'm expecting the same result. Punters looking for an odds-against interest might be best served by a couple of relatively one-sided correct scores.

Recommended Bet
6u Stuart Bingham to win @ 1.91

Correct score
1u Bingham to win 10-6 @ 11.0
1u Bingham to win 10-5 @ 15.0

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