Our preview of the first round matches starting on Sunday in the Dafabet World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield…
JOE PERRY v JAMIE BURNETT
(Sunday 10am and Monday 10am)
Perry has enjoyed the best season of his career, largely because it began with him winning a title on the Asian Tour. This was an immediate injection of confidence, which Perry has used to great effect, securing his top 16 place and reaching semi-finals at the International Championship and Welsh Open and three other ranking event quarter-finals.
He has at times played really well against top players, which is the test at the highest level. At the Players Championship he made two centuries but still lost to Judd Trump. He didn’t qualify for Beijing, which may well work in his favour as he didn’t have all the stamina-sapping hassle of travel.
Burnett’s response to qualifying, when asked which seed he would like to avoid, was “all of them.” This is the Scot’s fourth appearance at the Crucible. Like most of his other compatriots he’s a tough competitor but has never won a match at the home of snooker.
Perry starts favourite here but everyone is nervous coming into the World Championship and this could well develop into a battle.
PREDICTION: Perry 10-7
DING JUNHUI v MICHAEL WASLEY
(Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm)
This is Ding’s best ever chance to become Asia’s first world snooker champion. He has had a dream season, winning five ranking titles from six finals, equalling Stephen Hendry’s record set in the 1990/91 campaign.
Ding’s Crucible record could be better. He reached the semi-finals in 2011 and the quarter-finals last year but otherwise has not really looked at home at the game’s most celebrated venue. I don’t think it has helped him in previous years that he so often played morning sessions to accommodate Chinese television. This match, though, is two afternoons and has to be regarded as a good draw for China’s no.1.
Wasley (pictured) will become the 190th player to compete at the Crucible when he starts the match. He came through qualifying in the most dramatic of circumstances, knocking in a great long re-spotted black to beat his fellow Gloucester cueist Robert Milkins.
This was the biggest shot of his career and Wasley was not found wanting. But Ding represents a much bigger challenge for a player still inexperienced at the main venues.
Wasley struck me as an intelligent, articulate young man when he spoke after qualifying. He clearly thinks about the game and what he is doing. He knows he is up against it here but in some ways that transfers the pressure to Ding.
Even so, defeat for Ding would register high on the all-time Crucible list of shocks.
PREDICTION: Ding 10-4
Photographs by Monique Limbos.