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2023 World Snooker Championship Day 2 Preview: Hossein Vafaei can cause upset

There are plenty of observers who believe Hossein Vafaei could upset Ding Junhui in their World Championship opener.

However, for much of the last decade if any bookmaker had offered you perfectly acceptable, backable odds-on quotes about China's greatest player winning a best-of-19-frames match against an opponent from the snooker backwater of Iran, it would have been quite appealing.

Ding Junhui (8/15), Hossein Vafaei (6/4)

WhatDing Junhui v Hossein Vafaei
WhereCrucible Theatre, Sheffield
When10:00, Sunday 16th April
How to watchbet365 Live Streaming, BBC & Eurosport
OddsDing Junhui 8/15, Hossein Vafaei 6/4

Vafaei, the best player ever to emerge from his country, already has a victory to his name over Ding and their series is tied at 1-1.

Both of those clashes were in shorter-format ranking events in 2020 and so this is by far their most important meeting.

And it comes at a time when Ding is producing some of his best snooker in years. He recently captured the Six Red World Championship title in Thailand and that triumph should have boosted his confidence going to the Crucible, where he made the final in 2016 but was second best to Mark Selby.

It all looked so promising then for Ding, who loved the experience of contesting the game's most important match.

Three UK Championship victories and a Masters triumph testify to Ding's ability and greatness, and if he is playing anywhere near the standard of old then Vafaei, even allowing for his own considerable talents, should not put the Chinese seed under the sort of pressure that Ronnie O'Sullivan, Judd Trump and even Barry Hawkins afforded him at the Crucible down the years.

Never mind the fact that Vafaei has posted a ton in both of their previous encounters and deservedly ousted Jackson Page and Andrew Pagett in the qualifiers - this should be a winnable match for 8/15 shot Ding, who in his pomp was one of the heaviest scorers snooker has known.

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Mark Williams (2/7), Jimmy Robertson (11/4)

WhatMark Williams v Jimmy Robertson
WhereCrucible Theatre, Sheffield
When14:30, Sunday 16th April
How to watchbet365 Live Streaming, BBC & Eurosport
OddsMark Williams 2/7, Jimmy Robertson 11/4

Like a number of the World Championship seeds this year, Mark Williams has been quiet on the baize of late. But it will be a major surprise if the Welsh Potting Machine isn't ready and well prepared for his latest assault on the Crucible, where he has won three times in his majestic career.

Jimmy Robertson is the qualifier charged with trying to lower Williams' colours, but given that he has never beaten the seed in their 10 previous meetings it's big odds about him finding a way to stem the tide in their 11th clash.

Even though he fell in the semi-finals in Sheffield last year, Williams arguably produced the best snooker of the 2022 World Championship, posting a whopping 16 tons in the four rounds he contested.

A decent early draw in this year's 17-day marathon means Williams has every chance of embarking on another solid Crucible title tilt and it's difficult to see him coming unstuck until the quarter-finals at least if he produces his usual game.

He didn't have enough to deny Trump in the Masters final in January - Williams' only title match of note this season. But while the Cwm native, 48, may find it difficult to improve on his display in last year's flagship tournament, his Crucible performances have been getting better the older he gets.

The consensus handicap is 3.5 frames, but it's often wise for punters to get another frame on their side if at all possible so backing Williams to successfully concede his opponent a start of 2.5 can be considered.

Robertson did well to silence two decent performers in Ben Mertens and Anthony Hamilton in qualifying and book a return trip to Sheffield. But considering he has never got close to upending Williams and that the favourite has won 47 of the 60 frames the duo have contested, normal service is likely to be resumed in their last-32 rumble.

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