Solid Start for O’Brien

Fergal O’Brien eased into the first round proper of the 2011 Shanghai Masters following a convincing 5-1 victory over Iran’s Hossein Vafaei in the wildcard round.

The Irishman has been enjoying a resurgence in form recently having made solid progress in three of the four Players Tour Championship events held so far this season and will fancy his chances against Peter Ebdon for a place in the last 16.

Indeed, the 2002 world champion is, by contrast, in a terrible stretch and has failed to win a match so far in this campaign.

O’Brien is on the fringes of a place back in the world’s top 32 in the rankings and a decent run in China could cement his status for the upcoming official cut-off point in the standings next month.

Elsewhere in the preliminary wildcard stage, all of the qualified professionals dispatched of their amateur opponents in what was a more convincing display that originally predicted.

Robert Milkins produced arguably the performance of the day in his whitewash over Tang Jun, with impressive breaks of 70, 60, 109, 74 and 89 giving the Englishman a dominating triumph in less than an hour.

The closest encounter of the day was Dominic Dale’s clash with slow-paced Cao Xinlong.

The Chinese hopeful opened up with two convincing frames to put the Welshman under pressure but Cao’s inexperience eventually told and Dale, winner of the inaugural Shanghai Masters in 2007, edged to an important 5-3 win.

Nigel Bond, who qualified for the event with back-to-back 5-0 scorelines in Sheffield, had too much in the tank for World Under-21 champion Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon – eventually overcoming the Thai teenager 5-2.

There were also easy wins for veterans Anthony Hamilton and James Wattana while up-and-coming youngster Jack Lisowski equally made it through safely and will meet Jamie Cope in the last 32.

Finally, Nottingham’s Michael Holt defeated China’s Cai Jianzhong 5-3 to ensure that none of the wildcards caused any upsets on the opening day of the second major ranking event of the campaign.

Tomorrow, the top seeds enter the fray with defending champion Ali Carter in competition with Mark King and Ronnie O’Sullivan playing Wattana.

To view the full draw, click here.

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