The professional qualifying rounds of the World Championship got under way yesterday and there were no major shocks as the first six results were recorded at the EIS Badminton Hall in Sheffield.
Thai duo Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon progressed to the next stage with respective victories over Scott Donaldson and Jamie O’Neill.
Un-Nooh impressed with a century and six further 50-plus breaks in a 10-6 triumph over young Scotsman Donaldson while his countryman enjoyed a less comfortable win over O’Neill – narrowly avoiding a deciding frame with a 10-8 scoreline.
The commentators may be secretly hoping that Tirapongpaiboon doesn’t go all the way and qualify but to be fair there is a decent enough chance of that happening.
The 19 year-old is regarded as an up-and-coming talent with raw ability similar to the likes of Luca Brecel and Jack Lisowski.
But the fact that he is not talked about as much as those two, or perhaps even somebody like Michael White, could work to his advantage as he could quietly work his way through the rounds relatively unnoticed.
His next opponent is England’s Mike Dunn, who has had a dreadful season by his standards with only three wins to his credit in a long, tough season where he has also openly questioned his own future in the game.
Meanwhile, there was a brace of victories for two of the Chinese in the field – further strengthening the South East presence in the draw.
Zhang Anda qualified for the Crucible in 2010 and began the road to repeat the feat with a 10-6 ousting of Passakorn Suwannawat.
The win sets up an intriguing tie with compatriot Cao Yupeng, who of course memorably beat Mark Allen in the last 32 twelve months ago.
25 year-old Tian Pengfei had a slightly easier time of it against inaugural Snookerbacker Classic champion Martin O’Donnell, completing a 10-5 defeat of the popular Englishman.
The victory ensures that Tian will be the opponent of veteran People’s Champion Jimmy White, who begins his journey back to his spiritual home on Monday.
The ‘Whirlwind’ has endured a very bad campaign and will definitely start second favourite against Tian, who wasn’t even born when the Londoner first reached the final in 1984, but somewhere, somehow, there is always the minor chance that a glimpse of the old ability will reappear and that’s what his legion of fans will be ultimately hoping for over the course of the next week.
Elsewhere, the first of what will surely be many gritty final frame thrillers took place as Craig Steadman edged out David Grace in a nervy one.
Steadman has enjoyed a more than respectable season on the tour and narrowly edged out his fellow Englishman in a nervy contest while Michael Wasley beat teenager Sean O’Sullivan 10-6 to book a place against former semi-finalist James Wattana.
Four other matches reached halfway in their encounters on Saturday and will be completed later on today.
Tony Drago has had a nightmare season but is well placed against Egypt’s Mohamed Khairy at 6-3 while Li Yan and Daniel Wells enjoy leads over Robbie Williams and Aditya Mehta respectively.
Luca Brecel, who became the youngest ever qualifier in 2012 and went as far as the quarter-finals in December’s UK Championship, has work to do to avoid being an early casualty.
The Belgian star is 5-4 down to amateur Fraser Patrick – a player who has already done a lot of damage on the circuit this season and will be one of the favourites to advance from Q-School in late May.
The World Championship event is well and truly under way then. Now let’s watch the drama unfold!
Crucible Countdown: 13 Days!
To view the draw and all the results click here.