Former champions Ken Doherty and Mark Williams moved a step closer to the Crucible after recording first round victories in World Championship qualifying on Saturday.
Dublin’s Doherty compiled a 108 early on in establishing a 3-0 advantage over Jason Weston, and was able to comfortably cushion that lead for a 10-4 defeat of the Englishman.
The 47 year-old, who hasn’t qualified for the World Championship since 2014, has struggled for form this season and as a result has fallen way outside the world’s top 64 in the rankings.
Doherty requires to go at least beyond Ponds Forge in the hope of securing tour survival, on the 20th anniversary since his defining career moment in Sheffield when he was crowned world champion.
The six-time ranking event winner will meet Ben Woollaston on Monday in the penultimate round after the latter defeated European amateur champion Chris Totten 10-4.
Doherty’s countryman Fergal O’Brien also progressed with a 10-6 triumph over Gerard Greene, which included a confident 130 break in the second last frame.
Northern Ireland’s Joe Swail, who like Doherty desperately needs wins to keep his professional card, battled to a 10-8 victory over Sanderson Lam.
Joining them is two-time world champion Williams, but not after emerging through an extremely tough test against 20 year-old Zhao Xintong.
Williams, who only narrowly missed out on an automatic berth at the Crucible when he lost in the final of the China Open last week, appeared to be coasting when he opened up a 4-0 advantage at the mid-session interval.
But Zhao responded with runs of 70, 61, 55, and 51 to level and perhaps should have led after the first session only that a coolly doubled black from the Welshman salvaged the situation.
Still, upon the game’s resumption, the Chinese youngster knocked in further runs of 76 and 58 to win three more on the bounce and lead 7-5.
Williams steeled himself with a 60 and ultimately used his experience to get him passed a tough initial obstacle, taking the last five frames for a 10-7 victory.
Meanwhile, several other highly fancied qualifiers progressed to the next stage.
Stephen Maguire withstood a late rally by Kritsanut Lertsattayatthorn to hold off the Thai in a 10-7 scoreline while German Masters champion Anthony Hamilton grew in confidence as he ousted Craig Steadman 10-5.
Belgium’s Luca Brecel, who has only once reached the main stages, comfortably beat Sean O’Sullivan 10-4, the same margin which Matthew Selt enjoyed in triumphing against David John.
There were strong successes for Scottish duo Graeme Dott and Alan McManus as well.
2006 world champion Dott powered to a 10-3 hammering of Allan Taylor while McManus, a semi-finalist twelve months ago, pummelled Kurt Dunham 10-1.
Improving Iranian Hossein Vafaei Ayouri and England’s Liam Highfield also enjoyed routine wins over weak opposition.
It was a terrible day for the Chinese contingent as joining Zhao on the sidelines were Cao Yupeng, Chen Zhe, and world amateur champion Xu Si – surpassed by Jimmy Robertson, Dechawat Poomjaeng, and Rod Lawler respectively.
A fifth competitor in Zhang Yong also lost, but the only solace here was that he was downed by compatriot Tian Pengfei.
Elsewhere, Oliver Lines won six out of the last seven frames to dispatch of Duane Jones 10-6, while Sydney Wilson and Noppon Saengkham advanced too.
Sunday will see the beginning of the second round as we edge closer to knowing which 16 players will be joining the top 16 seeds in Thursday’s first round draw.
World Snooker announced that the annual “Judgement Day” this Wednesday, when all the qualifier names will be determined in a tense and dramatic conclusion at Ponds Forge, will be simulcast on both the Eurosport Player and their official Facebook page.