The venue stages of the tournament take place from April 17 until May 3.
There’s just over 24 hours to go until the 2021 World Snooker Championship commences at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
The preliminary stages were completed on Wednesday, with 16 qualifiers emerging from the English Institute of Sport to join the top 16 seeds from the official world rankings list.
Crowds at one-third capacity will be allowed into the Crucible to watch the drama unfold in the first round.
A staggered increase in attendance will follow until a full house is eventually expected to be welcomed for the final – a decision that has been met with equal disdain as it has applause.
Whether or not the snooker authorities have taken a risk too many in terms of getting the sport back to normal remains to be seen.
It is, of course, hoped that the event is completed successfully without any major hitches and there will be a significant effort made to ensure that is exactly what transpires to happen.
Without further ado, let’s take a brief look at each of the first-round ties for the 2021 World Snooker Championship.
Click on each match to view their head-to-heads. (CueTracker.net)
Ronnie O’Sullivan will begin his title defence on the opening day of the competition against Crucible first-timer Mark Joyce.
After 15 years as a professional, Joyce finally made it to snooker’s mecca by beating Anthony Hamilton and Igor Figueiredo in the qualifying tournament.
O’Sullivan and Joyce met each other recently in the WST Pro Series over the best of three frames, but their last match of substance was in the 2017 China Open when the latter secured a surprising 5-4 victory.
Playing the game’s biggest star in Sheffield is a very different prospect for the 37 year-old, however, and the Rocket will certainly begin this tie as an overwhelming favourite.
O’Sullivan has been a runner-up in five ranking events this season, but all of those near misses will have been worth it if it has helped him to gain the match sharpness required for what would be a record-equalling seventh world crown, should he manage to go all the way again.
When: Saturday, April 17th – 10am and 7pm
How Anthony McGill and Ricky Walden have only met each other on one previous occasion is a mystery, a tie that occurred five years ago when McGill prevailed with a 5-1 scoreline.
The Scot timed his return to the top 16 in the world rankings to perfection, just about rising into the elite bracket in time to gain an automatic spot at the Crucible.
Eight months ago, McGill came agonisingly close to reaching a maiden world final in what was one of the all-time epic semi-final clashes.
Since then, he has been steady enough but has failed to reach the quarter-final stage of a tournament all term.
Walden, another former semi-finalist in the World Championship, warmed up nicely in the preliminaries with two comfortable victories against Peter Lines and Ryan Day.
This match has the makings of being a very close scrap throughout.
When: Sunday, April 18th – 10am; Monday, April 19th – 7pm
Undoubtedly the tie of the first round, Ding Junhui will be bemoaning his poor fortune at being paired with the 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham.
Bingham’s mini resurgence in the first few months of 2021 was not enough to prevent him from dropping outside the top 16, but after emerging unscathed from the qualifiers he was always going to be a dangerous proposition for any of the seeds.
There’s reason to argue the case that it might actually be beneficial for Ding to play such a notable name at such an early stage.
Rather than get bogged down against a lower-ranked player he knows in his heart of hearts he should beat, Ding will surely realise that he’ll have to ignite at almost full capacity in order to overcome a man who he boasts an inferior head-to-head record against.
Whoever comes through this initial tough test will likely feel pretty good about their aspirations of going deep in the tournament.
When: Tuesday, April 19th – 10am; Tuesday, April 20th – 2:30pm
Granted it was almost seven years ago, but the last time Stephen Maguire encountered Jamie Jones the former world number two lost 5-0 in the Australian Open.
It’s unlikely to be another whitewash, but the Scot will definitely have his hands full against a resurgent Welshman who has undoubtedly been the comeback player of the season.
Jones is actually just outside the top 16 on the one-year rankings list, while Maguire is all the way down at number 45.
With seven first-round exits in the last decade, Maguire has had his fair share of problems negotiating the opening test at the Crucible Theatre, and Jones will surely be aware of that.
The 33 year-old won three matches in qualifying and has a giant-killing pedigree in Sheffield, having twice knocked out Shaun Murphy in the past.
When: Saturday, April 17th – 2:30pm; Sunday, April 18th – 7pm
Quarter 1 Prediction: O’Sullivan