Tian Pengfei was as emotional as any player after coming through the qualifying test to reach the venue stages for only the second time in his career.
The Chinese cueist had to endure nightmarish levels of self-isolation and quarantine measures during COVID, but his patience has been rewarded with a fine run so far in Sheffield.
Whether the 33 year-old can extend that into the second round seems doubtful after being drawn against four-time former champion John Higgins.
Higgins catapulted himself back into the champion’s conversation after a dominant display annihilated a strong field at the recent Players Championship.
The Wizard is in a tricky quarter of the draw, but if he replicates the same level of form and consistency he did that week at the Celtic Manor, he’ll be very difficult to stop.
When: Sunday, April 18th – 2:30pm; Monday, April 19th – 2:30pm
Sam Craigie is one of only two players making a debut in the 2021 World Snooker Championship, and the Englishman will take on one of the game’s all-time legends when he makes his maiden bow at the Crucible.
Mark Williams comes into this fortnight in a positive run of form, albeit most of that good snooker has come in events carrying short formats.
The Welshman accounted for Craigie and others en route to claiming the WST Pro Series and he also reached the Winners’ Group of the Championship League.
Short or long formats, crowds or no crowds, these are the kinds of things that won’t bother Williams and neither will facing a World Championship rookie.
Craigie has long been hailed as a talented player who has so far failed to deliver and this is definitely a big chance to do just that, but the three-time world champion could be a step too far on this occasion.
When: Wednesday, April 21st – 10am and 7pm
Out of all the big names in the sport, Mark Allen’s record at the Crucible is arguably the most disappointing – albeit Ding and Maguire are also in the mix in that debate.
Allen announced himself as a big-time performer with a run to the semi-finals in 2009 and followed that up with successive appearances in the last eight.
Since 2011, however, the Pistol has generally misfired at the season-ending bonanza with only one more quarter-final run to his name.
At 35, time isn’t exactly running out but it’s not in great supply either, so there must be some pressure on his shoulders to perform again in Sheffield.
Lyu Haotian, who beat Marco Fu in the first round in 2018, is Allen’s opening obstacle to overcome on this occasion.
When: Tuesday, April 20th – 10am and 7pm
The last time Mark Selby and Kurt Maflin crossed paths was at this very stage of a World Championship in 2015, when Selby returned to Sheffield as a first-time champion.
Maflin came within a whisker of inflicting the Curse of the Crucible on Selby only to be denied in a decider, but the Norwegian did enjoy a memorable run last year when he reached the quarter-finals.
This is quite a difficult challenge for the Jester, but he has been in very good form for most of this campaign and it really would be a shock to see him exit so early.
Selby took his dramatic semi-final defeat to O’Sullivan last August pretty badly but there is an opportunity for the pair to clash at the same stage this year again.
What a treat that could be.