Zhao Xintong and Jamie Clarke will face each other in the first round of the World Championship in Sheffield.
Zhao Xintong’s season so far
What a memorable campaign it has been for Zhao Xintong, who after years of promising much has finally delivered on the big stage.
Zhao stormed to a magnificent UK Championship glory in December, announcing himself as a genuine contender on the major scene.
The new Chinese number one beat John Higgins, Jack Lisowski, and Barry Hawkins en route to the final in York, where he ultimately overcame Luca Brecel to secure a maiden ranking crown.
Soon after, Zhao reassured everyone that it wasn’t a fluke by romping to glory in the German Masters at the Tempodrom.
A 9-0 whitewash humiliation of friend Yan Bingtao in the final underlined his pedigree to dominate.
But while this season will undoubtedly go down as his breakthrough year, the 25 year-old has struggled in a lot of the other events.
There have been numerous first-round defeats, including at the World Grand Prix, Players Championship, and Tour Championship when he entered each Cazoo Series tournament as the top seed.
There’s a lot of expectation on Zhao to challenge for global glory in 2022, but he only has one previous appearance at the Crucible Theatre.
Jamie Clarke’s season so far
After a disappointing season prior to the World Championship, Clarke had been hovering around the top 64 and in danger of dropping off the tour.
But qualification in Sheffield firmly answered any of those fears, and like Zhao the Welshman will make a second appearance in the sport’s blue-riband event this year.
The 27 year-old’s only run of note this season came in the Snooker Shoot Out, where he reached the quarter-finals.
Given that event is played under the sprint single-frame format, it’s not much to go on when it comes to his chances in this Marathon of the Mind.
Two years ago on his debut, Clarke stunned Mark Allen in the first round before being narrowly edged out in a controversial and heated clash with Anthony McGill in the last 16.
Zhao and Clarke have faced each other twice in the past, with both outcomes in favour of the competitor from China.
Indeed, the latter has won just a single frame across their two meetings, albeit both matches were just best of sevens.
In last month’s Gibraltar Open, Zhao compiled a century and four additional breaks above 50 in a 4-1 first-round success.
It may still be too early in Zhao’s career to negotiate the endurance test of a World Championship and go all the way in Sheffield.
But although Clarke represents a difficult early challenge, Zhao should have enough in his locker to at least reach the second round for the first time.
Prediction: Zhao Xintong 10-6 Jamie Clarke
Saturday, April 16th – 10am
Sunday, April 17th – 10am
Featured photo credit: WST