Mark Selby and Yan Bingtao will face each other in the second round of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
Mark Selby’s season so far
Just under twelve months ago, Selby was on top of the world after claiming a fantastic fourth Crucible crown at the expense of Shaun Murphy in Sheffield.
The Jester then returned to the number one spot in the rankings, a position that means a lot to him as a staunch student of the game.
Since then, however, Selby has endured arguably the most difficult period of his career – at least since he emerged as a regular winner as a pro more than a decade ago.
The 2021/22 campaign has been littered with premature defeats in the early rounds of competitions, a sequence of poor form that resulted in him failing to qualify for both the Players Championship and the Tour Championship.
Indeed, ahead of the World Championship Selby’s season earnings were good enough for just 29th place on the one-year list.
He recently also surrendered that top position in the rankings to old rival Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The 38 year-old’s struggles with mental health have also been well documented this season, albeit he did appear to be in a better frame in mind during his first-round clash against Jamie Jones.
Yan Bingtao’s season so far
Even though Yan won the Masters last season, this campaign has arguably been better in terms of the 22 year-old’s consistency.
The Chinese number two has made five appearances in ranking event quarter-finals this term, including at the German Masters where he went on to reach the final.
That title decider won’t bring particularly happy memories after being slaughtered 9-0 by his friend and practice partner Zhao Xintong.
But in general it’s been a solid season for Yan, and he features at the Crucible as many people’s dark horse to do well.
In both of the last two editions of the World Championship, Yan has won his first-round match before seeing his brief run end in the last 16.
What happened in the last 32?
Mark Selby and Yan Bingtao safely negotiated their first-round ties against Jamie Jones and Chris Wakelin respectively.
It wasn’t an easy ride for either, but in the end the higher class proved to be the difference as the seeds marched on.
Selby compiled a hat-trick of centuries in beating Welshman Jones 10-7, while Yan scored heavily too in a 10-6 defeat of Wakelin.
With seven previous encounters between the duo, it’s actually Yan who boasts the narrow superiority with four wins to Selby’s three.
The former has come out on top in all three of their latest meetings, including at the German Masters this year when the Chinese cueist took the last three frames for a 5-4 triumph.
In their only prior clash over multiple sessions, Selby beat Yan 9-6 in the quarter-finals of the 2020 Tour Championship.
Selby was probably most vulnerable in the first round, and Jones wasted an array of chances that could have heaped more pressure on the reigning champion.
Having got through that initial test, the Jester from Leicester could play his way into the tournament as he has done so often in the past.
Yan represents a significant step up in quality, and boasting similar styles of play this battle could become an examination of attrition.
It would not be a shock to see Yan triumph, but winning that first-round fixture may prove crucial in terms of raising Selby’s confidence enough to get the job done here as well.
Prediction: Mark Selby 13-11 Yan Bingtao
Friday, April 22nd – 2:30pm
Saturday, April 23rd – 10am and 7pm
Featured photo credit: WST