Ding Junhui and Hossein Vafaei will face each other in the first round of the 2023 World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
This season for Ding Junhui
Ding Junhui is back at the Crucible Theatre as a seeded player after being forced into the qualifying competition a year ago.
The Chinese former world number one is officially ranked number 17 but has been bumped up as a result of countryman Zhao Xintong’s suspension.
It’s been an up and down season for Ding, who came pretty much out of nowhere to reach the final of the UK Championship in November.
Everything went a little quiet again after that before the 36 year-old sprung into life for a second time by emerging victoriously at the Six Red World Championship in Thailand.
In both of those tournaments Ding thrashed Ronnie O’Sullivan, and the pair could cross paths in the last 16 of this year’s World Championship.
Should he emerge from that potential showdown with a first quarter-final appearance in Sheffield since 2018, he might have his army of fans back home dreaming of their hero finally claiming that elusive first world crown.
This season for Hossein Vafaei
Hossein Vafaei made it consecutive Crucible appearances by successfully coming through the qualifiers courtesy of triumphs over Welsh duo Andrew Pagett and Jackson Page.
The confident Iranian will have been one of the obvious players that a lot of the seeds would have wanted to avoid in the first-round draw.
Vafaei has been hovering just outside the world’s top 16 for quite some time and is on the cusp of finally breaking into the elite bracket.
Suspensions for players above him in the rankings led to an appearance at the Masters in January, when he beat Mark Selby on his debut.
Vafaei recently reached the last four of the Six Red World Championship, but his displays in ranking tournaments throughout the 2022/23 term have been patchy.
Ding and Vafaei head-to-head
Ding and Vafaei have face each other just twice in the past, sharing one victory apiece in ranking-event encounters.
Ding won their 2020 European Masters tie 5-3 and just a few months after that Vafaei gained a modicum of revenge with a win in the World Grand Prix.
What a fixture this is, representing arguably the tie of the entire round.
Having just turned 36, Ding is running out of chances to claim the one major title that has proved so elusive.
It couldn’t get much tougher than Vafaei in round one, a player who in his own right has been widely tipped by many as a possible future world champion.
Both players have the ability to produce star-quality snooker, but on current form and overall experience, Ding just about gets the nod in what could develop into an absolute thriller.
Prediction: Ding Junhui 10-9 Hossein Vafaei
Sunday, April 16th – 10am
Monday, April 17th – 10am
Featured photo credit: WST