Judgement Day Preview (Part 1): Hard to look past Hawkins

As the qualifiers continue to jostle for a place at the World Championship, things really heat up now as we reach Judgement Day.

Just 10 more frames are needed to book a place at the Crucible but between now and then, there will be plenty of nerves to contend with.

This is the tournament that really matters to the players and qualifying to play at the main event in Sheffield is what can make or break a season.

We take a look at the first eight matches to be played on Tuesday and give our thoughts on who could get themselves into the first-round draw…

Anthony McGill v Cao Yupeng

The former Crucible semi-finalist McGill goes into this one as a heavy favourite but had to rely on some late magic to make it here winning the final three frames to beat John Astley 10-9.

With that scare behind him, he will be confident of reaching the main venue for a ninth year in a row. In his way is the vastly inexperienced Cao in comparison who has only qualified once back in 2012 although he did spring a major surprise to beat Mark Allen in the first round.

Prediction: Experience will shine through. McGill 10-5

Ricky Walden v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

The head-to-head record makes for grim reading for Thepchaiya who has lost to Walden in all of their five previous meetings, but on recent World Championship form the Thai certainly has the edge. He’s been a consistent Crucible qualifier making it through in four of his past five attempts although owing to some stinking draws (John Higgins twice, Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan) has yet to win a match there.

Walden has reached Sheffield eight times before including a run to the last four a decade ago but has only qualified twice in the past six years.

This match promises to be a cracker with both of them making four centuries in the last round. Thepchaiya cruised past Mark Joyce 10-5 while Walden brushed aside Ian Burns 10-6. Expect a high-quality encounter.

Prediction: This one could go the distance and be one of the ties of the round. Walden 10-9.

Graeme Dott v Matt Selt

Neither of these experienced campaigners will be shy of a good, old-fashioned qualifying battle if that’s what it takes.
The former world champion Dott first qualified for the Crucible back in 1997 and at this stage of his career places all his emphasis on making it to Sheffield. He’s made the main stages of the event on 20 occasions but failed in qualifying on his last three attempts so the fire will be burning to make it back.

Selt has less fond Crucible memories to draw on having made the venue only three times before despite being in and around the top 32 of the rankings for most of the past decade.

A disappointing campaign for both players means they’ll be scrapping it out to end the season on a high.

Prediction: Selt could shade this one owing to his ability to score a little heavier. 10-8

Noppon Saengkham v Zhang Anda

Two players both looking to secure their fourth visit to the Crucible. Although it is Thailand’s Saengkham who has the far superior recent record having not only qualified for Sheffield in two of the last three years but also advancing to last 16 at the venue. He is fast becoming one of the qualifiers to avoid.

In contrast, Zhang has never won a match at the Crucible and you have to go back to 2016 for the last time he came through qualifying. But he looks to be in good form having already won two matches this week including making three centuries en route to a 10-5 victory as the underdog against his Chinese compatriot Xiao Guodong.

Prediction: Noppon will be a firm favourite and we expect him to get the job done but it could go closer than many expect. 10-7

Stephen Maguire v Fan Zhengyi

Mags is almost unanimously considered as one of the nailed-on players to make it to the Crucible and we saw why when he proficiently dispatched of Alfie Burden 10-4 in the last round.

This is the Scot’s second season in succession having to come through what has over the years been unchartered territory in qualifying for him, but he seems to be taking it in his stride and will be one of the players the seeds will want to avoid if he makes it through.

Maguire is looking to secure his 20th consecutive visit to the Crucible but in his way is China’s Fan Zhengyi who survived a late scare from Iulian Boiko to book his place on Judgement Day.
An unlikely ranking event winner last year, he has proved he is capable on his day but will need to be at his best to beat one of the big hitters in qualifying to secure his World Championship debut.

Prediction: It is hard to predict anything but a relatively comfortable win for Maguire. 10-6

Barry Hawkins v Jak Jones

Another of the big favourites to reach the main venue. Hawkins is not only an established Crucible player but has also reached the one-table setup five times. Not only a fantastic player but his brilliant mentality makes him a formidable force in qualifying. He cast aside David Lilley with ease in the previous round and goes off a heavy favourite to finish the job. He spoke earlier this week about the possible benefits of some match practice before he gets to the main venue and could be one to watch.

His opponent Jak Jones is looking to make it to the Crucible for the first time and proved he’s up for the fight after coming through a late-night 10-9 victory over Robbie Williams. This test will be another level and as difficult a match as he could have faced on Judgement Day.

Prediction: Hawkins to be too good. 10-5.

Si Jaihui v Jordan Brown

With the firm favourite in this section Tom Ford out of the picture, this match presents an excellent opportunity for both players.

The 20-year-old Si Jaihui is an exciting prospect and on the hunt for his Crucible debut following a fantastic 10-5 win over Ford. If he produces the same kind of form again, he could be a real match for Jordan Brown who is looking to reach the Crucible for a second time and the first time with a crowd.

Dominic Dale provided a decent test for him in the last round but this could be a tougher match and he’ll know his safety will need to be up to scratch to keep Si at bay.

Prediction: A sneaky feeling for Si to do the business. 10-8

Chris Wakelin v Wu Yize

Of all the potential Crucible debutants this year, Wu Yize may well be the most exciting of the lot. His 10-2 demolition of Tian Pengfei was impressive and suggests he could be about to make a bit of a breakthrough moment. He hasn’t had his best season but is highly rated and looks to be full of confidence.

He’s up against the more experienced Chris Wakelin, who has reached the World Championship three times before including both of the past two seasons.

Prediction: If it goes close, you’d probably have to make Wakelin a slight favourite but our hunch says it’s Wu who can win this match. 10-7
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