Judgement Day Preview (Part 2): Going for Gilbert

Eight more places are up for grabs at the World Championship.
The make-or-break event of the season is nearly upon us and the qualifiers are ready to fight it out for a prized place in the draw against one of the top 16.

Here’s our verdict on the next batch of matches with predictions of who will reach the Crucible.

Dave Gilbert v Matthew Stevens

Potential tie of the round alert!

This one has all the hallmarks of a classic pitting two players with great Crucible memories together for a place at the World Championship.

Gilbert is a former semi-finalist vying for a fifth consecutive visit to Sheffield while Stevens is a two-time finalist and has a rich pedigree at the Crucible in years gone by. Qualification for him would mean back-to-back appearances here for the first time in a decade.

But nostalgia and memoirs aside, this match is also about two players who are at their best when they attack and who will both really fancy their chances. There is little to choose between them in the head-to-head records and it’s one you’ll not want to miss.

: Will definitely live up to its billing. Gilbert 10-8

Hossein Vaefai v Jackson Page

Another humdinger of a contest which is unlikely to disappoint.

Both of these exciting players made their debut at the Crucible last year and will be keen to get back and build some momentum.

Page famously beat Barry Hawkins in the first round 12 months ago before losing to his close friend Mark Williams while Vafaei for all his potential was kept at arm’s length in the first round by Judd Trump.

Both can really play with plenty of confidence to boot and are destined for big things. Such is the standard of the qualifiers that there isn’t room in Sheffield for them both. It’s a shame they haven’t met outside of a solitary Championship League encounter.

This is an unmissable tie which could really make up for it.

Prediction: Feels like a match you could flip a coin on yet it might not go close as one of them could easily get on a roll. Vafaei 10-7.

Andrew Higginson v David Grace

Probably not the Judgement Day match we expected to see out of this section of the draw with Joe O’Connor and Sam Craigie among the contenders, but the results never lie.

With a career dating back to 1996, it’s a surprise that Higginson has only twice qualified for the Crucible with the last time coming back in 2012. He’s had a stunning run this week with three wins so far including against O’Connor and Louis Heathcote all while not technically having a professional tour card. A win in this one would also secure his professional status for next season.

Grace was impressive in victory against Craigie and also reached last 16 of the most recent WST Classic so is certainly a man in form. He was beside himself with joy when he first qualified for the World Championship in 2017 and was part of the 40-year anniversary celebrations at the Crucible – and he’ll be dreaming of making a return.

Prediction: Expecting this one to go as close as it possibly can. Grace 10-9.

Joe Perry v Mark Davis

Great friends off the table, but no room for sentiments when this match gets underway.

Two very experienced qualifiers who know what it takes to win when the stakes are high as they’ve both proved by coming through gruelling contests to get this far. Perry beat Sanderson Lam 10-8 in the last round while Davis came out on top against Lyu Haotian by the same scoreline.

A little bit more on the line for Davis who needs to win not only to seal his return to the Crucible but also to retain his place on the professional circuit.

This will be the pair’s 20th professional meeting and 30 years on from their first so it’s fair to say they know each other well on and off the table.

Remarkably, Perry hasn’t made it through to the World Championship since 2019 while Davis was there just two years ago. They might both be wondering how many more visits to the Crucible they’ll get to enjoy so they’ll be determined to get the job done.

Prediction: Perry to come out on top. 10-7

Pang Junxu v Xu Si

A guaranteed Crucible debutant to come out of this match-up between two highly rated Chinese cuemen.

It’s not controversial to say that this will be some welcomed good news amidst the ongoing match-fixing investigation which is currently plaguing Chinese snooker.

What both of these players have in common coming into this one is how well they held themselves together to get over the line in the previous round. Pang recovered from 4-0 down to break the hearts of Ken Doherty fans while Xu showed great composure and temperament to hold off the accomplished Jamie Jones in a 10-7 win.

Prediction: When it matters, Pang looks to be the braver of the players and this could prove the difference. 10-6.
Elliot Slessor v Zhou Yuelong

Admiration in spades for the manner in which both of these players secured their place on Judgement Day.

After building a commanding 4-0 lead and then trailing 5-4 after the first session, Slessor had to go the distance to beat Liam Highfield in a late-night qualifying classic. Pinching the final two frames when the pressure was really on was impressive.

Zhou on the other hand got off to a slow start and only reached
3-3 at the end of his first session with James Cahill before powering to the line a 10-4 winner. He looks to have found his rhythm.

Prediction: Zhou could be too much for Slessor to contain. 10-5.

Anthony Hamilton v Jimmy Robertson

Whoever makes it to the Crucible in this one will prove to be a popular winner.

The straight-talking Sherriff of Pottingham is into his 50s and hasn’t played at the Crucible since 2008 although famously withdrew from the Covid-19 edition of the tournament in 2020 owing to health concerns. His decision came in for plenty of scrutiny and so qualification here would be sweet redemption. His 10-9 victory against Oliver Lines wasn’t pretty at times but confirmed what we already know about him being happy to tough it out when needed.

Robertson is arguably the freer flowing of the players in this one although surprisingly hasn’t reached the main venue of the World Championship since 2018. He overcame Belgium’s young star Ben Mertens 10-6 in the previous round and will have plenty in the tank for this one.

Prediction: Maybe a heart-over-head prediction here but don’t write off the Sherriff. Hamilton 10-8.

Ryan Day v Scott Donaldson

Perhaps a slight surprise to see Ryan Day in the qualifying draw this year having won an event this season and reached many of the invitational events, but it just goes to show how competitive it is to get in the top 16 these days.

The Welshman had a late wobble before beating Ash Hugill 10-8 and is now just one win away from securing a 14th Crucible appearance and a first in five years. He’s lost his last two Judgement Day matches and will be looking to put that right.

In his way is Scotland’s Scott Donaldson who typically goes quietly about his business and was the last man to secure his place on Judgement Day with a 10-7 win against Yuan Sijun at gone midnight.

He will be looking to make it back-to-back qualifications to the Crucible although is unlikely to have it all his own way as he did at Judgement Day last year when he beat Allan Taylor 10-1.

Prediction: Saw enough of Day at the Tour Championship to be convinced he can win this one. 10-7
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