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Stephen Maguire fancies Zhao Xintong for Crucible title: “Why not?”

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Zhao launches his title defence on Saturday (Zhai Zheng/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

Stephen Maguire sees no reason why Zhao Xintong cannot win his maiden Crucible crown this year ahead of their second-round clash.

The Cyclone has enjoyed a breakthrough 2021-22 season; winning the UK Championship and German Masters within the space of two months.

That has seen Zhao climb to seventh in the world rankings, with his exciting brand of attacking snooker earning him many new fans.

The 25-year-old began his maiden Crucible campaign as a seed in equally impressive form; hitting two centuries and a further six breaks over 50 in a commanding 10-2 rout of Jamie Clarke.

By contrast, Maguire prevailed a 10-8 winner from a scrappy encounter with 2005 World champion Shaun Murphy.

The Scotsman is a big fan of his opponent – with whom he will do battle across three days in Sheffield – and compared him to another decorated left-hander.

“If I play like [I did against Murphy] and Xintong plays the way he has been playing, it’ll be a tough few days for me,” the world number 40 said.

“This season, he’s kicked on, but all the players knew over the last few years how good he could be. He always had the Jimmy White style.

“What he’s done this season is special and the way he’s done it – I can’t speak highly enough about him.

“I think he’s brilliant and he’s the future of our game.”

When asked about Zhao’s title chances, Maguire added: “He’s won two tournaments this season, so why not?

“I think the first match was big for him; I don’t think he’d ever won a match at the Crucible. That’s out of the way.

“He’s 25; it’s probably the right age for him to win.”

Play gets under way at 7pm BST on Thursday with the opening eight frames, with their showdown continuing at 2.30pm on Friday and concluding from 10am on Saturday.