Mark Allen and John Higgins commence their 2023 World Snooker Championship campaigns at The Crucible on Monday.
Ali Carter became the first seed to crash out of this year’s competition on Day Two, and a host of decorated cueists will be out to avoid joining him through the Crucible exit door.
Third seed Allen heads to Sheffield as arguably this season’s stand-out performer, having picked up three ranking titles, including the UK Championship.
The Antrim ace. who also retained the Northern Ireland Open title on home soil, carried his blistering spell of form into the new year by winning the World Grand Prix, but has seen dipped slightly in the following months.
He suffered First Round exits at the Players Championship and Tour Championship, and is out to improve on a below-par record at The Crucible – where his best run came back in 2009 when he made his only Semi-Final appearance to date.
Allen, who has reached just one Quarter-Final here in the last decade, opens up with a clash against Fan Zhengyi – one of five debutants in this year’s line-up.
Fan famously claimed the European Masters title in 2021 by beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 in the final and reached the Semi-Finals of this year’s Champion of Champions – where The Rocket gained his revenge.
Meanwhile, four-time World Champion Higgins begins his 29th consecutive Crucible campaign against local favourite David Grace.
Higgins first claimed glory here back in 1998 but has to go back to 2011 for his most recent world crown, having lost in three finals since.
The 31-time ranking event winner comes in off the back of a disappointing season by his standards, suffering First Round exits at the UK Championship and Masters, while reaching just one ranking Quarter-Final.
Higgins has not lost in the opening round at The Crucible since 2014 and will be keen to extend that run by overcoming world number 66 Grace – who defeated Sean O’Sullivan, Sam Craigie and Andrew Higginson to secure a first appearance in the sport’s show-piece since 2017.
The two most recent Welsh Open winners collide in what has the makings of a close-run battle as Robert Milkins meets Joe Perry.
Milkins comes into the event as a seed for the first time courtesy of his sensational success at the Welsh Open in February – his second ranking title in as many seasons.
An ever-present on the tour since 1995, Milkins is making his ninth Crucible appearance but is yet to make it beyond the Second Round.
Perry battled through two gruelling qualifying matches to seal his spot in the main event, dispatching Sanderson Lam 10-8 before edging out Mark Davis in a jaw-dropping last-frame decider which had seen Davis miss match-ball pink.
Perry, who turned professional alongside a clutch of the greats in 1992, reached the Semi-Finals here back in 2008 and was a quarter-finalist in this season’s UK Championship.
Three-time World Champion Mark Williams aims to overturn a 5-4 deficit to Jimmy Robertson when the pair resume to a finish in the afternoon session.
Williams produced high breaks of 69, 77 and 118 to Robertson’s 65, 74 and 59 in a high quality first session on Sunday and has not lost in the opening round here since 2015.
Robertson is hoping to make it fifth time lucky at The Crucible, having suffered First Round exits in 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2018 – when he was beaten 10-5 by Williams.
Ding Junhui holds a slender 5-4 advantage over Hossein Vafaei with breaks of 56, 72, 134 and 68 to his name on Sunday.
Ding went agonisingly close to becoming the first Asian World Champion when he reached the final here in 2016, losing out to Mark Selby.
Winner of this season’s Six-Red World Championship, Ding was also runner-up to Mark Allen at the UK Championship and reached the Semi-Finals of the Tour Championship earlier this month.
He is aiming to avoid a third consecutive defeat in the First Round at The Crucible, while Vafaei is vying to become the first Iranian player to make it into the Second Round and set up a grudge clash with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
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World Snooker Championship 2023 Day Three Schedule
*Indicates final session
Monday April 17
Ding Junhui (5-4) Hossein Vafaei
Mark Allen v Fan Zhengyi
Mark Williams (4-5) Jimmy Robertson
John Higgins v David Grace
Robert Milkins v Joe Perry
Mark Allen v Fan Zhengyi
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