After a captivating few days on the baize, the 2022 Snooker World Championship heads into the second round in Sheffield.
The defending champion Mark Selby and current world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan both successfully navigated themselves over the first hurdle, but Barry Hawkins and Shaun Murphy are two of the seeds that have already fallen inside the Crucible.
There are some tasty match-ups forming in the second round – including an all-Welsh master v apprentice battle – as each player’s dreams of becoming world champion edge closer to reality.
Let’s take a look at our three big tips for the second round in Sheffield:
Ronnie O’Sullivan -3.5 handicap to beat Mark Allen
Mark Allen was run pretty close by outsider Scott Donaldson in the first round, winning the final three frames following the Scot closing the gap to 7-6.
Allen is the 15th seed in Sheffield and is already beginning to talk up the challenge that he faces against “The Rocket” in round two.
Allen beat O’Sullivan 13-11 at this stage in 2009 but trying to ascertain any sort of form from a result 13 years ago is redundant.
O’Sullivan is back to number one in the world and comes alive inside the Crucible Theatre. Allen showed pockets of purple patches against Donaldson in the opener but isn’t playing well enough to dominate over the best of 25 frames.
Allen made breaks of 80, 61, 107, 109, 57, 54 and 52 in the first round with his opponent contributing four half-centuries in a match that saw both men squander chances.
He may get off to a fast start, but the -3.5 handicap for the six-time winner looks good.
Zhao Xintong 4 centuries v Stephen Maguire
Zhao Xintong did a majority of his good work in rapid style against Jamie Clarke, racking up two centuries and five 70+ breaks en route to a convincing first-session 7-2 lead.
He was quick to wrap things up with a 10-2 win and is certainly one to watch in the latter stages.
The 25-year-old is cueing beautifully in Sheffield, and we fancy him to stretch a beleaguered Stephen Maguire who was forced to work hard and late against Shaun Murphy in his opener.
Picking the number of centuries for a player is usually a bit of finger-in-the-air stuff, but Xintong looks like he could have a number in the bag if he carries his good form on against Maguire.
We’re plucking out four as the magic number as he romps to a fairly wide victory over the Scot.
Mark Williams v Jackson Page – Over 21 frames
It’s the master of Mark Williams v the apprentice of Jackson Page in this all-Welsh Last 16 tie as the pair of close friends are asked to put their emotions to one side.
Williams – along with his Class of ‘92 comrades – is in good form in 2022 and rattled home four centuries en route to a 10-3 shellacking of Michael White in the opener.
Page upset Barry Hawkins in a terrific display across Saturday and Sunday and will be inspired to impress against his friend and mentor, Williams.
In what will be a strange meeting for the pair, a lengthy encounter is where the value lies at at least 22 frames – that’s banking on a minimum of a 13-9 win either way.
* Betting odds correct at the time of writing. Subject to changes.