There are three sessions of action on the opening day of the Shanghai Masters on Monday as 12 players look to book a second round meeting with one of the elite players in the game as snooker returns to China for the first time in almost four years.
We have to wait until later in the week for the top eight players in the world ranking to take to the baize but we have a number of household names on show on Monday on a day where plenty of home stars are in action.
John Higgins has made a good start to the season having reached the semi-finals of the European Masters last month and looked in decent order and he will be on the main table in the first session of the tournament when he goes up against the Chinese wildcard Deng Haohui. Haohui has been to Q-School without getting on the Tour so this is a big game for him. Over on the other table two ranking event winners will meet when the reigning Scottish Open champion Gary Wilson takes on the former European Masters winner Fan Zhengyi.
Jack Lisowski will have the honour of being on the main table in the afternoon session when he continues his search for a maiden title, which surely can’t be too far away now. He has it tough in the first round on Monday though because his opponent is Zhou Yuelong who is arguably the pick of the invited Chinese players. Hossein Vafaei sneaked into the draw as the last man in on the top 16 rankings and he will be on the other table when he goes up against the wildcard Gong Chenzhi for the right to take on Mark Selby in the next round.
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It is the evening session which the Chinese crowds have waited almost four years for as that is the one where their hero Ding Junhui will return to action on home soil. He is involved in arguably the pick of the first round matches when he takes on the World Championship semi-finalist Si Jiahui. The other table will see the former champion Ali Carter taking to the baize for the first time this week. The German Masters trophy holder meets the wildcard Dong Zihao for a shot at Ronnie O’Sullivan in the second round.
I’m expecting quite a few close matches with the amount of money that is on the line this week and one of those can come in the pick of the afternoon matches as Jack Lisowski takes on Zhou Yuelong in what looks like an even match without the potential riches that are up for grabs for the winner of this one. Lisowski probably hasn’t got going yet this season but this sort of tournament should bring out the best in him.
Zhou has made a much better start to the season and he would have been motivated to go well playing on home soil for the first time in nearly four years so I’m expecting this one to swing one way and the other. These two have met each other on a few occasions so they know exactly what is coming. There won’t be a lot of safety played in this one but I think they’ll share the frames out enough for this one to end either 6-4 or 6-5 either way.
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