Ding can teach teenage compatriot cruel lesson
Higgins looks too good for Gould
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Ding v Yuelong
Ding Junhui became the first player from Asia to reach the Betfred World Championship final last year and he should make experience count against Crucible debutant Zhou Yuelong in his curtain-raiser.
Yuelong overcame three gruelling qualifiers to book his place at the Sheffield showpiece and is destined for a big future on the baize but taking on experienced compatriot Ding on the biggest stage may come a little too soon in his development.
The talented youngster held his nerve to edge out Ben Woollaston in a decider in his final qualifier and the temperament he displayed throughout was remarkable, but his record against top-class players is a concern.
The pair clashed in the China Open two weeks ago and Ding, who should be better suited by the longer format, ran out an emphatic 5-0 winner. Yuelong has won just one of his seven matches against top-16 players in ranking events this term and the pressure may ultimately weigh on him.
Yuelong is capable of amassing big breaks and if not affected by the occasion could run his compatriot close, but Ding has been getting sharper as the season has progressed.
Last year’s runner-up reached the last four of the Ladbrokes Players Championship in Llandudno last month, going down 6-5 to Marco Fu, and was a quarter-finalist on his latest outing in China.
Some bookmakers are giving little away by asking Ding to concede 4.5 frames on the match handicap but Betfair are offering 4-5 on him conceding a 3.5-frame headstart and that looks the way to go.
Ding -3.5 frames
1pt 4-5 Betfair
Higgins v Gould
John Higgins is chasing a fifth Betfred World Championship title and the Wizard of Wishaw can blow away any cobwebs with victory over Martin Gould, who has been a first-round casualty in five of his seven trips to the Crucible.
Higgins’ most recent world triumph was six years ago but over the last couple of seasons he has rediscovered peak form and on his he day can silence any player on the circuit.
The Scot won back-to-back titles - the China Championship and the Champion of Champions - earlier this season and confirmed his well-being with a last-16 berth in the China Open.
Gould is capable of scoring heavily but may fall short when frames turn tactical and has lost six of his nine meetings with Higgins.
The sixth seed crushed Welshman Ryan Day 10-3 in his opening match last year and looks good value to dismantle Gould this time around.
J Higgins -2.5 frames
2pts 10-11 Betfred