The opening day of the WST Classic takes place inside the Morningside Arena in Leicester on Thursday when 20 matches take place across three sessions of play as this inaugural event gets up and running.
Sometimes in tournaments we have to wait until deeper into the event until we see the top stars but that isn’t the case here as we have a number of top 16 players taking to the baize on the opening day of the event.
There are two sets of matches in the morning session on Thursday and it is Jack Lisowski who headlines the first of them. He will go up against Louis Heathcote on the main table while elsewhere we have Dominic Dale looking to continue his fine recent form when he takes on the Chinese player Si Jiahui. There are Chinese players on show in the other two matches to open up the morning session. Lyu Haotian takes on Michael Judge in one of them and Pang Junxu faces Jenson Kendrick in the other.
The second part of the morning session sees Stuart Bingham taking to the main table. He will look to find some of his best form when he takes on Ng On Yee for a place in the second round. Anthony McGill is another high profile name on show here. He meets Peng Yisong on one of the outside tables while we also have Noppon Saengkham beginning his quest for the run to the title he needs to play in the Tour Championship next week. He faces Ian Burns and Fan Zhengyi meets Andres Petrov in the other game.
Neil Robertson is the leading name in the first of two sets of matches in the afternoon session. Robertson knows he must win the title if he is to defend his Tour Championship crown at the end of the month and starts out against the amateur Luke Simmonds. Joe O’Connor has been one of the players of the season and the home star meets Jamie O’Neill on one of the outside tables while Oliver Lines faces Mitchell Mann on another. Matthew Stevens is also in show first up in the afternoon. He faces Victor Sarkis.
The second part of the afternoon will see Barry Hawkins on the main table. He will be looking for some form to take to the Crucible with him and looks to have a comfortable assignment against Barry Pinches to negotiate. Hossein Vafaei lost out in heartbreaking fashion in the semi-final of the Six Reds last weekend and will begin making up for that when he meets John Astley while Scott Donaldson faces Zak Surety. Ben Woollaston is on home soil this week and meets Dylan Emery.
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Just the one set of matches take place in the evening session and it is one which is headlined by the player of the season so far in Mark Allen. The UK Championship winner will take on Peter Lines for a place in the second round. That one is on the main table and elsewhere we have Ricky Walden facing Ben Mertens and Martin Gould meeting Andrew Higginson. It is a big evening for Mark Davis as he looks for valuable ranking points when he takes on Fergal O’Brien.
If there is a notable upset on the opening day of the tournament then I fancy it could come at the hands of Ben Mertens who might be a spot of value to see off Ricky Walden in the evening session. I say that because since he made the quarter final of the Scottish Open just before Christmas, the form of Ricky Walden has fallen off a cliff. He lost in the second round of the English Open and Welsh Open and in his first matches in the World Grand Prix and German Masters. He went to Thailand for the Six Reds last week, got thumped by Judd Trump, laboured past a couple of amateurs then lost 6-0 to Stuart Bingham in the last 16.
The confidence of Walden has to be on the low side and Mertens probably doesn’t have a huge amount to lose here. He has been a little unlucky this season having twice run into Ronnie O’Sullivan to knock him out of two of the events. One of those was at the Welsh Open but prior to that third round exit at the hands of the Rocket, Mertens had beaten Jackson Page and Dave Gilbert. One of those losses to O’Sullivan was only in a deciding frame so the young Belgian looks to be settling into life on the tour and at 21/10 might just be overpriced to see off an out of form Walden.
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