Phil Haigh ✍️
Two of the biggest names in World Snooker Championship qualifying made it to the Crucible on Tuesday night as Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui survived Judgement Night Part One.
Maguire came through a tough test against Zhou Yuelong, winning 10-7, while Ding downed the current World Seniors champion by the same scoreline.
With Maguire a former world number two and Ding having topped the rankings, both will be players that the seeded players will be very keen to avoid on Thursday’s draw for the Crucible first round.
The Scot was just relieved to put the qualification process behind him and a contest with Zhou which left him with some dark visions.
‘It was just a dog fight from start to finish,’ he said. At 7-4 I maybe could have pulled away, but he just kept clearing up. It’s tough out there.
‘I had to [show patience] because I was gone. The last frame there I was perfect in the balls three or four times and I just kept seeing gravestones and skulls.
‘It was just hard, snooker players understand what it’s like.’
Maguire had been very critical of the set-up at the qualifiers after his first win over Zhang Jiankang and he is clear that he wants to return to the top 16 as soon as possible to avoid the process again.
‘I don’t want to be here ever again, I really don’t,’ he said. ‘But neither does Ding. I don’t think anyone wants to be here.’
Ding started well against Lilley, going 2-0 up but then found himself 7-4 down before winning six frames on the spin to book his Crucible spot.
He admits that he was struggling, but then saw weakness creep into his opponent and pounced.
‘I feel I couldn’t pot a ball at 7-4 down, he played really well,’ said Ding. ‘When I came back to 7-7 he started missing and losing concentration a little bit.
‘I tried to play better safety that took him off the table.’
Ding’s ranking has really suffered over the last year after poor results and not entering tournaments as he was back in China at times during the pandemic.
He returned to the UK at the back end of 2021 and has slowly been recovering towards the form which made him a top player for so long.
‘It looks like I’m playing much better than before Christmas,’ he said. ‘It’ll take time but I believe I can play better again and play my best form again.
‘I don’t know which day, when or how. I just keep my head right.’
On how close he is to his very best he said: ‘How close? I don’t think very close at the moment. Some days play good, some days like today not so well.’
Ahead of the qualifying Maguire is ranked 40 and Ding 29, but these wins will start their move back up the rankings where they belong.
Also qualifying on Tuesday night were Michael White, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Jamie Jones, Lyu Haotian, Ashley Hugill and Scott Donaldson.
The draw for the first round at the Crucible is at 11am on Thursday.
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