I said on Monday that I'll likely write some thoughts about the first round later on. Time has run out but if someone is interested in my thoughts, you can find some here
. The Google translation is quite hilarious.
I'll write a few words about all the sections though.
First section: Hard to see anyone besides Higginson to be able to beat Ding even if Ding isn't at his very best. Higginson and Wilson don't have easy first matches, on his day Bond can beat players like Higginson and the same applies to Fernandez so they aren't guaranteed to make it through. One would expect them to meet in the second round though and a match against Ding awaits the winner. Higginson is the favourite to make it to the third round but he'd of course be a clear underdog against Ding.
Second section: I can see three players who could make it to the Crucible: Ebdon, J Jones and Burns. Ebdon v J Jones is the expected third-round match but it would be no surprise to see Burns there. D Jones hasn't had a great debut season so I don't expect him to be a big threat but I would be happy to be wrong here. Greene v White is a big match for Greene, he must be happy with his draw (but the same applies to White too), it's a must-win for Greene if he is to stay on tour (and one win won't likely be enough), expecting it to be a close match.
Third section: This section is wide open. Joyce, Woollaston, Hamilton, Williams, why not Wakelin too although his season has been worse than I expected. Woollaston hasn't been great in long matches so it would be no surprise to see him getting beaten despite being the highest seed - Wakelin is a capable player so why not already in the first round? The potential second-round match involving Williams and Joyce is a big one, I'd fancy Williams to win it and if I had to pick one player to qualify, I'd perhaps say Williams.
Fourth section: Dott is the deserving favourite. If Saengkham can play as well as he did in China (I'm not convinced he can), he could well be the qualifier, otherwise I can see Dott making it to the third round quite easily. He is likely to face Dunn or the still underrated Li and he must be a big favourite in that match.
Fifth section: Quite an interesting section. Maflin and Milkins have both had disappointing seasons so could we see a surprise qualifier? Milkins seem to have a clear route to the third round unless Donaldson can find similar form he often had a few years ago. The other half is very balanced. Wouldn't be very surprised if Lam beat Maflin but he'd be an underdog against Lawler/Zhao. The match between Lawler and Zhao is truly a clash of styles, will Lawler's experience be too much or can Zhao outpot his opponent? I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the winner of that match to qualify. Milkins is of course the favourite and he has an easier draw than Lawler/Zhao/Maflin but he hasn't had a great season and I wouldn't be surprised to see someone else qualifying.
Sixth section: Grace is the biggest question mark. Three times this season he has played world-class snooker (UK Championship, Shanghai Masters, one ET event) but otherwise he hasn't been at the same level. If he fidns his form again, he could well be the qualifier. Otherwise a third-round match between King and Holt seems inevitable, I'd expect it to be a close match.
Seventh section: Morris likely needs two wins to stay on tour, Melling and McManus, can he do it? Unlikely but not impossible. (It's very possible that two wins aren't enough, three wins may be too much asked.) Another player to follow is Carrington who needs to win at least one match to stay inside top 64. He has guaranteed a tour place for the next season but top 64 is of course preferred to avoid having to start from zero. Carrington has been playing very well in long matches but will the injury he sustained in China (whatever it was) still hinder him? Then we have Robertson who could well be the favourite as McManus hasn't had as good a season as last season. I'd actually fancy the winner of Carrington v Robertson in the second round to qualify assuming that Carrington has recovered from his injury.
Eighth section: Very interesting section. Tian v Vafaei Ayouri is in my opinion in top three of the first-round ties. Two very dangerous players, Vafaei Ayouri has unfortunately suffered from visa problems and is in a losing streak but he truly can play and he deserves to be on tour. He'll have to play very well next season to stay on tour but no doubts he belongs there. Meanwhile Tian has climbed all the way to the 45th place despite starting last season from zero, he's in top 30 in the season points and he has to be a favourite there but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Vafaei Ayouri winning. Then in the second round match against Doherty or Hicks (their 1st-round match could go either way), one would fancy Tian/Vafaei Ayouri to win it although Doherty and Hicks could stand their ground well. We have also Burden v Drago (most likely Drago's last professional match) and Day v Wells, Wells can be a tough opponent but one would fancy Day to make it through. Day v Burden in the second round will likely be a great match, again Day is the favourite (but not by a big margin) but doesn't have an easy match. Tian or Vafaei Ayouri will most likely await in the last round. I really can see anyone of the aforementioned quartet qualifying and the rest of the players can't be forgotten either so this is maybe the most interesting section of them all. Tian v Day is the most likely third-round match but there are so many capable players that there's no point in predicting the qualifier.
Ninth section: Seems pretty straightforward, Swail or Stevens faces Wilson in the last round unless O'Donnell can surprise and Wilson is the biggest favourite. Stevens will next season face a battle against dropping off the tour, he hasn't had a good season but this is the tournament in which he has often produced his best so he can't be counted out.
Tenth section: Steadman needs two (maybe three) wins to stay on tour and he couldn't realistically have hoped for a better draw. Out-of-form Leslie and out-of-form McGill, winning them could well be enough. Steadman's form hasn't been good either so I wouldn't fancy him to do it though. Un-Nooh must be the big favourite to qualify. He starts against Songsermsawad who makes his professional debut, Un-Nooh hasn't usually been at his best against fellow Thais so his victory isn't 100 % guaranteed but of course it would be a massive surprise to see him losing. McGill's form hasn't been great so although he should have a clear route to the third round, it would be a surprise to see him qualifying. A dark horse could be Yu, he has improved and it would be a 50/50 battle against McGill but Yu will likely face Un-Nooh first and the Thai must be a clear favourite there.
Eleventh section: Highfield's fate is out of his hands, all he can do is to hope Lines, Carrington and Burns stay inside top 64. Well of course he could qualify for the Crucible but it's very unlikely unless he finds the form he had last season. Considering his form, hard to see him beyond the second round. Brecel must be a big favourite to make it to the third round, Hallworth and Highfield await him and one would expect the Belgian to beat them. Another half is very interesting, Baird vs Chuan Leong is one of the matches of the round. Chuan Leong hasn't taken part in many tournaments but he has some very impressive victories under his belt. Baird on the other hand has been playing well - although not as well as last season. That will be a match to follow. We also have Ford in this section, he faces Hill who has been the best debutant in terms of the money earnt, one would still fancy Ford to beat him. So the way I see it is that Ford, Baird and Chuan Leong battle for a match against Brecel, I could see anyone of the trio making it to the last round. The favourite to qualify is of course Brecel but he won't have an easy match in the last round.
Twelfth section: Pretty straightforward first-round matches. Gilbert is the favourite to make it to the third round and he'll likely face Lisowski or McLeod (another clash of styles there). Must fancy Gilbert to qualify.
Thirteenth section: I could see three players qualifying: Hull, Selt and Poomjaeng (why not Figueiredo too although playing three matches at his best might be too much asked). Pinces has won only two matches this season, both against amateurs, so I would fancy Hull (who seems to be recovered from chicken pox) to beat him comfortably, next he would face Poomjaeng. Poomjaeng hasn't had a bad season but he hasn't been at his best either, considering the fact that Hull has enjoyed these long matches I'd fancy him to win the match. The favourite to face him in the next round is of course Selt but it would be no surprise to see Figueiredo beating Selt, the Brazilian is a great player and shouldn't be underestimated. The winner will likely face Mann. I don't think Mann could beat Selt but maybe he could Figueiredo. Against any other player than Selt Hull would be a big favourite in the third round but against Selt it could be a close battle. Fingers crossed for Hull.
Fourteenth section: Very open section with O'Brien, M Davis, Zhang and Zhou, perhaps even Duffy. I would be happy to be wrong but can't see S Davis beating O'Brien. Zhang and Zhou should also make it comfortably to the second round but M Davis doesn't have an easy match against Duffy. M Davis is the favourite but he has a very difficult draw in Duffy, Zhang and O'Brien/Zhou so it would be no surprise to see someone else qualifying, this section is very competitive. Zhang needs to qualify to make it to top 64, he of course has a tour place for the next season but top 64 would be preferred. I could see him beating M Davis or Duffy in the second round but qualifying is a whole new ballgame. If I had to pick one player I'd actually fancy Zhou to make his Crucible debut, not an easy draw but he is capable of doing it. M Davis is the highest seed in the section but he would have to win three tight matches to qualify. Of the top seeds (#17-#32) he might well have the most difficult draw. All in all another very interesting section.
Fifteenth section: Carter v Dale seems inevitable (and Carter must be the favourite). Lines and Cao have been in bad form, would they play at their best they could challenge Carter and Dale but it seems unlikely they'd find their form. Lines has to win his first match to avoid having to start from zero, he faces Lu so one would fancy Lines to do it but Lines hasn't so far won a match in 2016 and he just two months ago lost to Lu whose precious victory was from August. Thus not as easy a match as it could seem like.
Sixteenth section: Is there anyone who could stop Liang from qualifying? Cope could but his recent form hasn't been great - it's no way guaranteed he'll even win his first match. Burnett is a solid player but I don't think his normal game is enough. Xiao is in terrible form, in March 2015 he was ranked 19th, now he is 47th and at the end of the season most likely even worse - he will have to improve if he is to stay on tour after the next season. If Xiao now loses in the first round, he will face a tough task next season - even if he wins, it won't be easy. All in all Liang must be a big favourite - who could beat him? Clarke perhaps?