The opening round of the European Masters continues on Wednesday with a host of top names in action, including defending champion Kyren Wilson and former world number ones Mark Williams and Mark Selby
Welsh Potting Machine Williams will arguably be involved in the most eye-catching match of the day, as he takes on compatriot Matthew Stevens in a repeat of the 200 World Championship final.
Other contests to look out for include Xiao Guodong’s clash with former world champion Stuart Bingham and James Cahill’s all-English showdown with last year’s beaten finalist Barry Hawkins.
Mark Williams to beat Matthew Stevens with a -2.5 Handicap @ 11/10
With a combined 58 years experience on the professional tour, Welsh pair Williams and Stevens are no strangers to facing off, with this latest meeting in Nuremberg set to be their 28th professional clash.
Williams edges the head-to-head record 15-11, while there has also been one draw, with the three-time world champion having also won the duo’s most famous showdown to land his first Crucible crown 23 years ago.
Fresh from reaching the final of the Championship League in the first event of the new season, Williams appears to be in good form and he should have too much for Stevens, who has fallen in the first round of this event in each of the last two years.
Three of the last four meetings between the two have gone the way of Williams, including a 5-0 victory at the 2017 World Open, and the world number nine could be worth backing with a -2.5 handicap.
Xiao Guodong to beat Stuart Bingham @ 6/5
A Crucible champion in 2015, Bingham failed to make it beyond the third round of a ranking event last season and he started the current campaign by falling at the first stage of the Championship League.
Ball-run is currently outside the top 16 of the world rankings and he could face further frustration when he comes up against Chinese ace Xiao, who made it to the third stage of the opening event of the season where he drew with eventual champion Shaun Murphy.
Xiao has also advanced from the first round of the European Masters in each of the last four years and he seemingly provides the value option to edge this first-round clash.
James Cahill to beat Barry Hawkins with a +2.5 Handicap @ 5/6
Like Bingham, former World Championship finalist Hawkins is another player that has suffered a fall from grace over the last 12 months, ever since he was beaten in last season’s European Masters final by Kyren Wilson.
Hawkins only made it beyond the second round of one more ranking event during 2022-23, with his season culminating in missing out on a place at the Crucible for the first time since 2005.
Things have not started any better for the Hawk this season following his early exit from the Championship League and he may struggle to get past fellow Englishman Cahill, who reached the second round of the opening event of the new season.
World number 66 Cahill should certainly test the brittle confidence of Hawkins and could be worth siding with in the handicap market, even if his more experienced opponent does ultimately end up squeezing through.