Mark Williams v Zhao Xintong: World Championship Qualifier 2017 preview

Mark Williams launches his bid for a 20th appearance at the Crucible with a tricky test against rising Chinese star Zhao Xintong in the opening qualifying round for the 2017 World Championship at Ponds Forge in Sheffield on Saturday.

The two-time World champion missed out on automatic qualification for snooker's blue-riband event by just two frames, following his narrow 10-8 defeat against Mark Selby in last week's China Open final.

Nevertheless, the Welshman will not have let it affect him too much, as he begins his mission to become only the ninth player to reach the Crucible on 20 separate occasions.

It is now exactly two decades since the Welshman, who lifted the title in 2000 and 2003, made his first appearance at the Theatre of Dreams, and he has only missed out once since after losing in the final qualifying round in 2014.

This will be the third time he has faced Zhao in the space of three months, having come out on top in each of their previous meetings in the qualifier for Beijing, as well as the Last 32 of the Gibraltar Open. Therefore, the 20-year-old Chinese prodigy will be looking to make it third time lucky here, as he aims to match his performance of 12 months ago in the qualifying stages.

Ranked number 84 in the world, Zhao has enjoyed a decent first year on the professional circuit - notably reaching the Last 16 of the German Masters back in February.

The left-hander beat four-time World champion John Higgins to secure his place in Berlin and will draw inspiration from that victory as he looks to claim another big scalp here.

A clash with either Liam Highfield or Andres Petrov awaits the winner of this best-of-19 match in the second qualifying round for the 2017 World Championship.

The match at Ponds Forge International Sports Centre gets underway at 10am BST for the first nine frames, before a maximum of 10 will determine the winner when they resume at 7pm.