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Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui: World Snooker Championship 2020 preview – Rocket and Dragon collide

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World Snooker Championship 2020 Day Six preview and order of play: Second Round commences in Sheffield

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Martin Gould thrashes Stephen Maguire to complete Last 16 line-up at the World Snooker Championship

The Rocket prevailed in a decider against Ding (credit: Steve Paston/PA Images)

Two snooker icons collide in a mouth-watering Second Round tie at the 2020 World Snooker Championship as Ronnie O’Sullivan takes on Ding Junhui.

England’s greatest cueist faces China’s top star over three sessions in Sheffield spanning as many days as they lock horns in the sport’s most iconic venue.

A box office fixture which would ordinarily have packed out any snooker venue will be contested in an empty Crucible, but it’s difficult to envisage anything but a thriller between these two greats of the modern game.

O’Sullivan sent out an emphatic message to the field that he means business in this unique staging of the World Championship by thrashing Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-1 in the fastest match in the history of the tournament.

The 44-year-old was close to his brilliant best in a free-flowing masterclass, but now faces a much tougher assignment against an opponent who has beaten him on the big occasions.

O’Sullivan’s recent relationship with this event remains an indifferent one, having failed to progress beyond the Last 16 stage in three of his last four attempts.

Back-to-back winner in 2012 and 2013, keen runner O’Sullivan returns hoping to stay the distance in this marathon of the mind and pick up what would be a record-breaking 37th career ranking title.

His most recent ranking title came at the 2019 Tour Championship, though he did go on to claim the Shanghai Masters crown later in the year.

O’Sullivan has dominated this fixture down the years, winning 13 and drawing three of their 21 previous meetings.

Ding, however, won their most recent encounter in the Last 16 of the UK Championship en route to glory in York last December and has experience of downing ‘The Rocket’ in this event, having done so in the Quarter-Finals three years ago.

The world number eleven claimed his 14th ranking title at the UK Championship but has done little in and around that success this season, reaching just one other ranking Quarter-Final.

He fell narrowly short of the top prize in his adopted hometown of Sheffield four years ago, losing out to Mark Selby in the final in front of a worldwide television audience of 300 million.

Having returned to China prior to the UK lock-down, this is Ding’s first competitive appearance since the Players Championship in February – where he lost in the First Round.

Any sign of rustiness was eradicated in an epic First Round clash with Mark King which went all the way to a deciding frame before the 33-year-old held his nerve to avert an early exit.

O’Sullivan will be eyeing revenge for both his defeat here in 2017 and his recent UK Championship exit, but knows he can ill-afford to be off-par against a player of Ding’s deadly all-round calibre.

Their best of 25 frame match gets underway from 7pm BST on Friday for a total of eight frames, resuming at 2.30pm on Saturday before being played to a finish from 7pm on Sunday.

Either three-time champion Mark Williams or 2015 champion Stuart Bingham will await the winner in the Quarter-Finals.