Ronnie O’Sullivan launches his bid for a record eighth World Championship title with a clash against debutant Pang Junxu at The Crucible on Saturday.
O’Sullivan returns to the sport’s spiritual home on a quest to make history by eclipsing the joint record of seven world titles he currently shares with Stephen Hendry.
The Rocket regained the world crown courtesy of an emotional victory over rival Judd Trump in last year’s final, becoming the oldest World Champion in the sport’s history at 46 years and 148 days.
He also broke Hendry’s record of 70 wins at The Crucible and is out to make it number 75 at the expense of emerging star Pang on the opening day in Sheffield.
While O’Sullivan has not picked up a ranking title since that memorable triumph last May, he has gone on to win the Hong Kong Masters and Champion of Champions titles this season and remains the world number one.
Making a record 31st consecutive Crucible appearance, the Essex superstar is vying to surpass the opening round for the 27th time, with his last defeat in Round One coming at the hands of James Cahill in 2019.
Pang is another Crucible newcomer looking to announce himself on the world stage in sensational style, with the 23-year-old having qualified in only his third season as a professional.
The Chinese youngster has already enjoyed a memorable 2023, following up a first ranking Quarter-Final run at the German Masters by reaching the Semi-Finals of the Welsh Open.
He then reached the final of the WST Classic in Leicester last month, where he was denied a maiden ranking title by Mark Selby.
Pang’s route to The Crucible has seen him defeat 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty 10-6 and his fellow countryman Xu Si 10-5 in last week’s qualifying stages.
His only previous meeting with O’Sullivan came at the Championship League last summer – where Pang prevailed 3-1 with the aid of a century break.
As per tournament tradition, the defending champion has the honour of opening up the tournament, and O’Sullivan will be determined to get off to a flying start in front of a sell-out crowd.
The match gets under way from 10am BST on Saturday April 15 for a maximum of nine frames, before resuming to a finish from 7pm over the best of 19.
Either 2016 world finalist Ding Junhui or former Shoot Out winner Hossein Vafaei will await the winner in the Second Round.
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