Ronnie O’Sullivan begins his pursuit of a record-equalling seventh World Championship title with a First Round clash against Mark Joyce on Saturday.
As per tournament tradition, the defending champion will start and finish their First Round match on the opening day, with this year’s honour falling to crowd favourite O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan is bidding to match Stephen Hendry’s record tally of seven world titles by successfully defending the crown for the second time, having done so in 2012/2013.
The Rocket returns to the sport’s spiritual home having lost in five consecutive ranking finals this season for the first time in his career.
O’Sullivan has seemingly thrived in the behind closed doors environments but is now back under the microscope in front of a limited capacity crowd at The Crucible.
His astonishing longevity is underlined by the fact he has featured in every World Championship since 1993, winning six of his seven finals and reaching the Semi-Finals on 12 occasions.
On only four occasions has the 45-year-old crashed out in the opening round, most recently at the hands of James Cahill in 2019, and he will be determined to avoid a repeat outcome when he faces another debutant in Joyce.
Joyce has waited 15 years since turning professional to make his first Crucible appearance and now has the opportunity to put his name into the snooker history books by dethroning the reigning champion for what would be the biggest win of his career.
The West Midlands cueist defeated veteran Anthony Hamilton and Brazil’s Igor Figueiredo in the qualifying rounds to seal his spot in the main event and has experience of beating O’Sullivan in a ranking tournament, having done so at the 2017 China Open.
Joyce’s best performance in a ranking event came at the 2019 Riga Masters, when he finished runner-up to Yan Bingtao, while his best run in a Triple Crown event came at the UK Championship, reaching the Last Eight in 2010 and 2017.
The pair have met three times in previous competition, including in this season’s WST Pro Series – in which saw O’Sullivan prevailed 2-1.
The match gets underway from 10am BST on Saturday April 17 for a total of nine frames, before being played to a finish over the best of 19 from 7pm.
Either 2020 semi-finalist Anthony McGill or 2013 semi-finalist Ricky Walden will await the winner in the Second Round.
The match will be available to watch live on desktop, mobile or tablet devices in the UK and various other regions worldwide.
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