Judd Trump launches the defence of his World Snooker Championship title on the opening day of the sport’s show-piece in Sheffield on Friday.
Trump realised his snooker destiny last May by dismantling John Higgins in the final to lift the prestigious trophy for the first time, and has gone on to enjoy a season of ruthless dominance.
The runaway world number one has picked up a record six ranking titles this season in 13 tournament appearances and is looking to round it off in dream fashion.
The 30-year-old becomes the latest player to be faced with the infamous ‘Crucible curse’ – which has seen no first-time winner successfully defend the world title since the event was first staged at this venue.
Trump’s opening test comes against Leicester’s Tom Ford, with the match to be played from start to finish on the opening day as per tournament tradition.
Trump has won nine of his previous 13 meetings with Ford, including a 6-3 success en route to International Championship glory in 2019.
Ford, however, has one up on Trump in one department this season: he has made double the amount of competitive maximum breaks.
The former UK Championship semi-finalist has made two of the five maximums this season in total, underlining his clinical scoring power.
Ford is making his fourth Crucible appearance of the last decade but is likely to require a special performance if he is to register his first win.
Stepping out onto the famous Crucible carpet alongside Trump and Ford on the opening morning will be 2015 World Champion Stuart Bingham and debutant Ashley Carty.
Bingham has long since backed up the dream success he enjoyed here five years ago, going on to win a further three ranking titles, as well as this year’s Masters.
The world number 14, however, has not been beyond the Second Round stage in Sheffield since lifting the trophy and has been otherwise quiet in ranking competition this season, reaching just one Quarter-Final.
He will be wary of a potential banana skin at the hands of Doncaster debutant Carty – one of five newcomers in this year’s field.
The 25-year-old was in tears after coming through the qualifying rounds earlier in the week – a result which also safeguarded his position on the tour for the next two seasons.
This will be far by the biggest occasion of the youngster’s career so far, and he will look to overcome the inevitable nerves and make a name for himself on the sport’s greatest stage.
The afternoon session sees reigning UK Champion Ding Junhui kick off his campaign against the returning Mark King.
Ding fell narrowly short of the top prize in his adopted hometown of Sheffield four years ago, losing out to Mark Selby in the final, but remains a key title threat in every outing.
Having returned to China prior to the UK lock-down, this will be Ding’s first competitive appearance since the Players Championship in February – where he lost in the First Round.
His UK Championship triumph last December is the stand-out moment in an otherwise average season by his standards which has seen him reach just one other ranking Quarter-Final.
He faces an opponent riding high after ending a seven-year exile from The Crucible by virtue of his performances at the qualifiers earlier this week.
King, who made his World Championship debut back in 1994, defeated 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty and Ian Burns to secure a coveted return, and will fancy his chances of pulling off an upset against a potentially ring-rusty Ding.
The evening session sees two snooker stalwarts go head-to-head as three-time World Champion Mark Williams faces three-time Crucible semi-finalist Alan McManus.
McManus enters the clash as the sharper of the two, having come through the qualifying rounds to secure his first Crucible appearance 2016 – when he rolled back the years to reach the Semi-Finals.
Williams, meanwhile, has not played a competitive match since reaching the Semi-Finals of the Gibraltar Open back in March, prior to which he had gone out in the Second Round or earlier in nine of his eleven ranking event appearances this season.
The longevity of the two players is underlined by the fact they contested their first competitive encounter back in 1993 and have appeared in no less than 41 World Championships between them.
Williams’ unforgettable triumph here in 2018 saw him become the oldest World Champion (at 43) since Ray Reardon in 1978 and marked the longest time (15 years) between world title wins.
The action gets underway from 10am BST, with First Round matches to be contested over the best of 19 frames.
The first session of each match will consist of a maximum of nine frames, before being played to a finish in the second session.
World Snooker Championship 2020 Schedule
*Indicates final session
Friday July 31
Judd Trump v Tom Ford
Stuart Bingham v Ashley Carty
Kyren Wilson w/o Anthony Hamilton
Ding Junhui v Mark King
Judd Trump v Tom Ford*
Mark Williams v Alan McManus