The 2023 World Snooker Championship gets under way at The Crucible on Saturday with three former champions among the star names in action.
The curtain is raised on the greatest show on earth as 17 days of enthralling competition begins at the sport’s spiritual home in Sheffield.
As per tournament tradition, the defending champion has the honour of opening up the tournament, and Ronnie O’Sullivan will be determined to get off to a flying start in front of a sell-out crowd.
O’Sullivan is 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 title courtesy of an emotional victory over rival Judd Trump in last year’s final, becoming the oldest World Champion in the sport’s history in the process.
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 Junxu.
Making a record 31st consecutive Crucible appearance, the 47-year-old 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 year to date, following up a first ranking Quarter-Final at the German Masters by reaching the Semi-Finals of the Welsh Open and the final of last month’s WST Classic.
Meanwhile, Neil Robertson begins his bid for a first world title since 2010 with a tie against 19-year-old Wu Yize – the youngest player in this year’s World Championship.
Sixth seed Robertson has endured a below-par season by his own high standards, failing to pick up a ranking title after landing two as well as The Masters last season.
His best results this term have come in the Home Nations Series – where he reached the Semi-Finals of the Northern Ireland Open, Scottish Open and English Open.
The Australian ace has reached the Quarter-Finals in three of his last four Crucible appearances and will be keen to avert a potential banana skin against the world number 62 – who reached the Quarter-Finals of this season’s European Masters and defeated Allan Taylor, Tian Pengfei and Chris Wakelin in the qualifiers to set up the biggest match of his life.
Stuart Bingham, the 2015 World Champion, faces a formidable opener against 2019 semi-finalist David Gilbert.
One of the stand-out ties of the opening round sees the world number 15 and 22 collide in a repeat of the 2020 Masters Semi-Final which Bingham won 6-2 en route to the title.
A disappointing season for ‘Ball Run’ has seen him reach just one ranking Quarter-Final – at the WST Classic, while Gilbert’s only ranking Quarter-Final of the campaign came at the Northern Ireland Open last October, meaning he had to battle through two qualifying matches to reach the main event.
Two-time world finalist Ali Carter begins his 19th Crucible campaign with a clash against Welsh debutant Jak Jones.
Carter returns to the seeded positions on the back of a terrific season which has seen him secure a fifth career ranking title at the German Masters, while also finishing runner-up in the Players Championship.
Carter, whose final defeats here in 2008 and 2012 both came at the hands of rival O’Sullivan, is vying for his first win on the sport’s greatest stage since 2019.
Jones is one of five debutants in this year’s line-up, having overcame Adam Duffy, Robbie Williams and 2013 world finalist Barry Hawkins to seal a dream first appearance.
The 29-year-old has been a regular on the main tour for more than a decade, with his best run coming at the 2022 Gibraltar Open – where he reached the Semi-Finals.
Ninth seed Luca Brecel faces a tough opening test against former semi-finalist Ricky Walden.
Brecel secured his third ranking title at the beginning of the season by winning the Championship League and also finished runner-up at the English Open in December.
The Belgian, however, is yet to win a match at The Crucible in six previous attempts, with one of those defeats coming against Walden in 2018.
Walden is making his ninth appearance on the world stage since 2009, having notably reached the semis a decade ago, going down 17-14 to Barry Hawkins.
The three-time ranking event winner defeated Ian Burns 10-6 before holding his nerve to edge out Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-9 in a nail-biting final qualifying match on Judgement Day earlier this week.
The action gets under way from 10am BST, with First Round matches to be contested over the best of 19 frames.
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World Snooker Championship 2023 Schedule of Play
*Indicates final session
Saturday April 15
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Pang Junxu
Stuart Bingham v David Gilbert
Luca Brecel v Ricky Walden
Neil Robertson v Wu Yize
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Pang Junxu*
Ali Carter v Jak Jones