Ronnie O’Sullivan launches his bid for a third China Open crown when he locks horns with world number 100 James Cahill in the qualifiers at Preston Guild Hall on Thursday.
The Rocket returns to action for the first time since capturing his seventh Masters title on Sunday – surpassing Stephen Hendry to become the most successful player in the history of the event – and will be eager to pick up from where he left off here.
O’Sullivan, whose most recent success in this event came back in 2000, will be making a rare appearance having withdrawn after qualifying two years ago, while you have to go back to 2012 for the last time he featured in the final stages.
Therefore, should he qualify, the 41-year-old will have the opportunity to build some momentum ahead of his latest quest to claim a sixth World Championship success.
The world number 13 will be a heavy favourite to prevail without too many difficulties against Cahill – Hendry’s nephew – who has won just two matches since his run to the Last 32 of the Paul Hunter Classic in August.
Blackpool’s Cahill is aiming to make it third time lucky against the Rocket having lost each of the two previous showdowns, including a 6-4 reverse at the same stage of this season’s International Championship.
Although, the world number 100 certainly made life difficult for O’Sullivan – recovering from 5-1 down to only trail 5-4 – but will need to be on it right from the first break-off to have any chance of claiming a huge scalp.
The 21-year-old is desperate for a strong run during the second half of the season to boost his hopes of remaining on the tour, and getting a result here would provide him with the best possible start.
Play at the Preston Guild Hall gets underway at 7pm GMT on Thursday, with the best of nine frames determining who will progress to the final stages of the 2017 China Open.