World Snooker Championship: Ronnie O'Sullivan to open title defence against Mark Joyce
'The Rocket' Ronnie O'Sullivan will step out at the Crucible on Saturday at 10am to begin his 2021 World Snooker Championship campaign against debutant Mark Joyce; world No 1 Judd Trump has been pitted against Liam Highfield
Last Updated: 15/04/21 12:34pm
Ronnie O'Sullivan will open the defence of his World Snooker Championship title against debutant Mark Joyce at the Crucible.
Veteran Joyce, 37, turned professional in 2006, but had never previously made it through to the showpiece tournament, securing his place with victory over Brazil's Igor Figueiredo in the last qualifying round.
Elsewhere in Thursday's draw, former champion Stuart Bingham, another who came through qualifying, will meet China's Ding Junhui, while world No 1 Judd Trump plays Liam Highfield.
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World Snooker Championship Draw:
Ronnie O’Sullivan (1) vs Mark Joyce
Anthony McGill (16) vs Ricky Walden
Ding Junhui (9) vs Stuart Bingham
Stephen Maguire (8) vs Jamie Jones
John Higgins (5) vs Tian Pengfei
Mark Williams (12) vs Sam Craigie
Mark Allen (13) vs Lyu Haotian
Mark Selby (4) vs Kurt Maflin
Neil Robertson (3) vs Liang Wenbo
Jack Lisowski (14) vs Ali Carter
Barry Hawkins (11) vs Matthew Selt
Kyren Wilson (6) vs Gary Wilson
Shaun Murphy (7) vs Mark Davis
Yan Bingtao (10) vs Martin Gould
David Gilbert (15) vs Chris Wakelin
Judd Trump (2) vs Liam Highfield
Australian Neil Robertson is viewed as a leading contender to win a second world title following an impressive campaign so far - beating O'Sullivan in the Tour Championship final - and will take on Liang Wenbo.
Fourth seed Mark Selby - a three-time world champion - will take on last year's surprise quarter-finalist Kurt Maflin.
This year's Masters champion Yan Bingtao will begin his campaign against 'The Gouldfather' Martin Gould, while 2020 runner-up Kyren Wilson meets Gary Wilson, a former semi-finalist.
Debutant Sam Craigie faces three-time former champion Mark Williams and veteran John Higgins plays Tian Pengfei as he begins the quest for a fifth world crown.
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O'Sullivan heads to the Crucible having lost all five of the ranking finals he has played so far this season, including 10-3 and 10-4 thumpings by John Higgins and Neil Robertson respectively. While the six-time winner must never be written off, one senses there could be someone standing in his way who is more than capable of denying his bid for a seventh world crown.
Two months ago, the world No 1 would have been an unbackable favourite for a second world crown. But after sweeping to five ranking titles this season alone, Trump has shown signs of starting to stutter, not least in his Tour Championship defeat to Barry Hawkins. No doubt, on his day Trump beats anyone. But there remains a question over whether he can sustain that level over two long weeks.
It remains one of the most unfathomable statistics of the modern game that Robertson has only made one appearance in the Crucible's one-table set-up since winning his solitary world title in 2010. Sporadically, the Australian has shown bursts of brilliance, not least in his demolition of O'Sullivan at last month's Tour Championship. That performance alone arguably installs him as favourite to claim that long-awaited second crown.
Inconsistency and uncertainty over their ability to handle two weeks of long-form snooker may dog most of Higgins' contemporaries, but no such issues afflict the 45-year-old four-time winner, who has established a reputation as the match-player to beat them all. Higgins' remarkable triumph at the Players' Championship in February illustrated just how capable he remains of marching all the way to a fifth world title.
Selby's most recent world title in 2017 was expected to cue up an era of domination. Instead, inexplicably, he went two straight years without winning another tournament. The Leicester man has shown signs of rediscovering some semblance of his previous form, not least in stretching O'Sullivan to an agonising final frame defeat in last year's Crucible semi-final. Nobody will be in a hurry to dismiss Selby's chances of making it number four.
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