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Ronnie O'Sullivan looking for eighth world snooker title after up-and-down season on and off the table

Ronnie O'Sullivan looking to surpass Stephen Hendry's record of seven Crucible titles; 47-year-old has made just two ranking quarter-finals this season and also been critical of way snooker is run; Mark Allen, Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby among Rocket's main challengers in Sheffield

Cazoo UK Championship - Day Seven - York Barbican
Ronnie O'Sullivan during his match against Ding Junhui during day seven of the Cazoo UK Snooker Championship at the York Barbican. Picture date: Friday November 18, 2022.
Image: Ronnie O'Sullivan is a seven-time world champion, winning at The Crucible in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020 and 2022

A snooker great is targeting world title number eight.

Ronnie O'Sullivan equalled Stephen Hendry's record of seven Crucible crowns in the modern era when he beat Judd Trump in the 2022 final.

The world No 1 now looking to eclipse that tally and add further weight to the argument that he is the best player the game has seen.

The Rocket, who begins his tournament against Chinese debutant Pang Junxu on Saturday, has not been the best player this season, though.

O'Sullivan has only reached two ranking quarter-finals and in each of them he was subsequently whitewashed, by Ding Junhui at the UK Championship in November 2022 and then by Tian Pengfei at the Welsh Open in February, while he withdrew from last month's WST Classic following an elbow injury.

Image: O'Sullivan recently said snooker 'is in the worst place it has ever been'

He has won a couple of non-ranking tournaments - the Hong Kong Open and the Champion of Champions - but he has made more headlines this term for his words off the table than his snooker on it, not for the first time in his career.

Just last month, O'Sullivan said snooker was "in the worst place it has ever been" as he slammed those running the game as "not the brightest sparks". He also called for an injection of cash and for "proper people with vision to bring snooker up to date".

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World Snooker Tour chairman Steve Dawson responded by branding O'Sullivan's comments "misguided", "disrespectful" and "damaging to snooker" and urged the 47-year-old to use his "global popularity" to help push the game forward.

Sky Bet odds for 2023 World Snooker Championship

  • Ronnie O'Sullivan - 7/2
  • Mark Selby - 11/2
  • Judd Trump - 6/1
  • Neil Robertson - 7/1
  • Shaun Murphy - 8/1
  • Kyren Wilson - 14/1
  • Mark Allen - 14/1
  • John Higgins - 16/1

O'Sullivan's status will get eyes on the World Championship - "I have carried the sport pretty much for the last 20-30 years," he said in that March interview - when Dawson will hope snooker can take centre stage.

Not O'Sullivan's words and not the corruption crisis which sees 10 Chinese players, including Triple Crown winners Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong, currently suspended amid charges related to match-fixing.

The Crucible is where the Rocket comes alive. He has made eight world finals and lost just one, to four-time champion Mark Selby in 2014, and the chance of surpassing Hendry and making history could galvanise him further.

Ahead of his 31st World Championship appearance, O'Sullivan told Eurosport: "I feel alright. I feel like I've paced myself pretty well this year. I've had a few ups and downs, but feel like I've come out the other side of it.

"I've not collapsed, or lost the plot, but stayed in a good place and at some point, I'll just let the snooker gods take over. I'm fresh and looking forward to it."

Mark Allen wins 2022 UK Championship in York (PA Images)
Image: Mark Allen's three ranking titles in the 2022-23 season include the UK Championship

O'Sullivan is 23rd on the one-year ranking list with this term's form players instead Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy - Allen has won three ranking events (the Northern Ireland Open, the UK Championship and the World Grand Prix) and Murphy two (The Players Championship and the Tour Championship).

Allen, who faces China's Fan Zhengyi first up, has only passed the second round once at the Crucible in his last 11 attempts, while Murphy's appearance in the 2021 final is the sole time he has gone beyond the last 16 since finishing as runner-up in 2015.

Murphy - who has made four world finals in total, recording a solitary victory in 2005 - credits a gastric sleeve operation for his upturn in form, which included beating Kyren Wilson to win the Tour Championship in early April.

Mark Selby
Image: Four-time world champion Mark Selby has a superb record in ranking finals

Mark Selby must not be discounted either.

The 39-year-old claimed his first ranking title in almost two years when he won the English Open before Christmas - a result he called one of his biggest achievements in the game after dealing with mental health issues - and he added another trophy at the WST Classic in his home city of Leicester in March.

Selby's record in finals is outstanding, too. Of his last 21 in ranking events stretching back to 2014, he has been victorious on 19 occasions.

One of those defeats came in the one-frame Snooker Shoot Out against Ryan Day in 2021, while the other was to Ding Junhui in the 2016 Shanghai Masters.

Ding could also be a contender at the Crucible after a return to form and a maiden world title for him could be the tonic China needs amid the match-fixing charges his countrymen are facing.

Image: Ding Junhui could meet Ronnie O'Sullivan in the second round at The Crucible

The absences of Yan and Zhao have actually benefited Ding, allowing him to earn a spot as a seed in Sheffield and not have to qualify.

A mouth-watering second-round meeting with O'Sullivan awaits should he overcome Iran's Hossein Vafei and the defending champion beats Ding's fellow Chinese player Pang.

Make no mistake, O'Sullivan remains the star attraction. Whether slamming snooker officials or slamming in pots, the Rocket is the sport's biggest name. Come May 1, he could stand alone is its most prolific Crucible winner.

World Snooker Championship first-round draw

  • Ronnie O'Sullivan (1) vs Pang Junxu
  • Ding Junhui (16) vs Hossein Vafei
  • Luca Brecel (9) vs Ricky Walden
  • Mark Williams (8) vs Jimmy Robertson
  • Judd Trump (5) vs Anthony McGill
  • Jack Lisowski (12) vs Noppon Saengkham
  • Robert Milkins (13) vs Joe Perry
  • Shaun Murphy (4) vs Si Jiahui
  • Mark Allen (3) vs Fan Zhengyi
  • Stuart Bingham (14) vs David Gilbert
  • Ali Carter (11) vs Jak Jones
  • Neil Robertson (6) vs Wu Yize
  • Kyren Wilson (7) vs Ryan Day
  • John Higgins (10) vs David Grace
  • Gary Wilson (15) vs Elliot Slessor
  • Mark Selby (2) vs Matthew Selt

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