JUST like a year ago, the focus will be on Ronnie O’Sullivan as he kicks off his defence of the World Championship title in an FA Cup style opening match.
The bookies favourite to clinch a sixth world crown, O’Sullivan takes on Finland’s Robin Hull who goes into the event as the lowest ranked player in the competition – placed a lowly 122nd place in the world.
Hull’s story is a lovely one after quitting the game in 2008 due to poor health before deciding to make a comeback in 2011. Now he finds himself back in the big time.
And Thursday’s first round draw saw Hull, who won all four qualifying matches to make it through, get the jackpot tie against snooker’s biggest star but given the gulf between the two a win for Hull could go down as one of the biggest Crucible shocks in history.
Twelve months ago nobody knew what to expect from O’Sullivan who was playing his first game following a long break from sport. This time around nobody knows what to expect from Hull on the day – will he wilt to O’Sullivan’s brilliance or could he do the unthinkable?
Should Hull be in contention for a huge giant-killing victory the match could make for compelling viewing. The match will come to a finish with the final session of the contest starting at 7pm.
Former world champion Ken Doherty marks his return to the Crucible in the morning’s other match as he takes on Stuart Bingham.
Doherty ensured qualification with victory over Dechawat Poomjaeng but could have his work cut out against the Basildon ace who has been one of the most consistent players on the main tour in recent seasons.
Bingham proved his worth earlier this season when he reached the final of the Champion of Champions event soon followed up with a run to the semi-finals in the UK Championship which he lost in a final frame decider to eventual winner Neil Robertson. The match concludes on Sunday.
The afternoon will see a rejuvinated Shaun Murphy kick off his bid for a second title against Jamie Cope. Murphy, who won the World Championship nine years ago, goes into the tournament with plenty of belief after winning the Haikou World Open last month – his first major trophy in more than three years.
Stephen Maguire, who is yet to win the World Championship, is also in action against Welshman Ryan Day – in what could prove to be a tricky test. 2012 saw Day cause a shock by beating Ding Junhui in the opening round of the World Championship and, like many players on tour, on their day can beat anybody and create an upset.
The evening will see O’Sullivan’s opening match come to a finish whereas on the other table Ali Carter, a two times finalist, takes on Xiao Guodong who is enjoying one of his best seasons yet after impressing in a number of big tournaments – most notably the Shanghai Masters where he reached his first major ranking final.
Against a dangerous opponent, Carter will have to be match sharp if he is to progress through. This could be a fascinating battle between to easy-on-the-eye players.