Ronnie O’Sullivan will begin the defence of his latest World Snooker Championship title against debutant Mark Joyce this weekend.
‘The Rocket’ is bidding to move level with Stephen Hendry on seven Crucible crowns after brushing aside Kyren Wilson 18-8 in the 2020 final, which was held in August after the tournament was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since then, the 20-time Triple Crown event winner has suffered five ranking finals defeats at the Northern Ireland Open, Scottish Open, Welsh Open, Players Championship and Tour Championship.
Joyce, meanwhile, qualified for his first World Championship appearance at the age of 37 after beating Brazil’s Igor Figueiredo in the last qualifying round.
The man who defeated O’Sullivan in the recent Tour Championship Final, Neil Robertson, commences his quest for a second world title against Liang Wenbo of China.
World no1 Judd Trump opens against Liam Highfield, while fourth seed Mark Selby battles Kurt Maflin and John Higgins meets Tian Pengfei.
There is also a battle of the Wilsons as losing 2020 finalist Kyren plays Gary in round one, while Shaun Murphy and Mark Davis square off, Ding Junhui faces 2015 winner Stuart Bingham and 10th seed Yan Bingtao is in action against Martin Gould.
The return of fans is set to be staggered throughout this year’s tournament, with an initial 33 per cent capacity rising to a full house for the final on May 3.