Rocket faces tough start

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN faces the toughest possible start to his defence of the Embassy world title next month.

Title-holder and world number one O’Sullivan must tackle Scottish star Stephen Maguire over the best of 19 frames at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre on April 16. It will be the fourth time the pair have met this season with the record 2-1 in Maguire’s favour.

However, O’Sullivan won their last meeting in the Irish Masters and on Maguire’s Crucible debut, O’Sullivan was his first round conqueror.

O’Sullivan is favourite to claim his third world crown having won four major trophies this season, while Maguire captured the UK title last November.

Maguire’s fellow Scot Graeme Dott, runner up to the Rocket 12 months ago, begins his campaign against Lancastrian Ian McCulloch.

Like O’Sullivan, seven-times winner Stephen Hendry faces a testing opening hurdle against Australian left-hander Neil Robertson.

Robertson and Maguire were the two qualifiers the world’s top 16 wanted to avoid.

Six-times champion Steve Davis meets Northern Ireland’s Gerard Greene while six-times Crucible runner-up Jimmy White meets Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien, while Ken Doherty should overcome Barry Pinches.

First round draw: Graeme Dott (Sco) v Ian McCulloch (Eng), Steve Davis (Eng) v Gerard Greene (NIrl), David Gray (Eng) v Anthony Hamilton (Eng), Matthew Stevens (Wal) v Andy Hicks (Eng), Peter Ebdon (Eng) v Quinten Hann (Aus), Stephen Hendry (Sco) v Neil Robertson (Aus), Ken Doherty (Irl) v Barry Pinches (Eng), Jimmy White (Eng) v Fergal O’Brien (Irl), Paul Hunter (Eng) v Michael Holt (Eng), Stephen Lee (Eng) v Tony Drago (Mlt), Mark Williams (Wal) v Robert Milkins (Eng), John Higgins (Sco) v Mark Selby (Eng), Chris Small (Scot) v Shaun Murphy (Eng), Marco Fu (Hkg) v Ali Carter (Eng), Alan McManus (Sco) v Drew Henry (Sco), Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) v Stephen Maguire (Sco).

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