A player once described as a certain future world champion by no less a judge than Stephen Hendry takes on Ronnie O’Sullivan at the British Open in Brighton tonight, determined to extend the Rocket’s barren spell.
Stephen Maguire, a 22-year-old from Glasgow, has yet to make the impact fully expected by his former practice partner Hendry – but many believe he could pose problems for a ring-rusty O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan has played only two matches since early May and was whitewashed 5-0 by Welshman Matthew Stevens in the third round of the LG Cup last month.
“Ronnie’s a tremendous player, there is no doubt about that, and I am really looking forward to taking him on,” said world number 41 Maguire.
“It should be a cracking experience for me.”
O’Sullivan will need to be sharp in order to avoid an early exit from an event he won as a teenager in 1994.
He has not lifted a trophy since claiming back-to-back silverware at the European Open and Irish Masters eight months ago.
After that, he crashed out in the first round at The Crucible and began the current campaign under a media spotlight when he underwent a conversion ceremony at a London mosque during the summer to become a Muslim.
While O’Sullivan is the star attraction tonight, Jimmy White and Tony Drago will be centre stage tomorrow evening when two of the sport’s most renowned speedsters meet head-to-head.
Drago, winner of the World 9-Ball Pool Masters in Holland in August, set up the clash by recording a 5-2 victory over 1996 champion Nigel Bond last night.
It was also a good day for relative unknowns, Ricky Walden and Tom Ford who fought through to the last 32 of a world ranking event for the first time in their careers.
Walden, who beat Thailand’s James Wattana in the final qualifying round, continued his progress into uncharted territory with a 5-3 victory over Drew Henry – and world number 133 Ford withstood heavy break-building from Ian McCulloch to also win 5-3.
The only consolation for McCulloch, who beat Mark Williams and John Higgins en route to the final of last year’s British Open, was a break of 145 in the third frame – one of two centuries he made in the match.
Michael Holt prevailed in his all-Nottingham battle with Anthony Hamilton, winning 5-2, and advances to meet runaway world number one Mark Williams.