Ronnie to face Ebdon in first round of Worlds

Ronnie O’Sullivan will tackle his Crucible nemesis Peter Ebdon in the first round of the World Championship.

Ronnie O’Sullivan will tackle his Crucible nemesis Peter Ebdon in the first round of the World Championship.

Ebdon was the player all the seeds wanted to avoid, after he won the China Open at the start of April and followed that with a 10-0 demolition of Alfie Burden in the final qualifying round last night.

But crowd favourite O’Sullivan in particular will be unimpressed at drawing the 2002 world champion today, given their history in Sheffield.

Ebdon defeated a 20-year-old O’Sullivan in the 1996 semi-finals, before that was avenged at the quarter-final stage in 2001.

Their 2005 quarter-final meeting ranks as one of the most memorable matches in recent World Championship history, as O’Sullivan saw a 10-6 lead slip away during a dramatic evening session when Ebdon’s slow play left his opponent, with his attacking game blunted, apparently bewildered and helpless.

Ebdon took the match 13-11, and despite three-time world champion O’Sullivan posting four big wins over the 41-year-old away from Sheffield since that day, their history at the Crucible makes the clash next Monday and Tuesday unmissable.

Reacting to the draw, six-time world champion Steve Davis told talkSPORT: “There’s only one match, it’s Peter Ebdon against Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“Even though they might have to put a brave face on it, I don’t think they want to play each other to be honest.”

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn agreed, saying: “Ebdon v O’Sullivan hits you like a slap in the face because of the contrast in styles. It’s going to be a fascinating contest.”

John Higgins will begin the defence of his title against China’s Liang Wenbo at 10am on Saturday, day one of the tournament.

Luca Brecel, the 17-year-old Belgian who will be the youngest player to appear at the World Championship, was handed a tricky opening match against Scotland’s Stephen Maguire.

“Maguire is a really tough competitor and doesn’t give an inch,” said Hearn, “while Luca has that wonderful thing about youth.”

That match will be played across morning sessions on Sunday and Monday.

Stephen Hendry, who joined Liang, Ebdon and Brecel in coming through the qualifying stage, was hoping to avoid a Saturday start as he does not return from a business trip to China until Friday.

However, the seven-time champion must play Stuart Bingham on Saturday afternoon. Should Hendry survive that test he would face the winner of the clash between his fellow Scot Higgins and Liang.

Hendry and Higgins have never played each other at the Crucible, and Higgins is eager for that to happen this year.

World number one Mark Selby, who has been troubled by a back problem, was drawn to face Barry Hawkins in an all-English contest, while last year’s runner-up Judd Trump will tackle Welshman Dominic Dale.

Bristol potter Trump was a qualifier last year and shocked defending champion Neil Robertson on the opening day before embarking on a thrilling run through the draw.

Australian Robertson starts against Ireland’s 1997 world champion Ken Doherty, another qualifier, this year.

Two-time winner Mark Williams, Wales’ biggest hope for the title, was handed a clash with Chinese player Liu Chuang.

China’s 2011 losing semi-finalist Ding Junhui starts against another Welshman in Ryan Day, while Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen plays Ding’s compatriot Cao Yupeng, who will be making his Crucible debut.

Shaun Murphy, the 2005 champion, tackles another player making his first appearance, as Welshman Jamie Jones stands in the English cueman’s way.

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