O’Sullivan cues up against ‘world’s best’

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN enters the fray when the televised stages of the Travis Perkins UK Championship begin in York today - against the player he claims is currently the world’s best.

That is not Paul Hunter, Stephen Hendry or any of the other household names. The world number one O’Sullivan refers to Scottish youngster Stephen Maguire, his conqueror at last week’s British Open in Brighton where O’Sullivan’s hopes of winning every ranking title this season were ended.

After Maguire’s 6-1 semi-final victory, O’Sullivan - whose mentor Ray Reardon had wagered his charge would go through the eight ranking events unbeaten - made some flattering comments about the 23-year-old.

Even though Maguire was subsequently beaten 9-6 in the final by John Higgins, it was obvious the Glaswegian has now risen into the upper echelons of the game - and his provisional ranking is number seven.

Like O’Sullivan, defending champion Matthew Stevens has had to wait nearly a week longer than some of the competitors to hit his first shot in anger but finally gets under way against Barry Pinches.

Stevens’ countryman Mark Williams is another player who was spared having to play in the booths during the opening week of competition and the two-time former world champion begins his campaign against Mark King. That leaves one more second-round tie yet to have commenced - and it features Hendry, five times the British champion, and Kent’s Barry Hawkins.

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