Champion Selby to begin World title defence against Fergal O'Brien

Champion Selby to begin World title defence against Fergal O'Brien

The most prestigious event on the snooker calendar begins on Saturday at the Crucible.

Chris Lincoln

World number 45 Fergal O'Brien was rewarded with a first round tie against reigning World Champion Mark Selby after overcoming the longest frame in snooker history during qualification.

Selby and O'Sullivan with favourable openers

O'Brien defeated David Gilbert in a final frame decider that lasted two hours on Wednesday evening and would have been hoping for an easier opening tie than the best player on the planet. The pair have met four times with Selby winning all of them and conceding just two frames in the process.

That contest will begin proceedings on Saturday alongside Anthony McGill against Stephen Maguire. McGill has the bragging rights in the battle of the Scots with a 4-1 head-to-head record, though Maguire has plenty of Crucible experience behind him.

The afternoon session will see Ronnie O'Sullivan begin his campaign for a sixth World crown against Crucible debutant Gary Wilson. Only once have the two English players met with O'Sullivan winning 5-3 during German Masters qualification last December.

World number 51 David Grace sits eight places above Wilson and will also make his World Championship bow on Saturday afternoon. Grace will be looking to build on his record against Kyren Wilson after winning all three meetings between the pair.

Murphy faces challenging start

Sunday sees 17-year old qualifier Yan Bingtao begin his campaign against Shaun Murphy. The Chinese hopeful has already beaten Murphy twice and lost just once in a final frame decider in October. The Chinese hopeful is ranked 58 places below World number five Murphy but this match certainly has potential for an upset.

Two former World Champions meet towards the end of the weekend when Stuart Bingham takes on the oldest player in the competition, Peter Ebdon. Bingham has lost four of the last five meetings but did defeat Ebdon in the first round of the World Championships back in 2011.

In the weekend's final matches, Marco Fu will be looking to extend his record of four consecutive wins against Belgium's Luca Brecel, whilst Mark Allen takes on Jimmy Robertson for the first time since defeating him in their only meeting five years ago.

35 matches will be enjoyed over a fortnight (photo: RTE)
35 matches will be enjoyed over a fortnight (photo: RTE)

Ding and Trump have time to ponder over the weekend

Two of the five Chinese players meet on Monday when Ding Junhui plays Zhou Yuelong. World number four Ding has won both of their meetings, winning eleven of the twelve frames in the process.

A duo of experienced campaigners have been drawn against each other with former World Champion John Higgins pitted against Martin Gould. Higgins leads 6-3 on the head-to-head and defeated Gould in the Australian Open final two years ago.

Mark Williams was defeated by Stuart Carrington in qualification but the World number 48 faces a tough task as he looks to defeat Liang Wenbo for the first time in his career on Tuesday.

The second session of that match will take place alongside the beginning of Graeme Dott's campaign. The former World Champion has an excellent record against his opponent Ali Carter, winning five of their seven contests including the second round at the Crucible six years ago.

World number two Judd Trump has been tipped by many to become World Champion for the first time this year and he takes on veteran Rory McLeod in the opening round, a player he has only lost to once on six occasions.

Robertson faces long wait

Six hopefuls face a long wait until Wednesday to begin their respective campaigns. The only Welsh player in the draw, Ryan Day, begins with a tie against Xiao Guodong who he has beaten in their two previous meetings.

Australia's Neil Robertson plays the lowest ranked player in the draw, Thailand's Noppon Saengkham. Robertson goes into the match as heavy favourite but did lose to Saengkham at the China Open last April.

Barry Hawkins will be the last automatic qualifier to begin his campaign when he plays Tom Ford on Wednesday evening. Hawkins has only defeated Ford once in their three previous meetings.