Ronnie O’Sullivan and Pang Junxu will face each other in the first round of the 2023 World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
This season for Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan will begin his bid for a record eighth world title in the modern era in 2023 following his seventh success twelve months ago.
The Rocket, however, has not been in good form for the majority of this campaign, particularly in the second half of the term.
O’Sullivan did manage to produce the goods in a couple of high-profile invitation events, winning the Hong Kong Masters in October and the Champion of Champions a month later.
However, his performances in ranking events have been mostly disappointing, underlined by his failure to go beyond the last-eight stage in such a tournament all season.
O’Sullivan has reportedly been working with SightRight’s Stephen Feeney again in an effort to get his game back in working order.
While the world number one may not be entering this edition at the Crucible Theatre in prime form, he has the ability to flick a switch and suddenly reproduce his devastating best.
This season for Pang Junxu
It has been quite the impressive end-of-season period for 23 year-old Pang Junxu from China.
The 2021 Rookie of the Year has begun to show his true potential with runs to the business end of several events.
Pang followed up his appearance in the quarter-finals of the German Masters with a semi-final spot at the Welsh Open.
The former IBSF world under-21 finalist subsequently went all the way to the final of the WST Classic only to be denied a maiden ranking title by Mark Selby.
Now on the cusp of a spot among the world’s top 32 in the rankings, Pang will make his Crucible debut after qualifying victories over Ken Doherty and Xu Si.
O’Sullivan vs Pang head-to-head
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Pang Junxu have faced each other in only one other competitive match on the World Snooker Tour.
In last year’s ranking event edition of the Championship League, Pang scored breaks of 104 and 73 to beat his esteemed opponent 3-1 in a round-robin fixture.
Whether that will have much bearing is debatable, as a behind-closed-doors clash over the best of five frames doesn’t really compare well to a lengthier battle at the Crucible Theatre.
Their respective levels of form would indicate that this has the potential to be a tricky opening test for the world number one.
Pang has undoubtedly demonstrated his potential in the second half of the campaign but a maiden Crucible bow against the game’s greatest is another prospect entirely.
O’Sullivan has never lost in the first round as the defending champion, and it does seem unlikely for that trend to be broken here.
The 47 year-old has endured a quiet spell, but he will have definitely been preparing hard for what could be his record-breaking year in Sheffield.
Prediction: Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-5 Pang Junxu
Saturday, April 15th – 10am and 7pm
Featured photo credit: WST