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Ken Doherty will play Neil Robertson in the first round of the World Snooker Championship

Updated: Monday, 16 Apr 2012 16:55 | Comments

Qualifier Ken Doherty will take on Neil Robertson in the first round in Sheffield
Qualifier Ken Doherty will take on Neil Robertson in the first round in Sheffield

Ken Doherty will face Neil Robertson in the first round of the the Betfred.com World Championship at the Crucible on Saturday afternoon.

Doherty, who qualified for the tournament with a nail-biting last-frame victory over Anthony Hamilton on Saturday night, won the title in 1997 and was runner-up in 1998 and 2003.

The popular Dubliner's recent form has been less inspiring, however, and he hasn't progressed beyond the first round in the last five yeras, failing to qualify for the tournament on two occasions.

World number three Robertson claimed the Sheffield title two years ago and has been in a rich vein of form this season.

Ronnie O'Sullivan will tackle his Steel City nemesis Peter Ebdon, who is enjoying something of a renaissance.

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.

But crowd favourite O'Sullivan in particular will be unimpressed at drawing the 2002 world champion, 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.

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 Robertson on the opening day before embarking on a thrilling run through the draw.

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.

Draw for the first round of the Betfred.com World Championship:
John Higgins v Liang Wenbo (Saturday, 10am)
Martin Gould v David Gilbert (Saturday, 10am)
Stuart Bingham v Stephen Hendry (Saturday, 2.30pm)
Neil Robertson v Ken Doherty (Saturday, 2.30pm)
Mark Allen v Cao Yupeng (Saturday, 7pm)
Stephen Maguire v Luca Brecel (Sunday, 10am)
Shaun Murphy v Jamie Jones (Sunday, 2.30pm)
Matthew Stevens v Marco Fu (Monday, 10am)
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Peter Ebdon (Monday, 2.30pm)
Stephen Lee v Andrew Higginson (Monday, 7pm)
Ding Junhui v Ryan Day (Tuesday, 10am)
Judd Trump v Dominic Dale (Tuesday, 10am)
Graeme Dott v Joe Perry (Tuesday, 2.30pm)
Mark Selby v Barry Hawkins (Tuesday, 7pm)
Mark Williams v Liu Chuang (Wednesday, 2.30pm)
Ali Carter v Mark Davis (Wednesday, 7pm)

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