Seven-times world snooker champion Ronnie O'Sullivan starts the defence of his title at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield tomorrow ©Getty Images

Seven-times world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan can earn the outright record of victories if he can successfully defend his title at the 2023 World Championship that starts at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield tomorrow.

But the 47-year-old, who beat Judd Trump in last year’s final to equal the total of seven titles amassed by Scotland's Stephen Hendry, told BBC Sport that such speculation was "pointless", adding: "Who knows where I am going to end up?

"It could be seven, eight or nine, I don't know.

"It is ridiculous to try to talk about numbers and that."

Since turning professional in 1992, the man who has become known as "The Rocket" has also won a record 39 ranking titles - three more than Hendry's previous record mark of 36.

O’Sullivan starts the defence of his title tomorrow with a first-round match against Chinese debutant Pang Junxu.

Last month O'Sullivan said he believed snooker was in its "worst ever place", criticising its low levels of prize money and the role of officials overseeing the sport, and claiming that snooker needs "proper people" in charge to improve the image of snooker and increase prize money on the World Snooker Tour.

England's Mark Selby, seeded second, will seek a fifth world title in Sheffield ©Getty Images
England's Mark Selby, seeded second, will seek a fifth world title in Sheffield ©Getty Images

Last month English player Mark King was suspended from the World Snooker Tour (WST) pending an investigation into irregular betting patterns during a match at last month's Welsh Open.

In January it was announced that world number nine Zhao Xintong and top-20 player Yan Bingtao were among 10 Chinese players involved in a match-fixing scandal and facing charges from the integrity unit of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

WST chair Steve Dawson responded to O'Sullivan's statement by saying the world number one was "damaging" snooker with "misguided" criticism.

England's Trump, who won the title in 2019, has a challenging first-round match against Scotland's Anthony McGill, who reached the semi-finals in 2020.

England's Shaun Murphy, who was world champion in 2005, has an opening match against another Chinese debutant, Si Jiahui, who beat Murphy at the 2021 UK Championship, while an amateur player, after being drafted into the event to replace a player who had withdrawn.

Following the defeat Murphy said he felt "extremely hard done by" and claimed "he had lost to someone who should not have even been in the building." 

England's Mark Selby, who made his name after reaching the 2007 world final as a qualifier, losing to John Higgins, is the second seed behind O’Sullivan.

He is a four-times world champion, having won in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021, and starts this year's campaign against England's Matt Selt.

Third seed Mark Allen of Northern Ireland will also be a lurking threat to the defending champion, having beaten him 13-11 at the 2010 World Championship to reach the semi-finals - a performance which remains his best in a competition where he has also lost in the first-round on five occasions.