O Sullivan wants to come toe-to-toe with world snooker title record held by Stephen Hendry, before turning 50

O’Sullivan has not reached the final in Sheffield since 2014, when English compatriot Selby won his first title, and is still seeking the elusive sixth crown that would put him level with Steve Davis and Ray Reardon in fourth place on the all-time list.

“I think Mark Selby is obviously (the favourite),” O’Sullivan was quoted as saying by Eurosport ahead of the start of the tournament on Saturday.

“He’s won it three times out of the last four. Great match player. If he gets it right every player in the tournament knows he’s a proper handful. And obviously Judd Trump as well. If he gets it right he’s a handful for anybody.”

At the age of 42, O’Sullivan would be the oldest champion since Ray Reardon lifted the world title at 45 in 1978 but says he is pacing himself as he targets Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles in the modern era.

“I’d like to win another two world titles in the next eight years before I get to 50,” he said. “I just try to enjoy my life now and to stay in good shape. I’m looking for longevity so I’m trying not to get sucked into every tournament like the other guys do.”

O’Sullivan, who has won five ranking titles this season including a record-equalling sixth UK Championship, is in a more upbeat mood about the world championship than he was in December, when he said in a Twitter question and answer session with snooker fans that the tournament was his “least fav event”.

Top-ranked Selby, 34, is chasing his fourth title at snooker’s top event in just five years while world number three Ding Junhui, who pulled off a superb win over O’Sullivan in last year’s quarter-finals, looks the most likely of the Chinese entrants to make snooker history.

The 31-year-old Ding has not shown great form this season although he reached the World Grand Prix final, where he was beaten 10-3 by O’Sullivan.

“There are tough times in snooker, I have had many struggles,” he told Britain’s Independent newspaper.

“It happens for all top players – the difference with Ronnie O’Sullivan, for example, is that his bad times last at most two months. For others, it can be six months, a year, two years.”