Even at the grand old age of 42, Ronnie O’Sullivan has still got the snooker bug.
It’s a sport which has given him plenty of love-and-hate moments through the years, but a new sense of perspective that comes with getting older has re-lit the flame inside. Ronnie wants that sixth world title.
He will get a chance to achieve it when the World Championships kicks off on Saturday at the famous Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. The finest cue-holders on the planet will be in attendance, and O’Sullivan is leaving nothing to chance.
He sat down with the Mail on Sunday for an interview last week; an interview he disrupted a practice session with Judd Trump to give. The fact that the Rocket is preparing thoroughly ahead of the fortnight in Sheffield is good news indeed for his supporters.
Five ranking event titles this season – including yet another major at the UK Championship – ensures that 2017/18 can be considered a success by even O’Sullivan’s high standards, but you sense one of the elder statesmen of the game isn’t satisfied by his year’s work.
“I’ve written a thing on my phone after each tournament. If it was a good tournament I put a smiley face,’ he has said. “If it’s just a plain face it means it was all right, and a sad face means that it was **** and I didn’t enjoy it.
“Two of my victories have got smiley faces and three have got a sad face because I didn’t actually feel like I performed well or enjoyed it. But I still got the result.
“It’s a reminder that I can still play badly and win. I’m not going to let my perfectionism stop me.”
Even with modern technology in hand Ronnie remains an enigma, but that last point is so crucial: gone are the days when he drove himself to distraction because he couldn’t achieve the perfect game every time he stepped foot into an arena.
He achieved a slice of perfection in China last week; notching the fourth 147 break of his career in defeat to Elliott Slessor at the China Open. It was a curiously low key exit for the Rocket, although it enabled him to carry out his beloved punditry work and enjoy a relaxing week without the grind. That should stand him in good stead for the Worlds.
When you consider the World Championship of any sport, it really does pay to back the best player in the world if they are in form. After a stellar campaign, Ronnie has to be supported at the 9/4 mark to lift a sixth Crucible crown.
Jester Ready to Have the Last Laugh
If O’Sullivan is to prevail in Sheffield, one man he may have to overcome is his old adversary, Mark Selby.
Timing in sport is everything, and after an awful season by his standards the ‘Jester from Leicester’ turned World Championship predictions on their head by winning last week’s China Open.
It was a timely return to form for the world number one, and his triumph in Asia acts as a warning cry to his fellow professionals and punters that he is back to somewhere near his best.
Selby’s record at the Crucible – three wins in the last four years – out of this world, and he too will be desperate to end a barren campaign with the highest of highs by hoisting the famous trophy aloft.
Warrior Poised for Battle
When you scan through the World Championship outright betting market, the one player who appears completely under-priced is Kyren Wilson.
The Warrior has made his breakthrough in 2017/18, reaching three decent finals including that dust-up with Mark Allen in the Masters where he was narrowly beaten.
The only thing eluding Wilson is a prominent ranking event win. He claimed the Shanghai Masters crown in 2015, and perhaps he can take a leaf out of Stuart Bingham’s book: he had just a solitary Shanghai Masters trophy to his name prior to winning the Worlds in 2015.
The most pleasing thing from Wilson’s point of view is that the form is there. He reached the quarters of the Gibraltar Open, and just last week made his way to the last four in China before going down 8-10 to Selby.
Having reached the last eight of the Worlds in each of his last pair of visits, Wilson is clearly becoming more and more comfortable at the Crucible, which boasts one of the most unique and claustrophobic atmospheres in sport.
Put all of those notions into the mi and we can suggest that, at 33/1, Wilson is well worth an each way play.