There’s not much you could say about Ronnie O’Sullivan that hasn’t been said. ‘The Rocket‘, a four-time world champion, returns to the sport as the Betfred World Championship gets under way at the Crucible, with an opening match against Scotland’s Marcus Campbell. The 37-year-old will be defending his world title but, after almost a year away from snooker, there can be few guarantees as to how he will perform. Is he still the most naturally gifted player on the circuit? Probably, but how will such a lengthy absence from competitive snooker impact his game? The practice tables can’t recreate the pressure of the world stage in front of the TV cameras and O’Sullivan’s fragile mental state has been known to shatter under the weight of expectation before. Betway make ‘The Rocket’ a best 13/2 to come out on top again at the Crucible but I’d rather see how he copes with the early rounds before advocating a bet of any description.
Neil Robertson is also 13/2 (Betfred) and may feel he is overdue another world title having taken top honours in 2010. He’s been the most consistent player on the Tour this season, winning the China Open title and reaching the final of the Masters, PTC Grand Finals and International Championship. He also made the semi-finals of the German Masters, World Open and Premier League and the current world number two can beat anybody on his day. Mark Selby (a general 13/2) is a proven winner of big tournaments while Judd Trump (15/2 with betway) and Ding Junhui (a general 12/1) are others for the short-list and it will be a surprise if most of those named don’t make the quarter-finals, and this is the tournament at which Shaun Murphy normally excels. The latter is 18/1 with several layers and is a player who generally improves as the tournament goes on, though he can be vulnerable in the early rounds.
It’s great that youngster Jack Lisowski has qualified for his first World Championship given the battles he’s already won away from snooker. A former flat-mate of Judd Trump, the 21-year-old looks as though he should be in a boy band rather than leaning over the green baize but he has some talent. The Crucible will be good experience for the years ahead and Lisowski is 50/1 (general ) for a debut World Championship, though faces a tricky opening-round match with Barry Hawkins (a general 80/1). Old stager John Higgins is 12/1 with bwin and sportingbet but you would imagine his glory days have gone while I’d also oppose Mark Allen at 14/1 with the same two firms. Aussie Robertson is the form choice and whoever beats him will probably end up champion.