Friday, 19 April 2013

O'Sullivan's best should still be good enough

World Championship Snooker starts Saturday morning at the Crucible
Theatre in Sheffield where Ronnie O'Sullivan returns to try and defend
his title. The Rocket hasn't played competitive snooker since his
triumph last May bar a first round defeat in PTC3 in September. This
is the main reason that bookmakers didn't immediately make him
favourite when he confirmed his participation at the end of February.

Following the announcement layers chalked him up at 8/1 and he has
since shortened to 13/2 (youwin,betway) and this is still way too big.

You can read my preview for here

Some commentators suggest that he'll be ring rusty - especially
against fellow professionals hardened by the massive amount of snooker
on the tour. This applies to most but not necessarily to the
exceptional talent of O'Sullivan.

To help prepare himself he has been practicing with Judd Trump and
Peter Ebdon - who after getting beat 5-1 in three best of nine frame
practice matches where the Rocket made six centuries said it was
ridiculous that he was offered at 8/1. Ebdon said he should be a very
short-priced favourite. In addition Stephen Hendry, Mark Selby and
Jimmy White have all gone on record recently to say if there is one
player who can do it after such a lengthy layoff it's O'Sullivan.

Rocket is at his most dangerous when he has a point to prove

The only doubter in public is World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn who
as ever has played a very shrewd hand. Firstly he went to press to
suggest there was so much interest in the return of the Rocket that
his management should have sorted something out for his reappearance
by getting a new sponsor on board - this was announced at the press
conference that confirmed his return. Since then Hearn has been
playing down his chances of defending the title saying that all the
other players are match sharp and if he won then it would be one of
the greatest achievements in sport. He had his tongue firmly in his

Hearn knows full well that his comments will only serve to increase
the Rocket's determination - if he needed any and consequently a good
run from O'Sullivan or a win would see viewing figures and the
marketability of the game increase even further.

Barry Hearn - Has intentionally wound the Rocket up so he tries his socks off

It must be noted too that when O'Sullivan delivers it happens most
when he is a bigger price. Last year here he prevailed at the
pre-tournament 8/1 and in the Premier League 2011 Ladbrokes went a
ridiculous 7/2 when he'd won six of the previous seven runnings of the
event. O'Sullivan even at the current 13/2 is a very strong tip.

It's great for snooker and this tournament that he is back playing.
But if he wins what next? He could decide to take another break. The
tour would then be seen as a bit second division because for the
second year running the World Champion wouldn't be playing. But
nothing would amuse him more even though he has said he needs regular
snooker again.

With the current standard it would be a truly exceptional achievement
but he likes raising the bar to test himself. His recent comments
about it could be car crash snooker and his expectations aren't very
high can be taken with a pinch of salt. He wants this very badly and
this is another reason why he should be piled into.

The Rocket opens against Marcus Campbell who is a good draw although
O'Sullivan is in a tough quarter that features form horses Ali Carter
and Stuart Bingham.

The other player in this top half of the draw who is the biggest
danger is Judd Trump. Slightly off the radar recently but in the World
Open last month he played the best snooker I've seen all season until
a bizarre tip incident ruined his chances in the last eight against
Matthew Stevens. A saver on Trump is recommended at 15/2 (youwin,
betway) and I think the winner will come from these two. They are
seeded to meet in the semi-final and if they both make it O'Sullivan
should win. Trump has too much respect for the Rocket and would be
unable to dig deep enough in a best of 33 frame match to have a real

Judd Trump - In the World Open produced the best snooker of the season

There are only two players who are currently strong enough to cope
with O'Sullivan firing on all cylinders - Mark Selby and Neil
Robertson. Selby is the king of shot for nothing and this means that
you get more protracted bouts of safety play and scrappy frames. But
when it comes to crunch time he can deliver and showed a welcome
return to form when runner-up in the China Open earlier this month.

He did need some success after his split with manager Mukesh Parmar at
the turn of the year and he did win the Masters but the standard
wasn't high. He now comes here with renewed confidence but hasn't
inspired backer's enough recently to recommend. In addition this
bottom quarter includes PTC Grand Finals winner Ding Junhui and World
Open champion Mark Allen.

Robertson comes here as the form player. In the last seven ranking
tournaments plus the Masters he has reached the semi-finals or better
in six events. This is a remarkable statistic and illustrates he is a
real contender but we can't back three of the top four in the betting.
It's no coincidence that the four shortest priced players -
O'Sullivan, Trump, Robertson and Selby at around the 13/2 - 15/2 mark
feature in separate quarters of the draw.

In the third quarter betting market Crucible debutant Michael White
continues to impress and is worth a small punt to win his quarter at
20/1 (General). He opens against compatriot Mark WIlliams who is
really struggling and whose time may have passed. White beat Andrew
Higginson 10-4 in the final qualifying round last weekend and it will
help him settle that he is playing a fellow Welshman.

In quarter four another first timer Jack Lisowski is also worth a punt
at 14/1. He made the last eight in the China Open and only lost by the
odd frame to Shaun Murphy. But it was the manner that he played which
impressed - without fear, still playing quickly but at the same time
with control. He fancies himself as a tournament winner and it's
unlikely to be here but we'll have a small punt outright each-way at
50/1 (General) just in case. He is definitely a first round opponent
the seeds wanted to avoid and Barry Hawkins has his hands full.

Jack Lisowski - rightly fancies himself and isn't scared of winning

I was at the qualifiers in Sheffield last weekend and in the match
betting two players stand out as value. Mark Davis would have been
seeded here but for O'Sullivan's return. His opponent John Higgins has
struggled since Christmas although the Scot has been working hard. But
Davis has had a great season including a semi-final spot in the UK
Championship and he beat an in-form Liang Wenbo 10-6 to make it here.
The 3/1 (Boylesports, Ladbrokes) for a Davis win is a must.

Selby can be a bit tentative first up and his opponent here Matt Selt
who is also a debutant impressed in his final qualifier to win 10-9
against Ken Doherty - after being pegged back to 9-9 from 9-4 up. The
massive 6/1 about Selt (General) is again too big.

Any questions/comments feel free and good luck.


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