It’s that time of year again - it’s the time to get snooker loopy!
And there’s no better place to do it that than at the Dafabet World Championship in Sheffield.
This year’s 17-day marathon kicks off at the Crucible tomorrow with the game’s elite players - and a scattering of qualifiers - looking to shine on the biggest stage of all.
And as usual it’s hard to look past Ronnie O’Sullivan, the defending champion, as the outright favourite to win a third successive world title.
The Rocket has stormed to the Crucible crown in the last two seasons and, having seemingly found mental stability after his well-publicised demons, the sport’s most colourful character has no better platform from which to dazzle.
O’Sullivan is the man to beat. And the rest of the field know it.
Of course Chigwell’s Exocet has a habit of imploding when he’s not clicking into the groove, but he’s picking and choosing his tournaments these days and is firmly focused on netting the £300,000 first prize.
Yesterday’s live first-round draw in London threw up little drama, but O’Sullivan’s opening outing against Finland’s Robin Hull is an intriguing one - as is Ding Junhui’s clash with a qualifier.
Hull’s story is of sadness and joy. He quit the professional tour in 2008 having been struck down by a debilitating illness which saw him lose any movement in the right side of his body and develop a club foot. Thankfully the 39-year-old has made a good recovery. He still has an irregular heartbeat, but made his comeback this season and won four tough qualifying matches just to reach the Crucible. His reward is a showdown with arguably the most gifted player to have ever picked up a cue.
“Snooker is lucky to have Ronnie O’Sullivan,” said Hull. “He’s a rare talent and a fantastic player. “It’s mad I’m playing him at the Crucible, with all that’s happened, but I’m not scared of playing him.”
First-round draw (all matches best of 19 frames): Ronnie O’Sullivan v Robin Hull, Joe Perry v Jamie Burnett, Shaun Murphy v Jamie Cope, Marcu Fu v Martin Gould, Barry Hawkins v David Gilbert, Ricky Walden v Kyren Wilson, Mark Davis v Dominic Dale, Ding Junhui v Michael Wasley, Mark Selby v Michael White, Ali Carter v Xiao Guodong, John Higgins v Alan McManus, Stuart Bingham v Ken Doherty, Judd Trump v Tom Ford, Stephen Maguire v Ryan Day, Mark Allen v Michael Holt, Neil Robertson v Robbie Williams.