Ronnie O’Sullivan has accepted an invitation to make a shock comeback at next year’s World Championship at the Crucible, where he will defend his crown after holding a series of secret meetings with the the World Snooker chairman, Barry Hearn.
O’Sullivan was offered the chance of a return by Hearn after the four-time world champion had announced at the start of the season he was taking a sabbatical from the game to spend more time with his wife, children and father, Ronnie Senior, who has recently been released from jail.
“I have said to Ronnie that the only tournament for us if he wanted to change his mind – and that is not unknown – is the World Championship,” Hearn said. “We are not sure exactly when the closing date for that would be, maybe the end of January, and I will call him and make sure he knows when it is. Then he has the option, and it is his decision.
“We know exactly how much interest that would generate at this season’s event, clearly more so as he is defending world champion and has had most of the season out.
“We didn’t want to lose Ronnie at all for the profile he brings. One thing that will not have escaped Ronnie’s attention, because he loves his sport, is how uncompetitive Ricky Hatton was on his return to the ring. Snooker is so competitive now that he will know you either take it 100 per cent seriously, or don’t play at all. That is the issue in his mind.
“He is not going to play for first-round loser’s money, or come back to the stage he has graced and given so much pleasure to get embarrassed."
The former world champion Ken Doherty and two-time Crucible finalist Ali Carter would both welcome O’Sullivan’s return for the tournament which starts in April.
“What a great story it would be if he just came back for the World Championship,” said Doherty. “It would create such a buzz and such an excitement for the players and the snooker fans.”
Ali Carter said: “I think he will be back for the world championships, no matter what anyone says now. There is no way that Ronnie O’Sullivan will miss that in my opinion, as a fellow Essex lad.”