Snooker: Ronnie O'Sullivan's defence fuelled by big-name departures

Steve Davis says it will take someone special to stop O’Sullivan retaining his world title

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The Independent Online

Six-time world champion Steve Davis believes it will take a “super-human” effort for anyone to stop defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan here at the World Championship.

The Rocket resumes his title defence this afternoon in the last 16 against Ali Carter after a six-day break back at his home in Chigwell, while other players having been slogging it out.

And O’Sullivan returns knowing his path to a fifth world crown has been made that much easier with the departures of former Crucible winners John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Mark Williams and Peter Ebdon, who have all been dumped out at the first hurdle.

Former Crucible semi-finalists Mark Allen and Stephen Maguire have also been eliminated before their title challenges got started.

There are of course plenty of players left in the second round who are capable of winning the game’s most coveted title, but four-time champion O’Sullivan will be quietly confident his unquestionable natural ability will allow him to blow away the field despite a 12-month self-imposed absence from the sport.

And Davis, one of the greats of the modern era, is inclined to agree. “If Ronnie is not beating himself up – and I see no chance of that happening this time – it will require a super-human performance to beat him,” said Davis. “He is still – regardless of lack of competitive play – the most naturally gifted match-player at the Crucible.

“It does seem that things are falling a little bit Ronnie’s way in terms of  the fancied players who have already been knocked out.”

O’Sullivan cruised to a 10-4 victory over qualifier Marcus Campbell to get his title defence off to a perfect start. And the draw fell nicely for the 37-year-old who had the luxury of time away from the venue this week in readiness for his best-of-25 frame duel with Carter, an opponent who has never beaten him in their 12 previous ranking event meetings.

O’Sullivan crushed Carter 18-11 in last year’s Crucible final and beat the Tiptree professional 18-8 in the 2008 world final. Davis said: “It’s been a long week since Ronnie last played with a lot of big names having gone out. The record between the pair is out there, and O’Sullivan will have confidence from that and think he has the evil eye over Ali.

“Ali must go into this with a very positive attitude despite the terrible record. Ronnie will be the big favourite, but Ali has a chance because he’s got a good record here [at the Crucible].”

Michael White cruised into the quarter-finals with a 13-3 demolition of Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng. And in doing so White became the first Crucible debutant since Andy Hicks in 1995 to reach the last eight.

“I’m thrilled to be honest, I played well throughout the match,” said White. “I knew I was playing well coming here, but getting into the quarter-finals is unbelievable.”