Exactly one week after his successful return to competitive snooker, Ronnie O'Sullivan resumes his bid for a fifth world title with a repeat of last year's final. According to Paul Krishnamurty, though, it may not be plain sailing for the Rocket...
"Carter gives the strong impression of being a man on the up...notably when winning the Betfair German Masters and the semis of the UK Championship. He looked in excellent touch for a comfortable first round victory over a dangerous qualifier and, for the first time, seems to believe he belongs at the highest level."
Over the course of a 17 day tournament, sometimes one has to take a contrary position to bets placed and assumptions made earlier on. So while I'm still very much in the Ronnie O'Sullivan camp for this year's Betfair World Championship, it would be wrong to overlook the strong case for backing his second round opponent, at least on the handicap or for trading purposes.
If it were not for an extraordinarily one-sided head-to-head record, I would have no hesitation in recommending a lumpy bet on Ali Carter. The fact Ronnie has won 14 out of their 15 previous encounters, including two world finals, seems like a huge tip and probably reflects some sort of psychological dominance over a former practice partner. However we have seen far bigger upsets in the last few days and there are a couple of reasons to think this year might just be different.
First, what exactly did we learn from Ronnie's victory over Marcus Campbell in the first round? We now know, (some of us never doubted), that he remains a magnificent break-builder and well up to defending his title. A year away from the game hasn't caused any significant deterioration. That said, Ronnie's long potting wasn't great and Campbell had plenty of chances. In short, it was a good performance but nothing like the invincible standard we saw 12 months ago. In that rich vein of form, Ronnie defeated Carter 18-11 in the final. Were his standard reduced by say 20%, we could surely expect the scoreline to be much closer.
It must also be said that Carter gives the strong impression of being a man on the up. Last year's run to the final upset the formbook, following a season plagued by illness. Since then, Carter has been better than ever, notably when winning the Betfair German Masters and the semis of the UK Championship. He looked in excellent touch during a comfortable first round victory over a dangerous qualifier and, for the first time, seems to believe he belongs at the highest level.
Whether Ali has the mental strength to overcome his opponent's longstanding hoodoo over him remains to be seen, but I'll be surprised if he doesn't at least make Ronnie work for his victory. Carter is certainly capable of landing the ten frames required to cover the handicap.