World Snooker Betting: Rocket Ronnie destined to fire then fade at the Crucible

Is Ronnie really a lay?

Outrageously talented though Ronnie O'Sullivan definitely is, very few top-level sportsmen make a winning return after a year off and Ralph Ellis is willing to be against The Rocket at the World Championships

"It might be a wonderful notion that Ronnie can spend a year pig-farming without ever picking up his cue, and then rock up to win a world title on the back of sheer talent, but it isn't going to happen. A first round win over a Crucible rookie is one thing, but the serious stuff is about to start."

Ronnie O'Sullivan never hits a 147 break in practice. It's not because he can't, it's because he chooses not to.

I heard the reigning champion reveal that little gem at the press conference when he was discussing his comeback to defend his title at this year's Betfair World Snooker Championship. He was asked how his preparations were coming on, and whether he'd hit the sport's Holy Grail in the privacy of his practice table.

"I never pot the final black," he said.  "I can't see the point - I'd rather keep that for when it matters."

It struck me as a typical bit of O'Sullivan mentality - a bit like beginning his defence on Saturday morning by hitting the first break left-handed. Ronnie is the stardust that sprinkles the sport, the unpredictable genius we all love to see. And the fact we feared he wouldn't be around to defend his title this year makes it all the more wonderful that he's not only turned up, but begun the tournament with a crushing 10-4 win over Marcus Campbell.

After a steady start he played with all the old flair and panache. It was riveting stuff, even if the BBC might have thought we all preferred to watch an old episode of Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em rather than the final frame. And it was enough to turn the Rocket into the clear favourite at 4.47/2 to win the title.

Lay it while you can, however, because it's time now for some realism. It might be a wonderful notion that Ronnie can spend a year pig-farming without ever picking up his cue, and then rock up to win a world title on the back of sheer talent, but it isn't going to happen. A first round win over a Crucible rookie is one thing, but the serious stuff is about to start.

A year ago I tipped and backed O'Sullivan to win the title after the first round. He'd taken on board all the help of British Cycling's top psychologist Dr Steve Peters and brilliantly handled the pressure. Sadly this year it is not the mental side of the game that will be a problem, but the physical.

Stephen Hendry compared the return of the Rocket to Tiger Woods getting back to the top of golf's world rankings. But how long has it taken Tiger to do that? And has he yet actually won a Major? Snooker is a sport, and there's no other sport where you can take so much time off - however talented - and then wander in and waltz off with the big prizes. Michael Schumacher couldn't come back to Formula One, Ricky Hatton couldn't return to the boxing ring. If you're not there the sport moves on without you.

The likes of Mark Selby and Neil Robertson are practising six hours a day, competing in tournaments, and battle hardened. Last year's beaten finalist Ali Carter, who looks likely to play O'Sullivan in the second round, is entitled to think he can handle a rematch against a rusty Ronnie (a second round exit trades as the current 3.45 favourite in the Stage of Elimination market). Even Peter Ebdon, who crawled to victory over Graeme Dott, is capable of defusing the Rocket.

O'Sullivan will doubtless look brilliant during this Championship, will provide some thrills. But he won't be able to provide the final flourish - and not, like those breaks in practice, because he chooses not to but because the finishing touch just won't be there.

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