Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Crucible Countdown: 10 days to go

Over the past few days, I've been casting my eye across the chances of the tournament's title favourites.

There's one man I've forgotten; Ronnie O'Sullivan.

It's difficult to know where to start with the Rocket, but today OnCue focuses on the most naturally-gifted player ever to pick up a cue.

What can we expect from Ronnie at the Crucible this year?

O'Sullivan's season has been shocking by the standards of any top 16, let alone that of a three-time world champion.

He's failed to win a single ranking-event match since the World Open in September, and as a result he's ranked provisionally right down at world number 10. The Rocket failed to show at the Shanghai and German Masters, made minimal effort to attend the PTC events and suffered first round defeats at the UK Championship, The Masters and the Welsh and China Opens.

So in short, his slide is very much deserved.

At times he has looked disinterested, at others, just way short of match sharpness.

Whatever the case, he's not been the Ronnie we all know and love. He's going into his matches expecting to lose and he's finding focus hard to come by.

Without getting into the complex mind of Mr O'Sullivan, it's difficult to understand what the problem is. But, we do know he's been suffering from a number of problems away from the table.

Splitting from his partner, making time to see his children and spending time with his father, who has this season been released from prison, have understandably been higher on his agenda than playing snooker.

That might suggest it would have been a good time for Ronnie to take a break. But as the most high profile player in the sport, he's under constant pressure to perform. That has clearly taken its toll. It's not as if this season has only been crammed with failure for him. He's won the Premier League, Power Snooker and reached the semi-finals of the Shoot-Out event. Of course, this is the kind of format which takes less energy than the big ranking events, so actually, it's little surprise to see him enjoying greater success in these events.

But all-in-all, his season has been a write-off.  Yet his loyal legion of fans still hold hope that he'll turn it on when it matters.

I can't say I have the same faith, but no matter how he's playing, Ronnie will always be a favourite, because of what he's capable of producing.

In short, O'Sullivan is a snooker genius, and if he gets it together, he's more than capable of winning the event. I've heard he's already been practicing hard for this year's World Championship. This may be a lot more than he's put in for some of this season's tournaments but that alone does not guarantee him success.

Snooker is a game reliant on mental strength. O'Sullivan may be unable to pass that test over the 17 days.

It's hard to give any real informed predictions of how Ronnie will perform this year. He loves the big occasions, and he'll want to do well. He could be great. He could have a stinker.

Whatever way it goes, his match (or matches) are sure to make for grandstand viewing.

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