Ronnie O’Sullivan is aiming to equal Stephen Hendry’s Crucible record of seven world titles when the sport makes a swift return to its biggest stage, starting next Saturday.
Just eight months have passed since O’Sullivan held his sixth crown aloft in front of a socially distanced crowd, but there has been plenty of time for his rivals to stake their own persuasive claims.
Here, the PA news agency considers the chances of the five main challengers for the 2021 world crown.
O’Sullivan heads to the Crucible having lost all five of the ranking finals he has played so far this season, including 10-3 and 10-4 thumpings by John Higgins and Neil Robertson respectively. While the six-time winner must never be written off, one senses there could be someone standing in his way who is more than capable of denying his bid for a seventh world crown.
Two months ago the world number one would have been an unbackable favourite for a second world crown. But after sweeping to five ranking titles this season alone, Trump has shown signs of starting to stutter, not least in his Tour Championship defeat to Barry Hawkins. No doubt, on his day Trump beats anyone. But there remains a question over whether he can sustain that level over two long weeks.
It remains one of the most unfathomable statistics of the modern game that Robertson has only made one appearance in the Crucible’s one-table set-up since winning his solitary world title in 2010. Sporadically, the Australian has shown bursts of brilliance, not least in his demolition of O’Sullivan at last month’s Tour Championship. That performance alone arguably installs him as favourite to claim that long-awaited second crown.
Inconsistency and uncertainty over their ability to handle two weeks of long-form snooker may dog most of Higgins’ contemporaries, but no such issues afflict the 45-year-old four-time winner, who has established a reputation as the match-player to beat them all. Higgins’ remarkable triumph at the Players’ Championship in February illustrated just how capable he remains of marching all the way to a fifth world title.
Selby’s most recent world title in 2017 was expected to cue up an era of domination. Instead, inexplicably, he went two straight years without winning another tournament. The Leicester man has shown signs of rediscovering some semblance of his previous form, not least in stretching O’Sullivan to an agonising final frame defeat in last year’s Crucible semi-final. Nobody will be in a hurry to dismiss Selby’s chances of making it number four.