Ronnie O’Sullivan believes quiffed Crucible new boy Jamie Jones can carry off the Betfred.com World Championship title.
Jones is one step away from the semi-finals at the Crucible after seeing off former champion Shaun Murphy and world number 19 Andrew Higginson already.
He fell 5-3 behind against Ali Carter as their quarter-final got under way today, but with two sessions to come tomorrow there was plenty of time for the 24-year-old to battle back.
Jones’ hairstyle has caught plenty of attention but his snooker has been the main draw for O’Sullivan, who was himself 5-3 down after the opening eight frames of his quarter-final with Neil Robertson.
O’Sullivan first encountered Jones in early 2002 in Swansea, when the Welsh player, then 13 years old, beat him in an exhibition frame.
Now 24, Jones was a 250-1 outsider for the world title before the tournament began, but now he says: “You’re going to have to scrape me off the table, I’m going to be there until the death hopefully.”
And O’Sullivan, on the opposite side of the draw to the man from Cimla, near Neath, can see another twist in the tournament.
“I don’t think anyone’s got a divine right to be a favourite here,” O’Sullivan said.
“People will assume that certain players will get to the end, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jamie Jones won it. Great player, great talent.”
Remembering their first meeting a decade ago, O’Sullivan said: “He made a 70 break against me, and I was expecting him to come through.
“I expect everyone to come through like I did, which is come on the scene at 16 and just break through, but it doesn’t always work that way.
“Now he’s believing that he can beat these players on a regular basis.
“He’s not just looking to take scalps. He’s looking to win tournaments now.
“If you’ve got that kind of frame of mind then anything’s possible.”
Jones, who has already guaranteed his biggest career pay cheque of £24,000, welcomes the support from O’Sullivan.
“That’s a big compliment. I’m just turning up each day and trying my guts out,” Jones said.
By leaving the Crucible cocoon to return home after his first-round win over Murphy, Jones realised he suddenly has celebrity status.
“It’s changed my life,” the world number 36 said.
“I was walking about my town getting stopped by people.”
Judd Trump, who was also a qualifier, made big plans for his prize money last year, upgrading his fantasy car as the cheque kept getting bigger until his final defeat to John Higgins.
Jones said: “I think my mother would kill me if I went out and spent 100 grand on a car.
“I don’t come from a very well-off family, so I think my family will actually keep my feet on the ground no matter how well I do.
“I live with my mother but I’m travelling all the time so I’m hardly ever there. I think she wants to get rid of me.”
With a grin, Jones said he hoped success in Sheffield could bring him a date with the Welsh former Big Brother star Imogen Thomas.
“That’s why I want to win it, I want to go out with Imogen,” he said.
O’Sullivan’s form dipped today, two days on from the jaw-dropping performance he produced in the middle session of his second-round win over Mark Williams.
He maintains that to expect such a standard consistently is unrealistic.
Working with sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters has helped, but it is O’Sullivan who must pot the balls, and not enough went down against Robertson.
“The tournament lasts 17 days so you can’t expect to play well every day, but I came into this tournament feeling happy and content and just wanting to go out there and enjoy my game,” O’Sullivan said.
“As long as I do that, then it’s a throw of the dice sometimes how you play.
“It’s nice if sixes come, but now and again a one and a two might show up, and you’ve got to be patient and not be two down on yourself.
“I’ve been getting help on that side with Dr Steve Peters, and if it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be here this year.
“I was having a terrible time, but he’s got me thinking differently, I’m a lot happier and I’m managing my emotions a lot better.”
Tonight Stephen Hendry was attempting to battle his way back into his quarter-final after a miserable morning display from the 43-year-old seven-time world champion saw him trail Stephen Maguire 7-1.
If Maguire were to win six of the eight frames the Scottish pair are scheduled to play this evening, it would mean Hendry suffering the embarrassment of defeat with a session to spare.
On the other table, Ryan Day had breaks of 100 and 110 and led two-time runner-up Matthew Stevens 5-3 in an all-Welsh clash that was also resuming this evening.