Ronnie O’Sullivan was today bidding to maintain his impeccable record against Ali Carter as last year’s finalists reached the climax of their second-round clash at the Betfair World Championship.
After 12 wins out of 12 in major events against Carter, O’Sullivan was within sight of number 13 as he nudged his lead out to 9-7 despite the best efforts of his opponent.
O’Sullivan is also on target to successfully defend the world title, a feat nobody has achieved since Stephen Hendry won each year from 1992 to 1996.
The overriding sense inside the Crucible is that a fifth world title for O’Sullivan is on the way, even though he came to Sheffield without playing a major match since last year’s Crucible final.
Shaun Murphy, a quarter-finalist this year and champion in 2005, knows all the talk focuses on the ’Rocket’, saying: “I’ve had a really consistent year but when Ronnie’s in the event it’s hard to look past Ronnie.”
And Ken Doherty, the 1997 world champion, believes O’Sullivan has a crucial advantage as his rivals feel the toll of a long season.
“The likes of Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen have played almost 100 matches this season. That’s quite a lot,” Doherty said.
Those big names have fallen but O’Sullivan remains on the prowl for glory.
Doherty told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He’s come into this tournament so fresh and he’s a fit young man as well. That may play a small part in the whole of this World Championship.”
O’Sullivan and Carter split the eight frames they played yesterday. There was little doubt the reigning champion would have been the happier with that outcome, given Carter had got back to 7-7 at one stage. O’Sullivan finished with runs of 73 and 86, having earlier made a 105 break, but while he scored heavily there was no denying the weakness in his long potting and mixed fortunes in safety play.
With a host of big names going out in the opening two rounds, Doherty likens the present situation to the 1986 championship when long shot Joe Johnson triumphed.
“The bottom half is so open that we maybe could have a ’Joe Johnson year’ this year, with someone coming completely from the field, a complete outsider, getting easily to the final at least,” Doherty said.
Ding Junhui had breaks of 59, 98, 74, 81 and a closing 103 in surging from 6-2 behind against Mark King to lead 9-7, with that match ending this afternoon.
Ricky Walden resumes tonight with a 10-6 lead against fellow English cueman Robert Milkins, pursuing the incentive of a quarter-final against qualifier White. Stuart Bingham and Mark Davis start from 8-8 this afternoon, vying for the right to tackle Carter or O’Sullivan.