World Snooker Championship
Ronnie O'Sullivan returns to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield this weekend to defend his World Championship title, having won snooker's top prize for the fifth time last year. Coverage of the event will be live on the BBC.
Twelve months ago, the Rocket ended his self-imposed exile from the sport to breeze through the tournament for the second successive year. After six months out of the game, the layers struggled to place him in the market and he went off as 7/1 joint favourite with Neil Robertson. What a difference a year makes.
As he looks to move alongside Steve Davis' tally of six world titles and just one behind Stephen Hendry's seven, you won't get better odds than the 11/8 on offer from Bet365, Sky Bet, Betfred, Paddy Power and Ladbrokes about an O'Sullivan victory.
Ronnie has already flexed his muscles this season, beating Mark Selby 10-4 in the final of the Masters, picking up that prize at Alexandra Palace also for the fifth time. He was also on song at the Welsh Open, where he eased past Ding Junhui 9-3 in the final.
At the Crucible last year he defeated Barry Hawkins in the final having seen off Judd Trump and thrashed Stuart Bingham in the earlier rounds. Quite simply, when he's in the right frame of mind nobody can get near him.
Reaching that frame of mind is by no means a foregone conclusion, however, and that 11/8 quote does look a little on the short side when you consider the difficult relationship O'Sullivan has had with his chosen profession.
Ding Junhui has had one of his better seasons on the tour and the Chinese star is second in the outright betting at a best price of 8/1 with Betfred, Paddy Power, Coral and William Hill. His list of achievements includes winning no fewer than five ranking titles, including the most recent event in China where he beat Robertson 10-5 in the final.
Robertson remains at the top of the rankings despite winning only twice on the circuit in the 2013/14 season, with his most recent success coming at the UK Championship back in November. The 2010 champion is one of the most natural talents in the game but he has lost five finals this year.
Next in the betting at best odds of 11/1 come Mark Selby and Judd Trump, who will both have plenty of support having sat near the top of the rankings for some time. Selby has failed on his last two visits to Sheffield, winning only one match, while Trump has reached a final and semi-final in his last three appearances here and looks the better prospect of the two.
Beyond the top five in the betting, everybody can be backed at odds of 20/1 or bigger. Four-time world champion John Higgins certainly knows how to get the job done at the Crucible and can't be ruled out at 20/1 with Ladbrokes and Stan James, while Shaun Murphy's success at the World Open last month will give him a welcome confidence boost. The 2005 champion is a top price of 22/1 with Betfred.
Last year's beaten finalist Hawkins won't want to cross O'Sullivan's path again and he wasn't having the best of seasons until he won the Players Tour Championship finals in Preston three weeks ago. Hawkins is priced at 33/1 generally.
Bingham will be even less inclined to go up against the Rocket having lost 12 of the first 13 frames in last year's quarter-final meeting and you have to question his ability to get through the latter stages of the competition. Stan James offer him at 40/1.
Marco Fu is an interesting outsider at 66/1 with Paddy Power and Ladbrokes having enjoyed a revival of fortunes this season, reaching two ranking finals and winning in Australia. He has also reached a couple of semi-finals and the quarter-finals of the Masters. His woeful record in Sheffield since his semi-final appearance eight years ago is the main negative, but he won’t lack confidence.
||Stan James & Ladbrokes
||Paddy Power & Ladbrokes