The atmosphere for Ronnie O’Sullivan’s entrance into the Crucible this morning will surely feel more akin to a world final but when the cheering stops and the snooker starts it will quickly become apparent whether the defending champion has it in him to threaten for title no.5 this year.
It’s been said all week, by Peter Ebdon and others, that he’s playing well in practice. Of course he is. Everyone is. But this isn’t practice, it’s intense competition.
The last player to defend the world title was Stephen Hendry in 1996. The last defending champion to get past the quarter-finals was O'Sullivan himself - 11 years ago.
In Marcus Campbell, O’Sullivan has a stubborn, experienced opponent but not a dangerous young prospect playing fearless snooker. At least Ronnie knows what he’s going to get with the Dumbarton man.
O’Sullivan has beaten Campbell four times in four meetings. The Scot is a tough match player but if O’Sullivan starts to score then a shock defeat seems unlikely.
There should be a sweepstake on how quickly it is mentioned that Campbell once beat Hendry 9-0. It remains a remarkable scoreline but there are caveats.
The first is that it was untelevised. The second is that Hendry was struggling at the time. The third, and perhaps most significant, is that it was 14 and a half years ago.
In fact, Campbell has played much better these last few years than he was back then. He’s got himself into the top 32 late in his career and was a semi-finalist in a ranking event for the first time at this season’s Wuxi Classic. Just last month he reached the quarter-finals of the China Open.
One of the advantages he has is that he practises with other hardened Scots – John Higgins, Stephen Maguire and Graeme Dott.
O’Sullivan has generally talked down his chances this week while most other players have been talking them up. I think he’ll win today but it’ll be interesting to see what sort of performance he produces. If it’s vintage O’Sullivan it could really put the frighteners up the rest of the field.
The other match this morning sees Ricky Walden, winless at the Crucible from two previous appearances, against Michael Holt, who reached the second round in 2005.
Two former champions are in action later when Shaun Murphy winner in 2005, faces Martin Gould, a very dangerous qualifier, and Mark Williams, world champion in 2000 and 2003, tackles young Welshman Michael White, who will be hoping to emulate his good friend Jamie Jones, a surprise quarter-finalist last year.
Also, Barry Hawkins takes on Jack Lisowski, a really attacking and aggressive player of whom great things are expected.
Many future world champions bombed out in the first round on their debuts – Steve Davis, Hendry, O’Sullivan, Higgins, Murphy and Neil Robertson to name a few.
Others, such as Ebdon, made sensational debuts. A lot of people are tipping Lisowski to do some serious damage but I’m sure he won’t be taking Hawkins lightly.
The snooker is all over the BBC and Eurosport for the next 17 days. Whether you are playing, officiating, spectating at the Crucible or with your feet up in front of the TV at home, I hope everyone enjoys the World Championship. It remains a really special and exciting event and this is a great time of the year for the world of snooker.