Ronnie O’Sullivan will begin his bid for a record-equalling seventh world title against David Gilbert on Saturday in Sheffield.
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s season so far
O’Sullivan enters the 2022 World Championship as the world number one, having recently reclaimed top spot in the rankings.
Rather than powering his way to the summit in style, O’Sullivan sort of stumbled there and took advantage of a period of poor form from Mark Selby.
O’Sullivan will have the £500,000 he earned from his 2020 Crucible success coming off his tally next month, so his latest spell in pole position may be short-lived.
All of that will depend, of course, on how he fares in what is his 30th appearance in Sheffield.
O’Sullivan is making a second attempt at capturing a seventh world crown that would take him alongside the great Stephen Hendry as the most prolific winner of the modern era.
It has been a solid season for the Rocket, with several decent performances including a come-from-behind victory over Neil Robertson to land the World Grand Prix in December.
Robertson has been a thorn in O’Sullivan’s side since then, though, and the pair could face off again in what would be a mouthwatering semi-final clash.
At 46, it continues to be remarkable how O’Sullivan can feature so consistently at the business end of competitions – even when he’s not producing his ultimate best.
David Gilbert’s season so far
When David Gilbert ended his long wait for a maiden ranking title at the season-opening Championship League, a quick return to the top 16 seemed inevitable.
Subsequent runs to the quarter-finals of both the British Open and the Northern Ireland Open only served to substantiate that probability.
Yet it has transpired to be a relatively quiet season for the Angry Farmer, and early defeats in both the Welsh Open and the Turkish Masters left his aspirations of an automatic spot in Sheffield in tatters.
Gilbert coasted through the preliminary section, however, losing only four frames in total against Rory McLeod and Anthony Hamilton.
The 40 year-old memorably reached the semi-finals of the World Championship three years ago – a run that ended in tears following a deciding-frame defeat to John Higgins in the last four.
There have been many people professing this fixture to be one of the ties of the first-round draw, and it does undoubtedly pit two big names together.
But the reality is that O’Sullivan dominates their head-to-head, winning all seven of their prior clashes with one another.
That includes a showdown at the same stage of the 2016 World Championship, when O’Sullivan prevailed with a 10-7 scoreline.
All streaks tend to end sooner or later, so it would be foolish to completely write off Gilbert’s chances.
He unquestionably has the talent to ruffle O’Sullivan’s feathers, but a similar outcome to their meeting six years ago is more likely to be on the cards.
O’Sullivan is in a tricky section of the draw, but in some respects that might sharpen his focus ahead of what may be a landmark year.
Prediction: Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-7 David Gilbert
Saturday, April 16th – 2:30pm
Sunday, April 17th – 2:30pm
Featured photo credit: WST