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Rocket set for lift-off again in bid to regain Welsh Open crown

| 16.02.2014

Ronnie O’Sullivan hasn’t won the Welsh Open since defending the crown in 2005 but the recent Masters champion has been installed as 7/2 favourite and is very much the man to beat.

O’Sullivan is the undisputed best player in the world and even the minority who don’t believe that accolade should not be extended to cover the history of the game is dwindling.

The 38-year-old returned to the game better than ever after an almost season-long hiatus, winning the World Championship on his first tournament back before defending it last year, only the third man to achieve the feat.

Victories in the Paul Hunter Classic and the returning Champions of Champions were also recorded in typically breathless style last season before he produced arguably the finest tournament performance of his career when only losing seven frames as he obliterated the Masters field at Alexandra Palace last month.

O’Sullivan’s decision to play a much reduced schedule to that of his peers has paid dividends and the only reason his price is not considerably shorter is that despite the noticeable progress the Essex potter has made in the mind, question marks still remain over his willingness to fully commit to his matches, especially when they are not going exactly to plan.

However, these moments are becoming increasingly rare and the advice has to be to support O’Sullivan at the prices to make room once more in his trophy cabinet. There was a palpable sense of a statement from the Rocket at the Masters that said he wanted to remind the tour – as if they could forget – who was the best player in the world regardless of what the rankings say and how visible he is on the circuit.

With no other player in the top-32 making fewer tournament appearances O’Sullivan is not only extending his stay at the top of the game but also giving himself an extra incentive to make a point of enforcing his superiority whenever he is at the table.

Ding Junhui is an obvious alternative, having continued his record-breaking form from last year in the German Masters at the beginning of the month, and at 8/1 the 26-year-old will have plenty of supporters after been drafted in the opposite side of the draw to O’Sullivan.

Ding became the first player since Stephen Hendry over twenty years ago to win three consecutive ranking events last year and then matched another of the Scot’s records by winning four titles in the same campaign in Berlin.

The Chinese star is now maximising his potential after some difficult times, however, he hasn’t beaten the Rocket in a meaningful match since 2006 and that is reflected in the odds.

Meanwhile, Shaun Murphy was back in the winners’ enclosure for the first time in almost two and a half years, when winning the tour’s last event at the Gdynia Open, notching his second 147 of the season in the process.

The 2005 World Champion has been threatening a return to the podium – demonstrated by reaching the semi-finals of the Masters in the January – and at 14/1, despite being housed in the same half as the main selection, remains a worthy alternative.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Sam Foster