sport

Carter tips Ronnie to return

Ali Carter has tipped Ronnie O'Sullivan to make a Crucible comeback and defend his World Championship title.

At the beginning of November O'Sullivan announced he would not play again this season, having made only one low-profile outing since defeating Carter to land snooker's most highly-prized trophy last May.

The explanation was that O'Sullivan had personal reasons for skipping the current campaign, and the Chigwell cueman had said after his victory in Sheffield that playing week-in and week-out on the tour was taking a heavy toll on his life.

O'Sullivan did not sign up for the ongoing williamhill.com UK Championship, or next month's Masters at Alexandra Palace in London, but he is expected to have until late February - a deadline has yet to be set - to decide whether to compete at the season-ending World Championship.

Such a return as mooted by Carter would be audacious, as O'Sullivan would be lacking match practice when compared to any other entrant.

But after speaking with the four-time world champion at a recent exhibition match in Poland, Carter can see O'Sullivan, who turns 37 on Wednesday, cutting short his break from tournament snooker.

"Am I missing him? No, not at all," said Carter.

But Carter added: "Obviously I think he'll be back for the World Championship. I don't care what everyone says now. There's no way Ronnie O'Sullivan could miss that event in my opinion.

"We were in Poland and it's personal reasons (that) he did talk to me about, that I'm not going to discuss.

"I think he'll be back for the World (Championship), but I don't think he knows until he wakes up in the morning what he's going to do, and I don't think he knows then."

Without the man regularly branded the most natural player ever to take up the game, snooker has lost its main box-office attraction.

Crowds in York for the UK Championship appear to have suffered for the absence of O'Sullivan and the now-retired Stephen Hendry, with the balcony level at the Barbican Centre closed to spectators who were allowed access last year.

Any tournament without O'Sullivan gives the rest a better chance of coming away with the trophy.

Carter, who has twice been beaten in Crucible finals by his fellow Essex player, knows that certainly applies this week.

"Of course it opens it up," said the 33-year-old. "Ronnie's beatable when his head's not on but it was clear for everyone to see that this year at the World Championship his head was completely on.

"He hasn't got four world titles, five UKs and four Masters - or whatever it is - for no reason."

O'Sullivan actually has four of each, but Carter's point stands.

Former world champion Graeme Dott would rather O'Sullivan was in York, but the Scot is losing no sleep over his decision to stay away, believing strength in depth means the sport can get by without him.

Dott said: "Ronnie is obviously the best player and everyone wants to see him, the players included would rather have Ronnie in the tournament than not in it.

"If Ronnie wasn't here seven years ago you'd miss him a hell of a lot more than we're going to miss him just now."