There’s been much talk in the last week of the Crucible but before the 888.com World Championship next month the snooker circuit makes its annual trip to Beijing for the China Open.
The popularity of the game in China is rising all the time. One of Ding Jun Hui’s matches in January’s Saga Masters attracted 166 million TV viewers. If you wander around the Beijing University Student’s Gymnasium where the event is being held you will witness a kind of mania not usually seen in places like Newport or Aberdeen.
To the fans in China, snooker players are stars. Not just the big names but the rank and file too. Players can expect to be chased down corridors for their autographs and even local journalists want to pose for pictures with their heroes.
This isn’t something that naturally appeals to Ronnie O’Sullivan who, for all his flair and charisma, is actually rather shy.
He is uncomfortable with too much attention and perhaps this explains why he hasn’t won a frame of snooker in China for five years.
Ronnie lost 5-0 to James Wattana 12 months ago and pulled out of the Beijing tournament in 2005, which was the first in China since Mark Williams won in Shanghai in 2002.
Given all this, it perhaps seems odd that I’m tipping O’Sullivan to win the title, but I’m doing so on the law of averages: it’s two years since he last won a ranking title and something has to give.
More than that, because he has drawn Ding in the first round at the Crucible he knows his game has to be sharper than ever going to Sheffield and I expect him to have practised extra hard this last week.
Ronnie gets bored easily. The prospect of a 10-hour flight to China won’t have thrilled him and he won’t enjoy hanging around the hotel.
That said, he won this title in 1999 and 2000 and, at the end of the day, a snooker table is the same whether it's in China or Chigwell.
You can never really back Ronnie but it would equally be foolish to back against him. Part of his appeal is his unpredictability. Just this season he walked out of a match at the UK Championship – something I thought was an appalling thing for a professional sportsman to do. Then at the Masters he consoled Ding in one of the most gracious displays of sportsmanship you’re likely to see all year.
That’s the enigma, that’s why we’re all fascinated by him.
His last ranking title success was the Irish Masters in March 2005. Surely the wait for another will soon be over.
The China Open starts tomorrow and is live all week on CCTV in China and Eurosport in Europe