I would never bet against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the partycasino.net Premier League.
It’s not just the shot-clock – although that is a factor – but more the nature of the event: turning up for a night, playing and going home that suits Ronnie’s personality more than hanging around for nine days at a time.
He has two nights to play this weekend if he is to win the League for a ninth time. O’Sullivan made a slowish start to this year’s competition but stepped it up towards the end of the round robin phase and, by the end, was playing some superb stuff.
Among his victims was Neil Robertson who he plays again in the semi-finals tomorrow night.
Robertson very nearly missed out on a last four place by virtue of arriving at Llandudno for his final match last week with only minutes to spare.
But he beat Shaun Murphy to get through and the world champion and world no.1 is of course a massive threat to O’Sullivan.
Except, Robertson is less settled in the format than Ronnie. His League performances have been inconsistent and while I would favour him if these two met in a ranking event, O’Sullivan is always fired up for the League and has to start favourite.
People who knock the League seem to think it’s just an extended series of exhibitions without pressure. They should speak to the players, every one of whom regards it as a prestigious event. In fact, they clamour to get in it.
The Premier League has run since 1987 and seen off countless ranking events in the last 23 years.
Live on TV in front of big crowds, it’s a test of temperament, tactics (because of the shot clock) and the ability to think quickly. There’s also big money on offer and this affects a player’s thinking too.
O’Sullivan’s dominance in recent years proves his innate snooker intelligence. It’s not just that he plays quickly: he sees the right shot immediately.
Unlike in a long match his focus is less likely to go, but this doesn’t make the League easier to win. It’s just a different mindset, a different set of skills required.
Last year O’Sullivan chose to run the Norwich half marathon on the morning of the final and lost 7-3 to Murphy.
That’s not to say Shaun wouldn’t have won anyway but it was hardly the best preparation.
Murphy has kept himself ticking over this season by playing in all the PTCs, winning one, finishing runner-up in another and topping the order of merit.
In the other semi-final he faces Marco Fu, who returns to action fresh from winning the gold medal for Hong Kong at the Asian Games last week.
Marco is capable of brilliant performances but at other times, for whatever reason, just can’t get going.
He beat Murphy 4-2 in the League section and is a former champion himself so Murphy has his work cut out to reach the final again.
But they all know that O'Sullivan is the man to beat.
The action is all live on Sky Sports4 from 7.30pm UK time tomorrow.