Snooker: Peter Ebdon says O'Sullivan is the "hot favourite"

Ronnie O'Sullivan is "a very hot favourite" to defend his world title, according to former world champion and practice partner Peter Ebdon. O'Sullivan has not played competitively since winning at the Crucible in 2012 but Ebdon says the four-time world champion is in better shape than ever. "If anybody thinks he's not going to be ready for Sheffield, they are really badly mistaken," Ebdon said. "He's playing at an unbelievable level and, if anything, he's improved."

Ebdon, a world champion himself in 2002 and three times a Crucible finalist, has been practising with O'Sullivan at the Star Snooker Academy in Sheffield. Ebdon insists O'Sullivan's edge has not been affected by his 12-month sabbatical from the game. "He's in top form and he will take some beating. I think you'll see Ronnie O'Sullivan playing better snooker than he played last year," said Ebdon. "His safety game last year was absolutely phenomenal. He took safety to a completely new level; it was almost like an art form. He won the tournament with probably only 30-40% of his long game and probably nowhere near his break-building capability as well. But his all-round game is spot-on at the moment and it's going to take a world-class player playing absolutely out of his skin to compete with him, let alone beat him."

Shaun Murphy, world champion in 2005, also said he expected O'Sullivan to be in top form right from the beginning of Saturday's opening match against qualifier Marcus Campbell. "I would imagine that his preparation has been almost scientifically pinpointed to the last millisecond," Murphy said. "I would think that when he gets to the Crucible, he'll be ready and that he will have left no stone unturned. I'm sure he will put on a good show."

World number one Mark Selby also admitted O'Sullivan was the one player all his rivals wanted to avoid. "I am sure it will be difficult for him to turn up and play to what he is capable of after a year out," said Selby. "But, at the same time, we all suspect that if anyone can turn up and win the World Championship in circumstances like that, then it is probably Ronnie. Everyone and anyone would try to avoid him because, when he is on his 'A' game, I don't think there is anyone out there who can beat him."

Peter Ebdon, who will equal Steve Davis's record of 22 consecutive appearances at the Crucible, added: "Ronnie's a genius, he operates on a different level to any other snooker player that's ever picked up a cue. He's that good that you'd pay to watch him in practice. Obviously, we'd love Ronnie to play in all the big events. He's loved and adored my millions of snooker fans around the world and for very good reason. Snooker does very well without him, but he does bring something to snooker that nobody else can bring to the game."

The bookmakers agree with the players, Ronnie O'Sullivan is 6/1 to win the World Championship at Bet365, Neil Robertson is also 6/1 while world number one Mark Selby is 13/2.

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