Rocket Ronnie is man to beat says champion

Reigning champion Stuart Bingham

Reigning champion Stuart Bingham

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Stuart Bingham predicts the World Championship could be a procession for Ronnie O’Sullivan if the five-time winner is hungry for a sixth title.

Defending champion Bingham toppled O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals at the Crucible last year before knocking out Judd Trump in the final four and flooring Shaun Murphy with a fightback in the final.

He cannot face O’Sullivan until the final this year, after the pair were kept apart in the draw ahead of the tournament, which starts at the weekend.

But Bingham accepts O’Sullivan – who has landed the Masters and Welsh Open trophies already this year –remains the man to beat.

“Whatever tournament Ronnie enters, he’s going to be favourite,” Bingham said.

“He’s the best player in the world at the moment so if he’s mentally right everyone’s playing for second. He is that good.

“There are maybe four or five people who can stand up to him and beat him, and I saw he could play Shaun in the quarter-finals.

Shaun is one of those who on his game can beat 
anyone.”

As he prepares to head back to Sheffield and tackle his first-round match on Saturday’s opening day, Bingham revealed he has been on a daily diet of playbacks of his surprise Crucible success.

“It’s been maybe about 350 days since I lifted the title, so it’s about 300 times that I’ve watched it, it’s been near enough every day,” he said.

“I was so in the zone at the time that it seemed to fly by. I remember potting championship ball and hearing the crowd erupt, and that stays in the memory bank, but it all happened too quickly and I can’t believe it’s been a year already.”

The Basildon ace, now 39, will be aiming to crack the notorious ‘Crucible curse’.

No world champion has won his first two titles back to back since the tournament moved to its current home in 1977.

He knows the danger too that comes with being the man in possession, having caused one of the greatest snooker upsets on his World Championship debut in 2000.

Bingham ended the reign of seven-time winner Stephen Hendry on the opening day that year, and the Scot never triumphed again in Sheffield. Bingham knows that having turned from the hunter to the hunted, he cannot afford to let his focus slip.

“Obviously I’m going to be nervous but I’ll hopefully settle down as quick as possible,” Bingham said.

“It may take me two or three frames to forget where I am and what I am, and just try to get on with the job in hand.

“I remember playing that match 16 years ago against Stephen Hendry and the first thing on my mind was not to get whitewashed, and as soon as I won that first frame I settled down.”