Ronnie O’Sullivan was keen to play things down after his first-round Masters win over Mark Williams, but he has already answered some questions after his latest sabbatical.
The Rocket spoke afterwards of a bad back, an old injury aggravated by a stint on a rowing machine a couple of months ago that saw him pull a disc.
There was little evidence of the trouble he complained of in getting on the shot earlier in the arena, as he shook off some rustiness just as Williams was slowly getting on top.
From 4-2 the Welshman, twice a winner of the Masters, did little wrong as O’Sullivan rattled in two centuries, taking his overall tally to 804, and a 60 to lead 5-4.
Williams took the five-time Masters champion to a decider, and but for a wild attempt at a plant having been in first he could easily have won.
But handed an unexpected opportunity O’Sullivan confirmed that his Crondon Park Championship League displays last week were a better form line than his German Masters qualifier loss to Stuart Carrington in December. His break of 62 proved decisive in a 6-5 win.
Just as at the World Championship in 2013 having taken a year off, O’Sullivan arrived at this year’s Masters as something of an unknown quantity for rivals, fans and bookmakers alike.
The class is unquestioned, but can he keep competing with and beating the very best even playing so much less than his rivals? Would it not get harder to do as you get older, and would the ‘40’ age barrier prove a problem?
The bookies clearly don’t think so because O’Sullivan’s price has halved since last week from 4-1 to 2-1, and he is the tournament favourite, albeit before Neil Robertson starts his campaign.
However, looming ahead in the quarter-finals is the spectre of world No1 Mark Selby. We will carry more on this match-up ahead of Thursday’s clash, but it is safe to say that both will be fired up for it.
Each has landed some big blows on the other over the past nine years, and many of the contests have been finals, semi-finals or at the Crucible with Selby more than holding his own.
Selby was highly impressive in a mismatch whitewash against Ricky Walden, making breaks of 71, 113, 66, 81 and 8-3 in a 6-0 victory.
The clash of personalities and styles makes O’Sullivan v Selby one of snooker’s most enduring and captivating rivalries, and will kick the quarter-finals off in fine style.
Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos