Ali Carter believes world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan could make a dramatic return to the Crucible this season.
The Rocket stunned the snooker world last month when he announced he had “personal issues which he needs to resolve” and would not be playing again, if at all, until next season.
The 36-year-old has been the sport’s pin-up idol, winning four world titles along the way, and is easily snooker’s biggest star name.
But Carter, who as one of O’Sullivan’s former practice partners and fellow native Essex man, is not ruling out an early end to his self-imposed exile and an April return to the Crucible.
It was 33-year-old Carter who O’Sullivan beat in Sheffield in May to lift his fourth world title.
“Will he play at the Crucible this season or not? I know he has said in the press that he is not playing in Sheffield, but really when it comes round I cannot see him entering it to be honest, but we will wait and see,” said Carter.
“I wasn’t surprised with Ronnie’s decision, like he has said himself, he has done everything he wanted to do in the game.
“The travelling doesn’t suit him either, he has a young family and I know he is separated from his missus so he doesn’t get to see them as much as he would want to.
“With all the travelling, and everything he has achieved in the game, I am sure it’s a good time for him to step back.”
Asked whether he wished O’Sullivan had packed in snooker before this year’s Crucible, so Carter could have finally landed his first world title, he joked: “Yes, that would have been nice.”
This year’s 18-11 defeat was a repeat of the 2008 final between the same players, which also went O’Sullivan’s way, and Carter has yet to beat his nemesis in 12 ranking event matches.
Carter himself, diagnosed with the autoimmune Crohn’s disease in 2003, considered quitting the sport last year several times. But his run to the Crucible final in May has sparked new life into the Colchester-born potter and he has his sights on the williamhill.com UK Championship, which starts in York at the weekend.
It was at the York Barbican last year when Carter first threatened to quit snooker after a 6-2 defeat to Mark Allen.
But 12 months later, Carter is hoping to banish those memories and challenge current champion Judd Trump.
“I am happy now, my private life is good,” said father-of-one Carter. “Obviously, the snooker I am enjoying it a lot more now. I was in a bad place last year when I said that, in lots of different ways.
“At that time I did feel like walking away, but I stuck at it and I had a good result at the World Championships which has given me a bit of confidence to go on and keep playing, to try and win some more tournaments.
“I am really looking forward to York. I like York, a lovely city, and one of the tournaments that I aim to do well in this season. “Hopefully, I can play well and pick up some good results.”
Under snooker’s plans for a global calendar, events are now staged around the world, particularly in China and the Far East.
Even a qualified pilot like Carter gets disillusioned with time spent on the road and cooped up in airport waiting lounges.
“It’s not nice having to do all the travelling, it doesn’t really suit me at all but you just have to look at it as part of the job and we all have to do things that we don’t particularly like.
“It’s just that now playing snooker is actually just a small part of the job. It’s the travelling that takes up the time.
“Having a young family doesn’t make it any easier.”
Former Welsh Open and Shanghai Masters champion Carter may be 33, but he doesn’t consider himself a veteran just yet in a sport where rising stars like Trump are threatening to dominate for years to come.
“A veteran? You’re having a laugh mate aren’t you, I am only 33,” he quipped.
“I am at the start of the last third of my career I guess, but I think I have got five or six years to go yet before I consider I will be beyond my best.”
* Tickets for the williamhill.com UK Championship are on sale - for details call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets