Neil Robertson believes snooker is ready for its equivalent of a Tiger Woods comeback as Ronnie O’Sullivan prepares to make his long-awaited return to action.
When Woods took time out of golf to deal with off-course personal problems, following his infidelities and the breakdown of his marriage to Elin Nordegren in late 2009, all the focus was upon him when he returned almost six months later for the Masters.
It will be a similar story for O’Sullivan when he picks up his cue for snooker’s own Masters, at Alexandra Palace in January, returning to action after almost nine months away at a tournament he has won five times.
O’Sullivan last played a competitive match at the World Championship in April, losing to eventual winner Stuart Bingham in the quarter-finals. He has cited factors including insomnia for his absence, and has been most recently working as a Eurosport pundit.
He did not defend either his Champion of Champions trophy, or the UK Championship, both of which Robertson landed to claim prize-money of almost £300,000 inside a month. Now Robertson, who clinched the UK title in York on Sunday evening, fancies adding the Masters title to his growing haul.
But 40-year-old O’Sullivan’s comeback adds an extra frisson.
“Of course I’ll welcome him back,” said Robertson. “I’ve always enjoyed playing him and I’ve got a pretty decent record against him as well.
“But coming back to the Masters, that’s his event – everyone associates the Masters with Ronnie O’Sullivan. I think the players did really well in York and played some amazing snooker in Ronnie’s absence, but obviously he’ll be the talking point when he comes back, similar to Tiger Woods in golf a couple of years ago.
“The game is definitely better off with him in it, but there’s a lot of great players coming through and a lot of good characters like Liang Wenbo.”
Robertson defeated Liang 10-5 at the York Barbican Centre, making an early 147 maximum break as he earned the second most prestigious ranking title in the sport, behind only the World Championship.
The 33-year-old Australian would love to make it three major triumphs in a row, and he has set himself the target of capturing not only the Masters but also Crucible glory to achieve the rare feat of a single-season Triple Crown.
He plays Marco Fu in his Masters opener, which runs from January 10 to 17, while O’Sullivan launches the latest phase of his career against Mark Williams.