Six-time world champion Steve Davis believes it will take a "superhuman" effort for anyone to stop defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan at the World Championship.
The Rocket resumes his title defence this afternoon in the last 16 against Ali Carter – after a six-day break back at his home in Chigwell, while other players have been slogging it out.
O'Sullivan returns knowing his path to a fifth world crown has been made considerably easier with the departures of former Crucible winners John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Mark Williams and Peter Ebdon, who have all been dumped out at the first hurdle.
Former World semi-finalists Mark Allen and Stephen Maguire have also been eliminated.
There are, of course, plenty of players left in the second round who are capable of winning the game's most coveted title, but O'Sullivan will be quietly confident that his unquestionable natural ability will allow him to blow away the field – despite a 12-month self-imposed absence from the sport. And Davis, one of the greats of the modern era, is inclined to agree.
"If Ronnie is not beating himself up – and I see no chance of that happening this time – it will require a superhuman performance to beat him," said Davis. "He is still – regardless of lack of competitive play – the most naturally gifted match-player at the Crucible.
"It does seem that things are falling a little bit Ronnie's way in terms of the fancied players who have already been knocked out."
O'Sullivan cruised to a 10-4 victory over qualifier Marcus Campbell to get his title defence off to a perfect start.
And the draw fell nicely for the 37- year-old who had the luxury of time away from the venue this week in readiness for his best-of-25 frame duel with Carter, an opponent who has never beaten him in their 12 previous ranking event meetings.
O'Sullivan crushed Carter 18-11 in last year's Crucible final and 18-8 in the 2008 world final.
Davis said: "It's been a long time since Ronnie last played with a lot of big names having gone out. The record between the pair is out there, and O'Sullivan will have confidence from that and think he has the evil eye over Ali.
"Ali must go into this with a very positive attitude, despite the terrible record. Ronnie will be the big favourite, but Ali has a chance because he's got a good record here."
Michael White cruised into the quarter-finals with a 13-3 demolition of Thailand's Dechawat Poomjaeng. In doing so, White became the first Crucible debutant since Andy Hicks in 1995 to reach the last eight. "I'm thrilled to be honest, I played well throughout the match," said White. "I knew I was playing well coming here, but getting into the quarter- finals is unbelievable."
Poomjaeng promised he would return for next year's tournament after the thrills and spills of his entertaining debut made him a crowd favourite.
Poomjaeng shook hands with fans on the front row before departing behind the dark curtains to bring an end to a campaign that began with a stunning win against world No 5 Stephen Maguire.
Defeat did not appear to rattle him, with Poomjaeng saying: "I'm okay because it's the first time for me at the Crucible. Michael White played well and I started badly. That's why I lost too easily. I loved the crowd's reaction to me. I'm so proud that everyone likes me. I love them. I'll come back next year.
"Now I'm going back to Thailand because I miss my family and I miss my daughter a lot. I'll buy my family presents. I'm looking for a new house but this isn't enough money. If I got to the final that would have been okay, but now I can't do it." (© Independent News Service)
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