Mark Williams reckons World Snooker should start paying Ronnie O’Sullivan appearance money to keep him turning up for the big tournaments.
The Rocket is back on the big stage today, taking on Wales’s Williams as he bids for a sixth Dafabet Masters title at Alexandra Palace.
And that comes shortly after another long O’Sullivan sabbatical, with the 40-year-old taking an eight-month break before returning to action at the German Masters qualifiers in December.
Williams, also 40 and with a couple of Masters triumphs of his own, has never hidden his admiration for his long-time rival.
And he insists O’Sullivan’s star quality and box office appeal should see every effort made tempting him into competing while he is still near the top of his game.
Williams, who once went 12 years without beating O’Sullivan in a match of real significance, said: “He could sell out any big venue, he is the only one really. The time we played at the Masters a few years ago was a good match but I lost again – 6-5 I think.
“He hasn’t played much but every player knows in their heart he is the best. He doesn’t even have to be at the top of his game to be the best, that’s how good he is.
“I am one of the ones that appreciates exactly what he is, and what he does for our sport.
“I think World Snooker should do a money deal with him to pay him whatever he wants to appear at tournaments, whatever it costs.
“Every tournament he is in is better for every single player, there is no doubt about that.
“At any venue in the world, and trust me I have played them all, Ronnie turns up and there is a buzz around the place and it will be packed.
“Some players might be jealous or disagree, but in the long run it would be better to pay him what he wants and have him there while he can compete.”
For his own part, Williams has been heartened by his own improved form over the past two years.
He added: “For me, I have played all right the past couple of years. I had fallen down the rankings a bit, into the 20s and 30s, but I have got to quarters, semis and the PTC final against Joe Perry.
“I have been knocking on the door but I don’t get disheartened any more by losses, I just get on with it and I think that has helped me.
“I got back into the top 16 to qualify for this. I can’t say I will win this week, but I might not be a bad outsider bet if I find my game.
“I haven’t won a big one for a few years, probably the German Masters a few years back.
“I got close after beating Ronnie in Chengdu in 2014, losing to Mark Allen 9-8 in a brilliant semi-final, that was the best I had played for years.
“My game is not what it was, but you get for these occasions. Those outside the top-16 and event winners don’t play in a one table set-up often any more.
“There is a lot of playing in Barnsley with 128 players on loads of tables, but the chance of this type of match against Ronnie at the Masters is what you play for.
“It will have been a long time since I played in this set-up with a crowd of almost 2,000 like this.”
Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos