Ronnie O'Sullivan is worst nightmare at World Championship
RONNIE O'SULLIVAN will launch his Betfred World Championship bid by facing a former potato farmer who was desperate to avoid him.
Tamworth's David Gilbert waited for news of the draw with one thought in his mind: "Keep Ronnie on the other side of the draw," he said.
But the 34-year-old struck unlucky, being the qualifier drawn to tackle the five-time Crucible king who has already this year won the Masters and Welsh Open. Their clash will span the opening Sunday and Monday, and Gilbert must put himself in the mindset to tackle the player he most keenly wanted to avoid.
"It'll be a massive occasion," he said.
"I played Stephen Hendry there [in 2007] and didn't realise how big or important that day was at the time."
When it comes to O'Sullivan, Gilbert will also have to rein in his admiration of the 40-year-old: "I'm a massive fan of him myself and I'll just have to get on with it and play the table," he said.
Gilbert used to prop up meagre snooker earnings by working in potato fields near his home, but times have changed and he is enjoying the best season of his career. In November, he was a runner-up at the International Championship in China.
He credits wife Abi as a driving force, steering him away from a lifestyle that bore a resemblance to those lived by many party-loving 1980s snooker stars: "I'm getting on a bit in years and feel like I've made a lot of errors getting to where I am now," Gilbert said.
"I'm finally living like a professional snooker player rather than a lad."
O'Sullivan is no stranger to enjoying himself away from the table, with a close circle of friends that includes Ronnie Wood, Damien Hirst and Jimmy White. But unlike O'Sullivan, Gilbert felt his snooker was affected, and he can put his finger on the moment his wake-up call arrived.
"I met the wife," Gilbert said.
"She tries to keep me on the straight and narrow. Not all the time, I still like the odd blowout, but I try to behave now and again. She's the only person I let tell me what to do. I've not lived the life of a professional snooker player in my earlier years, and that's probably why I've not done so well. She says, 'Get a grip, do you want to go and sit on the tractor for 14 hours a day?'. I don't really look back with regret. I had a good time. I was just a young lad who wouldn't listen to anybody."
Gilbert was asked whether it was late nights and beers that had hindered his career: "Probably a bit more than that but let's leave it at that," he said.
He can expect at least some of the Crucible crowd to be behind him against the ever-popular O'Sullivan: "I'm sure a few of the Tamworth massive will be desperate to get up, they love it at the Crucible," Gilbert said.
Defending world champion Stuart Bingham begins his challenge on Saturday morning with a tough opener against two-time beaten finalist Ali Carter. Other highlights of the draw include the all-Scottish clash of Stephen Maguire and Alan McManus, Judd Trump's match against Liang Wenbo and a repeat of last year's quarter-final between Shaun Murphy and Anthony McGill.
Four-time champion John Higgins plays Ryan Day first, Mark Selby tackles Robert Milkins while China's Ding Junhui, who was widely considered the qualifier to avoid, was handed a tie against Martin Gould.
The only debutant in this year's tournament, Birmingham's Mitchell Mann, will play former semi-finalist Mark Allen.
FIRST ROUND DRAW
Stuart Bingham v Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire v Alan McManus, Ricky Walden v Robbie Williams, John Higgins v Ryan Day, Judd Trump v Liang Wenbo, Martin Gould v Ding Junhui, Mark Williams v Graeme Dott, Neil Robertson v Michael Holt, Shaun Murphy v Anthony McGill, Marco Fu v Peter Ebdon, Barry Hawkins v Zhang Anda, Ronnie O'Sullivan v David Gilbert, Mark Allen v Mitchell Mann, Joe Perry v Kyren Wilson, Michael White v Sam Baird, Mark Selby v Robert Milkins