Ronnie O’Sullivan has backed snooker’s “baby” Yan Bingtao to win three world titles – not just because he is talented, but also due to a dearth of youngsters on tour.
China’s Yan, 21, has struggled for consistency but won the Masters last season to underline his status as snooker’s hottest prospect.
Of the players ranked above Yan (15th) in the world rankings, Jack Lisowski (14th) – nine years his senior at 30 – is the closest in age. Compatriot Zhou Yuelong (17th) is 23 while a few other Chinese players in their 20s are on tour.
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“As a snooker player you could probably envy him in many ways because he’s 21,” O’Sullivan said on Eurosport ahead of Yan’s semi-final with John Higgins at the Northern Ireland Open.
“If you look around at that age bracket there is nobody that can come anywhere near him.
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“Judd Trump is 32 and then behind that there isn’t really anybody. He’s so young and has such a long career ahead of him, he’s guaranteed to win world titles because he’s proved he can win the big ones like the Masters.
“The worlds is definitely going to be done. He’ll probably win it more than once - twice, three times - just because it seems like he’s come along at the right time and there really isn’t much competition for him.
“He’s just got to learn from all these matches and in another few years, Trump is going to be  and he’ll be 25. He’s still a baby really. He’s going to have the game by the [scruff of the neck] and do what he wants with it.”
O’Sullivan’s run in Belfast was ended by the Chinese sensation in the last 16.
The Rocket, and fellow Class of ’92 graduates Higgins and Mark Williams, have shown remarkable longevity as the new generation struggles to dislodge them from the top.
The six-time world champion recently labelled Yan a born winner and said his inner belief could help him become a serial champion.
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