Ronnie O’Sullivan has been a model of consistency with his cue this season.
Much has been made of the world champion losing in five ranking finals leading to the assertion by some analysts that those defeats are a sign of weakness ahead of his quest for a seventh Crucible crown.
As always, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Gods of Snooker: 'He made the sport what it is' – Rocket Ronnie on the magic of Hurricane Higgins
Ronnie O'Sullivan ranking finals 2020/21
- Northern Ireland Open: Judd Trump (lost 9-7)
- Scottish Open: Mark Selby (lost 9-3)
- Welsh Open: Jordan Brown (lost 9-8)
- Players Championship: John Higgins (lost 10-3)
- Tour Championship: Neil Robertson (lost 10-4)
O’Sullivan has never lost five straight ranking finals since turning professional in 1992, but has also rarely achieved such ongoing consistency that sees him ranked world number two, fourth on the sport's one-year list and top seed at the Crucible.
He is adamant that the past counts for nothing at the World Championship, a tournament that traditionally takes on a life of its own over 17 days.
Four of his final defeats this season have come to players directly above and below him in the world rankings (Judd Trump, Mark Selby, John Higgins and Neil Robertson) while the other saw him lose by the odd frame in 17 at the Welsh Open to Jordan Brown, an inspired Northern Irishman enjoying his career highlight.
'I'm not nervous at all' - O'Sullivan 'excited' to defend world title
“In all five finals, everybody has played well against me,” said O’Sullivan.
“In the two finals against Judd Trump (Northern Ireland Open) and Jordan Brown, I played pretty decent stuff and made a game of it.
But in the other three finals, I never really competed and I probably could have made the score a bit more respectable, but I would probably have lost those matches because they were three great players (Selby, Higgins, Robertson) playing very, very well.
“I would probably have lost those matches anyway. I needed to be at my best to make those matches competitive and I wasn’t.”
O'Sullivan only reached one ranking final last season (losing 9-7 to Trump in Northern Ireland) before ending a seven-year wait for his sixth Crucible triumph with an 18-8 win over Kyren Wilson last August.
- 'Crucible seat isn't worth risk' – O’Sullivan proud of mum after Covid-19 battle
- Exclusive: ‘He’ll never get over it' – O’Sullivan ‘shocked’ by Selby reaction
He also knows what it is like to go into a World Championship having lifted five ranking titles only to come up well short in Sheffield.
The 37-times ranking event winner claimed five victories in the 2017/18 season, including the UK Championship, but lost 13-9 to Ali Carter – one of only two defeats to his fierce Essex rival in 21 career meetings – in the second round three years ago.
“You aren’t going to play well in every final," commented O'Sullivan. "I played well in two and didn’t show up in the other three, but that happens.
If I get into another final, it’s not something I’ll be thinking about. I trust myself to get over the line if given the opportunity. I’m not worried about the results of not winning those finals.
O’Sullivan begins his bid for a seventh world title against a qualifier on Saturday morning at 10am.
He will find out who he faces on Thursday morning (11am BST LIVE on Eurosport) when the draw for the final stage is made, but is feeling positive ahead of his 29th straight campaign at the Crucible.
O'Sullivan edges Selby in Crucible thriller
“I don’t really look at the draw. I know I’m seeded one and will draw the 16th seed (Anthony McGill) if I get through the first round,” he added.
“I always think the tournament doesn’t really start until the quarter-finals.
If you can get through the first two rounds, you are pretty much up and running and into the tournament.
"The first round is tough, but then you get into a three-session match when you generally have to play a little bit better in your second match to get through.
“That’s always a good sign if you can get through that because you are getting into stroke.”
You can watch every match of the World Championship live and ad-free on the Eurosport App and eurosport.co.uk. Download the Eurosport app now for iOS and Android.
Why Judd Trump is snooker's undisputed world number one
Turkish Masters joins World Snooker Tour circuit, but when does season begin?