Beware the vegan
"Whoever's been giving me these draws lately," says Peter Ebdon, "I'm definitely taking them off my Christmas card list." Whoever it is will likely be two cards light next Christmas, because for Ronnie O'Sullivan, a first-round encounter with Ebdon at the Crucible is pretty much the draw from hell.
Back in 2005, O'Sullivan was left clawing at his face as Ebdon, stalking the table like a general poring over his battle maps, took five minutes to compile a break of 12. O'Sullivan, who had been 8-2 up, ended up losing that quarter-final 13-11 before announcing, not for the last time, his intention to take a sabbatical from snooker. You might say he had been well and truly Ebdonated.
In the lead-up to their fourth Crucible encounter (Ebdon leads 2-1), O'Sullivan appeared to still be under Ebdon's spell. "I can run a mile in five minutes, and my fastest 147 break was only 20 seconds longer," said the three-time world champion last week. "I am an instinctive player, rather than a methodical one. I see the shot quickly, and it can be hard seeing your opponent not doing it."
O'Sullivan's comments seemed a little bit naive: letting an opponent know slow play gets under your skin is rather like a boxer telling his opponent he is somewhat susceptible to uppercuts. And Ebdon, a man so frighteningly determined he dared to release a follow-up single to 1996's 'I Am A Clown' - no, really - is not someone you play mind games with. Especially now he's gone vegan.
"I've been vegan for almost five months and it's made a huge difference," Ebdon, playing in his 21st consecutive World Championship - one more than O'Sullivan - tells BBC Sport. "My concentration and focus is good and the diet is a big part of that. I've also been working hard on my fitness and everything's coming together on the table. I'm really looking forward to it."
Ebdon v O'Sullivan in 2005 was a particularly fiesty affair. Photo: Getty
Ebdon, world champion in 2002, insists the supposed beef between himself and O'Sullivan is media-made. "Ronnie likes playing the press card but I don't get involved with all that," says Ebdon. "The press target the same players every year for sensationalism and you just have to take it on the chin.
"I've known Ronnie since he was nine, when he came to the club in King's Cross where I started practising as a 14-year-old. I don't know him as well as I could do and we're not the greatest of friends. But we're certainly not enemies. I always look forward to playing Ronnie, he's an absolute genius."
Earlier this month, Ebdon won the China Open, his first triumph in a ranking event for three years, and his progress through the qualifying rounds in Sheffield - he booked his place at the Crucible with a 10-0 whitewash of Alfie Burden - suggested Ebdon is chewier than ever. So chewy, he might prove difficult for O'Sullivan to digest.
"I was absolutely delighted to win in China, it was massive for me," says Ebdon, who beat Matthew Stevens, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui before seeing off Stephen Maguire in the final. "And my friends and family knew how much qualifying [for the Worlds] meant to me.
"It's not been difficult for me to maintain my motivation and focus because I haven't been winning, so I've been trying harder and harder all the time. A lot of people don't expect me to be winning tournaments but I see no reason why I can't continue to win tournaments for a long, long time."
Ebdon, who now lives in Hungary with his second wife Nora ("an absolutely lovely woman, I'm very, very happy") is clearly in a good place. The question is - as ever - what kind of place is O'Sullivan in? And will he be able to hold it together when Ebdon takes him to places he doesn't like to be in?
Before Mike Tyson's rematch with Evander Holyfield, Tyson's old trainer Teddy Atlas famously predicted his former charge would become frustrated and lose the plot. No-one is suggesting O'Sullivan will bite Ebdon's ear off, but more pedestrian play from Ebdon might at least cause O'Sullivan's mind to wander.
"It's a gruelling 17 days, it really is a marathon, and it takes something special to become a world champion," says Ebdon. "I'm pleased I managed to win one World Championship and I'd dearly love to do it again.
"I've got a very, very tough opening opponent in Ronnie O'Sullivan, one of the greatest players of all time. But I will be trying for my life. I promise you." Don't worry, Peter, we believe it. And Ronnie better believe it, too.