Former snooker world champion Dennis Taylor said on Tuesday that the game needs Ronnie O'Sullivan, as the firebrand Londoner mulls his future.
Four-time world champion O'Sullivan, 37, has played only one competitive match this season after growing disenchanted with the sport and has until the end of February to decide whether to defend his title before the entry list closes.
Taylor, world champion in 1985 and now a television snooker analyst, told BBC radio: "The game needs Ronnie O'Sullivan. He's not just any player, he's the most naturally gifted player we have ever had in the game and for Ronnie not to defend his world title would be unprecedented. I'm hoping that he does play.
"It's going to be difficult for him. He hasn't played much in a year, he's practised but even if you have put a lot of practice in, to go out into a main arena and perform the way he did previously it's going to be difficult.
"But you never know with Ronnie. He can change his mind overnight."
O'Sullivan wrote to World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn in November to say he would be skipping the remainder of the season, sparking speculation that he was set to retire. But recent reports suggested he has had a change of heart.
The player has had a series of differences with World Snooker over the demands on players, although his management team cited personal problems when he stepped away from the sport least year.
He has been eager to strike the right balance between a career and family life, which is complicated by the increasing amount of travel on the expanding snooker tour and the ranking points system which rewards playing regularly.
"Will he retire or will he return? You just never know with Ronnie, although there does seem to be a bit of the old sparkle in his eyes," Hearn told the BBC.
As reigning champion, O'Sullivan would be top seed if he competed at the World Championship, which starts at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, northern England, on April 20.