Ronnie O’Sullivan is winning so many snooker tournaments, he has started rating them on how much fun he had: ‘A sad face means that it was s***’
- Ronnie O’Sullivan heads to the Crucible with five 2018 rankings titles to his name
- But the renowned perfectionist is far from content with his form around the table
- He’s come up with a way to remind himself he can still win when he plays badly
- O’Sullivan uses emojis to rank his victories, happy for good and sad for ‘s***’
Ronnie O’Sullivan reclines on a sofa. In terms of results he is in form, winning five ranking events this season to bring his tally to 33, three behind record-holder Stephen Hendry.
But — and this may not come as a surprise — the renowned perfectionist is far from content with his snooker.
‘I’ve written a thing on my phone after each tournament. If it was a good tournament I put a smiley face,’ he says.
Ronnie O’Sullivan heads to the Crucible in Sheffield with five 2018 titles to his name
‘If it’s just a plain face it means it was all right, and a sad face means that it was s*** and I didn’t enjoy it. At all,’ he emphasises.
‘Two of my victories have got smiley faces and three have got a sad face because I didn’t actually feel like I performed well or enjoyed it. But I still got the result.
‘It’s a reminder that I can still play badly and win. I’m not going to let my perfectionism stop me.
‘But at the end of the day it still is about winning and losing. I can’t get away from the fact that there are three sad faces in there that have won tournaments.’
The World Championship begins on Saturday and O’Sullivan’s preparations are underway. He is in a snooker hall in the middle of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Romford, not far from his home.
On the first floor of an anonymous brick building is a spartan room with five snooker tables under fluorescent lights. In a corner lurks a sink, kettle and microwave.
Owned by his former manager Django Fung, O’Sullivan is free to practise here at will. Its anonymity and lack of distractions are ideal. But O’Sullivan still struggles.
‘If I had to graft to win them tournaments, I wouldn’t be sitting here now feeling fresh and relaxed,’ he says. ‘The way I have to do it has to come instinctively.
‘To me the snooker part is the easy part. The hard part is getting me to practise. And getting me in the right frame of mind. Once I work on that, then I’m excited to be at the tournament and playing.’
O’Sullivan is waiting for his friend Judd Trump. But until he arrives, Ronnie has things on his mind.
‘Really, snooker is something I do because I want to do it, not because I have to do it. I’ve got snooker just where I want it right now,’ he says.
In between sips of herbal tea, the five-time world champion talks about his passions away from a game which has dominated his life since he was eight.
‘Anything where there is no pressure is fun. Come the tournaments, that’s a different ball game. Every time I put myself on the line I’m there to be criticised if you play badly; if you play good they think you’re the best thing since sliced bread.
‘There’s a working life outside of snooker whereas before I thought, “What else am I going to do?” I could never visualise what my life would be like without snooker.’
Now an author, TV personality, snooker pundit for Eurosport and self-confessed foodie, O’Sullivan’s enthusiasm is infectious.
Take his opinion on Flappy Bird, a mobile phone game which he credits with curing his fear of flying. ‘I absolutely love it. It’s the only thing that gets me on the plane. If I get a bit of turbulence and I’m able to get through it without picking up Flappy Bird.
‘But if it gets that bad, then I just pick up the game and I play it and the turbulence goes after a minute or two. And I’m all right.’
He’s also fallen in love with snooker again.
‘I love the punditry,’ he says. ‘It’s one of the best things I do now. I never used to watch snooker but I was forced to watch it because of work. And me and Jimmy [White] and Neal [Foulds] would be watching the game and talking about it.
‘You get so involved in it. You’ve got the one that you want to win it because you’ve followed it through. You think, “I’d love to see him win it because of the journey”.
‘But when you’re playing in it or you’re dipping in and out of it you don’t really know if they’ve had a hard match or what they’ve been through during the tournament.
‘You follow it from start to finish and you get so into it. It’s important just to talk and see the game. And give the viewer an insight of what’s going on and how he’s thinking.
‘You’re just telling it through your eyes really. It would be interesting for me to hear another sportsman that was playing, say Tiger Woods commentating on golf, I’d love to hear how he would be assessing it.’
O’Sullivan heads to Sheffield this week searching for an elusive sixth world title that would bring him alongside Steve Davis and his former coach Ray Reardon. Hendry has seven, a tally O’Sullivan thinks is out of his grasp.
‘I never get to tournaments and think, “I need to meditate and do my practise”. I used to, but now I can’t be bothered. It’s like a roll of a dice for me. Take my chances.’
But Sheffield is a special place.
‘I stay in a hotel right by the river. But I’ve got a houseboat there as well. So I cook on my houseboat, and I sit and chill and watch my TV. I just use the hotel to sleep in and there’s all my clobber there.
I’ve got that safety blanket that if Sheffield’s not going too well you’re either better off going out early, first round, second round, and then enjoying your punditry and getting home and having a few days at home. Or win it. No in between.’
O’Sullivan’s natural talent has been chiselled by two mentors.
He coupled with Reardon in 2003 for two years and he has worked with sports psychologist Steve Peters since 2012.
‘Ray and Steve are the two best things that have happened to me in my career,’ O’Sullivan says.
‘Ray taught me stuff on a snooker table which I will never forget, he made me into the all-round player.
‘Steve Peters has helped me not sabotage my own chances. Whereas before I’d get into a match and think, “I don’t feel like this today, I’m going to have an early bath,” now I give everything I can.
‘I always believe my best game is good enough to beat anybody else’s.’
If he manages to take that to the Crucible, perhaps another smiley face will appear on his phone.