Ronnie O’Sullivan: ‘People thought I was taking the mickey when I started playing left-handed’
Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he wished he began playing left-handed earlier in his career despite causing controversy at the Crucible due to his ambidextrous wizardry.
The five-times world champion lost 16-14 in the 1996 World Championship semi-finals to Peter Ebdon, but his campaign was overshadowed by a bust-up with Canada’s Alain Robidoux in the first round in Sheffield.
O’Sullivan completed a 10-3 win over Robidoux, who was furious when his 20-year-old opponent began playing shots with his left-handed having a constructed a 8-2 lead overnight.
The 1997 World Championship semi-finalist accused O’Sullivan of being “disrespectful” even though his left-handed play has become almost as reliable as his right-handed stance in the ensuing 24 years.
Robidoux continued playing in the ninth frame of the match despite trailing by 43 points with only the pink and black on the table. He refused to shake O’Sullivan’s hand at the end of their fiery encounter, but later apologised for misreading the situation.
“I wish I had started playing left-handed sooner,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport. “I was playing so poorly with my right hand that I should have switched. I knew that I could pot balls with my left hand. But I was aware that people might have thought I was taking the mickey.
“It just got to the point where I wish I had wished I had done it sooner because it was relaxing me. Alain didn’t take it too well. I could understand that at the time. But once I started, it soon became acceptable.
“I beat Peter Ebdon 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Premier League in Kettering a year later playing with my left hand. People quickly realised that I could play as well at times with my left as my right,” said O’Sullivan, who is seeded six for this year’s tournament which begins on Friday 31 July.
“I won seven frames against Stephen Hendry playing with my left hand in a 10-8 win in the final. And he was world champion at the time. It was unfortunate for Alain, but he apologised to me a couple of years later and said he didn’t realise I could play as well as with my left. I accepted his apology. And we were good friends after that.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan on his toughest ever opponents – ‘It was a golden era for snooker’
Ronnie O’Sullivan feels you have to go back 15 years to discover snooker’s true golden era despite rising standards and prize money in the sport.
The five-times world champion – who could win a record £555,000 for a sixth world title next month – pinpoints the season-ending rankings of 2004-2005 to get a true reading of green baize greatness.
In O’Sullivan’s opinion, that was as close to snooker utopia as you could wish to see with seven-times world champion Hendry still competing at the top level and Hunter – who tragically died in 2006 after battling cancer – lifting three Masters titles in the early part of the decade.
With Higgins yet to win another three world titles, Williams fresh from lifting the second of his three Crucible trophies and former Masters and UK champion Stevens competing in the second of two world finals, O’Sullivan believes that period should be celebrated as the halcyon days.
“I’ve always said that snooker enjoyed a golden era when Hendry, Higgins, Williams, Stevens, the great Paul Hunter and myself were battling it out. I truly believe that was the best top six ever,” said O’Sullivan.
“For me, getting through Hendry, Higgins and Williams in their prime was almost impossible. To beat two of them was so, so tough. Nobody has made me fight as tough as that trio in their prime. In some way, the players these days go for their shots a lot more.
“They are much more aggressive. They miss a few balls to let you in, and are less focused on safety. The games are much more enjoyable for me these days than years ago when you had several players you didn’t really like playing because you knew they could match you.
“A lot of the top players try to win frames at one visit. In some ways, those games are easier to play in. You either get taken out early, or you can feed of it to enjoy the battle.”
For thos who wonder about the numbers presented in the part I put in blue, here is the explanation: the World Champion will get £500 000 for his efforts, the highest break prize money will be £15 000 and there will be a £40 000 bonus for a 147, should there be one. Here is the link to the relevant WST annoucement.
From Tehran to Darlington via the Iranian army, Soheil Vahedi wants the Crucible to be the next stop on his unique snooker journey
Snooker has taken Soheil Vahedi from growing up in Tehran to a new life in Darlington, with his unique journey including an 18-month stint in the Iranian army along the way.
The 31-year-old has battled the odds to make it onto the professional tour and now he is set-up in his new home, he is ready to put all the adversity he has experienced in his career to good use.
Certainly not the most glamorous of destinations, but Darlington has managed to attract not only the man from Tehran, but also the only Brazilian on tour, Igor Figueiredo, making the County Durham town an unlikely cosmopolitan hub, at least in snooker terms.
Vahedi explains that for players ranked outside the top 100, Darlington makes a lot of sense, even if it doesn’t mean a lot of fun.
‘I spent all of lockdown here in Darlington, I’ve been here full-time about four or five months.’ Vahedi told Metro.co.uk.
‘I didn’t play for two months, but now I’m practicing eight hours a day. ‘Most of the time me and Igor are here. It’s because Darlington is a bit cheaper than London or Sheffield, the cost of living is less which is good for us lower-ranked players and the academy is good.
‘I still pay about £1000 a month in all expenses and rent, so it’s still expensive, but cheaper than other places.
‘But there’s nothing in Darlington to have fun, it’s not a great town to live in. I haven’t seen much of it really, but I haven’t heard from local boys that there’s so much going off here.
‘I was told by a few players that Q House Academy is a nice place to practice. When I came here we had a full house – Thepchaiya, Xhao Guodong and Zhou Yuelong – but since COVID 19 came out of nowhere, they all went.
‘Some of them may come back here, but maybe not, they may go to Ding’s academy in Sheffield, only time will tell. I’m sure they will be replaced by other players, hopefully, because the owner here has put a lot of money into the club to improve the academy.
’ Soheil’s winding journey has also taken him through Glasgow, where he practiced with Anthony McGill and developed huge respect for four-time world champion John Higgins.
‘I was in Glasgow previously,’ he explained. ‘I didn’t have many players to practice with. For a while I was practicing with Anthony [McGill] but then he got that unit with Stevie [Maguire] and John Higgins and since then he’s been with them.
‘John Higgins was nice to me a few times to practice with me and I enjoyed his company, he’s a lovely man and I enjoyed practicing with him.
‘Some times he took me down to Barnsley for matches, and one time we drew each other, he gave me a lift down, bashed me up and then he bought me a train ticket home [Higgins beat Vahedi 5-0 in the 2019 German Masters qualifiers].
‘He’s an absolutely brilliant guy, people who don’t know him as close as I did wouldn’t know he’s as nice as he is.’
Now in the UK full-time and settled here with his wife, Vahedi expects to make more inroads on the world rankings and improve on his current position of 103.
The stress of travelling between Iran and the UK has been removed, but he still feels overseas players are at a disadvantage, with the British focus of the tour suiting local players.
‘I’ve been in the UK about seven months now, full-time,’ Soheil explained. ‘But last season I was here for six or seven months without going back to Iran. Then I went over for our wedding, with the engagement and everything, I had to go over and with all the rush and hassle before a wedding I had to come to the UK twice, so it was pretty tough, but now I’ve got my wife here it’s making it a bit easier.
‘There are so many players in so many academies that haven’t got their families or their better halves with them and not having a nice time in the UK. They don’t know what they’re eating, they’re up late at night, they’re all over the place. That’s one of the reasons some of the lower ranked players are struggling because they’re not living properly, or how they’re used to in their own home.
‘People are absolutely clueless about it. They just watch snooker and think, “why is he not performing?” But they don’t know what’s happening in our lives. Because they don’t know, they tend to judge us, but since my wife came here and I started a new life, I have improved.
‘Some people know it, some people don’t, but it’s easy to sit in front of the tele and judge technique, your head’s not right, this and that, he’s not going to make it…but they don’t know what’s happening. We’re trying our hardest to hit our peak but it’s very, very difficult.
‘For somebody like me coming from Iran, it makes it 10 times harder to play snooker, compared to a British player. They’ve got their family, their own food, they know the rules of the country. Some wont even have rent because they stay with their parents, they’ve got somebody beside them all the time. I didn’t have that, so for us, it’s three or four times more difficult to play snooker than 80% of the tour.’
It is not just life on tour that is trickier for overseas players, but their grounding in the game is very different to those growing up in the UK, as Vahedi explains.
‘When I was growing up. 20 years ago, I was practising in this club on this table. It was an Iranian table, so the condition was bad. ‘Say the middle bags, if you wanted to stun a red in, it would come out because the pockets were so bad. But if you wanted to play it slow you had to have played golf before snooker because you had to aim maybe five inches from the pocket to curve into it.
‘That’s how I grew up. Some players from the UK start on a Star table, with a coach, a proper cue. I was playing with a club cue for five years. They don’t realise how blessed they are.
‘We’ve done it the hard way. Maybe that kept us going, doing it the hard way, because when it’s easy you get lazy. I’m proud of doing it the hard way and I’m giving it my best to play as well as I can. Hopefully good things will happen in the future.
’ It has taken years of dedication for Vahedi just to have his professional status, and the hard work stems from a deep love of the game which came about almost entirely by chance, when a young Soheil first discovered snooker.
‘I was playing football in a park for eight or 10 hours a day,’ he explained.
‘We lost a match and had to sit and wait for a turn. A friend said there’s a billiards club round the corner. I asked him what billiards was because I hadn’t even heard the word before. We went and I saw the table with balls and pockets and as soon as I saw it I felt there was something about it.
‘Within a week I’d stopped playing football and I was in the club watching for 12 hours a day. Because I didn’t have support I had to watch until I got my pocket money which maybe bought me two hours in a month on the table.
‘Some of the older players could see I loved the game and then showed some talent so I would partner them in doubles snooker. When I partnered them they would tell me what shot to play and, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, because I didn’t really know the rules.
‘It was loser pays for the lights and winner stays on, and I wanted to practice so much. Maybe 10 groups of two were waiting for the table one day and we were on for about eight hours and didn’t lose. There was the best player in the club and he chose me as a partner, he told me what to do and I would just do it. I think I was 13 then.’
Vahedi started to show some serious promise, reaching the final of the World Amateur Under-21 Championship in 2009 in his home country, but his progress was slowed in 2012 when he had to fulfil his national service in the Iranian army, A character-building experience, Vahedi felt it was harming his snooker career at the time, but has taken the positives from the steep learning curve he found himself on.
‘It was eight years ago for 18 months,’ Soheil said. ‘You go to educational part of it, the first two or three months. You learn how to work with guns, putting it together, learning to shoot, how to march, life in difficult situations in the desert.
‘It was so cold, sleeping in a tent. During a war you might have to spend a few nights in a desert because you’re running from the enemy. It was a very difficult 18 months, it taught me a lot of things but it also wasted my life as well. As a snooker player, I’m doing that to serve my country, performing for Iran as a flag bearer.
‘That wasn’t the case for us. Before I went there I had three semi-finals, one in the World Games, IBSF, Under-21 World Championship. With all that, I still had to serve, everyone serves the same way. You learn to be humble like that. You learn to be the same with everyone.
‘In your home, everything is done by your mama. You don’t do anything. You can’t even unscrew a screw with a screwdriver because you don’t know. But in the army, the first day you get there there’s a load of iron, screws and screwdrivers and they say “that’s your bed” and if you want to sleep in it you have to make it. They leave you and say “good luck”. I had to think how to put the thing together. Then you think about what you’ve done in your life. Your parents have been so kind to you that you never have to do anything like that.
‘I think it did help with snooker because when you’re in there it’s a tough life. You cherish every second of being on the table, winning matches and getting pleasure out of it, You realise how blessed you are to be a snooker player, have the talent, go to different countries, travel the world. You realise you’re very lucky, you value your life more after being in there.
‘In the middle of the desert, in a tent, -15 degrees and you haven’t got a blanket. You can light a candle for 10 minutes or so. You sleep like that, I remember turning over and being frozen, because it’s so cold you have to stay still for eight hours or whatever.
‘On tour I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen players complain about a bed not being big enough. I’m like “what are you talking about? Put your head down and stop talking.” They haven’t seen difficult times in life, that’s why they start moaning.’
Vahedi has, so far, only shown flashes of his talents in the pro game, with a run to the fourth round of the Welsh Open this year one of the highlights as he knocked out Thepchaiya un-Nooh and Jack Lisowski before losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
His next task is to become the first Iranian to qualify for the World Championship at the Crucible, something he is battling the other Iranian pro, Hossein Vafaei, to achieve.
The results have not come yet, but with his settled life in the North East and hours of practice behind him, he is confident they will arrive in Sheffield this month.
‘In a way it’s a new journey now, but I’ve got experience, that’s the difference,’ he said. ‘I’ve got the game and the experience, I just need a click, that moment that changes everything and I’m working very hard for that moment. Hopefully it happens one day.
‘I’m very confident. I practice for eight hours a day. 9.30am-6pm, with an hour for lunch. Sometimes solo, sometimes match practice. I’m very, very confident, I know it’ll be difficult, but I’ve got a chance. Play well in the first two qualifiers and you’re sharp and ready for the third and fourth.
‘It’s going to be difficult in quarantine, in the hotels, not allowed to go out, but having the snooker back is good enough for me.’
I’m wishing Soheil the best in Sheffield next week. He won’t have it easy. His first opponent will be Alan Taylor, a former pro. Alan has played on the Challenge Tour this season and has qualified for the play-offs. This means that he will have at least one competitive match at the EIS under his belt before facing Soheil. It certainly puts Alan at an advantage.
Soheil is absolutely right about the British players being helped by the current structure of the tour, a structure that practically forces players to be UK based. Living as an expat is never easy, especially if you’re not well-off and, in this piece, Soheil explains exactly why.
With Betfred World Championship qualifying just days away, we’ve consulted four of snooker’s top broadcasters and journalists to find out which players they think will clinch a place at the Crucible.
The notoriously intense qualifying event will take place behind closed doors at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from July 21st to 28th. There will be 128 players battling it out for just 16 spots and our experts have named the players they think are most likely to emerge from each section of the draw.
Neal Foulds, Former World Number Three and TV Pundit
This year’s World Championship is likely to be the most unpredictable ever, it is a tough call to say who will take home the trophy. The qualifying event will be fascinating and while many think there will be shocks galore, I see things a little differently. I’ve tipped stalwarts like Graeme Dott, Matthew Stevens and my old pal Alan McManus to make the cut. I expect a nice blend of old and new faces to be in the draw for the last 32. Whatever happens, it is a great triumph that the event is going ahead. Good luck to everyone involved!
David Hendon, Snooker Commentator and Journalist
Thepchaiya Un Nooh
It’s always great to see a mix of recognisable faces and some debutants qualifying, and that is what I have gone for. I’m predicting debuts for Joyce, Vafaei, Jones, Ursenbacher and O’Donnell. Anyone who qualifies has done well because the qualifying competition is a brutal test of nerve in its own right.
Hector Nunns, Snooker Correspondent for Daily Mirror and Others
If the final nerve-shredding round of play-offs did adhere to seedings, this could throw up epic battles between Brecel and Liang Wenbo, Carter and Alan McManus, Maflin and Matt Selt, and Day and Hossein Vafaei. I’ll also be watching out for Sunny Akani in Perry’s section, Luo Honghao in Ford’s, Ukrainian wonder-kid Iulian Boiko in Holt’s, Irish teenager Aaron Hill in Wilson’s, and Joe O’Connor in Maflin’s.
Phil Yates, Snooker Commentator and Journalist
Most of my selections are top 32 players but given their respective performances in the Championship League, Ben Woollaston and Sam Craigie, have got every reason to be confident of securing a Crucible place.
In addition, James Cahill pulled up trees in Sheffield last year and will be highly motivated to return.
Ryan Day is a class act, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hossein Vafaei got the nod in that section.
We fully accept the directive from the General Administration of Sport of China regarding the restriction of international sports for the rest of 2020.
In recent years we have staged four tournaments in China between August and November: the Yushan World Open, Shanghai Masters, China Championship and International Championship. We are now working with our partners and promoters in China on rescheduling these events for 2021. Over many years we have built up excellent relationships with our many friends and partners in China and we will continue to work with them on building a successful future for our sport.
We are working towards a full calendar for the 2020/21 season and more details will be released when available.
Ronnie O’Sullivan explains why he can’t watch his own matches
Ronnie O’Sullivan says he struggles to watch his own matches back, because he can be so critical of his own cue action.
The Rocket is incredibly harsh on himself, saying that he has felt suicidal after winning matches, because he was still so disappointed with how he played.
His work with sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters has helped him overcome this crippling self analysis, but it still stops the five-time world champion from watching himself play at times.
O’Sullivan hates to see minor and often insignificant changes to his cue action, which he knows are inevitable, but are still a source of frustration.
‘I’ve got about 50 cue actions,’ O’Sullivan told Stephen Hendry on Instagram. ‘I’m a lot better now than I used to be, but I’ve had a nightmare.
‘I can’t even watch myself play sometimes because I watch it and think, “I don’t like that, I don’t like this.”
‘I’ve had so many different cue actions, I think it’s just part and parcel, you’re always tweaking about.
‘Sometimes when you change, no one would even notice, it’s just you. Moving this finger or that finger, go a bit more square on, go a bit shorter.
‘Although you think you’ve made a change, you probably haven’t, it’s more psychological.’
The futility of feeling down about his cue action is proved by O’Sullivan feeling he played badly in a near perfect performance against Ali Carter in 2007.
The Rocket beat the Captain 5-2 in the Northern Ireland Trophy, making five centuries, including a maximum 147.
It was a performance that the majority of professionals in history could not repeat, but Ronnie was unhappy afterwards.
‘I played Ali Carter I think I made five centuries in a best of nine, one of them’s a 147 and afterwards I just felt I wasn’t cueing that well.
‘I wasn’t! But for some reason they just went in that day.
’ O’Sullivan is back in action at the World Championship, which begins on 31 July, as he looks to win his first ranking event of a season which has been quiet by his high standards.
He may have had a slow and steady season and not won the World Championship since 2013, but the 44-year-old goes into the tournament as second favourite with the event sponsors, Betfred, only behind reigning champion Judd Trump.
Ronnie is a perfectionist through and through and it has often been his undoing.
That said, I remember that match in 2007 very well. Ronnie was crucified by fans and media afterwards because he wasn’t happy with his performance. And yet, he was right. He may have had five centuries in that match, including a 147, but he wasn’t creating opportunities for himself. His long potting wasn’t great at all and he had to rely on his opponents mistakes to get in. Once in the balls he was OK, Ali gave him those opportunities. The next day, Fergal O’Brien played a much tighter game and beat him.
That Ronnie is second favourite this year doesn’t make sense. Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy, both had a much better season so far and should definitively be ahead of him. But they aren’t and that’s part of Ronnie’s problem. He has always a lot of expectations on his shoulders even when nothing actually justifies them. It doesn’t help him.
What is Ronnie O’Sullivan’s favourite Crucible 147 of all time?
Ronnie O’Sullivan holds the world record for the fastest 147 in history – but has revealed it is not his favourite Crucible maximum of all time.
The most memorable moment of O’Sullivan’s 27-year career was arguably constructed in the first round of the 1997 World Championship when he made a perfect break in only five minutes and eight seconds of a 10-6 win over Mick Price.
But the five-times world champion – who has made a record 15 maximums and counting so far – prefers his effort in the final frame of a 13-7 win against his old rival Mark Williams in the second round 11 years later.
It was his third Crucible 147 on his way to winning the 2008 title with an 18-8 win over fellow Essex player Ali Carter, who split the £147,000 highest break prize with his final opponent after emulating O’Sullivan’s effort against Peter Ebdon in the quarter-finals.
He believes it was the “perfect timing” for him to make such a swashbuckling break after fearing he was going to be hammered with a heavy fine and a ban after apologising for making lewd comments in a press conference during the China Open in March 2008.
O’Sullivan also loved his Eurosport punditry colleague Jimmy White’s 147 in the 1992 World Championship – only the second maximum of 10 in total in the history of the Sheffield event after Cliff Thorburn’s historic 147 in 1983.
“I loved Jimmy White’s 147 at the Crucible in 1992 when he was in his prime and was sporting long hair,” recalls O’Sullivan, who earned a whopping £328,500 for his efforts over the 17 days at the Crucible 12 years ago.
“Tony Drago gave him a big hug. It was a terrific break. It was a great moment for Jimmy. Of course, I enjoyed my 147 in just over five minutes in 1997, but that wasn’t my favourite maxi.
“It was a good one, but for me personally the one against Mark Williams in 2008 tops the list. It came at a good time because I had just got done for making lewd comments on a microphone in China. There was talk about me getting banned.
“I thought what reason could I give the authorities not to ban me? It was either win the World Championship or make a 147. So I got the 147, and I thought ‘lovely’. That is the only reason why I showed a lot of emotion when I made it.
“I heard they were going to make an example of me. So I thought that would make them think twice, and also pay the fine that they were going to give me for the China episode. I went onto win and also had the 147. I thought: ‘They can do what they like now, I don’t really care.’ It was great timing for me.”
O’Sullivan was fined only £2,750 by the game’s authorities, docked 700 ranking points and warned about his future conduct in June 2008 as his initial fears failed to materialise.
I remember that incident in China very vividly, and the fears it raised. Il also remember Steve Davis’ low voice comment as he was concluding the BBC broadcasting after Ronnie’s victory, and the trophy ceremony: “And now … they have a slight problem” 😉
The qualifying event runs from July 21st to 28th at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. It will be played behind closed doors, featuring 128 players, all battling for one of 16 coveted spots at the Crucible Theatre. Only the top 16 seeds* have earned an automatic place in the final stages at the Crucible, which start on July 31st.
In a new qualifying format, players seeded 81-144 contest the opening round.
In round two, those 32 winners will face players seeded 49-80.
In round three, those 32 winners will face players seeded 17-48.
In round four, those 32 winners play each other, with the 16 winners going through to the Crucible.
Matches to look out for in the first round include:
Youngest ever World Championship qualifying participant, 14-year-old Iulian Boiko from Ukraine vs Malaysia’s Thor Chuan Leong Six-time World Championship runner-up Jimmy White vs Russia’s Ivan Kakovskii 12-time women’s World Champion Reanne Evans vs former Crucible semi-finalist Andy Hicks
James Cahill, who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible last year vs Belgium’s Ben Mertens
The likes of 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty and Thailand’s Sunny Akani enter the event in round two, while top stars such as world number 17 Joe Perry, two-time Crucible finalist Ali Carter and 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott enter in round three.
Fans anywhere in the world will be able to watch the qualifying rounds on Eurosport, Eurosport Player, online broadcasters in China or (in all other territories) FREE on Matchroom Live.
*The top 16 seeds at the Crucible are below.
1. Judd Trump
2. Neil Robertson
3. Mark Williams
4. Mark Allen
5. John Higgins
6. Ronnie O’Sullivan
7. Mark Selby
8. Kyren Wilson
9. Stephen Maguire
10. Shaun Murphy
11. Ding Junhui
12. David Gilbert
13. Jack Lisowski
14. Stuart Bingham
15. Barry Hawkins
16. Yan Bingtao
The Betfred World Championship is supported by Sheffield City Council.