Ronnie O’Sullivan insists he WILL play at the World Championship even if crowds are let in as ‘the Rocket’ is ready to put up with 17 days at the Crucible for just one reason — the world title
- The Rocket struggled with having to self isolate in an on-site hotel room
- He faces living under strict rules at World Snooker Championship in Sheffield
- O’Sullivan has compared spending time in a cell to being in a bio-secure bubble
- He has also voiced concerns about crowds being allowed back into the Crucible
Ronnie O’Sullivan is talking about the time he was locked up rather than locked down.
‘I was 17 and they thought I’d abducted somebody,’ explains the five-time world snooker champion matter-of-factly.
‘There were 30 police vans surrounding me and they locked off the whole of Chigwell. It was like a scene off the FBI show on Sky.
‘They stuck me in the back of a van and I was sitting there thinking, “What does abduction mean?”. I’d just come back from three days at Champneys Spa and I was going to watch a boxing match in Brentwood.
They put me in a white suit, took my car away for forensics and kept me in a cell. They did a proper job. And then they let me out 24 hours later saying it was mistaken identity. I was like, “OK, fair call, nice one, try not to make that mistake again”.’
O’Sullivan laughs as he finishes sharing his bizarre but previously untold tale. The reason it has finally come out in the open is because the 44-year-old is comparing spending time in a cell to being in a bio-secure bubble, of which his only experience so far was a negative one.
When competitive snooker returned last month in Milton Keynes, the Rocket struggled with having to isolate in an on-site hotel room while waiting for the results of his Covid-19 tests and only being allowed to eat what was delivered to his room.
‘I did 16 hours in a cell once and it was better because I got to choose my own food,’ quipped O’Sullivan at the time.
And speaking exclusively to Sportsmail, he again jokes how prison would be preferable to having to abide by those same strict restrictions for the 17 days of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, which begins on Friday.
While rules have been relaxed for the Crucible, players must limit their social contact as they will be tested for coronavirus before the tournament and the quarter-final stage — and anyone who is positive will be disqualified. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it,’ says O’Sullivan, who is in fine form as he gurns for the cameras at the Woodford Wells Sports Club, near his home in Essex.
‘I don’t really love snooker that much to go through that suffering. When I go to tournaments, I like to go for a run, go to the gym, meet friends, get the right food in me.
‘I am very funny with what I eat and I am also used to going running every day, seven or eight miles. That has been my medicine for the last 20 years.
‘A happy snooker player is a player that will play well. An unhappy one is not going to play as well.’
O’Sullivan also has concerns about crowds being allowed back into the Crucible, as the Government on Friday announced the tournament will be used as a test event for the safe return of fans.
Despite previously threatening to pull out if spectators were present, he has now confirmed to Sportsmail he will play. But O’Sullivan says he would rather lose in the first round than be beaten in the final.
‘Why would you want to waste 17 days when you can only waste one day?’ he asks. ‘Going to Sheffield, it’s either win it or nothing. Getting to the final is no consolation.
‘I’d much rather bow out in the first round than lose in the final because then at least I’ve got 16 days to not have the battle scars and just get on with life.’
SHOULD the Rocket pocket the £500,000 prize money for winning the Worlds, he knows exactly what his first buy will be.
‘I’m looking at getting a campervan,’ reveals O’Sullivan, who recently sold his £130,000 60ft canal boat because he never spent a night on it. ‘Me and my mate are thinking of getting one and then going around Europe doing obscure running races.
‘My girlfriend has said that if it’s just like the boat and doesn’t get used, then she won’t be too happy.
‘But she knows I’m serious about my running. If I can manage my schedule enough and make use of it, then that would be something I’d like to do.’
Running — the title of his 2013 autobiography — was O’Sullivan’s salvation in the 2000s as he recovered from alcohol and drug addictions and a battle with depression.
He joined the Woodford Green Athletics Club and regularly took part in road and cross-country races, proudly boasting a personal best of 17:04m over 5km and 34:50m over 10km.
O’Sullivan had let his running take a backseat over the past decade but, after piling on the pounds at the start of lockdown, he has caught the bug again and has shed more than a stone and a half. ‘I was on the steak-and- kidney pie diet for the first few weeks,’ he grins. ‘I thought, “If I am going to be sitting here for three months and I can’t go anywhere, let’s see what happens if I start eating whatever I want”. It was like a social experiment.
‘So I was banging in the old steak-and-kidney pies and just going for it, mate. I was eating them like, “Bosh, bosh, bosh”.
‘But all of a sudden, I woke up one day and I was like, “Jesus Christ, your diet really is important, I’ve got to sort this out”. I didn’t like what I was seeing so I just thought I’d get back into running because I’ve had nothing else to do.
‘I was nearly 14st 8lb and I’m down to 13st now in the space of 10 weeks. I am probably running six days a week, averaging seven miles a day.
‘I have gone back to the running club and I am the slowest of the lot, just hanging on, but eventually I’ll be flying again. I’m trying to get my body used to it and putting myself through the punishment.’
Because he has got back into running, Eurosport pundit O’Sullivan describes lockdown as the best three months of his life. But he hopes it leads to a cultural change in this country, where people spend less time commuting in cars to work and more time exercising.
As a nation, I think we should focus on being a lot healthier,’ the world No 6 says, this time with a much more serious tone.
‘What all this has taught me is that if, God forbid, you get any illness, if you are fit and strong you are more likely to pull through. But if you have obesity problems, that makes you vulnerable.
‘If people can work from home a bit more, that three hours that they’re using commuting, they can use to exercise. I am not going to be travelling to work.
‘Driving to the snooker club used to take an hour and a quarter of my day to get there and back. I have just decided that I am never going to waste an hour and a quarter driving to the club because I can get so much done in that time. If I want to hit a few balls, I will just use my friend’s table around the corner.
‘It’s like if Usain Bolt decided to come out of retirement. He would probably think, “I’m really s*** now”, but we would look at him and think he’s amazing.
‘So I look at myself and think I don’t really need to train properly, I don’t need to be a slave to it. The way I’m doing things now, I’m happy. It is working well.’
HE may no longer be a slave to the baize, but do not let that fool you into thinking O’Sullivan is ready to retire, even if he has threatened it many times. ‘With my game, I could probably play until I was 55, comfortably, and maybe even 60,’ he says. ‘I look around at the competition, I see what is coming through and there is not really a lot about. I hardly practise and I’m still getting to finals and winning tournaments and I am a grandad.
‘I still enjoy the battle. I call it the mustard and I enjoy smothering myself in the mustard, because whatever I do after snooker, it’s not going to be mustard.
‘Snooker niggles at me and I feel that I need that niggle. I’m not ready to let go of the niggle but I can deal with it.
‘A lot of my ups and downs when I was younger were down to the perfectionism that came with playing a sport. It became an obsession, but I have learned to manage that a lot better.
‘I have enjoyed my snooker more in the last 10 years than I ever have done because I just see it as a game with sticks and balls — and I back myself every now and again to do something great.’ In the eyes of many punters and according to most statistics, O’Sullivan is the game’s greatest.
He is the only player to have racked up 1,000 century breaks, he has earned the most career prize money and shares the record for the most ranking titles of 36 with Stephen Hendry.
The one stat he trails Hendry in is world titles — five to the Scot’s seven. But O’Sullivan grins: ‘It’s not really important. I suppose I’ve got to let him have one record, I can’t take them all.’
O’Sullivan’s Crucible crowns came in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2013, but he reckons he wasted almost a third of his near 30-year career because of his hellraising off-the-table antics, which at one stage saw him check in to rehab at the Priory.
‘The Rocket’ has labelled discussions on allowing fans of the sport back in as ‘insane’
I had a mad few years where I over-indulged and I was in no fit state to compete or win tournaments,’ he admits. ‘I do regret it. People say, “Oh, don’t have regrets”, but I wish I hadn’t gone through that phase The last thing you want to do when your head feels like it’s in a jam jar is go and play snooker.’
O’Sullivan, though, doubts whether he would have surpassed Hendry’s haul even if he had not been such a wild child. ‘To win it five times is beyond what I thought I’d do,’ he says. ‘I’m not greedy. I’m not like a Hendry or a Michael Schumacher or a Tiger Woods who are driven by wins.
‘I’m more a luxury person. I like an easy life and if it comes and it comes easy, I’ll do it. If it doesn’t come easy, then let one of the others have it.’
The sport of snooker is lucky to have their luxury item and will not be the same once he is gone, a point O’Sullivan agrees with.
‘I’m not saying snooker wouldn’t survive and no one is bigger than any sport,’ adds O’Sullivan. ‘But I feel like I have been the fore-runner for snooker in many ways and brought a lot of excitement and a lot of different fans to the sport. I am sure that is down to the energy that I play with.
‘When you put the golf on, there is a different energy when Tiger Woods is playing in an event. I’m not saying I am the Tiger of snooker, but it’s always better to have Tiger wearing his red shirt on a Sunday.’
How the snooker world would love to see O’Sullivan wearing his black shirt and dickie bow on the final Sunday in Sheffield in four weeks’ time.
Well that’s a bit of everything – typical Ronnie – nothing really new either, but the good news that he will play at the Crucible.
How far he will go, and how he will cope, nobody knows, not even him. But at least he’s giving it a try. And, IMO, there is a lot of what he said here that’s about easing the pressure rather than about a lack of desire. Nobody – NOBODY – can become the best at any sport if they are not competitive beasts, and that never goes away.