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.
Ronnie O’Sullivan: I can win sixth world title, but Mark Selby is favourite
Ronnie O’Sullivan believes his main threat to lifting a sixth world title is old foe and defending champion Mark Selby, who will chase an incredible fourth success in five years at the Crucible.
Since denying O’Sullivan the chance to win his sixth world title in 2014 with an 18-14 win in Sheffield, O’Sullivan has never been back to the final while Selby has progressed to win twice more at the game’s blue-chip event with victories over Ding Junhui (18-14) and John Higgins (18-15) over the past two years.
Leicester’s Selby enters the event having lifted the China Open with a 11-3 win over Barry Hawkins in Beijing last Sunday. He starts the tournament a week on Saturday as the game’s undisputed number one.
But world number two O’Sullivan is enjoying the best season of his career having won five titles and made 70 century breaks. He is number one in the world on the one-year list, and will become the first man to surpass £1m in prize money in a season if he can win the £425,000 winner’s cheque.
There is the tantalising prospect of a best-of-35 frames final between the game’s two top players on May 7.
“Of course I can win, I’m one of 10 players who can win it,” said O’Sullivan.
“But like I said, until the tournament starts. Until you get into it, you never really quite know what’s going to happen. The first round is a difficult one because it’s the first one. But once you get going and you get in your stride anything is possible.
“I think Mark Selby is obviously (the favourite). He’s won it three times out of the last four. Great match player. If he gets it right every player in the tournament knows he’s a proper handful. And obviously Judd Trump as well. If he gets it right he’s a handful for anybody. “
“He’s a very different player to Selby and John Higgins. I love watching John Higgins, he’s the ultimate player. And I love watching Judd Trump play because he plays snooker in a way nobody else plays.
O’Sullivan feels Higgins, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui and Mark Williams are also worth watching in the endurance race of this year’s 17-day event in Sheffield.
“I think obviously Selby, John Higgins, I think Mark Williams is playing very well,” said O’Sullivan. “Ding Junhui has had some good results there the last few years. But like you say, snooker is so wide open today.
“There are so many players capable of winning tournaments. It could be anyone of seven, eight or ten people who could win this year’s WC. It’s just another tournament that happens to be the WC. So there are no guarantees of who could be picking up that trophy.”
At the age of 42, O’Sullivan would be the oldest champion since Welsh icon Ray Reardon lifted the world title at the age of 45 in 1978.
A victory for the sport’s biggest name would be hugely popular, and would see him equal Steve Davis’ and Reardon’s haul of six. It would leave him one behind Stephen Hendry’s modern record of seven.
O’Sullivan feels he is fit enough to last the pace after a season that has seen him win the UK title, Shanghai Masters, English Open, World Grand Prix and Players Championship.
“There’s load in the tank. I haven’t exerted much at all, obviously other than having to go through winning tournaments,” said O’Sullivan.
“That’s the easy part I think, the in between part, I don’t do too much practice. I do enough just to get me on the starting line and I spend a lot of time with my family and my friends.
“I’m really enjoying life you know. I feel like I have a really good balance. For me, if something gets a bit too hard then it’s not for me.
“So like I said, there’s been two or three times throughout the season where I knew I had played too much and I knew losing early in the tournament was the best thing that could happen to me. You lose early, have a few days off, recover for the next tournament. “
“Trying to go deep in every tournament you’re just going to leave yourself feeling shattered. I think at this stage of my career, you want to preserve yourself as much as you can.”
O’Sullivan has had one of the best seasons of his career, winning five ranking titles, earning £824,500 and making 70 centuries.
He already holds the records for most career centuries (944), most 147s (14) and is tied with Stephen Hendry on 18 Triple Crown titles. However O’Sullivan still lags two behind behind Hendry’s record of seven World Championship crowns, and three behind the Scot’s mark of 36 ranking titles.
Chigwell’s 42-year-old O’Sullivan has repeatedly insisted that he is not motivated by eclipsing Hendry. But world number three Trump is convinced that the Rocket is determined to achieve more.
“Ronnie wants to break every record and over the next three or four years I think he’s likely to get them, the way he is playing,” said Trump. “He’s getting a bit older and he wants to target those records and beat them before he retires. He says he’s not really bothered, but I think that’s the only aim he has left in snooker. If he does get to seven or eight world titles, that will be enough for him.”
Trump, who lost 6-5 when the pair met in the semi-finals of the Players Championship last month, feels that O’Sullivan will be hard to stop in this year’s Betfred World Championship, which runs from April 21 to May 7 in Sheffield.
He added: “Ronnie has been on a different level to anyone else this season. A lot of players have collapsed against him. With the way he’s playing, the confidence he has and the mood he is in, he will be massive favourite at the Crucible, even more so than any other year.
“There is an aura around Ronnie which means that only a few players can beat him. He is keeping himself fit and not a lot of other players are doing that so it’s a way for him to get one up on the rest of them. He knows he is the most talented player and if he works hard he’ll put himself in a good position.
“He’ll need to have his head right because if he comes up against one of the slow players and goes behind he’ll need to stick with it. If you come up against him you have to hope to catch him on a bad day.”
Obviously you don’t become a great champion unless you are very competitive, and Ronnie is a great champion. However it takes a great deal of bravery … or naIvety … to claim to understand what Ronnie thinks and wants . Himself doesn’t always know from one day to the other!
It’s this time of the season again, and we will see mind games everywhere. Last year Judd Trump came at the Crucible claiming that “this was going to be his year”, only to collapse to Rory McLeod in the first round. So, maybe, it’s good tactic this time to keep the focus and put the pressure on someone else.
Now, of course, I would be delighted if Ronnie did beat all those records before he retires, but it’s not that important.
Ahead of his match against John Higgins tonight, Ronnie explained what he thinks about John Higgins and their rivalry. I think it’s a fair assessment of their relationship and the influence they had on each other.
As for the match, tonight, it’s hard to make a prediction. It will be very much about who is in the best form on the day.
Here are his quotes, reported by Jack Wilson, in the Express (excerpts)
“It’s like a rivalry, me and John. From junior, amateurs, professionals, we’ve kind of come through the ranks together. We’ve pushed each other on to be successful.
“If I did well, that inspired John to do well and vice versa.
“He’s a fantastic player and you know going into that match, you probably have to play near your best to win unless John doesn’t perform.
“If he’s on, he’s very very good all-round.”
“John wasn’t any different as a youngster. The first time you saw him at 14, 15, it was like ‘this geezer is unbelievable.
“He had everything. I remember we played the Home Internationals and no-one had seen John until he was about 15.
“It was always me, Steve Lee and Mark Williams. I remember Steve Lee come back and say ‘have you seen this John Higgins play, around the black, he punches them in’.
“I was like ‘okay’ then I watched him and he was really good. We were like this from 13 or 14.”
This is an excerpt:
But speaking in a recent interview with the BBC, Hearn said O’Sullivan should think wisely before deciding to pull out of the 17-day event.
“Listen, we have a system that’s very clear to everybody – no player is forced to play in an event. The player’s contract is democratic – you can play if you want and if you don’t (want to) then don’t play.
“It’s his (O’Sullivan’s) choice not mine. I very much hope so (that he will play) and I think for Ronnie’s sake. Life is very strange, as you look over your shoulder when you get older – you don’t want too many ‘I should have done this’ moments on your mind.
“And missing something like the World Championship for a player like Ronnie O’Sullivan, who loves snooker, there’s no question about that in my mind. I believe we will see him there and if we don’t I think he’s making a bad choice. But I recognise it is his choice to make.”
This seems to be a rather balanced view indeed.
The basic line is that we all make decisions that we see as the best for ourselves at the time we make them. Sometimes we come to regret them, and sometimes, those regrets serve as a springboard for us to rediscover hunger and motivation for things we fell a bit out of love with.
We, as fans, have just to wait and see, and accept whatever happens. I don’t think people understand fully the level of pressure and expectations Ronnie has to cope with since 25 years and counting, not just from the fans, but from the media, from the sponsors and, last but not least, from his own perfectionist self as well.
This was published by Worldsnooker yesteday, and by part of the press as well
O’Sullivan will be defending his title at the Dafabet Masters at Alexandra Palace next week and aiming to win the tournament for the eighth time.
At the age of 42, O’Sullivan has produced some of the best form of his career in recent months, winning the English Open, Shanghai Masters and UK Championship since October.
Davis, who will be a pundit for BBC Sport next week, said: “Ronnie is effectively becoming the ultimate player and he doesn’t appear to suffer from pressure or tension in his game.
“Throughout his career he has had blips along the way, but I don’t think his game as a snooker player, or his mind as a snooker player, has ever stopped improving. When you see him around the table he is almost impervious to damage. He’s got such a good temperament and doesn’t seem so emotional out in the arena.
“He’s an even more complete, mature player than he has been in the past. It’s astonishing to think that even into his 40s, he’s still the most feared player. He’s got a B game which can win events, and very few players can do that. Going into any event, the other players are fearful of what Ronnie can achieve when he’s at the top of his game, and they know they have to produce their best standard.
“He could become the first to win a title over the age of 50. He might relish the challenge of holding back the tide of age and the prospect of beating the young kids when he is 50. I was hanging on in the top 16 at 50, but not threatening ranking events. That challenge might appeal to him.”
The Dafabet Masters runs from January 14 to 21 with 16 of snooker’s top stars battling for the Triple Crown title and a top prize of £200,000. Mark Selby, Judd Trump, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui are among those competing.
Tickets for many sessions have already SOLD OUT but they are still available for certain sessions – fans should book fast by calling 0871 620 7052 (calls cost 13p per minute plus the network access charge) or CLICK HERE
That Ronnie could still do it at 50, I’m sure, that he will want to do it… not so sure. But time will tell.
Ronnie also spoke yesterday with Desmond Kane (Eurosport) and hinted that he could – possibly – miss the World Championship 2018.
Ronnie O’Sullivan threatens to miss World Championship for reality TV
Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed he could forfeit the chance to bid for a sixth World Championship due to his business interests off the table.
O’Sullivan has said he could be filming a second series of reality TV programme Hustle in Australia – where he plays pool against local players – when the sport’s biggest tournament begins on April 21 in Sheffield.
He has not missed a World Championship since his first appearance as a teenager at the event in 1993.
“Eurosport events are a priority for me,” said O’Sullivan after his emphatic 4-0 victory over world number 113 Duane Jones at the Northern Ireland Open. “The China events are a priority for me because of my commitment to sponsors.
“If I wasn’t to play in this year’s World Championships, or play in the UK. Or play in any of those tournaments like the German Masters, don’t be surprised. Because I know I can’t play every week.
“For me, I don’t need another UK, another world or another Masters. If my agent thinks it is right for me to go, I’ll go.
” It is a toss up whether I’ll do another Hustle or play in the World Championship in May. I can’t do both. “
“If I do another Hustle, I can’t really play in the World Championship.”
O’Sullivan is the sport’s leading money winner this season having won the English Open in Barnsley and the Shanghai Masters on Saturday. He has also lost finals at the Hong Kong Masters and the Champion of Champions.
“It is good that I’m doing well now because then it doesn’t really matter about the World Championships,” said O’Sullivan. “We’ll just have to wait and see. It is nice to have a safety net.
“I have to prioritise the events I play in. I want to do another Hustle because that is something away from snooker that I can do. There are no restrictions there.
“It is about getting the balance right. 17 days at Sheffield is okay if you win it, but if you don’t win it is a waste of time.
“For me, it is just about managing my time and my diary. I don’t think it is going to be possible to do the show and the World Championships because I have a few things I want to do at the end of May.
“I’ve got some other stuff to do in early June in China. I have a really great relationship with the people in China. It is more important that I put Hustle and that first.”
O’Sullivan has hinted that he would be open to sitting down and listening to a sponsor if there is the incentive of appearance money, a principle World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has publicly rejected.
“For me, the World Championship is just another tournament. It is about doing what is right for Ronnie, not just being too focused on titles. That is the old me,” said O’Sullivan.
“If the terms are right and we can agree to certain stuff, there should be a way round it. If not, then Hustle is something that is on the table. Everyone enjoyed the last one in America. “
“There is loads of people who want me to do another one in Australia; I have to look beyond snooker. For me, this is just a shop window. It is tournaments rather than doing I’m A Celebrity. It is just keeping playing and having fun.
“I know people want to see my playing snooker, but there are other things I like to do away from snooker. Those are the reasons I’m happy today so why would I turn my back on something that has made me happy?
“If people can get round the table and come to some common sense..but it is difficult sometimes to come to that middle ground. You have to make some tough decisions.
“I probably have to give them six or seven weeks notice before they begin doing their research in Australia. They go out there and pick spots and places to go. Once the wheels in motion, you can’t let them down. Otherwise there won’t be another series of Hustle.
“Once I commit to it, I have to commit to it. If people want me there, they’ll get round the table sooner rather than later because it is never nice to leave it to the last minute.
“It is not just money, there are certain other things. My agent will sit down with me, and we’ll make the decision.”
O’Sullivan thumped Jones in a very one-sided encounter to reach the third round of the tournament and a last-32 meeting with Elliot Slessor on Thursday.
Obviously, as a fan, I want to see Ronnie play at the Crucible and it certainly wouldn’t be the same without him. But, at the end of the day, he’s nearly 42, it’s his life, his career, his future … and his happiness, therefore it’s his decision and his only. I still really hope things get sorted and that somehow he can do both.
And I don’t like the word “threatens”, he’s not threatening anyone.