RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ‘DEVASTATED’ UK CHAMPIONSHIP HAS BEEN MOVED FROM HIS FAVOURITE CITY
Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he is “devastated” that the UK Championship has been moved from his favourite city of York to Milton Keynes later this month due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The reigning world champion has won four of his seven UK titles at the Barbican in York including victories in 2001, 2014, 2017 and 2018 that saw him overtake Steve Davis as the most prolific UK winner of all time.
By Desmond Kane
World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he is “devastated” the UK Championship will not be going ahead in his favourite city of York later this month due to the global health pandemic.
Due to strict UK government health guidelines, the 2020/21 season has been shifted behind closed doors to a temporary set-up at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes with players subjected to regular Covid-19 testing at events.
The European Masters, English Open, Championship League and this week’s Champion of Champions event have all been staged in Milton Keynes with the UK Championship set to join the Northern Irish Open, Scottish Open and World Grand Prix in being moved near the home of English League One football club MK Dons before Christmas.
“This year’s Betway UK Championship will be staged in Milton Keynes for the first time, in line with Government Covid-19 regulations,” said tournament organisers World Snooker Tour in a statement on Wednesday.
“One of snooker’s most prestigious events and part of the Triple Crown Series, the tournament has been staged at York Barbican since 2011. However this year all rounds will take place at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, running from November 23rd to December 6th.”
O’Sullivan lifted his sixth world title in Sheffield in August with only a few hundred fans admitted at the Crucible for the final two days, but says playing every tournament behind closed doors in one town is not ideal for the sport.
The seven-times UK champion would prefer to compete at the KT Leisure Centre in Crawley – a venue he berated for smelling of urine at the English Open in 2018 – than being forced to travel to every tournament in Milton Keynes.
“It is what it is, but at some point you want the fans to come back because without the fans it is hard,” said O’Sullivan, who became the youngest winner of a ranking event at the age of 17 when he defeated Stephen Hendry 10-6 in the UK final in 1993. “Listen, you feed off them sometimes and it is nice to come out and play in front of a crowd.
“It’s a shame we aren’t going back to York. I’m devastated because that is my favourite city in the whole country, even in the whole world,” the world number two told Eurosport.
“To not be going there and back to Milton Keynes – that’s just as hard in many ways as having to just keep going to Milton Keynes.
“I think I’d even take a little tournament at Crawley over Milton Keynes.”
WST chairman Barry Hearn is adamant the UK Championship will return to the York Barbican next year.
“We are disappointed not to be going to York Barbican for the Betway UK Championship this year because it is a fantastic venue in a wonderful city,” said Hearn. “The people of York can rest assured that we fully intend to be back in York next year and in fact we have already agreed dates for 2021 and 2022 with the venue.
“Following extensive consultation with the UK Government and the relevant public health bodies, the decision has been made to stage all matches in Milton Keynes this time. It is an ideal venue, we are working with an exceptional team there and we have proved over the past few months that we can stage major tournaments there, involving 128 players, safely and successfully.
“In the circumstances we face today, our crucial objective is to keep our events going, provide competitive action and prize money for our players, and top class sport for the many millions of television viewers around the world who are in need of inspiration.”
That state of mind will not help Ronnie as it seems that we will be stuck in Milton Keynes for some more time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted for most of the season.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: ‘MARCUS RASHFORD HAS RUN RINGS AROUND GOVERNMENT, THEY’VE GOT IT BADLY WRONG’
By Desmond Kane
Ronnie O’Sullivan has joined the growing chorus of support for Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford’s “fantastic” campaign for free school meals. The six-times defending world snooker champion feels it should be used as part of a wider movement to end the scourge of hunger and homelessness in the UK.
The superficial thirst for success in professional sport is left trailing by the very real hunger for social justice. The very real chance to affect meaningful change in society.
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan are among the favourites for this year’s Sports Personality of the Year award – and both sing from the same hymn sheet in calling for an end to child poverty in the UK.
Scoring goals, potting balls or holing putts for a living means little when you consider what is going on in the wider world at large. Real drama looms far away from playing games.
Rashford was awarded an MBE for his campaign to extend free school meals for the most vulnerable during the summer holidays, but has so far been rebuffed in his bid to see the government support his calls for an extension until Easter 2021.
In the year of a global pandemic, O’Sullivan has applauded the England forward’s passion in his campaign for free school meals during school holidays, but can’t understand why hunger and homelessness has not been properly addressed in the UK.
“I think the campaign is fantastic. It is brilliant,” said O’Sullivan. “I’ve been there and know what it is like to have to rely on free school dinners.
“This is very important to families up and down the country. No kid or person should go hungry in this country I believe.
“Homelessness has always been a big bugbear of mine. Why do some people have so much yet some people can’t even get a sandwich or a cup of tea?
“I could never quite fathom that out or how that was allowed to happen.
“Unless people like Marcus Rashford stand up and speak for these families who are struggling then their voice doesn’t get heard.
“I think he’s used his platform, especially for someone so young to come out and speak and be so passionate and proactive in his campaign.”
O’Sullivan feels the government should “admit defeat”, change their position and make Rashford the focal point of the campaign to eradicate child poverty.
“I think the government have really got this one badly wrong. If I was advising the government, the first thing I’d be telling them is to get Marcus Rashford in to talk to him and be wanting to work with him,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.
“We want him representing us as a government and us as a country. We want the whole world to see what a brilliant job we are doing.
“At the moment, they’ve got it wrong. The best thing they can do is admit defeat and admit we can all be teachable.
“Someone like Marcus Rashford is running rings around them at the moment. If they want the embarrassment to stop then the smartest thing to do is bring him on side.”
O’Sullivan – who returns to action at the Champion of Champions event in Milton Keynes next week – is also dismayed to see investment being spent on railway projects such as HS2 when there are people living below the breadline.
“I think at the moment, it’s about unity. When you watch what is going on in America, there is so much division,” said the seven-times UK and Masters winner.
“That’s never really a good thing. Hopefully as a country at this time, it’s about uniting and supporting the vulnerable.
“With the free school meals, they can find millions to get help you get from the North of England to the South of England 20 minutes quicker yet you can’t find £20 million for some school dinners and an extra £5m for the people of Liverpool and Manchester at this time.
“You think something is quite not right there and again wonder where are we at? How can you not find that money? Yet you can find £100 million for a train to get you from north to south quicker.
“This is a time to support the vulnerable. A lot of people are going through hardship at the moment, and this is when you want your government and country to support you.”
Ronnie was with Jason Francis at the Fan Cave doing a “social distancing” signing whilst answering fans questions.
This was shared live by Jason on Facebook. The actual footage starts after about 12 minutes.
So, Ronnie will play next at the Champion of Champions, Northern Ireland Open, and the UK Championship.
He also names his Mount Rushmore of snooker. It’s “Joe Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and himself” or, not taking himself into account “Joe Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Steve Davis”
The Mount Rushmore national memorial was carved into the South Dakotan mountain side 70 years ago to commemorate four legendary US presidents.
What if snooker were to have a similar monument to the players who have best served and represented the sport?
Of course, it isn’t going to happen unless some lunatic is let loose with a chisel on Snowdon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss who should appear on such a memorial.
The rules: there is only room for four players. In fact that’s the only rule.
So here are the main contenders, considered objectively, not based on personal favourites…
Joe Davis was the father of professional snooker. It was he who saw its potential in the age of billiards. It was he who began the World Championship, buying the trophy still presented to this day using half the original entry fees from the inaugural championship in 1927.
Davis won the world title 15 times in succession before retiring from the professional game in 1946. His style of play was the textbook followed by many who took up snooker in his wake.
Ray Reardon was the most successful player of the 1970s as the professional game was revived and started to receive TV attention.
He was six times a world champion, having not had the chance to play professionally at the early age modern players now do.
Alex Higgins was a firebrand and a rebel and these characteristics, coupled with his electrifying style of play, brought a new audience to snooker, attracted television coverage and sponsorship and helped lead to a burgeoning professional circuit.
In the snooker soap opera of the 1980s, he was a much loved villain who put the sport on the front pages and kept up the remarkable levels of interest.
Steve Davis lived a much more placid life and was completely dedicated to being the best, which he was for a decade.
Davis has won more titles than anyone else and is still capable, into his 50s, of producing high quality performances. As an ambassador for snooker, he remains unsurpassed.
Jimmy White’s enduring popularity and cheerful optimism in the face of many knocks means he is still a draw more than 30 years after turning professional.
Never a world champion, he won ten ranking titles, including the UK Championship, plus the Masters and has provided many a fan with the sort of emotional rollercoaster ride which means they remain loyal to him long after his peak.
Stephen Hendry raised playing standards and ushered in a new era of attacking snooker. He has won more of what matters than any other player.
There were 90 ranking events played in the 1990s. Hendry won 27 of them, just under a third of the total. He is still more than 100 centuries ahead of the field.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is a rare natural talent whose brand of entertaining snooker has drawn many new fans to the game during the last 15 years.
Perhaps the best break builder snooker has ever seen, his many controversies have only added to his status as flawed genius but his achievements stand for themselves.
John Higgins has proved himself as the toughest match-player of the current time, with four world titles to his name and an almost innate knowledge of every aspect of the game.
Brilliant under pressure, he remains every bit as difficult to beat as when he first emerged two decades ago.
I realise some will argue for others, such as Fred Davis, John Spencer and Mark Williams, but this is the list from which I will select my four.
The first face who earns a place in our imaginary mountainside is Steve Davis.
It is hard to believe now the attention he had in the 1980s, when snooker bestrode TV sport like a colossus – and Steve did the same on the green baize.
He never went off the rails, never shirked from his professional responsibilities and, despite the odd famous slip-up, just kept on winning.
He could have walked away happy with hit lot but, such is his love of the game, that he carried on and is still delighting fans now, as well as providing inspiration for a whole group of much younger players.
Davis was always the model player to look up to. He is to snooker what Jack Nicklaus is to golf.
The second face the carvers had better set about constructing is that of Hendry, who decided from a frighteningly young age that he was going to be the best.
Sport thrives on the fluff and intrigue that surrounds it, but the true test of greatness is achievement. For this alone Hendry deserves his place, but the quality of snooker he has produced down the years speaks for itself.
My third face will be that of Alex Higgins. He didn’t win as much as Reardon but he had an alchemy that meant he was an absolutely vital figure to snooker’s growth and development.
People admired the Reardons and Spencers but they loved Higgins. Many hated him too, but nobody who watched him play could fail to be excited by his charisma, his shot making and his theatrical style of death-or-glory snooker.
So one face left to be carved and, for me, it should be O’Sullivan.
It was Joe Davis’s misfortune not to be playing in the colour television age. Snooker owes him a huge debt of gratitude but that is not the whole story.
He created the professional game but he also killed it when he retired but continued to play exhibitions. Everyone knew the best player in the world wasn’t in the World Championship and it was eventually discontinued for a decade before being revived, largely due to the efforts of Rex Williams.
In truth, professional snooker had two beginnings. The first was under the auspices of Davis in 1926. The second was in 1969 when the World Championship reverted from challenge system to knock-out and Pot Black began. It was this latter beginning which was more significant to the sport as it is today.
Reardon’s modern day tally of world titles was equalled by Steve Davis and surpassed by Hendry. He may have won more than Alex Higgins but Higgins’s contribution off the table cannot be overlooked.
The only mark against White is that he never won the world title, which has to count him out.
John Higgins is a great player but ultimately O’Sullivan has been responsible for keeping interest levels up in an era in which snooker’s survival as a top level sport has been under threat following the loss of the tobacco millions.
New viewers around the world watching snooker for the first time on TV have been drawn in by O’Sullivan, whose talent and changeable personality have created a heady mix and sustained the game in the media. He is, by any definition, a star.
So my four for snooker’s Mount Rushmore are Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Alex Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Something tells me not everyone will agree with these choices.
I agreed with David at the time. Today I would kick out Alex Higgins and put Joe Davis there instead. Of course it’s all about why, in your opinion, a player should be included in that snooker pantheon. Form me it’s about a combination of their achievements and their contribution to the evolution of the game.
For me, it’s about what they brought to our sport
Joe Davis transformed a game into a sport. He set up the foundations of a professional approach to snooker.
Steve Davis was the first “complete professional” in the current understanding of what a professional sportsperson should be. He was dedicated, a student of his sport, and someone who paid attention to every detail.
Stephen Hendry started a revolution. He forever changed the way the game is played with his extremely aggressive, attacking approach and the way he delelopped the pack from the blue at the first opportunity.
Ronnie brought Stephen Hendry’s game to a new level, whilst also integrating a very strong tactical side. He was probably the first player to gain true international superstar status strongly contributing to growing the popularity of snooker beyond the British/Irish traditional hotbed.
Snooker coach Stephen Feeney, who has been working alongside Stephen Hendry ahead of his return to the professional scene, believes the seven-time World Champion will have doubters to prove wrong when he takes to the baize.
King of the Crucible Hendry was afforded the opportunity to return to the World Snooker Tour last month, taking up the offer of a two-year invitational tourcard. However, the Scot is yet to make his first appearance of the season. Hendry’s last professional appearance came at the 2012 World Championship, after which he announced he was retiring.
SightRight coach Feeney has been working with 51-year-old Hendry for a number of months and has been instrumental in his decision to return to the circuit.
We’ve caught up with Feeney to find out how Hendry’s preparations are going on the practice table…
First of all Steve, how has the work you’ve been doing with Stephen been going so far?
“In terms of play, the sessions that we are having are regular. He is going through the same process as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams. We have a fixed plan. The planning for what we need to do is robust. The one main objective is for him to enjoy it. Every session we have, there is disciplined stuff and there is fun stuff.
“He still knows the shots to play. He still knows the game inside out. So he still has all of that knowledge. All that had happened is that the skill had deteriorated. His long game in practice has been phenomenal. I know when I can put somebody’s long game back together, it can translate into the rest of the game as well.”
What do you feel are achievable objectives for Stephen this season?
“Can we do what Peter Wright did in darts and win the world title at the age of 50? Stephen wouldn’t talk that way. He just loves playing the game. He is deeply competitive though. As the work goes forward, I would hope he would believe that even if it is a small one, there is a chance. The first thing is to help him really continue enjoying the game. Such is the spirit and competitiveness of this guy that winning will help him enjoy it more. For him to compete at the top level would be the icing on the cake. If he feels he can compete at the top level, he will probably feel he can win at the top level.”
How much work do you feel needs to be done for Stephen to reach his best level?
“There is work to be done, you almost look at it like a boxing match. How many hours does a person need to train to be able to put up with three minute rounds of boxing? Snooker is a worldwide competitive sport now. We know that there are some strong competitors ahead. We know he will not play until he is ready to go in at the top level. We know he is not going to want to lose and only wants to win. There is a part of it which is making me want to up my game even more than with Mark and with Ronnie. We are having great fun. I love seeing him pump the chest out when things are going right.
“I think for my part we are having conversations that matter. Conversations that respect the huge legacy that he has. To continue it in any way shape or form is about winning. In the process if he could win big, that would be pretty special. Just to see him happy in the game we are already winning. He is playing some shots that he has said he couldn’t play before. I think we are adding to the mix that this guy knows how to win. The other guys at the top of the game know he knows how to win. If we can do our stuff right and he can carry the same composure out there into matches, people will have a problem on their hands and won’t want to be drawing him in the first round at tournaments. I’ve seen the best at work, close up, and this guy is special.”
How motivated are you to help Stephen to achieve and be a success on his return?
“I look at it as a fairly exciting opportunity ahead. There is a fair bit of responsibility, in terms of delivering on promises. Stephen has trusted me in terms of what I’ve said I believe can be done. I trust in him as the individual and champion that he is. Is there stuff to prove? There probably is. The fans will love to see him play. Many of the pros will be waiting for proof. We are well aware of that.
“There are some top players who will believe Stephen can never win another ranking title again. When people say to me things can’t be done I tend to think, lets have a go. Can he? There is incredible skill there. He is a seven-time World Champion and we will see how the journey evolves.”
When do you anticipate Stephen entering his first event?
“I’d be prepared to wait as long as we need to. As long as the conditions are right. If the conditions are right in terms of the venue and the opportunity, as soon as he is ready, we go. My view with Stephen is that we want to get him back into top 16 status with the standard of his play as soon as possible. That is the only way that we can be comfortable. Every practice session is geared and targeted that way and we are working hard.
“If he was to win another title, or at least if he was to be in the mix at the Crucible. Wouldn’t that be a special thing for the sport? If Stephen making the Crucible again in his career, in his 50s, isn’t special enough for the sport, I don’t know what is. If he was to come out and be the player that everybody remembers him for, or even better, wouldn’t that be good.”
Can Stephen Hendry really get back to top 16 level? I’m not sure.
When Hendry came on the scene as a young lad, he started a revolution. No pro player at the very start of the 90th had an answer to his ultra attacking game, to his exceptional ability to slot long ones from the baulk cushion, hold for blue or black, and clear the table in one visit. But of course, the younger aspiring players learned from him and copied his game. Answers were found. Ken Doherty beating Stephen Hendry by 18-12 in the 1997 World Final, with a high break of just 85, whilst Hendry had five centuries was a huge moment although it may not have felt that way there and then. Before that match, Hendry had reached 37 ranking finals, won 28, lost 9. From there he still reached 20 ranking finals, won 8, lost 12. He only won one “major” after that defeat, the 1999 World Championship, he had won 17 of them previously. Hendry was only 28 when Ken beat him, there is no way he was “past it”. What happened? Well, in my oponion, two things: a number of younger players came on the scene when the game was opened, became able to “copy” Stephen’s game and play it at a high level whilst they also developped the safety side of their game, something Hendry was reluctant to do AND Hendry’s confidence – which played a huge part in his ability to be a serial winner – was seriously damaged. Countless times in the noughties, I have seen him start a match strongly, miss just the one shot, and spiralling down from there. And he hated it. It was all about winning and he wasn’t winning.
Can he accept that he will make mistakes, that he will be beaten and still be able to enjoy his snooker? If the answer is yes, it could be very interesting, if not, I can’t see him playing competitively much at all.
Alex Ursenbacher recently created headlines by becoming the first German-speaker to qualify for the snooker World Championships. But can Switzerland’s first and only professional potter earn a living from what remains a niche sport in the country?
“Well I’m still living with my mum, so I think that says it all,” Ursenbacher tells swissinfo.ch in a break between playing challengers at an exhibition event in Bern.
The 24-year-old comes across more like a chirpy Cockney than someone from Rheinfelden in northern Switzerland. This is because, despite still living in Basel, he’s spent many hours in British snooker clubs, home to the world’s best players – and practice partners.
Ursenbacher says he settled in straight away. “I like the mentality. I like the banter. There’s nothing like English humour – it’s just hilarious.”
Enjoy Ursenbacher admitting, in this interview after qualifying for the World Championships, to feeling the pressure and “twitching all over the gaff” – something you probably won’t hear Roger Federer say (a gaff is London slang for a room or house).
Ursenbacher has come a long way since picking up a snooker cue for the first time aged 11. He explains how he used to play a bit of pool with his father and one day, having seen snooker on television, he suggested they try that.
“The game went on for about three hours! But I just loved everything about it. I didn’t know the rules and I couldn’t pot a ball for I don’t know how long. But when you do pot a ball it’s a good feeling. And I thought it must be an even better feeling at snooker [than at pool] because the table’s bigger.”
What is snooker, and who plays it?
The balls soon started flying in – and motivation wasn’t a problem, despite having plenty of other things on his plate. “I played tennis. I did martial arts. I played a few instruments. Football. But when I entered the snooker club in Basel there was just something about it. It was so much fun. I just wanted to keep playing all the time – I was up until 3am every night watching snooker on YouTube,” he says.
This day-and-night devotion soon paid off. “Yeah, I started winning some junior club tournaments and a year later I played my first international tournament, in Malta,” he says. “That was the under-19 European Championships. I was standing at the airport with my cue in my hand at the age of 13 and I thought, ‘I could get used to this’.”
Lack of competition
Ursenbacher became Swiss champion aged just 15, which reflects not only his obvious talent but also the lack of serious competition in Switzerland.
“For me, personally, there is no competition,” Ursenbacher says, sounding honest rather than arrogant. “I started winning everything here when I was 14. So that just shows you the standard. I mean, I’m not saying I was crap at the age of 14, but I certainly wasn’t a professional.”
Franz Stähli, president of Swiss Snooker, the national snooker association, says there are about 55 licensed players in Switzerland and about 200 players who take part in small tournaments. “So there are maybe around 250 people who play every week. Pool is a lot more popular because it’s easier, there are more places to play and there are more tables.”
Stähli, who has known Ursenbacher since he was a junior, owns Benteli’s, the snooker and pool hall just outside Bern where Ursenbacher has agreed to appear for several hours and play anyone who fancies a good thrashing. There are five snooker tables and 11 pool tables.
“Although people in Switzerland knew about snooker and played it in the 1970s and 1980s – there were some private tables in clubs – the start of the big time in Switzerland was the early 1990s,” Stähli says.
“Now it’s more the older people who play – 30 plus or the people like me who started in the 1990s. The point is that Alex has nobody to play [of his own generation].”
Ursenbacher left school at 16 but didn’t start an apprenticeship like many Swiss school-leavers. “If you’re Swiss and you finish school, you can always work. You’re probably not going to have a lot of options, but you can always earn money. So I thought why not just give snooker a good go?”
He turned pro in 2013 aged 17, having won a two-year card on the World Snooker Tour. He lost this in 2015, but in 2017 he won the European Under-21 Snooker Championship and re-qualified for the main tour.
Since then Ursenbacher has beaten many of the game’s biggest names, including former world champions Shaun Murphy, Ken Doherty and even snooker’s Roger Federer, Ronnie O’Sullivan.
And then, the Crucible. The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, northern England, has hosted the World Championships since 1977 and is considered the spiritual home of snooker – the sport’s Wimbledon.
At the end of July, Ursenbacher, then ranked 86 in the world, held his nerve during a gruelling qualification process to knock out several higher-ranked players and become the first Swiss player to reach the World Championship. Something very few non-Brits – and no German or Austrian – have achieved.
“I’d never been to the Crucible. I said to myself, ‘You’re only going to go there if you’re playing’.”
One possible dampener was the fact that, being held during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no live audience – just two players, two camera operators and the referee.
“When I walked out, it was good. I was excited. But once I sat down, I realised that actually it was quite sad.” Was he nervous? “Nothing. I was surprised, actually. I didn’t feel anything. When I was 9-2 down that’s when the nerves started kicking in because I realised that one mistake now and I could be out of the tournament. But before that, I was as cool as a cucumber.”
Despite taking the first game, Ursenbacher ended up losing 10-2 to the experienced former finalist Barry Hawkins. “But overall it was definitely a positive experience,” he says.
In this video he looks back at his Crucible experience and explains what separates the men from the boys:
Earning a living
As a first-round loser in Sheffield, Ursenbacher pocketed £20,000 (CHF23,700). Eventual winner O’Sullivan left with £500,000. This is very good money compared with pool: the winner of the US Open 9-Ball gets $60,000 (CHF54,600). Mind you, these sums are dwarfed by the cheque for $3 million written to the winner of the US Open tennis championship.
He says it’s certainly possible to earn a good living from snooker, but you probably have to be in the top 30. “Obviously your goal isn’t to earn just four grand a month because there’s no pension in snooker. So you need to earn a few quid before you retire.”
To that end, Ursenbacher practises up to six hours a day, five or six days a week. “You don’t want to go to a tournament and feel rusty. You need to be hungry and push yourself all the time.” He adds that it’s very much a psychological game and confidence is vital. “In my opinion, more than 85% [of snooker] is inside the head.”
Ursenbacher’s achievement in Sheffield was no surprise in expert circles. “Insiders have long believed him capable of this. It’s very impressive to see such a talent come out of little Switzerland. Everything he did was of a really, really high standard. Even though he lost in the World Championships, it was still a very impressive match,” Stähli says.
“But he is still nowhere. His goal must be to establish himself in the top 50 over a longer period.”
Stähli, 49, used to be a strong player himself, boasting a top break of 139 (out of a possible 147 – Ursenbacher’s top break is 141). Having himself played against O’Sullivan and Scottish star Stephen Hendry, he stresses the importance of moving to Britain for young ambitious players.
“Alex still spends a lot of time in Switzerland. But what he needs is a perfect practice table. He needs competition. He needs a club with a high standard where he knows he could walk in and maybe lose ten times in one day. That’s what’s missing here.”
Whereas the snooker scene in Switzerland is “small but healthy”, as Stähli put it, in Asia it’s booming, especially in China. Snooker is so popular in mainland China that it’s on the school sports curriculum. More and more young Chinese players are breaking into the top 100.
“I’ve been to China seven or eight times,” Ursenbacher says. “We’re treated like kings! It’s actually quite confusing sometimes because I don’t feel like I’m a great player yet – I know I’m professional and there are only 128 professionals in the world and only 64 go to China for each event. But still, they treat us very well. Snooker’s very, very big in China.”
But all the travelling required of professional athletes is not only physically but also financially demanding. Four years ago swissinfo.ch spoke to an up-and-coming 19-year-old Swiss tennis player ranked 527 in the world (he was the highest-ranked Swiss player under 21). He said that if he was 26 and still ranked only 400 or so, he’d probably give up tennis because of the money (he’s currently ranked 549). Does Ursenbacher, now ranked 66 after his success in Sheffield, have a similar target or a plan B in case the snooker doesn’t work out?
“I’m just trying to do what I love, because if I couldn’t make a living out of snooker, I don’t know if I’d care what I’d have to do to earn money – whether it was behind a bar or behind a desk. I’m a sociable person, so I’d probably be behind a bar somewhere in a club,” he says.
“But as long as I can play snooker and make a few quid, I’m going to do that.”
[A previous version of this article said Alex Ursenbacher was not the first Swiss snooker professional because Darren Paris had played on the pro circuit in the mid-1990s. In fact Darren Paris represented England on the pro circuit before moving to Switzerland, becoming Swiss and playing in amateur tournaments. Alex Ursenbacher is the first and only Swiss snooker professional.]
It’s nice to see snooker making it into the Swiss media, and in such a positive way.
Peter, who is a life coach, has been Ronnie’s friend for nearly twenty years, and has been at his side in many difficult moments. Here is how he introduces this podcast:
072 Interview With 6x Snooker World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan
In 2002 I recorded a podcast with (then) two-times World Snooker Champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan, recording a second one the following year. Now, eighteen years on, Ronnie and I recorded a third podcast together reflecting on what has changed and what has stayed the same.
In this fascinating interview Ronnie will explain how he has changed from being the young and hungry young player to one of the sport’s senior players – more interested in his own improvement and development of the game over winning competitions and prizes. Together we explore what drives him today both within the game and, more importantly, outside it along with the challenges of being a celebrity and the distraction that trying to meet the expectations of others can present.
As well as his frank reflections on addiction and his ongoing commitment to personal development, Ronnie will also share his views on mastery and how practice is important but not as important as building habits of the right things and doing things in the right way.
From a life in the spotlight since the age of seventeens, Ronnie O’Sullivan is now living life on his own terms.
It’s a very nice, positive interview, an one that shows how getting perspective in life has helped Ronnie to find a better balance and peace.
Ronnie has also been speaking to Colin Murray about his six World Titles, and the program “The Joy of Six” was shown on British Eurosport yesterday evening. I’m told by Buzás Gábor, you works for Eurosport in Hugary, that a shortened version of that program will be shown on International Eurosport on November 22, 2020. So that’s good news. But meanwhile an audio version has been published on “The Break” .
Click on the picture below to listen, it’s well worth it.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN FOR SPOTY: WHY AWARDS MUST FINALLY DO RIGHT THING BY SNOOKER GOAT
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s sixth World Championship triumph will surely see him selected among the final six for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, writes Desmond Kane. And snooker’s greatest player finally has a serious shot at winning the award on a public vote.
BY DESMOND KANE
It has taken a global pandemic for snooker to be considered worthy enough, but there is no surely no way to avoid the stark truth confronting SPOTY with as much menace as Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins blowing the top off a few cold ones back in the golden years: Ronnie O’Sullivan will finally make it onto the public ballot paper after years of refusal.
With no Wimbledon, Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games in a sporting calendar decimated by the ongoing health crisis, snooker suddenly has its big break this time after being blackballed by the committee of judges more times than blacks have been sunk at the Crucible Theatre.
The only snooker player to win the gong since its inception in 1954 was Steve Davis in 1988 with fellow world champion Stephen Hendry finishing second behind Paul Gascoigne in 1990 when the green baize was still considered trendy enough for a podium spot in the yearly bash. Higgins himself finished second behind decathlete Daley Thompson after his second world title in 1982.
The road to Damascus has been a long one, but if Paul the Apostle rather than Gazza was converted in the end, there seems to be several doubting Thomases on the judging panel in failing to appreciate what snooker brings to the table. Especially when Joe Wicks has enjoyed a productive few months on Zoom.
Never underestimate the ability of whoever comes up with the final list of nominees to abdicate their sense of responsibility in continually overlooking snooker’s greatest player of all time for whatever reasons they refuse to disclose. Even a closed shop would find room for the Rocket Man this time. Either that, or let’s call the whole thing off.
Whether or not they like O’Sullivan’s persona or prefer his sport, is neither here nor there. Some people enjoy marmite, some recoil in horror at the very thought of it, but personal opinion should not be allowed to spread fake gospel. Which it certainly seems to have done in previous incarnations of a curious selection process which seems to have less rhyme or reason than refusing the final black on 140, which O’Sullivan contemplated doing for fun back in 2010 before referee Jan Verhaas intervened.
In such a respect, O’Sullivan has given snooker credibility, a narrative and a serene sense of chaos beyond the darkened environs of his sport by conjuring up a consistent level of magic and mayhem that has rarely been witnessed in any professional arena, far less one that involves a bloke in a bow tie brandishing a cue and a lump of chalk on a 12ft table.
It would be interesting to hear why O’Sullivan has been continually ignored since he won the UK Championship as a 17-year-old in 1993 because the reasons are about as credible as attempting to outrun the virus in a camper van. It appears to be a curious piece of nonsense riddled in class bias and snobbery against the working class roots of snooker and a refusal to recognise the pristine levels that it takes to master the most imposing of all cue sports.
More engrossingly, at the age of 44 and playing well within himself, O’Sullivan conquered the Crucible by playing in fits and starts in a quite august August. The concentration levels and class to win such a tournament should not be underestimated even without a frazzled crowd due to the Covid conundrum.
The three frames he played against Mark Selby to recover from 16-14 behind in running out a 17-16 winner in the semi-finals with breaks of 138, 71 and 64 was arguably up there with the best combination of bone shakers world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury unearthed to floor Deontay Wilder in February.
It was three of the most poignant frames O’Sullivan has played in his 28-year career as he discusses on the exclusive hour-long special ‘Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Joy of Six’ on Friday 16 October at 10pm on Eurosport 1.
“I think the sixth one was more enjoyable, in many ways, than any of them,” said O’Sullivan in reflecting on his 18-8 filleting of Kyren Wilson in the final.
“Not because of the way I played, but because there was no pressure on me because I don’t feel like anyone expected me to go all the way this year whereas in previous years it’s always been ‘it’s Ronnie’s to lose’.”
Phil Taylor – a 16-times world champion darts player with a better aim than Dirty Harry – made it onto the list of nominees a decade ago and finished runner-up to Champion Jockey Tony McCoy. Do not underestimate snooker’s popularity if O’Sullivan is finally granted due respect with the ceremony due to take place on 20 December in Manchester.
He took a year off between his fourth and fifth victories at the World Championship yet was astonishingly not nominated in 2013. Seven years later, the BBC have the chance to make up for years of refusal by doing the right thing by O’Sullivan this time.
Anything else would amount to an abject dereliction of duty.
LEADING SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS
Lewis Hamilton (Formula One) Marcus Rashford (Football) Ronnie O’Sullivan (Snooker) Tyson Fury (Boxing)
Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he’s still getting used to playing in tournaments behind closed doors, but on the table he was too good for Ryan Day as he won 4-1 to reach the third round of the Matchroom.Live English Open.
O’Sullivan felt the warmth of the Crucible crowd in August when he won the World Championship for the sixth time, but since then all events have been played without live fans. Players who usually thrive on the atmosphere have had to adapt.
Breaks of 68 and 56 gave O’Sullivan the first two frames today, before Day pulled one back with a 105. O’Sullivan made a superb 39 clearance to lead 3-1 then finished the match in frame four with tremendous pots on the green, brown and blue.
“I played ok, I missed a few balls,” said 44-year-old O’Sullivan, who now meets Matthew Stevens in the last 32. “It’s weird with no crowds, certain players need an atmosphere to get up for it. When you play a good shot you excite yourself and you don’t need the crowd to get you going. But when you are struggling you need a crowd to force you to find something. We’ve got to get used to it.
“I’m still looking for a cue action, I think as snooker players that’s all we really do. We’re always trying to find a way to try to hit solid shots and play in an efficient mode.”
The world number two wants his remarks to encourage young players to show more commitment and more consistency and prove him wrong.
‘In some ways, I was hoping that it would inspire a lot of the youngsters to work a bit harder,’ he told Pete Cohen’s podcast.
‘I care about the game, I look at youngsters and sometimes you can’t get through to them. Sometimes the best way to get through to youngsters is to give them a little bit of a knock.
‘That’s what worked for me when I was younger, whenever someone said I couldn’t do something, it inspired me to do it.
‘I just think winners think like that. If someone says you can’t do something, you first ask “why?” Then think “I’m going to show them.”
‘You get a lot of players that come on the circuit and everyone goes, “anyone can keep anyone” and yeah, anyone can beat anyone on a given day, but it’s not okay just beating me on a Monday, you’ve got to beat me Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
‘Anyone can beat anyone on a day, that’s a given, but it’s not about days, it’s about having good months, good years and good decades, if you want to be a true sportsman.
‘Otherwise, what are you? You’re just a pain the arse, every now and then you upset the apple cart.’
Interestingly, and related, Hector Nunns tweeted this after Ronnie’s match yesterday:
Peter Lines returned a positive Covid-19 test at the English Open on Tuesday morning forcing him out of the event, but he has been hit harder by the ‘sickener’ of son Oliver having to withdraw as well, despite returning a negative test result.
It is a desperately unfortunate situation for both, but Oli will feel especially aggrieved in sporting terms as he had already won his first round match with an impressive 4-1 defeat of Noppon Saengkham.
Oliver tested negative before his first round match on Monday, with Peter only arriving in Milton Keynes later on Monday and a positive result confirmed on Tuesday morning.
The father and son, who live together in Leeds, had not seen each other since Saturday morning, but that was enough for Oli to be forced to withdraw.
Peter, who fortunately is showing no symptoms, explained the story to Metro.co.uk: ‘No, no symptoms I feel fine. The test came through about 7 o’clock this morning.
‘It’s a weird one, it’s a bit raw at the moment. Not so much for me, but for Oliver who has passed the test, to have to pull out is an absolute sickener.
‘Oliver has no symptoms, his test came back negative, he played his first round match and won, but obviously because he spent some time with me last week, they’ve said he had to pull out.
‘I hadn’t seen Oliver since Saturday morning and I didn’t get there till yesterday. There’s a 48 hour period where they ask if you’ve seen anyone and I hadn’t, but because we live together they went back further.
‘We suggested him getting tested again but they said no because it could take four or five days for it to come out for him
‘Even if you passed again tomorrow, it could not show up till Wednesday or Thursday so he had to pull out, which is an absolute sickener for him because he’d won and played well.’
Oliver had made breaks of 110 and 70 in the impressive win over the Thai star, which followed some encouraging performances in the recent Championship League.
The 25-year-old won back his tour card through Q School over the summer and is starting to show some form, so this is especially frustrating for the Yorkshire family.
‘He’s been working really hard to get his game back on track so it’s a kick in the teeth for him,’ said Peter.
‘He’s been working really hard the last few months, he’s sort of teamed up with Ken Doherty, working with him a little bit for some pointers and advice and it’s going really well.
‘He’s really knuckled down, he’s started to show the benefits of it, but it’s another kick in the teeth but he’ll be alright and he’ll be back.’
Lines, 50, is certainly not arguing the decision, it is just a frustrating one for him and his son as their early season is disrupted by the positive test result.
Not only are both out of the English Open, but both must now go into 14 days of isolation.
‘It is what it is, they can’t risk shutting the whole tour down, so there’s nothing you can really do about it. We won’t be the last ones this season, there’ll be a few others,’ said Peter.
‘It’s unprecedented times, they’ve got to make decisions on the spot, some will be right, some by wrong but they’ve got to try and do the right thing.
’14 days we’ll be at home from now, not do anything, not even leave the house, nothing.’
Stuart Carrington had tested positive for Covid-19 on the opening morning of the tournament and both he and Sam Craigie, who he had come into contact with, were forced to withdraw as well.
Carrington and Craigie travelled to the tournament together, which is something the Lines men had avoided, but they all suffered the same fate.
‘Carrington and Craigie travelled together to the comp, we went separately,’ explained Peter. ‘Oliver had been down in London practicing and I got the train down there on my own, stayed on my own, done the right thing, but rules are rules aren’t they?
‘We’re in an awkward position as professionals who live together because if one fails the other is definitely getting kicked out, it’s an awkward one.
‘Our next tournament is in about four weeks so hopefully we’ll be okay by then.’
The Lines duo should be back and ready to play at the German Masters qualifiers in Milton Keynes on 10 November.
Meanwhile the beneficiaries in Milton Keynes were Anthony McGill who is into the third round with two byes as he was due to play Craigie and then Oli Lines, while Luo Honghao is into round two after Peter withdrew.
Shaun Murphy was barely able to practise before his Matchroom.Live English Open meeting with Robert Milkins but showed his class in the final frame to win 4-3 and book a place in the second round.
Murphy lives in Dublin so every time he arrives in Ireland from the UK he has to self isolate for 14 days due to Covid-19 restrictions. That has left him short of table time, but he had just enough in his locker to fend off the challenge of Milkins in Milton Keynes.
Former World Champion Murphy made a break of 122 in the opening frame and went on to lead 3-1. Milkins made a 103 in frame five and took the sixth for 3-3, then had first clear chance in the decider but made just 11 before mis-cueing as he attempted to pot a red to a baulk corner. Murphy responded with 65 which proved the crucial contribution as he set up a last 64 match with David Lilley.
“I’m relieved,” admitted world number eight Murphy. “Rob had a good chance in the last frame, it surprised me when he miscued. There has never been anything wrong with my bottle. Sometimes I’m too aggressive but that’s the way I’ve always played, I’m 38 now and too old to go more negative. I’ve got six to ten more years in the game and I’m at the stage where I’m just going to enjoy it and go for my shots.
“For myself and the other players from Ireland, when we travel home from England we have to stay in our houses. I’ve had two weeks between the European Masters and this event without being able to hit any balls. It’s hard to then come here and try to perform to a high level. I came over a day early and had a couple of hours practice at a club in Sheffield. It’s not where I want to be as a sportsperson but it’s out of my control.
“When there’s a run of events in November and December I’ll potentially stay in England for a few weeks. No one wants to be away from their kids for that long but I’ll have to kiss them goodbye and see them when Santa comes.”
McLeod And Gilbert Bust-Up
Rory McLeod beat David Gilbert 4-2 in a bad-tempered clash which included a heated exchange towards the end of the fourth frame. After Gilbert fouled on the green, McLeod felt he should have been awarded a free ball. Referee Mark King disagreed, while Gilbert also felt it was not a free ball.
McLeod eventually accepted the decision and later cleared from green to black to win the frame for 2-2. He took the next two with breaks of 64 and 46 for victory.
Reflecting on the incident in frame four, Gilbert said: “He thought it was a free ball and it wasn’t. Rory tries to be intimidating all the time but it wasn’t a free ball and that was that – the referee called it right. He didn’t intimidate me – you can’t intimidate me – but he tried to put pressure on the referee.
“Rory said to me he was disappointed in me – he obviously wanted me to agree with him and I would have agreed with him if I thought he was right. I’m not a cheat in any kind of way. I think he’s bang out of order for saying that but I’m not too bothered either. That’s not the reason why I got beat today – I got beat today because I’m just playing awful and that’s it.”
McLeod responded: “It was clearly a free ball. I asked David to come round and have a look and he just flat refused to, he just said he’d take the referee’s word for it. I’ve known David a long time but the etiquette he had in that match, not just in that incident, was horrendous. I’ve never known him to be like that.
“I haven’t got issues with David now – it’s just a situation which could have been dealt with a lot better by all parties. Why would I try and intimidate him? That’s just not my way. He’s a top 16 player and he’s more intimidating than I would be in that position.”
Kyren Wilson saw off Dominic Dale 4-2 with top runs of 51, 75 and 59, while Jamie Jones beat his namesake Duane 4-2 with a top break of 103.
Jack Lisowski made breaks of 67, 83, 55 and 65 in a 4-2 defeat of Li Hang, while Germany’s Simon Lichtenberg edged out Anthony Hamilton 4-3 with a match-winning 52 in the decider.
Nigel Bond was 3-2 down against Ashley Hugill and 60-0 down in frame six, but stole that frame with the help of two snookers, and then made an 86 in the decider.
The situation of the Irish players is a difficult one and surely explains some of the results we got in the first round over the last two days.
This is the Gilbert v McLeod incident:
It’s hard to judge from the camera angle.
You can only admire Nigel Bond even if he’s hard to watch at times. What a fighter!
Louis Heathcote couldn’t convert a 3-1 lead into a shock victory over Judd Trump as the world number one hit back to edge a 4-3 success in the first round of the Matchroom.Live English Open.
The clash between last season’s Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year proved an exciting battle as Heathcote looked to be in charge for long spells, but the 23-year-old wasn’t able to finish the job. Trump goes through to the last 64 to face Yuan Sijun.
Bristol’s Trump started well with a break of 75 in the opening frame, but then lost a scrappy second. Heathcote compiled breaks of 68 and 53 to lead 3-1, and he had a match-winning chance in frame five but under-hit a red to a top corner on 32, leaving it short of the pocket. Trump made an 86 for 3-2 then got the better of a fragmented sixth frame to force the decider. A run of 61 helped Trump over the winning line.
“Louis will be very disappointed because he had chances,” said 31-year-old Trump. “I started well but then it went scrappy. I made some good long pots in the last frame and fell over the line in the end. At the last tournament (the European Masters) I blew everyone away up until the semi-finals but then lost. So it can be better to start slowly. I’m still in it and I can’t play worse than I did today.
“In terms of the season, we don’t know what’s around the corner. But one day we’re going to wake up and everything will be back to normal with lots of big tournaments, so I’ll be prepared for that.”
Titanium Helps Higgins Show Mettle
John Higgins, who has recently switched to a different chalk and titanium ferrule, scored a 4-2 win over James Cahill. The Scot now meets English wild card Connor Benzey.
Four-time World Champion Higgins made a 122 in the second frame to lead 2-0. Cahill, renowned for scoring wins over the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby, fought back to 2-2 with 78 and 92. But Higgins took the last two frames with 67 and 57.
“I changed to Taom chalk a while ago and I’m now playing shots I could never play before,” said 45-year-old Higgins. “Robert Milkins, who usually uses the same chalk as me, came up to me in the practice room and said I should give it a go. In the last couple of weeks in practice I have not had a kick or bad bounce so I am totally sold on it now.
“I am using the titanium ferrule now as well and that has also made a difference. Stephen Maguire had it and I noticed how well he played with it. I feel good about my game, if you can add these little things that make an improvement then it helps.”
Louis Heathcote should have won that match. In my opinion he collapsed under pressure. He was 3-1 up and in the balls, leading by 32-0. He badly underhit a red that did not reach the pocket, leaving Judd Trump bang in the balls, with a red nearly over a the pocket. Judd made only 9 from it, missing the blue off its spot only three shots later and leaving Louis in the balls, only for Louis to inmmediately miss a red with the rest. The red didn’t even get near the pocket. You can’t do that against a top player. They smell blood, they take confidence from it and crush you.
What WST did not report…
Simon Lichtenberg got an excellent win against Anthony Hamilton. There was a break over 50 in five of the seven frames they played, and most young players struggle against very experienced, hard match player like Anthony.
Alexander Ursenbacher also registered a good win: he beat Graeme Dott by 4-2. Alex seems to be playing faster recently.
Zhao Jianbo beat Michael White by 4-3. I watched that match and somehow I always felt that Zhao was the one in control. It’s sad, and hard to understand, what happened to Michael White. He won two ranking titles, at 24 years of age he was in the top 16 and now he’s lost his tour card and looks very unreliable at the table.
Jak Jones beat Elliot Slessor by 4-1. Elliot Slessor won the first frame, that lasted an eternity … maybe someone can find out how long exactly. Then Jak Jones took four on the trot – in what felt like less time than was required for the first frame alone – with breaks of 100, 105 and 80.
Mark Davis beat Daniel Wells by 4-1, but, without watching the match it’s hard to draw any conclusion from the score. Daniel Wells, who had tested positive at the European Masters about three weeks ago, had to self isolate and, probably, came to this match rusty and unprepared.