Soheil Vahedi about the fate of lower ranked players

Yesterday Phil Haigh published this interview with Soheil Vahedi and it’s certainly food for thoughts.

Soheil Vahedi on scrapping for snooker survival on foreign soil: ‘There’s nothing enjoyable for us here’

World Games 2017 - Men's Snooker Competition
Soheil Vahedi is fighting to survive on the snooker scene (Picture: Getty Images)

Mark Selby lifted the World Championship title earlier this month, pocketing £500,000 for his efforts at the Crucible, but while there are a handful of snooker superstars, there are far more who are kicking hard just to stay afloat in the game.

Soheil Vahedi is one of those players. The 32-year-old from Tehran finished last season ranked number 99 in the world, losing his place as a professional as a result of finishing outside the top 64.

He will be heading to Q School this month in a bid to regain his WST tour card and continue his journey in snooker that has taken him from his native Iran to a new home in Darlington.

With him in the North East are his wife and, as of last week, his son Radine, and while Soheil describes himself as ‘born again’ with the birth of his first child, he admits that life in Darlington is tough.

No,’ he said when asked by Metro.co.uk if he enjoys life there. ‘There’s nothing enjoyable for us here, nothing, absolutely nothing.

‘Snooker players just think about themselves, it all ends in the snooker hall, it all starts and ends in a greeting and a goodbye. On the table, play and go.

That’s what it is. There’s no life here for us really, it’s just snooker and snooker.

My wife is doing well not to moan at me eight hours a day because she has the right to do so. She had a family life, such a good life in Iran, but left all that behind to come here and help me achieve my goal, so I’m very thankful.

With the baby coming, she didn’t want to catch coronavirus, she probably went out of the house nine times in 10 months, just for a walk.

When I leave the house my wife is alone. I couldn’t focus on the table because anything could happen to my wife, I haven’t got family here to help, we’ve got nobody here.

Vahedi paints a bleak picture of chasing a snooker dream thousands of miles away from home, but says he still enjoys the game, even if he has to force himself to do so sometimes.

It is very hard but at the same time, 60-70 per cent I still enjoy snooker,’ he said. ‘Not fully, because of the lifestyle, what’s been happening and matches I’ve lost, but you have to keep the enjoyment, because if you don’t I don’t see a way to improve or win.

Vahedi travelled to Sheffield for the World Championship qualifiers in April hoping to become the first Iranian to appear at the Crucible and with some form behind him after a fine run at the Gibraltar Open in March which saw him beat Mark Williams en route to the last 16.

Things started well as he went 5-2 ahead of Belgian amateur Julien Leclercq in round one, but then disaster struck as he lost the last four frames and fell to a 6-5 defeat.

Soheil admits complacency crept in and it cost him, dearly, as the defeat confirmed that he would drop off the professional tour.

‘I was really gutted,’ he said. ‘This past season I lost maybe four or five matches from being in front or very close matches. Every time I got to that stage of being near the finishing line I was nervous, lost my focus.

I was excited I was going to win, get a little bit of money, all of that helps. I got excited before the game was finished, that was the problem, I needed to stay focused.

That’s experience, not ability, as soon as I start winning a few matches that feeling goes away. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I couldn’t believe it.

After the devastating loss Vahedi sat in his chair for some time rather than leave the arena, seemingly struggling to come to terms with the defeat, but he explains that he was actually talking himself round to a positive mindset.

‘I was thinking, “What happened there? Why did I lose? I can’t keep losing these kind of matches. Now two months off with no earnings, it’s going to be a difficult two months.

But I told myself that I need to be ready, just carry on clawing away, stay focused, don’t give up. If I didn’t do that I might have given up but I told myself I’ve come so far, done everything right, practiced so much, it just didn’t end well.

So I’ve got to carry on punching until everyone else is down. I’m thinking positive, unlike what people might have thought, I was telling myself good stuff, but people thought I was down on myself.

I’ve seen some people run away from the table as soon as they lose, feeling so bad they don’t want to stay there, but I didn’t want to run away from anything and made sure I left the arena with happiness and not anger and all those negative things.’

Other than serving his national service in the Iranian army in 2012, Vahedi has been set firm on a path to a career in snooker for years and is not ready to deviate from that goal.

He has been on tour since 2017 and does not expect the journey to end here.

I dedicated nearly 20 years of my life to this game,’ he said. ‘I’ve never done anything besides snooker so if I leave snooker I don’t know what I’m going to do to earn a living. I’m better at sticking with this and just carry on. Some top players have dropped off tour before and come back.

World Games 2017 - Men's Snooker Competition</di

Vahedi enjoyed a run to the last 16 of the Gibraltar Open last season, beating Mark Williams, Michael White and Tom Ford (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I’ve done okay, if I’d won the matches I should have won I would have done well, but I didn’t. I haven’t played so bad, I wasn’t terrible, I can win. I’ve beaten so many good players in these four years. Some players don’t win a match in two years, never beat top players, but I have. There is nothing to be upset about, I just need to gather my thoughts, pull myself together and keep working harder.

I thought I was going to win a few matches at the World Championship but the game doesn’t care what you think, it happens, it doesn’t listen to me. But I try my best, never give up.

With just £25,000 earned in prize money over the last season and the disappointment of no earnings from the World Championship, it is not easy to support a young family with no family in the country to help out.

Vahedi explains that he would be taking another job outside snooker, but visa restrictions stop him from doing so.

We can’t work, that’s the problem,’ Soheil explained. ‘Overseas players get visas and come over here, not allowed to work and have no sponsors but have played the game for so long and want to carry on as a professional and being here.

But they cannot work, so that’s not right. They need to find a way so snooker players who come to the UK are allowed to work, for certain hours, in any job.

That’s one of the things World Snooker doesn’t care about. They need to sit and talk about this. They need to find a way to support people so they don’t end up with no money at all. That’s what my request is and I don’t think there’s anybody out there who would disagree with that.

They can definitely find a way because we pay a lot of tax here. If they let us work or find a job for us, we’ll end up playing better, earning more money and paying more tax! We can live a better life and fulfil our potential.

If we drop off the tour and never play snooker again that’s not good for the game. There would be less people wanting to play snooker or come to the UK because they will know how difficult it is.

But if we had support we would say: “Come over here, don’t worry about money too much, if you run out there is support.”

‘You would see more players coming up, but like this, the way it is it’s always the same names in the finals, semi-finals, it’s never going to change.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson has rejected this criticism and says that help and support is there if needed, and has indeed been provided in the past.

Statement from WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson

A statement from Ferguson read: ‘In conjunction with the WPBSA, WST goes to significant lengths to help players from overseas to come to the UK to play snooker and to settle here.

‘Soheil has been a professional since 2017 and various levels of support have been available to him throughout the past five years. For example, during the first lockdown, the WPBSA made available financial support to all WST players, which Soheil took advantage of.

‘Soheil has been assisted in gaining a Level 2 qualification as an official WPBSA coach.

‘He currently has a visa as an elite sportsman which is appropriate to allow him to compete on the World Snooker Tour. If he wants to work in a different sector, he would need to apply for the relevant visa. WST and the WPBSA are always willing to give support, advice and encouragement to all players, as the growth of snooker around the world is our greatest ambition.

‘We do not accept the criticism that we don’t do enough for them.’

Vahedi will be hoping to put his snooker struggles behind him at Q School, which starts later this month, as he bids to return to the tour and continue his long and winding journey in the sport.

He has come through the arduous tournament before, winning his card back in 2019 at the first time of asking and expects to again, hoping to once more feel the thrill of success.

Yeah of course I’m confident,’ he said. ‘I try not to let negativity creep in, but I’m very confident. I want to get straight back on, this is what I want, I want to enjoy my life.

It wasn’t easy last time, I had a few tough, close matches, but I came through quickly. I was absolutely thrilled afterwards.

I can understand Jason Ferguson’s frustration as, under his helm, WPBSA has certainly done more than ever to support their players. But that doesn;t change anything to the lower ranked players everyday’s reality, especially those who had to expat to do their job.

This article triggered this reaction by Steve Feeney (Sightright) on Facebook:

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek2021 – is it now time for Professional Snooker to provide lower ranked players with greater financial security to head off mental health issues associated with zero (1st Round losers) / low income?

The Covid pandemic has highlighted how fragile things can be at times and maybe now is the time for our wonderful Sport to show it fully understands the financial stress many lower ranked Professionals are experiencing, the impact this is having on their mental health and take action which is in their power to alleviate this?

As someone with a considerable background in HR issues, once your job is confirmed, you expect a minimum level of pay, even in an Apprenticeship.
A Sport which supports mental health must surely consider the impact low or zero income has on a player who has followed the correct path to become a Professional on the Main Tour.

Pro Footballers get paid when they lose a match or get relegated and this in my opinion should be the same in professional snooker.

When our incredible Sport offers pay at the lowest Professional level it will be far more attractive for young people to consider this career path.

Instead we have many lower ranked players – those recognised as Professionals by the Sport – going broke and that, I feel, can be avoided with relatively small changes #hardfacts #mentalhealthawareness

This is no different to what I have been saying here many times. By playing, they bring value to the tour, to the sponsors, to the venues’ managements, to the broadcasters. They deserve something for it. At the very minimum, playing shouldn’t cost them. Paying them a minimal wage, covering their basic costs when at a tournament would only be right. If it doesn’t count towards ranking, it will not help players who aren’t good enough to stay on tour. This would not be “rewarding mediocrity”, it would be paying them for a work done. No matter how well both player play, and how hard they both try, one of them will lose and that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve anything for their efforts.

Now that Barry Hearn has retired, and not underestimating at all how much good he has done for the game which is immense, I hope that such change will be considered and implemented because the current situation is not right. It would not cost much. It can even be done at no cost by making the prize money structure just a bit less top-heavy. It would not make a huge difference for the top players but it would be massive for the lower-ranked ones and the young.

Just as an example, based on the 2020 prize money distribution for the UK Championship:

Winner: £180000 instead of £200000 >> £20000
Runner-up: £75000 instead of £80000 >> £5000
Losing Semi-finalists £35000 instead of £40000 >> £10000
Highest break: £10000 instead of £15000 >> £5000

Would be enough to give all first round losers £625, without additional cost for WST/WPBSA.

Reflecting on Ronnie’s future

The World Championship is over, and, from what transpired on social media, the new professional season will start mid-July. For once the players will have a decent summer break, which, I think, they all need because the last year has been very difficult for everyone.

For the first time in twenty-nine seasons as a pro, Ronnie has not won anything. He has reached five finals though, which is more that most pros do in their entire career. So, what’s next?

Here I have gathered a few articles that may help us to get an idea about what may be ahead.

During the championship, just before the John Higgins v Mark Williams last 16 match, Ronnie had explained how those two had inspired him:

World Snooker Championship 2021: ‘They’ve inspired me to keep playing’ – Ronnie O’Sullivan exclusive

John Higgins and Mark Williams meet for the fifth time at the World Championship in the last 16, an astonishing 22 years after they first collided at the Crucible in the 1999 semi-finals. The duo turned professional alongside world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan as part of the sport’s fabled Class of ’92. O’Sullivan explains why their ongoing success has inspired him to scrap any plans for retirement.

Snooker’s enduring Class of ‘92 graduated with honours at the Crucible Theatre over two decades ago, but the timeless triumvirate continue to display a true passion for life-long learning.

For Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, three masters in green baize geometry, every day is a school day.

If they (Higgins and Williams) see me doing well, they know I’m nothing special,” said O’Sullivan. “We’re all just human beings. They’re both fantastic snooker players, but none of us have got some superpower going on.

We’ve grew up together, we respect each other’s games, we know each other capabilities. I just think we feed off each other and get inspired by each other.

With 13 world titles between them over the past 29 years, and two over the past three years in Sheffield, the holy trinity of cue sports, an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman, continue to thrive and survive at the elite echelons of the sport in quite inimitable style in their 40s. Still enjoying the golden view from the ridge when lesser cueists are over the hill.

They may share the same years as the 45th Crucible tournament they are chasing, but are hardly flagging with all three safely ensconced inside the world’s top 12, safer than a Higgins shot to nothing.

World number two O’Sullivan’s standing in the rankings is only bettered by Judd Trump, who is eyeing a staggering sixth triumph in the season of social distancing, but others covet the game’s crowning glory.

Williams and Higgins will collide at the Crucible over the best-of-25 frames on Friday (LIVE on Eurosport at 2:30pm) and Saturday in the last 16 for the fifth time since they turned professional in 1992.

All three had lifted their first world titles between 1998 and 2001, but their duels form the rich fabric of green baize folklore as much as the Bayeux Tapestry tells you of Norman conquest minus Mark Davis from Hastings.

Williams enjoyed victories over Higgins in the 1999 (17-10) and 2000 (17-15) semi-finals and the 2018 (18-16) final respectively with Higgins completing a memorable 17-14 win in the 2011 semi-finals on his passage to a fourth world title. Fittingly, they are level on 11 wins each in career ranking duels.

O’Sullivan made off with his first world title courtesy of an 18-14 victory over Higgins in the 2001 final, but has numerous memories of facing both men on the grandest stage, the most recent of which saw him complete a 13-10 success against Williams in the quarter-finals on his sojourn to a sixth world title last August.

My biggest two rivals have been Higgins and Williams,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport. “We’re very different. Me and Williams have got more of a shot-making style.

We make the game up as we go along while Higgins is more in the style of Steve Davis. Very robotic, tough to play against and can tie you up in knots.

It’s weird because John plays well against me, I play well against Williams, but he plays well against John.

It is almost like our styles contrast. If I could use Mark Williams’ style against John Higgins, I’d probably get a lot more success against him.

If Mark Williams could use John Higgins’ style against me it would be the same… it’s really funny how the dynamics work out, but all three of us have kept each other going in many ways. Whenever one has been down, they probably get inspired by the other one.

O’Sullivan revealed witnessing Williams end a 15-year wait to lift his third world title in 2018 with his epic win over Higgins, who had restored parity at 15-15 from 14-7 behind, inspired him to an 18-8 win over Kyren Wilson in last year’s final.

I know there have been times where I’ve sat there and thought: ‘They’re doing alright against the odds’,” confessed O’Sullivan.

When Williams won the world title in 2018, I sat back and thought: ‘He can do it so surely I can do it’. I think he’s a few months older than me so I think we all give each a bit of belief. I’m sure John and Mark feel the same way.”

Williams celebrated his 46th birthday by claiming the 23rd ranking event of his career at the inaugural WST Pro Series event last month before reaching the final of the Championship League a week later to leave himself mentally attuned for the Crucible.

A 10-4 win over qualifier Sam Craigie in the first round saw him secure another joust with Higgins, who won six straight frames from 7-4 behind in a 10-7 win over Tian Pengfei.

Williams has been fantastic to watch in the past few tournaments. I thought: ‘you are dusting these young guys up’,” commented O’Sullivan.

You are trashing them. The way Williams is playing at the moment, he’s a match for anyone because he’s enjoying it and a snooker player enjoying his snooker is a dangerous opponent.

He’s got great temperament, his potting ability is amazing and his break-building has improved a lot over the past two or three years. I’d say he is a much better all-round player than when he first came on the scene.

We all develop as pros. You start a bit rough round the edges and you develop. Your style improves because you have to adapt and reinvent yourself.

Higgins has done that recently by changing something. You are always doing that and you hope those changes can make you a better player.

That is what Mark has done. He can play any game. If you want to play safe: ‘yeah, if you want to score points, yeah, I’m cool with it..

You know when you to pick and choose your battles and just play in a philosophical way. I’m not sure John could do what Mark is doing because they are different styles of players.

Mark is playing with a tremendous amount of freedom, but I’m not sure that would work for John because he’s a different type of player. But if John gets in the groove and is enjoying his snooker, you don’t want to play him.

All being well, all three will celebrate 30 years at the summit next year with O’Sullivan conveying the message that diehards should enjoy them while they can.

Apart from Trump, O’Sullivan feels the field has not been sharp enough to bury the Class of ’92, who share the same moniker as Manchester United’s glorious era of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with almost 2,500 centuries assembled on the baize .
He is still shocked Higgins lost 10-8 to Yan Bingtao in the Masters final in January. O’Sullivan ran in two centuries and a 97 in a 6-3 defeat to Higgins in the last eight with the Players champion totting up three centuries of his own.

It’s amazing to still be competing,” said O’Sullivan. “I just think we played in an era in the 1980s when snooker was so popular.

“You had no mobile phones back then so you had to focus and concentrate. You were surrounded by really fantastic players.

I just don’t think you will see that level of player coming through again.

You might see a good crop of players, and in-depth they’re quite good today, but I doubt you will see a John Higgins or Mark Williams type of player again.

Alright, we’ve got Judd Trump, but he’s the only one, but other than that you look down and there is nobody showing that type of snooker ability or snooker brain.

There’s just no one. Yeah, there are good players, but if Higgins or Williams play 80 percent of their game, there is still only Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and possibly Mark Selby who can beat them.

Anybody else won’t get near them. I know Bingtao beat Higgins in the Masters final, but if Higgins had played consistently steady throughout that final I have no doubt he’d have won that 10-6 or 10-5 because he is just a superior player.

It was perhaps Mark Twain, definitely not Mark ‘The Royal’ King, who was misquoted as suggesting excellence in billiards being the sign of a misspent youth. For the enduring Class of ’92, and those watching under face masks at the Crucible, it has been time well misspent.

Desmond Kane

Snooker’s enduring Class of ’92

Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) John Higgins (Sco) Mark Williams (Wal)
Born: 5 December 1975 Born: 18 May 1975 Born: 21 March 1975
World titles (6): 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020 World titles (4): 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011 World titles (3): 2000, 2003, 2018
UK (7): 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2014, 2017, 2018 UK (3): 1998, 2000, 2010 UK (2): 1999, 2002
Masters (7): 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017 Masters (2): 1999, 2006 Masters (2): 1998, 2004

Speaking to Phil Haigh ahead of the secound round he explained that he does want to play but on his own terms.

Ronnie O’Sullivan: The only reason I don’t like snooker

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Ronnie O’Sullivan is envious of stars of other sports (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan says he has just one complaint with snooker, although it is a substantial one, as it is the lifestyle that goes with being a professional player.

The Rocket is at the World Snooker Championship this year trying to defend his title and lift the famous trophy for a record-equalling seventh time.

While the 45-year-old would enjoy that experience and still gets a kick out of playing the game, he remains at odds with much that being a professional entails.

The sport may have provided him with nearly £12m in prize money over his career, but O’Sullivan looks to other more glamorous endeavours and cannot help but feel a pang of jealousy.

Someone said to me, what is it with you and snooker?’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk. ‘The only reason I don’t like snooker is because of the lifestyle.

If I was a golfer, I’d love golf because the lifestyle is great. Beautiful courses, nice hotel, offered great food. It’s like Formula One, tennis…the sport becomes the least important part of the job.

I could quite happily not play snooker forever, I might miss it a bit but I’ve got a lot of things I can fill my time with. With snooker I just don’t enjoy the lifestyle of a snooker player.

Some of the places we play in now are a lot different from what we used to play in. It used to be more like golf in great venues every tournament, you used to enjoy going to the venue and the hospitality side of it.

Now you’re lucky to get a cup of tea or a sandwich from Marks’ so I don’t enjoy that lifestyle. I like good food, being in a nice place, that’s just me.

It’s not snooker I don’t like…it’s qualifiers in Barnsley and places like that. I’d much rather go do a qualifier at Augusta or Wimbledon, but I suppose that’s just the sport we’re in.

‘It’s a bit like darts, it’s not a high-end sport. You have to try and make it as comfortable and enjoyable as I can, good hotels, travel well. That’s why you don’t see me around the venue much or hang around with the snooker guys, they’re happy to have a burger and chips from the cafe, I’m not. I want to create a very good environment everywhere I go or I can’t do it.’

O’Sullivan has been especially down on the surroundings he has encountered this season as they have been almost exclusively limited to Milton Keynes during the pandemic.

The sport owes a debt to the Marshall Arena for brilliantly hosting the majority of tournaments over the last year, but the Rocket did not love the constant trips to Milton Keynes, despite choosing to play in nearly all of them.

Asked whether he would keep up his rigorous schedule next season if some kind of normality returns, O’Sullivan was clear.

No, I’d focus more on the China events, the bigger more prestigious events at this stage of my career,’ he said. ‘The opportunities suit me better out there really.

Certain places I’ve missed. Belfast is great, York is fantastic, China there’s some great places.

I could play virtually every tournament this year because the traveling was doable, it wasn’t an issue. If it goes back to what it was then obviously I’d have to make a call and just pick and choose the ones I do here but focus on China.

If they do all the China events in one go then I can do all the China events and do the majority in the UK as well. But if it goes back to what it was, going round the world four times in a month, I couldn’t do it at my age.

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O’Sullivan is back at the Crucible looking for a seventh world title (Picture: Getty Images)

I have to put my interests first, run my own operation and focus on what I have to do. Try and ignore what all the other players seem to do which is getting sucked up on the hamster wheel of going from event to event because they feel like they have to. I’d rather retain some control and me be the one deciding what I want to do.

O’Sullivan has found the ‘hamster wheel’ that he has embarked on this season give him an even more care-free attitude to his game than usual, consistently insisting that he is not fussed whether he wins or loses.

The way it is at the moment there’s literally a snooker game every day so I think it’s less important how you do, how you play, you just think, “I’ll just play.”’ O’Sullivan said.

Even if it goes back to normal, who cares? You win, great, if you don’t, brilliant, I’ve got another game in four days. You don’t really care if you win or lose, so it’s got its benefits I suppose.

We’ll have to wait and see how it goes, for every benefit there’s a drawback and every drawback there’s a benefit.

I have put some things in bold there. The first one is what Ronnie says about the venues. For nearly twenty years Ronnie never needed to qualify. During the “tobacco” years the “main” venues had great hospitality. Most players who were in the top 16 during those years have a certain level of nostalgia about that aspect of the sport. Those who weren’t in the elite though very rarely enjoyed those things. There was nothing glamorous about Norbeck Castle, nor about Pontins nor about playing in cublicles in front a a couple of people at best. Most of them never got on television. They were little known, almost invisible, especially outside the top 32.

And after Ronnie’s defeat in the last 16, Ken Doherty and Alan McManus discussed his chances to win further World tittles in coming years:

Will Ronnie O’Sullivan win the World Snooker Championship again? Ken Doherty and Alan McManus decide

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Ronnie O’Sullivan remains on six world titles after a second round exit this year (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan missed his chance to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven World Snooker Championship titles this year, but Alan McManus can see him doing so in future, while Ken Doherty fully expects him to.

The Rocket suffered a shock 13-12 defeat to Anthony McGill in the last 16, bringing about an early end to his title defence in Sheffield.

His victory at the Crucible last summer took his World Championship tally to six, level with Steve Davis but still one behind Hendry’s incredible effort of seven.

At 45-years-old, time is not on the Rocket’s side as he looks to match, or even better, Hendry’s achievement but no one is writing him off just yet.

1997 world champion Doherty says he never thought this would be Ronnie’s year, but is sure that he will have another Crucible triumph in the future.

I didn’t really fancy Ronnie O’Sullivan coming into this one,’ Doherty told Metro.co.uk. ‘He had some heavy defeats in finals this season and the last one to Neil Robertson was very convincing, it will have knocked his confidence.

Anyone can see their confidence knocked, it happens to everyone and it was a brilliant performance from Anthony McGill.

I do fancy him to win a seventh title, though. He’s got two or three years where he’ll have a really good chance and I think he’ll do it.

I think he deserves it, for what he’s given snooker over the years, no one would begrudge him winning a seventh world title, except Stephen Hendry, who definitely would.

McManus is not quite as convinced that O’Sullivan will claim another world title, but he certainly thinks he has every chance to do so in the next five years.

He can, I would never write off one of those guys, nah. Just too many times they come back and do it again,’ said McManus.

I did say earlier in the week before he played Anthony, that Anthony’s a contender to win this. He’s a guy that’s learning all the time and I did think that was…not a banana skin…but Ronnie was never winning that 13-6. To me, it was a close game written all over it and he’s come a cropper.

I think Ronnie plays his best stuff later in this tournament, early on he can be a little bit vulnerable maybe. I think of recent years losing to Stuart Bingham, Ali [Carter], [James] Cahill, incredible players but he needs to find his way to get deep into the draw. Then, because of the charisma and magnetism and everything that he’s got, once you get down to one table, that’s when all the magic can happen. Like it did last season against Mark Selby, even though there was no one in, 16-14 behind, it can happen because that’s what he is able to do.

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O’Sullivan lost a classic against McGill (Picture: Getty Images)

I don’t think he can stay on the horse for as long as other guys now, because of the way he plays, he likes to play that creative way, it’s a shorter span, and that’s the way he likes to play.

He’s not as drilled as some of the other guys, not as comfortable as some of the other guys to battle it out. But of course he can, he’s fit as a flea, absolutely got five more years at it.’

O’Sullivan regularly speaks of his passions outside of snooker, including his love of running and various business interests such as a pop-up shop in Sheffield’s Meadowhall.

McManus feels this outlook has helped him, keeps him content in the sport and boosts his chances of more success.

‘I had a chat with him a week ago in the practice room and he seems like he’s in a really good place in his life,’ said the former Masters champion. ‘I’ve often wondered about that, if he enjoys it and good on him.

What he’s doing with different things, his shop, picking and choosing events, it’s the right path for him. It suits him, he’s earned that right to jump off the treadmill and do what he wants.

He’ll be fine, he’ll still win tournaments, there’s no question. Probably next time he gets to a final it’ll be 9-1, because that’s what he does.

The Rocket himself fancies his chances, believing he has got five more years with a reasonable chance of success in Sheffield.

‘I have probably got another five years I suppose to go at the record,’ he said. ‘The way I look after myself, the way I play . . . I suppose I could get it right maybe one more time. It’s probably the only record I haven’t got, so I won’t be too hard on myself.

Can I still win here? Yeah, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think so. I just need to pitch up and play. A bit like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, they are probably not the best player now, probably don’t have the former desire. But they are still the one that everybody wants to see.

So there you have it … hopefully next season will be a good one.

The class of 92 … Two interviews

No match was played to a finish yesterday at the Crucible… Nothing to report on day 9 then. I’ll take the ooportunity to share these two  interviews, both some days old.

Ronnie about the “Class of 92”

World Snooker Championship 2021: ‘They’ve inspired me to keep playing’ – Ronnie O’Sullivan exclusive

John Higgins and Mark Williams meet for the fifth time at the World Championship in the last 16, an astonishing 22 years after they first collided at the Crucible in the 1999 semi-finals. The duo turned professional alongside world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan as part of the sport’s fabled Class of ’92. O’Sullivan explains why their ongoing success has inspired him to scrap any plans for retirement.

Snooker’s enduring Class of ‘92 graduated with honours at the Crucible Theatre over two decades ago, but the timeless triumvirate continue to display a true passion for life-long learning.

For Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, three masters in green baize geometry, every day is a school day.

“If they (Higgins and Williams) see me doing well, they know I’m nothing special,” said O’Sullivan. “We’re all just human beings. They’re both fantastic snooker players, but none of us have got some superpower going on.

We’ve grew up together, we respect each other’s games, we know each other capabilities. I just think we feed off each other and get inspired by each other.

With 13 world titles between them over the past 29 years, and two over the past three years in Sheffield, the holy trinity of cue sports, an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman, continue to thrive and survive at the elite echelons of the sport in quite inimitable style in their 40s. Still enjoying the golden view from the ridge when lesser cueists are over the hill.

They may share the same years as the 45th Crucible tournament they are chasing, but are hardly flagging with all three safely ensconced inside the world’s top 12, safer than a Higgins shot to nothing.

World number two O’Sullivan’s standing in the rankings is only bettered by Judd Trump, who is eyeing a staggering sixth triumph in the season of social distancing, but others covet the game’s crowning glory.

Williams and Higgins will collide at the Crucible over the best-of-25 frames on Friday (LIVE on Eurosport at 2:30pm) and Saturday in the last 16 for the fifth time since they turned professional in 1992.

All three had lifted their first world titles between 1998 and 2001, but their duels form the rich fabric of green baize folklore as much as the Bayeux Tapestry tells you of Norman conquest minus Mark Davis from Hastings.

Williams enjoyed victories over Higgins in the 1999 (17-10) and 2000 (17-15) semi-finals and the 2018 (18-16) final respectively with Higgins completing a memorable 17-14 win in the 2011 semi-finals on his passage to a fourth world title. Fittingly, they are level on 11 wins each in career ranking duels.

O’Sullivan made off with his first world title courtesy of an 18-14 victory over Higgins in the 2001 final, but has numerous memories of facing both men on the grandest stage, the most recent of which saw him complete a 13-10 success against Williams in the quarter-finals on his sojourn to a sixth world title last August.

My biggest two rivals have been Higgins and Williams,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport. “We’re very different. Me and Williams have got more of a shot-making style.

We make the game up as we go along while Higgins is more in the style of Steve Davis. Very robotic, tough to play against and can tie you up in knots.

It’s weird because John plays well against me, I play well against Williams, but he plays well against John.

It is almost like our styles contrast. If I could use Mark Williams’ style against John Higgins, I’d probably get a lot more success against him.

If Mark Williams could use John Higgins’ style against me it would be the same… it’s really funny how the dynamics work out, but all three of us have kept each other going in many ways. Whenever one has been down, they probably get inspired by the other one.

O’Sullivan revealed witnessing Williams end a 15-year wait to lift his third world title in 2018 with his epic win over Higgins, who had restored parity at 15-15 from 14-7 behind, inspired him to an 18-8 win over Kyren Wilson in last year’s final.

I know there have been times where I’ve sat there and thought: ‘They’re doing alright against the odds’,” confessed O’Sullivan.

When Williams won the world title in 2018, I sat back and thought: ‘He can do it so surely I can do it’. I think he’s a few months older than me so I think we all give each a bit of belief. I’m sure John and Mark feel the same way.”

Williams celebrated his 46th birthday by claiming the 23rd ranking event of his career at the inaugural WST Pro Series event last month before reaching the final of the Championship League a week later to leave himself mentally attuned for the Crucible.

A 10-4 win over qualifier Sam Craigie in the first round saw him secure another joust with Higgins, who won six straight frames from 7-4 behind in a 10-7 win over Tian Pengfei.

Williams has been fantastic to watch in the past few tournaments. I thought: ‘you are dusting these young guys up’,” commented O’Sullivan.

You are trashing them. The way Williams is playing at the moment, he’s a match for anyone because he’s enjoying it and a snooker player enjoying his snooker is a dangerous opponent.

He’s got great temperament, his potting ability is amazing and his break-building has improved a lot over the past two or three years. I’d say he is a much better all-round player than when he first came on the scene.

We all develop as pros. You start a bit rough round the edges and you develop. Your style improves because you have to adapt and reinvent yourself.

Higgins has done that recently by changing something. You are always doing that and you hope those changes can make you a better player.

That is what Mark has done. He can play any game. If you want to play safe: ‘yeah, if you want to score points, yeah, I’m cool with it..’

You know when you to pick and choose your battles and just play in a philosophical way. I’m not sure John could do what Mark is doing because they are different styles of players.

Mark is playing with a tremendous amount of freedom, but I’m not sure that would work for John because he’s a different type of player. But if John gets in the groove and is enjoying his snooker, you don’t want to play him.

All being well, all three will celebrate 30 years at the summit next year with O’Sullivan conveying the message that diehards should enjoy them while they can.

Apart from Trump, O’Sullivan feels the field has not been sharp enough to bury the Class of ’92, who share the same moniker as Manchester United’s glorious era of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, with almost 2,500 centuries assembled on the baize .
He is still shocked Higgins lost 10-8 to Yan Bingtao in the Masters final in January. O’Sullivan ran in two centuries and a 97 in a 6-3 defeat to Higgins in the last eight with the Players champion totting up three centuries of his own.
It’s amazing to still be competing,” said O’Sullivan. “I just think we played in an era in the 1980s when snooker was so popular.
You had no mobile phones back then so you had to focus and concentrate. You were surrounded by really fantastic players.
I just don’t think you will see that level of player coming through again.

You might see a good crop of players, and in-depth they’re quite good today, but I doubt you will see a John Higgins or Mark Williams type of player again.

Alright, we’ve got Judd Trump, but he’s the only one, but other than that you look down and there is nobody showing that type of snooker ability or snooker brain.

There’s just no one. Yeah, there are good players, but if Higgins or Williams play 80 percent of their game, there is still only Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and possibly Mark Selby who can beat them.

Anybody else won’t get near them. I know Bingtao beat Higgins in the Masters final, but if Higgins had played consistently steady throughout that final I have no doubt he’d have won that 10-6 or 10-5 because he is just a superior player.

It was perhaps Mark Twain, definitely not Mark ‘The Royal’ King, who was misquoted as suggesting excellence in billiards being the sign of a misspent youth. For the enduring Class of ’92, and those watching under face masks at the Crucible, it has been time well misspent.

Desmond Kane

Snooker’s enduring Class of ’92

Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) John Higgins (Sco) Mark Williams (Wal)
Born: 5 December 1975 Born: 18 May 1975 Born: 21 March 1975
World titles (6): 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2020 World titles (4): 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011 World titles (3): 2000, 2003, 2018
UK (7): 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2014, 2017, 2018 UK (3): 1998, 2000, 2010 UK (2): 1999, 2002
Masters (7): 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017 Masters (2): 1999, 2006 Masters (2): 1998, 2004

Willo about the “Class of 92”

Mark Williams looks back on 30-year John Higgins rivalry ahead of World Snooker Championship clash

World Snooker Championship - Day Sixteen
John Higgins and Mark Williams meet at the World Championship once again this year (Picture: Getty Images)

Mark Williams has looked back on his epic rivalry with John Higgins which dates back over 30 years ahead of their second round clash at the World Snooker Championship which starts on Friday.

Two members of the legendary Class of ’92, Williams and Higgins have been playing professionally for 29 years, but have been battling it out for even longer than that, going right back to their junior days.

They have gone on to win seven World Championship titles since then, with Higgins claiming four and Williams notching up his third in the epic 2018 final against his old foe from Scotland.

Some have labelled that final the greatest in Crucible history after Williams came away with an 18-16 victory after a fantastic tussle of the highest quality.

The Welsh Potting Machine described that final as the best match he’s ever been involved in, but he remembers the scraps with Higgins on the baize from 30 years prior.

‘I was playing in the juniors with Ronnie O’Sullivan, Chris Scanlon, Jonathan Saunders, all them people,’ explained Williams.

He [Higgins] wasn’t about then, he came a bit later, I’d sort of known him properly from the [1991] Mita World Masters, he beat me in the final of the juniors 6-1. He got £5,000 and I had £3,000.

I played him a week later in the British Under-16 final and I beat him 4-0, I had £300 and he had £150 so I was a week late really.

Since then I’ve been playing him almost all the time really, since qualifiers in Blackpool all the way through the juniors, qualifiers and the main tour. 30-odd years on we’re still playing which is unbelievable in any sport to keep that rivalry going so long.’

The levels of respect between the three superstars of the Class of 92 are immense, although Williams, Higgins and O’Sullivan are not close pals off the table.

The Welshman pays his old rivals the highest compliment, though, describing them as the top two players ever to play the game.

Not really,’ said Williams of a relationship with Higgins off the table. ‘I’ve got the utmost respect for him.

‘For me he’s the second best player in the world. Ronnie’s the best I’ve ever seen, he’s the second best I’ve ever seen.

‘I see him only at tournaments really, but as a rival we’ve been going for 30-odd years. Every time we play it’s a special occasion. We’re not getting any younger, we don’t know how many times we’re going to keep meeting but it’s fantastic.

‘Playing again on Friday over three sessions, if you can’t get up for that you shouldn’t be playing the game.’

Mark Williams
Mark Williams won the WST Pro Series last month (Picture: WST)

The longevity of the rivalry between the Class of ’92 makes any meeting between the three of them a special occasion and Williams says it is only Higgins and O’Sullivan he can really still class as genuine rivals in the sport.

Them two have got to be my rivals,’ said the 46-year-old. ‘People like [Judd] Trump, [Neil] Robertson, [Shaun] Murphy are too young to be my rivals, the only rivals I’ve got that are still going are Ronnie and John Higgins.

The other ones are too young. I try and beat them but I can’t really class them as rivals. It’s us three for a long, long time, and we’re still going.

Williams is not just in this last 16 clash for the nostalgia value, he is in fine form and a genuine threat for the title come 3 May, as is Higgins.

The three-time world champ is playing at quite a pace, despite his advancing years, and after his 10-4 win over Sam Craigie in round one he became officially the quickest player on tour this season, playing at just 18.06 seconds-per-shot.

China Snooker Open
Higgins and Williams have battled all over the world over the last three decades (Picture: Getty Images)

He’s enjoying himself and can’t wait to take his free and easy style into yet another meeting with the Wizard of Wishaw.

I’m playing the most care-free snooker since I won the Grand Slam 20 years ago,’ said Williams. ‘If I see it I’m going for it. I’m leaving them plum in if I miss it but I don’t care. The worst thing is you lose.

I’m just looking forward to it, it’s going to be excellent, love every minute of it. Hopefully get to 13 before him. If I do, great, if I don’t I’ll wish him all the best and off I go on my merry way to find a golf course somewhere.

I’m as confident as I can be, I suppose. The last match we played here was the best match I’ve ever been involved in standard-wise over 30-odd frames.

The atmosphere was electric, something I may never get that experience again, it was unbelievable, but it’s a different day, different year, we lock horns again.

Ronnie’s interview with the sponsor

The arena must be nearly ready by now

And the defending champion was interviewed by the sponsor

Ronnie O’Sullivan Claims He Could Have Won Ten World Titles Ahead Of Championship

The 45-year-old spoke candidly to Betfred ahead of the tournament

Six-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan insists he could have won 10 titles and revealed he has a somewhat ‘love/hate’ relationship with snooker.
Speaking candidly to Betfred Sport ahead of this week’s World Snooker Championship where he will be competing to defend his crown, the 45-year-old claimed he ‘wasted’ a decade of career and should have claimed more success.

“My game’s never great to be honest with you,” he told Betfred in the build-up. “I’m never satisfied but I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast sometimes, you’re always looking to squeeze a bit more out but in general it’s been an ok season. I’ve enjoyed it and done it on my terms so it’s felt good.

“When I look back, I think I could have probably won ten (titles) if I had found a little bit of consistency or hadn’t wasted seven, eight, nine, ten years of my career but nothing is ever plain sailing. Sometimes I was happy to get one at one point so to get six, I’m pretty comfortable with that achievement.
“I might not win it this year, could possibly win it the year after but as long as I’m enjoying playing you’ve always got a chance I suppose. It’s a tournament at the end of the day, you’ve just got to try and get it right over this little period.

Twenty years on from his first triumph in 2001, a victory at the Crucible this time around would see him match record winner Stephen Hendry with seven wins.

Asked if Hendry’s tally is something he is targeting, he insisted, “No, it’s not driven by that at all, really. I come here, it gets me out the house, I enjoy travelling, the lifestyle, playing. If I lose the first round and I’m playing well, I’ll be disappointed. If I lose the first round and I’m not playing so well, I’ll be thinking ‘sweet touch’ because it’s a long time to struggle at this tournament.

“If things go well, it’s fantastic. If they don’t, I’m not the kind of player to want to grind out any event. As the tournament progresses, I sort of get a feeling for what will happen and try and judge it as well as you can.”

Another victory would put The Rocket in the record books but ahead of the championship, he is clearly in relaxed mood and insists he is more concerned with playing well and enjoying the game as opposed to obsessing over titles.

“I’ve always said that as long as my lifestyle’s great I don’t mind doing anything – if someone said you’ve got to paint walls for a living, as long as the life’s good, I’ll do it but if the lifestyle’s not great, it doesn’t matter how much I love something, I’m not going to want to do it.”

Speaking of being a champion, he revealed he doesn’t get too excited by his success and admitted, “I wish it meant more to me in many ways. I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with it and sometimes just playing is an achievement in itself.

“It’s not an easy sport, snooker, and sometimes you go through a lot of highs and a lot of lows and in the end you just go ‘I don’t want any more highs’ but then you can’t have the lows. You kind of neutral out and (you think) you know what, I’ll just stay in the middle which is a little bit easier to live with in many ways.

The action starts in bit more than four hours…

2021 Crucible Build-up – Ronnie about the class of 92 and the state of the amateur game

Ronnie reckons that there will never be aything like the “Class of 92” again 

Ronnie O’Sullivan: There will never be another three who can play like me, Higgins and Williams

‘We come from an era where you became a proper snooker player,’ said the Rocket ahead of the weekend’s World Championship

Welsh Open 2020 - Day 6 -
O’Sullivan says he is one of a dying breed of players (Photo: Getty)

Ronnie O’Sullivan may no longer consider himself at the very peak of his snooker powers but says recent successes mean no one should question his ability to keep winning until he turns 50.

O’Sullivan defeated Kyren Wilson in the final last August to win his sixth World Championship and heads to the Crucible Theatre this month to not only defend his crown but also to match Stephen Hendry’s modern-era record of seven world titles.

That 2020 World Championship triumph is O’Sullivan’s only ranking-event victory in the past two seasons but reaching five finals this campaign doesn’t suggest any sort of impending snooker mortality.

As he approaches 30 years since first turning professional, the 45-year-old – along with fellow ‘Class of 92’ members Mark Williams and John Higgins – has maintained a remarkable level of play well into his 40s.

In fact, at least one of the trio has appeared in all but two of the past 10 World Championship finals – and in each of the last four – with O’Sullivan insisting that record proves they can all keep competing past their 50th birthday.

There will never again be three players who can play the game like me, John and Mark do, playing into their late 40s, early 50s and still winning tournaments,” said O’Sullivan, who is a regular contributor to Eurosport on all their snooker coverage.

We come from an era where you became a proper snooker player. That experience and level of game at amateur level has allowed us to play way beyond what others have. Mid 40s, still winning tournaments and you shouldn’t have to ask the question of if we’re good enough any more until we hit 50.

Williams won the world title two years ago, I did it last year, Higgins has made lot of world finals recently and then won a big tournament [the Players Championship] this year.

“Just off the back of that, you’ve got to give yourself another five years. Even if you have a down season, you’re not likely to be losing that sort of form within one or two years.

O’Sullivan’s 2021 World Championship campaign begins on Saturday morning, with the final concluding on 3 May – a 17-day marathon that The Rocket admits doesn’t suit his personality.

Despite his remarkable success at the Crucible, he claims he has never enjoyed the tournament – struggling with boredom and a lack of focus at the event.

And that may explain why matching Hendry’s record of seven world titles isn’t as burning a desire as you might think for such a fierce competitor.

I don’t think I need to win anything else to cement my legacy,” he said. “I never thought I’d win one world title, so I’m certainly not going to complain if I don’t get to seven. I’m over the moon with what I’ve achieved.

I just want to go there and enjoy my snooker and I need to play well to enjoy it.

“I’ve accepted that about myself – I only want to play snooker and really get excited about it if I’m in my slot, in my groove, timing the ball well and it’s all coming easily to me.

If I’m not doing that, I’m not prepared to go through the pain barrier as much anymore. I’ve made a pact with myself that if things aren’t quite going right, then a defeat isn’t the end of the world.”

He is right of course about the level of the amateur game and there are any number of reasons that contributed to its decline, some linked to the way the sport has been managed and promoted over the years, some related to way our societies have evolved and to what today’s young people desire to achieve or indeed what their parents want them to achieve. But there is also the fact that the brutal current structure offers no path for development for young professionals.

Steve Feeney posted this on FB after learning that Kaçper Filipiak is giving up on snooker:

Just sharing my thoughts seeing the 25 Year old 2019 European Champion quit the game having fallen off Tour following his World Championship 2 Round defeat….
People will debate the fors and againsts, however I see the Flat Draw as being brutal for younger players who are working hard to craft a successful profession is this sport.
No prize money at the bottom end of Events / and in many cases very small prize money at lower end of many Events is undoubtedly compounding pressure on the younger players unless they have good financial sponsors.
Most new / young players to the Tour nowadays need more time to develop in the Ranks, especially with the Flat Draw structure where statistically they will meet a Top 16 Player 1:4 events – some players Seasons have been plagued with such tough Draws.
So their game has to be of at least Top 32 Standard ‘consistently’ almost immediately to survive. By comparison the Apprenticeship of Professional Snooker is no longer like it was in the Tiered Structure from which so many of our Top Players and top 32 players developed their ‘skills’ and ‘ring craft’.
Or is the current ‘Development Pathway’ i.e. Q-School / Challenge / QTour to becoming a Pro meant to be a Professional Apprenticeship – there is definitely a gap ….
Thoughts ….

I can only agree. It’s basically what I have been writing here countless times over the last years.

Build-up to the Crucible – “The Break” Eurosport potcast

Eurosport is back with “the Break”

You can listen to the last instalment here:

 

And here is the written account about it what Ronnie thinks about the possible Crucible favourites and his own game:

 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP -‘HE’S LIKE A MICHEL ROUX CAKE’ – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON ‘FRIGHTENING’ ROBERTSON

His game is built to do well in Sheffield and over the years he’s added to his game and now he’s taken over from John Higgins as the player with the best all-around game. He plays safety very well, his temperament is brilliant, his scoring is unbelievable, his potting is just frightening, I’ve never seen anyone with a cue action as good as that.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is in a relaxed mood ahead of the defence of his World Championship title, but believes Neil Robertson is the biggest obstacle to him winning at the Crucible for a seventh time.

The 45-year-old ended a seven-year wait for a sixth world title when beating Kyren Wilson in the final, but he has not won an event since that victory in August.
O’Sullivan has lost five successive finals, the most recent being at the hands of Neil Robertson in the Tour Championship.

He was comfortably second best to Robertson at Celtic Manor, and feels the Australian is favourite for the World Championship which gets underway on April 17.

What happens at Sheffield is that when you get on a good run you seem to just win matches every year,” O’Sullivan said on Eurosport’s The Break podcast.

It comes like a run in itself but then it can go the other way as well.

I think [John] Higgins didn’t make a quarter-final for seven or eight years. You could have got any price you want down the bookies on that. I did the same from 2013 to 2021, I didn’t make a semi-final.

Robertson is the same. I think every player goes through a little phase like that in their career at Sheffield where they just don’t seem to be able to make the final stages.

I think at some point that will change for Neil and when it does I think you’ll see him win one, get to a final, maybe three finals on the spin.

His game is built to do well in Sheffield and over the years he’s added to his game and now he’s taken over from John Higgins as the player with the best all-around game. He plays safety very well, his temperament is brilliant, his scoring is unbelievable, his potting is just frightening, I’ve never seen anyone with a cue action as good as that.

SO, IF YOU’RE MAKING A CAKE AND PUTTING ALL THAT INTO IT YOU’RE GOING TO COME OUT WITH A ‘MICHEL ROUX’ CAKE AND THINK, ‘WOW, THAT TASTES AMAZING’.

O’Sullivan has shown patches of brilliance this season, but has not found form in the finals he has contested.

I’m not nervous at all,” he said. “I’ve had a great season. I’ve enjoyed playing. Everything is really good.

I go to a tournament like ‘have I got my running boots with me? Yeah OK great. Have I got my restaurants sorted? Yeah, great.

I CAN DEAL WITH THE SNOOKER, WHATEVER IT THROWS AT ME I’M ALRIGHT BECAUSE I’VE GOT THOSE TWO THINGS IN PLACE SO THE SNOOKER BECOMES SOMETHING I JUST DO BECAUSE I’M THERE. IF I PLAY GREAT, BRILLIANT!

I’m super-enthusiastic about playing, and continuing, and trying to go as far as I can in the tournament.

If I’m not playing great, I know I’m not a grinder and there’s no point me doing what Jimmy [White] seems to be doing which is trying to grind it out, take my time, get focused and over-practice.

You won’t see me on the practice tables before a match ever because I don’t want to know how I’m playing ten minutes before I go out there. I’d rather find out when I’m there.

With that kind of attitude, it’s a lot easier to deal with because otherwise it becomes tough. It’s a tough sport anyway so you have to find that happy medium.

I feel alright to be honest with you. It’s no secret; it’s not my favourite tournament. Last year it was a bit better because there was not so much smothering going on. So I enjoyed last year and this year has been OK. I’m looking forward to Sheffield but also looking forward to a bit of a break at the end of it.”

Commenting on the state of his game heading into the Crucible, O’Sullivan said: “I came back in the New Year, I took three or four weeks off after that, and I’ve enjoyed my snooker up until the Welsh [Open] when [John] Higgins gave me a good hiding.

But I’ve enjoyed the best of three tournaments, I’ve enjoyed playing and just seeing where my game’s at. Every tournament hasn’t been about winning it’s been about ‘where’s my game now compared to last week?’ ‘I’ve taken three weeks off now, I wonder where it is compared to three weeks ago. OK not too bad.’

SO BECAUSE I WAS PLAYING A BIT MORE REGULARLY I WASN’T AT AS MUCH OF A DISADVANTAGE WHEN I WAS PLAYING. BEFORE I’D TAKE SIX OR SEVEN WEEKS OFF AND MISS SIX OR SEVEN TOURNAMENTS. WHEN I DID COME BACK IT TOOK ME THREE OR FOUR TOURNAMENTS TO EVEN HAVE A CHANCE TO COMPETE REALLY.

It’s been a nice year in a way because I feel like I’ve had half a chance when I’ve played.

Ronnie also gives his opinion on the Jimmy White vs Stephen Hendry match. It was a horrible draw for Jimmy who puts too much pressure of himself, as Stephen Hendy himself reckons.

And a bit of video…

2021 Crucible Build-up – Ronnie reflects on his season and remembers Liverpool

Ronnie spoke to Phil Haigh about his season and the five ranking finals defeats.

Ronnie O’Sullivan explains heavy final defeats this season: ‘I’m not prepared to try my nuts off to get beat 10-8’

Ronnie action 2021
Ronnie O’Sullivan feels there is nothing he could have done about recent defeats (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s string of five defeats in ranking event finals has been one of the unusual quirks of an already very unusual season, but the Rocket believes there is little he could have done to change that losing run, even if he had ‘tried his nuts off’ in every match.

Since winning his sixth World Championship title in August, O’Sullivan has made it to five more ranking finals, but has been beaten in all of them, losing out at the Northern Ireland Open, Scottish Open, Welsh Open, Players Championship and Tour Championship.

The Rocket narrowly lost 9-8 to Jordan Brown in Wales and 9-7 to Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open, but was heavily beaten in the other three, thrashed by Mark Selby, John Higgins and Neil Robertson.

The 45-year-old admits that he has simply not played well enough against other men playing exceptionally well, it is as straightforward as that.

However, he does concede that in the three heavy defeats he may not have been exerting himself fully throughout, believing early on that those matches were out of his reach thanks to the deities of the baize.

‘I think two finals I played alright – the ones against Judd and against Jordan Brown – the other three I didn’t show up really,’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk at the launch of his new partnership with ROKIT.

‘I just wasn’t playing well enough to beat that type of opposition who were playing very well.

‘I probably could have made them three matches a bit closer if I’d dug in a bit more but if it’s not there, it’s not there, I’m not going to kill myself.

‘I got beat 10-4, okay, I’d have got beat 10-7 or 10-8 if I’d really tried my nuts off. I’m not prepared to try my nuts off to get beat 10-8. I’d rather try, but if it ain’t there then it wasn’t meant to be.

‘The snooker gods sometimes already know the destiny of what’s going to happen, I’d rather just allow that to develop. If I find a bit of form, great, if I don’t then an early exit is fine. Especially when there’s another tournament in a couple of days.’

The Rocket does not feel like he was anywhere near his best throughout the Scottish Open, Players and Tour Championships, despite making it to the finals of all three, believing it has just been down to competing so regularly this season that he has been able to keep picking up results.

‘You get a good idea whether it’s going to be a good week or not, some weeks start off great and peter out a bit,’ he said. ‘Some don’t start off great but get stronger but I knew in Wales I was playing well, in Ireland I was playing well.

‘There was probably three or four tournaments this year I was playing well. The rest of them not so great. Still, because I was playing week-in-week-out I still managed to get to five finals just because I was busy, or as busy as all the other guys, which is rare.’

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Jordan Brown stunned O’Sullivan to win the Welsh Open final (Picture: Zheng Zhai)

Five ranking finals in a season would be a phenomenal return for most players, but with 37 ranking titles to his name, does O’Sullivan regard this as a good season or not?

He says so, in fact it far exceeds the benchmark he feels he has to reach and suggests other players should meet too.

‘It’s alright,’ Ronnie said of his campaign. ‘I’ve always said, if you want to be on the main tour you’ve got to be looking at a minimum of three quarter-finals in a year.

‘If you can make three quarter-finals in a year you can justifiably say you’re a professional snooker player. If you can’t…

‘That doesn’t have to be three quarters, it could be a semi and a last 16 in there, or a final, whatever. As long as you’re averaging that sort of performance then you can justifiably say you deserve to be a professional.

‘If you’re not then you have to ask yourself what you’re doing. Are you there just because you like the lifestyle, like playing snooker, what is it?

‘For me, there’s a certain level I feel like I have to achieve to make it right with myself that I’m playing. Five finals has been great and I know that I was far from my best in the majority of them tournaments so it gives you hope that there’s still a few more titles in there at some point.’

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O’Sullivan remains one of the favourites to win the World Championship this year (Picture: PA)

That point could be the World Championship, where O’Sullivan will look to defend his title at the Crucible, starting on 17 April.

He knows that with no titles so far this season his form has not been good enough to win the big one again, but that does not mean the snooker gods won’t begin to smile on him again by the time he reaches South Yorkshire.

I’ll have to play better than I have done all season because Sheffield is a different tournament,’ he said. ‘Longer matches, often it’s not about being brilliant it’s about being steady and solid.

If I can find something in these next couple of weeks and carry that through to Sheffield then who knows? If I don’t then I’m not going to detract from having a good year, I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been good fun.

The draw for the World Championship will be made on Thursday 15 April after qualifying is completed the day before.

O’Sullivan will begin his campaign at the Crucible on the opening day of the tournament, Saturday 17 April.

Overall a positive interview. I totally expect Ronnie to try his hardest in Sheffield this year but the days he sank into despair and depression over a poor performance seem to to over and it’s very well that way.

On a much lighter note he was also interviewed by Snookerbacker  a few day ago

April 6, 2021

In Conversation with……Ronnie O’Sullivan
— snookerbacker @ 3:01 pm

The restraining order was lifted a few weeks ago so today I got a chance to catch up with snooker’s main man and current World Champion Ronnie, ahead of his title defence beginning. Amongst other things we talked about Liverpool and an urban myth, what it’s like to be a famous face, his thoughts ahead of Sheffield, his recent cue issues and who he’d invite to his ultimate dinner party…..

SB: Alright Ronnie, how’s tricks?

ROS: I’m fine mate, all good.

SB: Did you manage to catch the Hendry match against Jimmy last night?

ROS: I watched a little bit of it, I didn’t see it all as I was busy doing some bits and pieces.

SB: What do you think of the result? Do you think it will hurt Jimmy a bit?

ROS: Yeah, he just really still cares so much and wants to do well so he’ll definitely be hurt by that, but that’s just the way it goes isn’t it?

SB: What do you think about the whole Hendry thing? I suppose he retired in his early 40’s, a bit younger than you are now, can you ever see yourself retiring and then coming back for another try?

ROS: What, have 9 years off?

SB: Well maybe not that long.

ROS: No, I can’t see myself doing that, I’d hope after a couple of years out I’d have found something else to do so when I pack in it will be for good, but it’s his call and if he wants to do it then fair play to him.

SB: As you know I’m from the great city of Liverpool, now you’ve got a bit of an affinity with Liverpool haven’t you? How did that come about?

ROS: I just had a group of friends from Liverpool and I used to go up there and go out and I liked it so much I stayed there for a couple of years. I’ve got strong ties to Liverpool, it’s like a second home to me really. I used to play at George Scott’s Club on Derby Lane and George and Violet were so kind to me, amazing people who treated me like family, I had great times there, probably the happiest times of my life looking back.

SB: I played a frame with you there once, but I don’t really want to talk about that….

ROS: OK, I can’t remember that but I’m sure it was close.

SB: Yes, I’m happy with that. It was definitely close. Anyway, can you clear something up? This is either something I have made up, something someone else made up and became an urban myth or it’s true. When you lived here, did you stay above The Rocket pub?

ROS: Stay above it? No no, I think you must have made that up. I know where you mean, I stayed around there, around the corner but I didn’t stay above it.

SB: Well everyone here thinks it’s true anyway so that’s an exclusive.

ROS: Haha, well OK then it must be.

SB: Moving on to snooker. Sometimes when I speak to and hear snooker players talking I get the impression that they’d rather be something else, like a golfer or something, so what is it like being a snooker player? Do you enjoy it?

ROS: I enjoy the benefits of snooker, I get to travel, I get to stay in nice hotels, I get to see different friends on different weeks. The playing side of it, not so much, I like practice and I like exhibitions but I think sometimes tournaments get a bit too serious for me and I sometimes just want to have a bit of fun, I try to expose myself as little or as much as I feel like I need to in matches, but I suppose that’s the bit you have to put up with to enjoy the good side.

SB: Do you like being famous?

ROS: I’d rather not be famous, if you’d have asked me when I was 16 if I wanted to be famous I’d have said yes, but now at 45 I’d rather not be noticed when I go out and when that happens it’s quite a nice feeling.

SB: It’s quite ironic that you are one of the players that has adapted best to the crowdless situation given you are snooker’s biggest attraction. You seem to have found it quite easy to adapt to the silent surroundings, how have you done that?

ROS: I just think that the game doesn’t change, it’s like club practice conditions, like the football, it’s like a practice match. I know a couple have struggled a bit but it’s invariably the same people winning the tournaments as most other years.

SB: On the flip side we have Jordan Brown? Do you think he would have performed so well with a crowd?

ROS: I think Jordan would have won a tournament at some point as he’s always been a great player, it just all fell into place for him on that week, that can sometimes just happen. I don’t think you can say anyone won because of this or that, they won because they were the best player over that week of snooker.

SB: How do you feel about The Crucible being used as a COVID test event? Potentially 1000 people a day in there?

ROS: I don’t really care to be honest, I’m looking forward to the chance to run and explore different routes, see my friends there and a bit of al fresco dining coming into play, I’m looking forward to it actually, hope the weather is nice. If it’s anything like last year it should be a great time in Sheffield.

SB: How’s the cue?

ROS: Yeah, I’ve had some repair work done to it, John (Parris) and Paul have done a great job getting the cue back to virtually 95% of what it was so I’m happy with that, I also managed to find a good spare cue which is what I really wanted so that if something goes wrong with mine I can always use that as a substitute.

SB: Had you damaged it in some way? What was the problem?

ROS: Nah, it’s just that every ten years you need a good service on it, chop a bit off, add a bit on, change the balance, just a proper piece of work like an Formula One car where they feel the balance isn’t right. I was worried I’d not get it back to anywhere like how it was, but even at it’s worst it was playable, but with the improvements made to it now I’ve had a result really.

SB: OK, a couple of Twitter questions now, firstly from Alex, he wants to know what you would say to your 20 year old self if you had the chance to meet, errmm, you.

ROS: I’d tell him to educate himself, become wise and wordly, look outside the box and use any little advantage you can.

SB: Do you think you’d have listened?

ROS: Probably not!

SB: Last one, someone else asked for your ultimate four dinner party guests?

ROS: Ermm, Stephen Fry, Damien Hirst, Steve Peters and errmm Barry Hawkins.

SB: I had a tenner on Ali Carter. Oh well, Barry will be pleased anyway. Thanks for the chat Ronnie and best of luck in Sheffield.

ROS: No worries, take care and say hi to everyone in Liverpool.