Ronnie O'Sullivan poses with his son Ronnie after beating Allister Carter of England in the final of the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre on May 7, 2012 in Sheffield, England.
Ronnie O'Sullivan competes at the World Championship for a remarkable 22nd time this year. To mark the occasion, Eurosport's Desmond Kane asks the five-times defending world champion 21 questions that O'Sullivan answers with refreshing clarity and honesty ahead of his opening match at the 2014 tournament on Saturday morning. In his latest blog, 'The People's Champion' discusses the good, the bad, the ugly - and some utterly farcical moments - that have captivated the British sporting public during his annual visits to Sheffield over three glorious decades.
Here are questions 1-11 in the first part of our exclusive interview that covers the controversial meetings with Alain Robidoux, Stephen Hendry and Peter Ebdon, his thoughts on the elongated format of the World Championship and why he feels it is important to honour the spirit of former crowd favourites Alex Higgins and Jimmy White.
1. What was your first memory of playing at the Crucible? You lost to Alan McManus in the first round in 1993 at the age of 17.
Ronnie O'Sullivan: I couldn't believe that I had qualified for the tournament. Alan was one of my heroes at the time. He had just turned professional a few years before and was doing so well. Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis were my favourites, but they were closely followed by Alan and James Wattana because they were new guys doing well on the circuit. For me, it was like a dream come true to be playing at the Crucible against a guy I had admired and wanted to play like. I was disappointed with my performance because I never made a break of over 40 or 50 in that match. It is great that Alan is back at the Crucible 21 years on. He has done well.
2. You offended Alain Robidoux back in the first round in 1996 by playing left-handed against him. He accused you of being disrespectful during your 10-3 win. How do you recall that incident now?
RO: I wish I had started playing left-handed sooner. I was playing so poorly with my right hand that I should have switched. I knew that I could pot balls with my left hand. But I was aware that people might have thought I was taking the mickey. I wished I had done it sooner because it was relaxing me. Alain didn't take it too well. I could understand that at the time. But once I started, it soon became acceptable.
I beat Peter Ebdon 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Premier League in Kettering a year later playing with my left hand. People quickly realised that I could play as well at times with my left as my right. I won seven frames against Stephen Hendry playing with my left hand in a 10-8 win in the final. And he was world champion at the time. It was unfortunate for Alain, but he apologised to me a couple of years later and said he didn't realise I could play as well as with my left. I accepted his apology. We were good friends after that.
3. Your first World Championship final was in 2001 against John Higgins. Did you expect it to take eight years to reach the final and win it?
RO: There were points in my life when I thought I was never going to get to the final or win it. To get to the final was a great achievement. Playing John in the final was never going to be easy as he had won it once by then in 1998. The pressure was on me to get a victory. It was nice to win one, and the feeling of relief that went with it. I remember thinking: 'Bloody hell, I ain't got to answer questions any more about being the best player never to win the World Championship.' I realise I had to get the monkey off my back like Phil Mickelson managed to do by winning his first Major in golf at the US Masters. I relaxed a bit, and thought that the pressure lifted on me once I got that out of the way to hopefully make room for some more.
4. You had some great tussles with Stephen Hendry in Sheffield. What do you recall about the 2002 semi-final that Hendry won 17-13. Do you regret the comments you made before it about wanting to send him home to his "sad little life" in Scotland?
RO: That was terrible. I blamed myself for that. It should never have happened. But I'm also blaming Naz (former boxer and snooker fan Prince Naseem Hamed) for getting me so revved up. He said to me the day before the match: 'You should be more like this, or more like that.' It was okay for Naz because he was a boxer, but I'm a snooker player. You have to respect your opponent. In boxing, they like that sort of trash talk to sell tickets. It wasn't really me. I was easily led.
When I said it, and when it came out, I was gutted. It is something I will always regret for the rest of my life. Stephen was my hero, and still is. I never a meant a word of it. I've told Stephen that, and apologised to him. I have a lot of time for Stephen, and he accepted my apology. We're good mates now. We're not the best, best of mates, but I like to think we have a solid friendship. It was a big mistake on my part.
5. What is your favourite Crucible moment?
RO: It probably has to be winning it in 2012 with my son Ronnie watching. I was clearing up the balls to win it for a fourth time after having a lean two or three years. Having little Ronnie there for me and running out to join me was the best moment of my whole life. Not just at the Crucible. That moment and my children being born are the most special points of my life.
6. What was your worst Crucible moment?
RO: Losing to Graeme Dott in the 2006 World Championship semi-finals was my worst moment when I had loads of different tips on my cue and managed to lose eight straight frames in going out. He kind of tortured me. The matches with Dott (2006) and Peter Ebdon in the 2005 quarter-finals felt like the worst few years competing at the Crucible. I never enjoyed those tournaments.
7. Peter Ebdon took five minutes to make a 12 break against you in 2005. He came back from 8-2 down to win 13-11 with a real grinder's performance. Discuss.
RO: I think Peter holds the record for the world's slowest break. It is just fantastic. I think we should have a memorial award for him this year. World Snooker should create an award for him titled 'The best worst slow break in the history of the game'. Ebbo would be proud of that. It was hard sitting through it. He kept getting the ball cleaned. And took five minutes to piece together 12 points. I made a 147 in around the same time it took him to make 12. You think, 'wow, that must have been slow.' Every frame seemed to go like that. I was glad when it was over for me in that match.
8. Most difficult opponent at the Crucible?
RO: Stephen Hendry was my toughest opponent at the Crucible. Playing someone who was so comfortable out there was so difficult. He just seemed to go up a level when you tried to apply some pressure. He became an even better player during matches. I reserved some of my best snooker for him because I had to. I had one session in my match in 2008 against Hendry in the semi-finals when I won eight frames on the trot (with breaks of 102, 93, 87, 133, 135 and 126). It is the best I have ever played from 4-1 down.
9. Thoughts on the venue? Does it remain right for the World Championship?
RO: I think the Crucible is a good venue. It has a great atmosphere. There are better venues in terms of facilities. Getting in and out of the Crucible is not always easy. It is the home of snooker, and is up there with the best I've played in. The Tempodrom in Berlin is good, and Goffs in Ireland that staged the Irish Master is the other one I like because it has a really intimate atmosphere.
10. Would you alter the format of the World Championship?
RO: I think the tournament goes on too long. I think to play two matches over three days for the semi-finals, and then the final over two days is a lot of snooker without a result. Like most sports, you could shorten it down. The semi-finals could be the best of 21 or 19 to get it over and done with in a day. Perhaps the final could be over the best-of-25. That is enough over three sessions. It gives you ample opportunity to have a dodgy session, and come back.
11. Critics claim snooker lacks personality. The great Alex Higgins head butting match officials and Jimmy White not liking morning matches because of a few beers the night before doesn't seem to happen any more. Do you still enjoy the responsibility of succeeding those two greats as 'The People's Champion'?
RO: Snooker has got very serious. I think some players could be a little less scared of losing. I think people would maybe watch it a little bit more if there was more of an effort to play attractive snooker. But people play the way they play to get a result, no matter what. I always believe we are in the entertainment business. It is important for people to leave a match thinking it was good, and want to come back again. The fans are buying tickets to be entertained, not to be bored.
I know there are expectations on my shoulders. People want to see me do well, but it is tough because sometimes you are up against guys who are really top players. You feel the weight of expectation, and if you don't do it, you feel their disappointment. It can be tough, but you know you make a lot of people happy if you can win a few matches. I think the longer I've gone on in my career, I'm not so hard on myself when I lose because I've won a few trophies. If I have 10 minutes left to live, I won't be thinking: 'I wished I'd won more world titles.' It is important, but I've just got to be happy and grateful with being healthy.
I spend time with my friends and go running if snooker is getting me down. It is such a demanding sport, and gets tougher as you get older to keep motivating yourself. I try to do enough to sustain myself. I've prepared as much as I can for this tournament.
Don't miss part two of our interview (questions 12-21) on Friday as O'Sullivan picks out his main tips for the tournament, how he is shaping up, the stories behind his Crucible maximums and where his future lies after the tournament ends.
The 2014 World Championship begins at 10am (BST) on Saturday morning with live coverage on British Eurosport throughout the 17 days.
- Sports & Recreation
- Stephen Hendry
- Peter Ebdon
- Ronnie O'Sullivan
- Alain Robidoux