Snooker: O'Sullivan has spring in his step

Multiple champion wants to mark father's impending release from prison with title
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The Independent Online

Ronnie O'Sullivan is unquestionably the biggest draw in the game, in part for his brilliance on the baize and in part for his unpredictability, that tendency to fall into depression or self-doubt.

But if ever O'Sullivan had an excuse to have a spring in his step it is going into the World Championship, which starts in Sheffield today, with the hope that his father might be able to watch him live for the first time at the Crucible.

Ronnie Snr, who was jailed for the murder of Bruce Bryan, a driver for the gangster Charlie Kray, 18 years ago when Ronnie was just 16, is undertaking a rehabilitation scheme to integrate him back into society and he was reunited with his son as part of that process earlier this year.

His release is expected soon and could coincide with the tournament and O'Sullivan admits he would love "nothing better" than to win the famous Crucible title to make his dad proud. "It would be nice to win the title for him, it will always be nice to do that," O'Sullivan said. "One day that might happen, you never know. That's something I'd love to do for him.

"He's always been watching me, he's my biggest fan," the world No 1 added. "I've always tried to do well for him. It's vice-versa, it's like a competitive thing that we don't speak about. My dad was the one that got me playing snooker, he used to take me to all the junior tournaments when I was a kid. They were good times."

Good times could be around the corner again if O'Sullivan can reproduce his wonderful potting at this year's £1.1m tournament and win his fourth world title. There is also the small incentive of a £250,000 winner's cheque but, as O'Sullivan stresses, money has never been a motivation for him.

"I've got plenty of that [money]," he said. "I do feel as if I've underachieved in my career, but I would love to win more world titles. It's all about winning titles, but as long as I'm happy, I'm not going to break my back trying."

O'Sullivan last won the Crucible title in 2008 when he beat Ali Carter 18-8 and, where he often struggles to motivate himself for other tournaments, there is no such problem when it comes to snooker's premier event. The cream rises to the top in Sheffield and the 32-year-old relishes the chance to prove that he remains the best in the game.

"I'm looking forward to getting back in the Crucible, but it's either really frustrating or an enjoyable tournament for me. I think it's going to be a very open tournament, probably one of the most open in a few years," he said. "There's always pressure in any event, but there's more pressure at the World Championship because it's the biggest event you play in.

"It's finding a way of making peace with it [the game] for me. It's not easy when you're missing balls left, right and centre, then it's hard to enjoy something you love. I do have a love-hate relationship with snooker, but it is my job and I have to take emotions out of playing. That's hard though because I'm an emotional person."

O'Sullivan has drawn Liang Wenbo, a promising Chinese player, in his first round match on Monday afternoon, with their best-of-19 frame contest due to be completed the following afternoon. The mouthwatering match will be a repeat of their 2008 quarter-final tie which O'Sullivan won 13-7.

"I've had a few good games with Liang," O'Sullivan said. "He's an impressive, attacking player. He plays with a lot of confidence, but I enjoy playing players who play that type of game, they are just like me."

The confidence is there, but will it be in a fortnight's time?

Long shots: Three to watch in Sheffield

Liang Wenbo

The Chinese cueman has a tall order after drawing the tournament favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan in this year's first round, but has the talent to compete. The attacking left-hander, 23, is widely tipped as a star of the future and his fearless attitude makes him a dangerous opponent.

Mark Allen

The Ulsterman has yet to win a ranking title, but last year reached the semi-finals – where he pushed the eventual winner John Higgins all the way in a classic. He continues to go from strength to strength. Plays Tom Ford, a qualifier from Leicester, in the first round.

Jamie Cope

The Stoke potter is nicknamed "The Shotgun", little surprise given the speed he can clear a table. Has climbed to No 18 in the world and worked hard on his safety to make himself a complete player. Plays 2008 finalist Ali Carter first up.

Neil Goulding