Snooker: Ronnie O'Sullivan quick to light up his spiritual home

 

The Crucible

Ronnie O’Sullivan used a Latvian teenager as a sparring partner last week in the build-up to the Dafabet World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. And it is to be hoped that young Rodion Judin was not so demoralised by the experience of fishing the balls out of the pockets that he goes on to fulfil his huge potential as the best player to emerge from the Baltic states, where snooker is booming.

O’Sullivan, 38, arrived at his spiritual home hoping to embark on a run that would take him to a hat-trick of world titles, and a sixth in all – a mark that would equal the tally of Steve Davis and leave him one short of the record set by Stephen Hendry.

The man known to all as the “Rocket” remains by some distance the brightest star in World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn’s firmament, and he was greeted as every bit the returning hero by a capacity crowd of 980 packed in to the small but iconic venue.

O’Sullivan was supported in the arena by artist Damien Hirst, a close friend, and Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychiatrist who turned his career around and is working with Liverpool and the England World Cup squad.

Attempting to stem the tide was Finland’s Robin Hull, 39, who had every justification for being happy just to be in the building having been forced into retirement six years ago. Hull, ranked 120th in the world, suffered from a virus that left him unable to walk in a straight line and also an irregular heartbeat. A brave man, then, to lock horns with such a force of snooker nature.

He could not live with O’Sullivan in the opening exchanges, and had to watch as his opponent rattled in breaks of 124, 69, 81, 60 and 90 to forge into a 7-2 lead after the first session of their best-of-19 frame first-round encounter, with the match finishing last night. Hull did not disgrace himself, making breaks of 102 and 60 for his two frames of the session. But he lost a potentially pivotal fifth frame when O’Sullivan obtained the snooker he needed to move 4-1 ahead.

O’Sullivan openly questioned on the eve of the tournament why other players did not follow his lead and take more breaks during the season, insisting recent evidence suggest they are suffering from burn-out by the time they get to the biggest tournament of all. The line he treads between staying fresh and not being under-cooked would be a fine one were it not for an ability that seems to transcend such trifles, and, of course, he is armed with the knowledge of having won last year despite taking an entire season off.

This season O’Sullivan has played more but still limited his schedule, winning as often as not when competing, lifting the trophy at the Masters, Champion of Champions and the Welsh Open.

Hendry believes that, even if not this year, O’Sullivan will match or beat his achievements in Sheffield: “It’s inevitable, basically, that he’s going to beat my record of seven world titles. At the moment he’s the only player who is going to do it.”

The 1997 champion Ken Doherty, 44, was delighted to secure a 19th appearance at the Crucible after coming through final qualifying last week, and gave a good account of himself against Stuart Bingham.  Doherty grabbed the final frame of the session and trails 5-4 going into today’s concluding frames.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books'It's a simple, sweet and charming tale; it’s very heartfelt'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game