Snooker: Ronnie O'Sullivan under 'no pressure' on return to defend his crown

Back after a year off, the world champion is ready to go into the unknown in Sheffield

The Crucible

Ronnie O’Sullivan returns to the World Championship today claiming he is under no pressure to succeed and that his 12-month sabbatical has allowed him to see “the bigger picture”.

The “Rocket” has been the game’s box-office star for the past 20 years and has won the Crucible title four times. But at 37 he is aiming to become the oldest world champion since Ray Reardon won his sixth title in 1978 – when the professional game was very different – at the age of 45.

Having played only one competitive match all season following a self-imposed break to sort out problems in his personal life, O’Sullivan is throwing himself in at the deep end in Sheffield, and the scrutiny of his progress will be intense.

The former world No 1 admits he does not know whether he is going to fall flat on his face after such a prolonged absence from competitive play, but he has the appetite for the big occasion. And he usually thrives in such situations.

“There is no pressure on me,” O’Sullivan said yesterday. “I still love snooker, but there’s more important things in life. I haven’t played on any match tables for a year, so I’m going into the unknown. At the end of the day I will embrace [the challenge]. There’s a bigger picture now. I might get smashed at Sheffield, but then I’ll be back.”

The defending champion, O’Sullivan, who faces fellow veteran Marcus Campbell in the first round, has struggled with demons throughout a colourful career and, although he admits his personal problems are yet to be resolved, he will be fully focused for arguably the biggest challenge of his career.

“As a professional sportsman you want your private life to be settled, and that hasn’t been the case over the last three years,” O’Sullivan admitted. “Hopefully, they will be resolved. All I know is that I have to make a start. I have tried to put things on hold and get things resolved; if they are not resolved then I will readdress them.”

Opinion among his fellow professionals on O’Sullivan’s return has been mixed. The Australian Neil Robertson, the 2010 world champion, believes it would have been “weird” if O’Sullivan had not defended his title. That view was shared by the 1997 winner Ken Doherty, who said it would have been a “farce” if O’Sullivan had not played in this year’s £1.1m event.

However, four-time world champion John Higgins and fellow Scot Graeme Dott, the 2006 Crucible winner, have both said they “couldn’t care less” what O’Sullivan does, although both added that they were glad to see him defend the title.

But in the eyes of Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker, O’Sullivan’s return to competition has “offered a different dimension”.

“His return is something we all welcome,” Hearn said. “He’s a great, great player. He’s an enigma of a person because, on his day, he’s capable of doing the most amazing of things. It’s great to see he’s picked up a cue again. I think we all can’t wait to see how he plays.”

Right on cue: Three to watch

Jack Lisowski

The Gloucester player is one of six Crucible debutants. Has already beaten former Crucible finalist Judd Trump, one of his good mates, earlier this season in reaching the China Open quarter-finals. Eager to impress and will fancy his chances of causing an upset against first-round opponent Barry Hawkins.

Ding Junhui

Could this be the Chinese cueman’s year? Reached the semi-finals in 2011 but has been knocked out in the second round or before in five of his last six visits to the Crucible. Has won the UK Championship and the Masters. Gunning for a clean sweep of snooker’s majors. Should prove too strong for first-round opponent Alan McManus.

Ben Woollaston

The Leicester player is another Crucible debutant. Married to a Belarusian snooker referee, Woollaston reached the Players Tour Championship Grand Finals quarter-finals earlier this season and beat the experienced Ryan 10-9 to win. Has a tough task on his hands to beat two-time Crucible finalist Ali Carter, but stranger results have happened.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links