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.

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: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most