Snooker World Championship 2014: 'The Rocket' Ronnie O'Sullivan holds no fear for Robin Hull after horror illness

The 39-year-old Finn was struck down with a potentially life-threatening virus in 2002

Taking on Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round of the World Championship at the Crucible can be a daunting prospect for even the most battle-hardened of players. But for Robin Hull, it bears no comparison to some of the terrifying experiences life has thrown at him.

The 39-year-old Finn was struck down with a potentially life-threatening virus in 2002 which left doctors baffled. The illness badly affected his balance and eventually left him virtually paralysed down the right side of his body.

Then, after making what seemed to be a miraculous recovery and dragging himself back to the table, Hull was forced to pull out of qualifying for the 2007 World Championship due to an irregular heartbeat thought to be linked to his past illness, and then quit the game completely after suffering a similar problem the following year.

Which makes his achievement of qualifying for snooker's most prestigious tournament, to take on the sport's No 1 attraction and defending champion, all the more remarkable.

"It's mad really," Hull said after the draw was made. The Finn is ranked No 122 in the world and came through four rounds of qualifying to reach the Crucible – but he is just happy to be able to pick up his cue.

"I'm just glad to still be playing," he said. "I saw that many doctors when I was really ill, they didn't really know what was wrong with me. They didn't know what was happening, but knew I had some neurological problems.

"I remember this time when I was in the neurologist's office and he told me I could either have a tumour, some sort of really bad infection in my brain or that my brain was bleeding. To be honest, I was shitting myself.

"I lost the feeling to the right-hand side of my body and was left with a club foot, so it was a pretty horrible time.Things weren't great in my private life either, so it was really hard to deal with everything. I quit the game and went to find a relaxed, stress-free life back in Finland. So to be back playing, and to be back at the Crucible, well, it is a fairy tale."

Hull, who has twice reached the quarter-finals of a ranking tournament (the 2003 Welsh Open and 2006 Malta Cup), won a European amateur title earlier this season to earn his place at the World Championship qualifying event in Sheffield, before going on to win four gruelling best-of-19-frame matches to get to the Crucible itself.

He beat Maltese veteran Tony Drago (10-3), Chinese player Tian Pengfei (10-6) and English pro Ian Burns (10-4) in the opening three rounds of qualifying. But it was the final qualifier where Hull really made his mark when he defeated the 2002 world champion Peter Ebdon 10-8 to earn his place against O'Sullivan.

And it's no wonder Hull is relishing facing "The Rocket" – a five-times World Champion and generally accepted to be the most gifted player to have played the game. "I'm really happy to have drawn him, it's a great match," said Hull. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to be the underdog, but I can't afford to think about that.

"For me, it's about controlling the outside distractions of playing Ronnie and doing my own thing on the table. I'm going to make sure I don't lose my eye off the game so I can get the maximum out of myself.

"The Crucible is so special, especially for the players who have to come through all the qualifying because it's so hard. Snooker is lucky to have Ronnie O'Sullivan at the end of the day. He's a rare talent and a fantastic player.

"He seems to be settled now, so I'm sure he'll be confident about his chance of winning the title. But I'm not scared of playing him."

And, after what Hull has been through, that comes as no surprise.

Crucible draw: First round details (all matches best of 19 frames)

1 R O'Sullivan (Eng) v R Hull (Fin); 16 J Perry (Eng) v J Burnett (Scot); 9 M Fu (HK) v M Gould (Eng); 8 S Murphy (Eng) v J Cope (Eng); 5 B Hawkins (Eng) v D Gilbert (Eng); 12 R Walden (Eng) v K Wilson (Eng); 13 M Davis (Eng) v D Dale (Wal); 4 D Junhui (China) v M Wasley (Eng); 3 M Selby (Eng) v M White (Wales); 14 A Carter (Eng) v X Guodong (China); 11 J Higgins (Scot) v A McManus (Scot); 6 S Bingham (Eng) v K Doherty (Ire); 7 J Trump (Eng) v T Ford (Eng); 10 S Maguire (Scot) v R Day (Wal); 15 M Allen (NI) v M Holt (Eng); 2 N Robertson (Aus) v R Williams (Eng)

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits