Snooker: Maguire set to turn bully to subdue O'Sullivan

Stephen Maguire yesterday alerted Ronnie O'Sullivan to his intention to employ brutal tactics when snooker's two most mesmeric talents meet on the opening day of the World Championship.

Stephen Maguire yesterday alerted Ronnie O'Sullivan to his intention to employ brutal tactics when snooker's two most mesmeric talents meet on the opening day of the World Championship.

The latest Scot to arrive in Sheffield with high hopes of returning home with the title will be seeking his third win in four meetings with the world No 1 this season, and feels O'Sullivan will be vulnerable, particularly if the early frames are closely contested.

"You have to stand up to him and show him you're not going to be bullied on a snooker table," Maguire said, "and I fancy myself as a bit of a bully on the baize so I'll try to bully him.

"You have to play your own game. You don't have to showboat to bully, but as long as you show you're ready to go shot for shot with him and not be intimidated that shows him he's got a game on."

The eye-catching match is a repeat of last year's first-round tie which O'Sullivan won 10-6 before going on to win the world title for a second time, beating Graham Dott in the final. But Maguire has used that disappointment to motivate him this season.

Although his ranking at the start of the season meant he was forced to qualify to reach The Crucible, the new UK champion has surged from 24th to third in the world inside barely six months.

There is no higher prize in the game than the World Championship, and Maguire was hailed as a pretender to O'Sullivan's mantle after he landed the UK title in York last November. His performances at the Barbican Centre there were of such a high standard that Maguire looked every inch a world champion in the making, with O'Sullivan cast aside in the second round, before wins over Steve Davis, Stephen Lee, Mark King and David Gray, who sat in his chair for much of the final. Maguire prevailed 10-1, firing in three centuries.

Had he not been drawn with O'Sullivan, the talk would have been of who might stop Maguire going all the way this year, but the question will have to be asked early.

O'Sullivan himself tipped Maguire as a player who might "rule the game for the next 10 years" after his early loss in York.

The feeling among fellow professionals is that it is unfortunate for the tournament that one must be eliminated so early. Even Stephen Hendry said that a Maguire-O'Sullivan final would have been a fantastic prospect.

"It is a bit of a shame," admitted Maguire, "but so long as it's the world No 1 who leaves and not the world No 3 then I'll be happy. I lost to him last year, but I wasn't bullied then.

"I was 3-2 up and in control of the match, and then he does what he does best and made four breaks on the spin and I hardly got a shot. He's the best player in the world and he keeps you in your seat and likes to keep you there as long as possible. But Saturday 10am, what a way to start the tournament. Don't miss it."

Paul Hunter, who is battling with cancer of the colon, is due to face Michael Holt at 2.30pm tomorrow.

* TV times: Today: BBC2 12.00, 16.30, 21.00; BBC1 13.15; British Eurosport 10.00, 15.45, 19.00. Tomorrow: BBC2 16.25, 19.20, 23.30, 00.50.

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