O'Sullivan aims to realise maximum potential

Snooker
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The Independent Online
As Ronnie O'Sullivan played his first ball in the 14th frame of his match against Mick Price yesterday, he declined to go for a difficult red, thinking: "I'm quite enjoying playing safety at the moment." Five minutes and 20 seconds later he had scored the fastest maximum ever in tournament snooker.

Safety first, devastation second as 36 balls were were potted in 320 seconds. It worked out at one every nine seconds and, adding the pounds 147,000 prize for the 147 clearance to pounds 18,000 for the highest break at the Embassy World Championship, pounds 515 per second of the frame.

It was the fourth maximum at the world championship and the latest in a list of remarkable feats from a 21-year-old who, the six-times world champion Stephen Hendry's remarkable record notwithstanding, is the outstanding personality in snooker. Last year he disgraced himself at the Crucible by assaulting a press officer; this year he has hit the headlines for the right reasons.

"I thought it was on when I got to the second red," O'Sullivan said after his 10-6 first-round victory over Price. "I was in the balls and all I could think was maxi."

After his one safety shot, O'Sullivan relentlessly potted ball after ball, going out of position only once when he nearly snookered himself on the penultimate red with the pink. Just enough of the ball was showing, however, and once that dropped the rest was a formality.

The pace was astounding, the total time for the break being one minute and 49 seconds faster than the previous best, set by Thailand's James Wattana in the 1992 British Open. "If I had stopped and thought I'd have probably missed," O'Sullivan said. "I was shaking like a leaf. I was in bits. But I thought: 'If I stop you're just going to break the rhythm'." At one point O'Sullivan dropped his chalk, leaving it behind in his hurry to complete the frame.

The maximum follows a turbulent season for O'Sullivan which has included two tournament victories and an outburst at the European Open in Malta last month when he announced he wanted to give up the sport. Typically, he withdrew the comment at the next event, saying: "People should take with a pinch of salt some of the things I say ... It wasn't the first time I said I was going to quit and I don't suppose it will be the last."

If that points to a remarkable young man finding fame hard to handle, then the impression is correct. The world No 8 from Chigwell, Essex, got his first 100 break at 10 and at 17 became the youngest winner of an international professional tournament. This coincided with his father being given a life sentence for murder.

The resultant publicity would have affected the most stable of personalities and 12 months ago his career appeared to be heading for oblivion. He received a suspended two-year ban and a pounds 20,000 fine after the assault in Sheffield. He then vowed to become a "model professional and an ambassador for the game."

His threat to retire did not accord with that ambition but since then he has taken up running and lost weight. "I'm practising harder now than I have for four or five years," he said yesterday. "I was like that in my amateur days but since I turned pro it nearly did my brain in. Snooker wasn't the most important thing in my life.

"I'm coming to terms with things. I'm 21 and a man now and I have to start acting like a one. I had to get it together. I was out of order last year, I've admitted that. Now it's the real me."

The real Ronnie is not easy to locate, but if O'Sullivan could realise his potential he would be the natural successor to Hendry, whom he is scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals. "I'm here to win the tournament," he said yesterday. "The maximum is history now." It is in all senses of the word.

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