Snooker: O'Sullivan's mood back in the pink

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WITH RONNIE O'SULLIVAN you wonder what is more damaging: the troughs of depression he visits too often or the mood swings that speak of greater confusion. "A troubled talent" seemed too glib a description yesterday.

After he had won his first-round match at the Embassy World Championship O'Sullivan spoke of the depths that inclined him to give up snooker, but after beating Joe Perry 13-8 yesterday to reach the quarter-finals a blinding brightness appeared to have replaced the impenetrable dark of only a few days before.

"A lot can happen in three or four days," he said. "It's amazing. It really is. Some days you can feel down and others it just comes back and stays with you a while. No doubt it'll go sooner or later but you have to take it while you can.

"I've got most of my troubles out of the way. I had a few off the table at the start of the season but they've been put to bed now. I can look forward to three or four years trouble free."

Which is a psychological U-turn that leaves you wondering whether he was playing games had he not pulled out of two tournaments this season, including November's UK Championship in which he was defending champion, on medical advice. All snooker players get fed up and maybe he hides it less well than his peers, or maybe he is just trying to alleviate the expectation his wonderful skill generates.

For his sake you hope for the best, as indeed O'Sullivan did yesterday, and on the table at least there was evidence of normality, which in his case is a mixture of barely credible brilliance and errors so crass you wonder whether the same man is holding the cue.

Ahead 9-7 overnight, he had only one substantial break, 72, but nevertheless had enough long pots and kept enough of a grip on his discipline to brush aside Perry, who threatened to repeat his upset of Steve Davis in the first round when level at 6-6.

The last frame was what the third-seeded O'Sullivan should, and probably does, aim for. At 62-9 down the Londoner visited the table three times, the biggest break of which was 35, but by allying caution and some carefully laid snookers to his more celebrated gifts he sneaked it 63-62.

"In spits and spats he looked like he had plenty there," Perry said. "He looked good when he is in full flow but the odd frame he got a bit scrappy. I don't know what it is. Maybe he got bored."

The happy-clappy O'Sullivan would have none of it in his current eagerness to be positive. "The second session was very good for me, believe it or not," he said. "Joe had a 70 and a 100 break but I managed to nick a couple, which was good for me. He could have won that session, so to come out 4-4 left me really pleased.

"I think the practice I put in before the tournament is beginning to pay off a little bit. I feel really good. It gets difficult out there but you've got to expect that: you're only human, you make mistakes."

He now meets the 1991 champion, John Parrott, whose predatory instincts and ability to prey on errors have given him a 6-2 lead in head-to-head meetings. "I know I have to tighten my game up a little bit," O'Sullivan said. "He always seems to play well against me."

Concentration is O'Sullivan's Achilles' heel and Mark Williams has admitted to finding it elusive at times in the past. Not that there was any sign of his mental wavering yesterday as he converted a 9-7 advantage from Sunday into a 13-7 victory over Nick Walker.

Breaks of 55, 45, 83, 39 and 26 finished the match in less than 80 minutes and underlined that Williams, the fifth seed and winner of three ranking events this season, is a credible contender here even though he will probably have to play two world champions to reach the final. Ken Doherty awaits him next and after that, in all likelihood, it will be the defending champion, John Higgins. "I would love to win my next match and play John in the semi-final," Williams said. "And I think I can beat him. I've got as good a chance as anyone in the tournament. I'm never going to come here in a better frame of mind."

You wonder if O'Sullivan will ever be able to say the same.

Results, Digest, page 23