Ronnie O’Sullivan fears he may have wasted the chance to overhaul Stephen Hendry’s major title record, writes Richard Hercock.
The three-time world champion is widely regarded as the most talented player to have picked up a snooker cue.
But the 35-year-old, who has suffered from depression which has often sparked a temperamental streak in his chequered career, has confessed he has ‘under-achieved’ in the game.
And the world No 13 fears he may even tumble out of the elite top 16 over the coming months and be forced to endure the unfamiliar route of having to go through qualifiers for next season’s World Championships in Sheffield.
“I’ve won four UK titles, four Masters and three Worlds, which is a good haul, but in my mind I have under-achieved,” admitted the Essex player.
“I should have won two more World titles, two more Masters and maybe another UK. I’ve been in nine Masters finals and I should have converted another couple of those.”
O’Sullivan stands fourth on the all-time winners list of ranking titles with 22 trophies. Leading the way is Stephen Hendry with 36 ranking titles, although his last was in 2005 at the Malta Cup, followed by Steve Davis (28) and John Higgins (24).
“I could have had Stephen Hendry’s records in sight, but I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career,” said O’Sullivan.
“I suppose with the mindset I have had at times, I should be happy with what I’ve achieved.
“I’m still excited when I look forward to the big events. I’m happy to be the underdog now, even though I would much rather be among the favourites and really fancying my chances.
“The other players have flown past me and rankings don’t lie. I’m coming from a different place where I enjoy events and hope to nick a big scalp. There is no pressure on me to win.”
With the UK Championship coming in December followed by the Masters in January, O’Sullivan knows success is crucial if he is to pick up valuable ranking points.
Chasing points has seen O’Sullivan, along with the game’s elite players, compete in the new series of Player Tour Championship events.
O’Sullivan, who has never shied from confrontation with the sport’s administrators, accused World Snooker of ‘blackmailing’ players to compete in the low-profile events as ranking points were on offer.
Failure to do so, and players could tumble down the rankings and miss out on the more lucrative majors like the World Championship or UK Championship, which returns to York Barbican next month.
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn – in an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post – accepted it was a form of blackmail, but stressed it was the only way to get the top 16 players to turn up and support the sport’s expansion plans to take the game global.
“If Ronnie O’Sullivan is a star, he is entitled to get every penny out of the game he can,” said Hearn. “But I do expect them to do their bit as well, as I think it’s a team effort.”
O’Sullivan came through the professional ranks with Higgins and Mark Williams, and though the trio are less than nine months apart in age, the player known universally as ‘The Rocket’ feels he has fallen behind.
“Those two are still winning titles,” he said. “I was doing the same until two years ago, but I’m not any more so I’m not in that category. Then you’ve got Mark Selby who is world No 1 and very consistent, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui. There are eight or nine players who are winning everything, and I’m not one of them. It’s touch and go whether I’ll even be in the top 16 when the World Championship comes around.”
O’Sullivan had threatened to skip last year’s Crucible finals, but after linking with sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters – who also worked with the 2008 Olympic cyclists – he relented.
At the time he said on Twitter: “I used to run to escape my demons, it was something positive. It kept me out of trouble. Hahaha. Gonna try and put snooker first now, though.
“Dr Steve Peters has really given me a new way of seeing things... it’s a work in progress.
“If I do play on next year my main aim is to sort the head out. Hopefully, the game will take care of itself. Enjoyment!
“Depression? I get down when I play a poor game. But hey who doesn’t? The key is to enjoy. As long as I enjoy playing I will continue to play.”
The UK Championship returns to York Barbican from December 3-11. Tickets are on sale now, for details call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets