Ronnie O’Sullivan is a keen runner, but even the five-times world champion is left daunted by the marathon that is the Betfred World Championship.
The 17-day tournament cues off in Sheffield tomorrow with O’Sullivan being tipped to regain a title he lost to world No 1 Mark Selby 12 months ago.
The 39-year-old won his first Crucible title in 2001, and needs just one more Steel City triumph to draw level with Steve Davis on six. Stephen Hendry holds the record with seven Crucible wins.
O’Sullivan was yesterday drawn against debutant Craig Steadman in the first round and, after missing the China Open, has been getting into shape for the Crucible with practice matches at the Star Academy in Sheffield.
“It’s a strange one for me – I look forward to the Crucible and Sheffield, and I don’t look forward to it at the same time,” said O’Sullivan.
“It is the pinnacle of the season so we all await it at the end, and savour it. But it is such a long tournament at 17 days from start to finish to stay focused and keep your form.
“I have won it five times and would like to win it again and equal Steve Davis, who was my hero growing up. I will go there and give it my best shot and see what happens.
“You have to hold your concentration for very long periods of time, not just within matches but between matches, and you burn a lot of nervous energy.
“But some years you go and feel like you could have done another 17 days; I felt like that when I won the titles in 2012 and 2013.
“I felt like I was playing very well and was in control of my emotions. But at other times I have struggled, had to come from behind and dig deep and felt drained by the end.
“The Hendry way at his best was blow everyone away and be fresh as a daisy at the end – or the (John) Higgins way, when he usually worked very hard to win the titles.
“But if you can win some matches with something in hand, it definitely takes less out of you.
“I am very competitive and, of course, I want a sixth and even a seventh world title.
“But only I will know, and not until I get there, just how hard I am prepared to fight for it in Sheffield. I will go there with the mindset of winning it and giving it my all, and I have had a good season, but I have one foot in and one foot out of snooker and sometimes it catches up with you in events.”
Defending champion Selby will face another debutant in Kurt Maflin when he opens his defence tomorrow morning.
“Players in the past have struggled, first rounds are always difficult,” said six-time champion Davis, who conducted the draw yesterday at Sheffield’s Hallamshire Golf Club. “But Mark Selby is a very balanced player mentally, so I don’t expect him to have problems.”
Four-time winner John Higgins opens against Robert Milkins, Jamie Jones – who knocked out Sheffield’s Adam Duffy in the qualifiers – plays Australian Neil Robertson, Sheffield-based Ding Junhui hopes to end his long wait for Crucible success as he takes on Mark Davis, while Grimsby’s Stuart Carrington has an enticing encounter with Judd Trump.
O’Sullivan has tipped Trump – a former Crucible runner-up – as the main threat in Sheffield.
“I think he is the man to beat going in to Sheffield – but of course there are people capable of upsetting him,” revealed O’Sullivan.
“Judd has beaten me in a big final this season and I think that was probably important for him, after I had won a couple of other finals against him this season.
“He is looking very confident this season and producing a more consistently high level of snooker.
“So I would say he goes in to the World Championship this year as the favourite to lift the trophy at the Crucible.”
Trump reached the World Championship final at the first attempt in 2011, and the 25-year-old has since pocketed four ranking titles.
“He has found some form at the right time winning the World Grand Prix, having played a lot of snooker over the past four years or so,” added O’Sullivan.
“I would say he is one of those who has entered the most tournaments in that time. He did have a lean spell for a couple of years, but has come out very strongly.
“Hopefully I am one of those players capable of upsetting him and you are looking at players like Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson and John Higgins, who has come back to some better form, all of whom are contenders.
“But I just see Judd as the player in front at the moment. We have seen what can happen when he gets on a roll at the Crucible back in 2011.
“And I have no doubt he is a better player overall now than he was then. Other players are better, too, so that is never enough on its own, but he has the game and the tools.”
O’Sullivan has gone out at the first-round stage three times since making his Crucible debut in 1993 – although the last time that happened was 2003.
Steadman, a 32-year-old Lancashire potter, making his bow at the famous Sheffield theatre, represents his first hurdle this year.
“The one tie that hits me is Ronnie against the debutant,” said World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn.
“A pressure match for both players.
“One with everything to lose, one with everything to gain.”
Draw for the first round of the World Championship:
Mark Selby (Eng) v Kurt Maflin (Nor)
Stephen Maguire (Sco) v Anthony McGill (Sco)
Joe Perry (Eng) v Zhang Anda (Chn)
Shaun Murphy (Eng) v Robin Hull (Fin)
Barry Hawkins (Eng) v Matthew Selt (Eng)
Mark Allen (NI) v Ryan Day (Wal)
Ali Carter (Eng) v Alan McManus (Sco)
Neil Robertson (Aus) v Jamie Jones (Wal)
Ding Junhui (Chn) v Mark Davis (Eng)
John Higgins (Sco) v Robert Milkins (Eng)
Marco Fu (HK) v Jimmy Robertson (Eng)
Judd Trump (Eng) v Stuart Carrington (Eng)
Ricky Walden (Eng) v Graeme Dott (Sco)
Stuart Bingham (Eng) v Robbie Williams (Eng)
Mark Williams (Wal) v Matthew Stevens (Wal)
Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) v Craig Steadman (Eng)
The tournament runs from April 18 to May 4.