"I’m a born again snooker player" as Ronnie O'Sullivan wins on return to UK Championship in York
It was 30 years to the day that O’Sullivan – then a rookie 17-year-old – won the first of his seven UK titles. Now 47, O’Sullivan is a sporting icon and the greatest player to ever pick up a cue.
But when he trailed Scotland’s McGill 2-0 in the early exchanges at the York Barbican – after a 116 clearance and a half-century break – there were murmurings inside the arena that O’Sullivan could follow defending champion Mark Allen, Jack Lisowski and Shaun Murphy in falling at the first hurdle.
But in a sometimes scrappy contest, O’Sullivan – who pulled out of this month’s Champion of Champions event in Bolton due to being “mentally drained and stressed” – stepped up a gear to win the next six frames with breaks of 89, 89, 66, 61 and 92 to progress 6-2.
“When I was 35, I thought I was probably done and dusted,” said O’Sullivan, wearing trainers instead of shoes due to a foot injury.
“That is what usually happens. I’ve had my best 10 years. I’m at that point where I thought everything Is a bonus and every year I get extra playing I appreciate it more.
“It is like having a second life in a way. I’m a born again snooker player.
“Anthony has played two games in qualifying and come here. It is always nice to have a couple of matches under your belt. At 2-0 down it was on me a little bit. I managed to play in and get involved in the game after that.”
O’Sullivan was joined in the second round by fellow ‘Class of 92’ cueman John Higgins, who beat Joe O’Connor 6-3.
The four-time world champion cruised into a 4-1 lead – with breaks of 66, 76 and 58 – before O’Connor cut the deficit to 4-3.
A superb 122 from Higgins – searching for his first ranking title since the 2021 Players Championship – was quickly followed by a match-winning 66.
“I was happy with the way it finished because I have lost a few matches after being well in front this season and things obviously start to go through your mind,” Higgins said. “All I was doing was just trying to keep my shoulders straight. It is difficult to get out of your mind sometimes so you just try to think positive and give off a good vibe."
Today, the second round starts, with Sheffield-based Ding Junhui facing Tom Ford, Judd Trump takes on Jamie Jones and Mark Williams meets Jamie Clarke. Mark Selby and Barry Hawkins – who are sharing a rented apartment in York for the tournament – are also in action on Wednesday night.
“Barry will be making me a cup of tea with some cyanide in," joked Selby, 40, after thrashing Mark Joyce 6-0. “I will have to blank him now.
“It’s a lovely apartment we are in but we are in the next room to each other.
“At the start of the competition he said that he’d looked at the accommodation and asked if I fancied sharing an apartment.
“The draw came out for the seeds and we knew if we both won we would play each other. I said to him that I was going to have the apartment all to myself.
“Barry is a great lad, one of my best friends on the tour and a great player.
“He is one of the form players so I will need to play somewhere similar to today to compete.”
Hawkins came through his first round match, 6-4 against Ben Woollaston.