World Championship - Ronnie O’Sullivan is more excited about running than snooker in Sheffield

Ronnie O’Sullivan walks out at the Crucible Theatre this morning looking to achieve sporting history at the Betfred World Championship.

Ronnie O'Sullvan celebrates winning last year's World Championship. Picture: BBC
Ronnie O'Sullvan celebrates winning last year's World Championship. Picture: BBC

The defending champion is chasing a seventh world title to emulate Crucible king Stephen Hendry

It would be a pinnacle moment in a snooker journey which has been 29 years in the making – O’Sullivan actually claimed his first world title 20 years ago – and confirm his status as the greatest player to ever pick up a cue.

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Not that you will find the 45-year-old getting carried away with emotion over the next 17 days. Far from it.

Ronnie O'Sullivan. Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire

Maybe it’s just mind games, but O’Sullivan insists he is ‘emotionally detached from snooker’ and is more animated talking about his running routes in Sheffield than creating sporting history.

The long list of one-liners leave you wondering if O’Sullivan is smiling behind his words.

“For me it’s like a holiday and I have got to go and hit a few balls,” he said. “I would rather not, but that’s part of my job I suppose. It’s always a grind here, sometimes the earlier it’s over the better.

“As you get to the end, you get a little bit excited, thinking ‘I have put this amount of effort in, I should try and get over the line and have something to show for it at the end’.

“I am emotionally detached from snooker now in many ways. I don’t crave anything. I wish I shared your excitement for me going for my seventh (world title). I don’t.

“I just enjoy playing, I don’t get too excited, there’s no desire for me to rack up titles. That doesn’t turn me on, it’s my job.

“Getting through the Covid test is the first challenge, I am just here to enjoy it. But if I don’t do well in the tournament, it’s not the end of the world, I can do some work with Eurosport and I have some great running routes.

“I had a nice run this morning,” O’Sullivan told The Yorkshire Post. “I have got all my runs booked for the rest of my time here.

“That’s the most important thing, whenever I travel I get my routes. I have some nice places to eat, the hotel is booked, I have some good friends to hang out with.

“I have got to hit a few balls, but if that finishes early, great, if it doesn’t I will just suck it up and try and get through it.”

Eight months after claiming his sixth world title, beating Kyren Wilson in the final 18-8, O’Sullivan faces Crucible debutant Mark Joyce this morning.

While Joyce, the 37-year-old from Walsall, will undoubtedly have butterflies when he steps into the Crucible arena, it is a familiar feeling for O’Sullivan who made his debut at the famous Sheffield theatre in 1993 – losing 10-7 in the first round to Alan McManus.

“Winning the World Championship always seems an anti-climax, and it’s the same with walking out (as defending champion),” said O’Sullivan.

“I never have the same enthusiasm as everyone else seems to talk about.

“You are here to do a job, I just wish I could be as excited as everyone else seems to be.

“It’s my least favourite tournament because it goes on for so long, I have such a low boredom threshold. Seventeen days, even if you do win, it seems a long time to spend in one place.

“It probably doesn’t suit my personality, rather than anything wrong with the Crucible or Sheffield.”

O’Sullivan has reached five finals this season, but – with tongue and cheek in close proximity – is quick to play down his own game.

“I don’t think my game is very good, I probably lack a lot of confidence and self-belief,” said a man who has won a record 37 ranking titles in a glittering career. “But once you get out there, you can’t think about that, just do that bit better than your opponent does on the day. When I get out there I manage to find something that allows me to compete.

“I lost my cue action when I was about 16, and I am still searching for it. I have been going 29 years and am yet to find it.

“Every now and then it comes back, and when it does I just have to cherish the moments. They are very few and far between.”

The 2021 tournament will see fans return to the Crucible as part of the Government pilot programme following the easing of lockdown restrictions in England, with organisers hopeful a capacity crowd will be able to attend the final.

O’Sullivan hopes fans will behave and respect the rules, inside and outside the Crucible.

“Hopefully the players will get a little bit of protection from World Snooker, so we don’t have to fend off some over-excited fans, someone that might have had a drink, or wants to get in our space,” he said.

“If they don’t I suppose I will have to prod them with my snooker cue.”

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