Ronnie O'Sullivan competes at the World Championship for a remarkable 22nd time this year. To mark his appearances at the snooker's biggest event, Eurosport's Desmond Kane asks the five-times defending world champion 21 questions that O'Sullivan answers honestly ahead of his opening match at the 2014 tournament against Robin Hull on Saturday morning.
In his latest exclusive blog, 'The People's Champion' discusses the good, the bad, the ugly - and some utterly farcical moments - that have captivated the British sporting public over three glorious decades of competing in Sheffield. Here are questions 12-21 in the second part of our interview that looks at his rivals for this year's tournament, his favourite Crucible maximums, why he feels Stephen Hendry remains the greatest and why he is considering walking away from the sport for another six months.
First part of the interview (1-11) can be found here. It covers the controversial meetings with Alain Robidoux, Stephen Hendry and Peter Ebdon, his thoughts on the elongated format of the World Championship and why he feels it is important to honour the spirit of former crowd favourites Alex Higgins and Jimmy White.
12. Should you have won more World Championships?
RO: In hindsight, if I had played the first 20 years like I played the past two or three, I could have won seven, maybe eight by now. I perhaps would have won more. How many more, I don't know? But I'm happy with five. If you had asked me in 2000, I would have maybe wanted a bit more.
13. Where would you rate yourself in the list of the greatest players to play at the venue?
RO: That is a hard one to answer. Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis have to be the two greatest modern day players to play at the Crucible. But you also have John Higgins. I'd like to put myself in that hat to make up the four. To me, they are the three best players I have come across around that stage. To be alongside them, is nice for me.
14. Who are your top five players you expect to do well this year?
RO: I like Barry Hawkins. I think he has got a really consistent game. If he finds a bit of form and confidence, he is going to be hard to beat. Obviously, Ding Junhui is on a great run this year. He is finding his form during matches which is crucial. You can never rule out Neil Robertson or John Higgins, who have won it and both have solid games. Judd Trump is the other guy I'd throw in there. If he gets his game going, he will be hard to beat in Sheffield.
15. Favourite Crucible 147 break?
RO: I loved Jimmy White's 147 at the Crucible in 1992 when he was in his prime and was sporting long hair. Tony Drago gave him a big hug. It was a terrific break. It was a great moment for Jimmy.
Of course, I enjoyed my 147 in just over five minutes in 1997, but that wasn't my favourite maxi. It was a good one, but for me personally the one against Mark Williams in the 2008 second round tops the list. It came at a good time because I had just got done for making lewd comments on a microphone in China that were supposed to be a joke off camera.
There was talk about me getting banned. I thought 'what reason could I give the authorities not to ban me?' It was either win the World Championship or make a 147. So I made the 147, and I thought 'lovely'. That is the only reason why I showed a lot of emotion when I made it. I heard they were going to make an example of me. So I thought that would make them think twice, and also pay the fine that they were going to give me for the China episode. I went onto win and also had the 147. I thought: 'They can do what they like now, I don't really care.' It was great timing for me.
16. Earliest memory of watching World Championship as a kid?
RO: I remember watching the tournament in 1984, but I remember really getting into it when I was nine or 10. I was away somewhere, and was trying to check up on the scoreline in the 1985 final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor. That was my biggest and earliest memory of watching snooker at the Crucible. Of course, Dennis won 18-17. What a match to encourage you to become good at the sport.
17. What is your form like in comparison to when you won your other five titles?
RO: I was playing better in 2012 while last year my practice form was a little bit better. This year, I've had a few more tournaments, and I know not to gauge my practice form by how I'm playing in tournaments. There have been numerous tournaments where I've not been content with my practice form yet suddenly slip into a nicer rhythm during the matches. I'm not paying too much attention to that. I've put a lot of practice in so we will see what happens. I'm looking forward to it.
18. Sport psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters can be spotted on the Liverpool bench these days as they chase the Premier League. Will he be in your corner again?
RO: Steve is doing really well with Liverpool, and is keen for me to get the third one (world title) to complete the hat-trick. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. I'm lucky to have him in my corner. He has helped me massively, and I can't thank him enough. It if wasn't for him, I wouldn't be playing snooker now. I know I wouldn't. I owe my last two or three years in the game to Steve Peters.
19. Have standards improved since you, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Mark Williams were battling for supremacy at the Crucible in the late 90s/early noughties?
RO: I've always said that snooker enjoyed a golden era when Hendry, Higgins, Williams, Matthew Stevens, the late, great Paul Hunter and myself were battling it out. I truly believe that was the best top six in the history of the game. Hendry is not there. John is not playing as well as he used to. Williams is not playing as well as he used to. For me, getting through Hendry, Higgins and Williams in their prime was almost impossible. To beat two of them was so, so tough. Nobody has made me fight as tough as that trio in their prime. In some way, the players these days go for their shots a lot more.
They are much more aggressive. They miss a few balls to let you in, and are less focused on safety. The games are much more enjoyable for me these days than 10 or 15 years ago when you had several players you didn't really like playing because you knew they could match you. Apart from maybe Mark Selby, a lot of the top players try to win frames at one visit. In some ways, those games are easier to play in. You either get taken out early, or you can feed off it to enjoy the battle.
20. Six would take you level with Steve Davis' and Ray Reardon's haul. Do you think you need to equal Stephen Hendry's record of seven to have a claim to be called the greatest?
RO: I don't think about targets. I'm not getting any younger. I know people are saying 'he is playing better than ever...' But at 38, I can't expect to be winning it. I'd like to win one in my 40s. But to win two or three from now, is asking a lot of myself. I'm not saying it can't happen because you never know. But I don't want to put unrealistic targets on myself, or unnecessary pressure. I want to be happy with what I've achieved while striving to win another. I can't expect to win another three going into my 40s when nobody has won more than one beyond the age of 31 over the past 40 years apart from me and John Higgins.
It would be stupid of me to set myself high targets that nobody has achieved in the history of the sport. For me, it is about enjoying as many World Championships as I can play in. I think you would have to equal Hendry's record to be classified as the greatest of all-time. I can't put myself in that league just yet. I'm happy that I've won it five times over a 13-year period. I think Hendry remains the greatest, but I'd like to think I played an attractive style of snooker. And Hendry did too. He was much more of a machine. He was more consistent than I was. I've learned to be a bit more consistent. If I could have got that earlier in my career then who knows? To be the greatest, I think anyone would have to win seven.
21. Win or lose, what are your plans after the 17-day marathon at the Crucible Theatre is over?
RO: I'm trying to get the work-life balance right. I might end up playing in less tournaments next year if I feel I'm making conscious decisions that suit me. I might play in only four or five events next season. We'll see how it goes, but I might take six months off after the World Championship and maybe come back again in November. I'm really looking forward to taking time off after this World Championship. I've got to do some more shows on Eurosport which is great, but there are a couple of other things I want to do.
I've looked at the calendar, and I don't want to be going here, there and everywhere. But I want to fill my time up with something. I've got six months planned. Then by the time I come to November, I'll keep those months free in case I want to play in the UK Championship, the Champions Cup, the Masters, the Welsh Open, the German Masters and the World Championship. I'll probably do those next season. That would be the plan at the moment, but we'll see how it works out.
And a bonus question. What single incident made you laugh out loud at the Crucible?
RO: One of my favourite moments was a match between John Parrot and Tony Knowles. I remember watching it on the box. John Parrot was in a snooker on the brown. He missed it, and the referee said: 'foul four, and a miss'. Tony Knowles has said to the referee: 'Yeah, put the white back'. Parrot suddenly gets down to pot the brown, blue, pink and black to clear up. Knowlsey is going mad. He is saying to the referee: 'He couldn't see that brown.' Poor Knowlsey. He was getting out of his chair, and was fuming. But it was funny to watch.
The 2014 World Championship begins at 10am (BST) on Saturday morning with live coverage on British Eurosport throughout the 17 days.
- Sports & Recreation
- Stephen Hendry
- John Higgins