RONNIE O’Sullivan dramatically called off his snooker sabbatical yesterday, but admitted he may well end up “getting smashed” when he returns to the table to defend his world title in seven weeks’ time.
O’Sullivan won his fourth World Championship in May, but then announced he was taking a break from the sport to deal with personal issues that have dogged him throughout his career. The 37-year-old made a brief comeback in September at a tournament in Gloucester, but he once again decided to walk away from the sport following a defeat at the hands of the unheralded Simon Bedford.
The Essex potter, widely regarded as the best player in the history of the game, vowed not to return before the end of the season, but he went back on that decision yesterday lunchtime, revealing at a press conference in London that he intended to return to the action for this year’s event at the Crucible.
“The Rocket” says he has played snooker on just ten days out of the 302 that have passed since he posed with the famous trophy in Sheffield last May. For that reason, he knows he is taking a massive gamble.
“I’m very match rusty. I haven’t played any matches. I have not been in any intense situations so it’s going to be a tough call to go in there with no match practice behind me,” O’Sullivan said. “I might get smashed in Sheffield. I’m going into the unknown. It’s a massive challenge.”
O’Sullivan’s career has been a dramatic rollercoaster of emotions. The Chigwell star made his first century break at ten years old, his first 147 came five years later, 12 months before he turned professional. He then went on to win four world titles and 27 ranking tournaments, but off-the-table problems, including a battle with depression coupled with several disciplinary issues, meant O’Sullivan often made the headlines for the wrong reasons.
O’Sullivan sought the care of renowned psychologist Dr Steve Peters to help him, but he admits he cannot be sure that his personal problems – which will be chronicled in a second autobiography he is bringing out in October – will not affect his play when he returns.
“They [the personal issues] possibly could [affect me],” he said. “That’s the reality of it. I can’t make any guarantees. All I know is that I have to make a start. I have tried to put everything on hold, get things resolved. Hopefully they will be resolved. If they are not, I will re-address it and see if I am still capable of taking on a commitment of being a professional sportsman.
“Have the personal problems been resolved? No.”
O’Sullivan’s charm, which has won him many a fan in snooker and beyond, shone brightly throughout the press conference he had called to announce his comeback.
The four-time world champion, an Arsenal fan, offered some advice to Arsene Wenger about how to spend his transfer budget – “Go to Las Vegas and put it on red,” he quipped – and he wore a wide smile when he was asked how he had spent his time away from snooker.
“You don’t want to know, mate,” he told one reporter. “Trust me, It has been good, though. Very good.”
What is clear is that he has rediscovered his enthusiasm for the game – thanks to a mix of his revulsion at the boredom of everyday life, and his determination to prove his doubters wrong.
“Boredom was a big factor [in deciding whether to come back],” he continued.
“Three or four months ago I was sitting there thinking: ‘I’d take getting beaten 10-0 in Sheffield just to be back playing rather than not doing anything’.
“I was a bit bored just going out for lunches and chilling out. I needed the rest but I just thought it was time to get back to doing what I’ve done for a lot of my life. I have a different perspective on it now. I thought maybe it was worth giving it another whirl.
“I certainly feel refreshed. I love the challenge, I know what I’m capable of. I know how good I am. I hope a few people do write me off because that’ll make me stronger.”