RONNIE O’Sullivan admits Barry Hearn has the pulling power to ensure he is not lost to snooker forever.
The man chasing his fifth Betfair World Championship title raised the stakes for his semi-final showdown against Judd Trump by stating this would be his last tilt at Crucible glory.
He claimed on Wednesday night that he would fulfill a sponsor’s commitment to play ten tournaments, mostly low-profile events, and then give up the game, having earned enough to pay his children’s school fees for years to come.
But O’Sullivan has confirmed he could be swayed by World Snooker chairman Hearn to play in tournaments if the circumstances suit him. Hearn, who has managed O’Sullivan in the past, has vowed not to stand in the 37-year-old’s way should the latest in a long line of retirement warnings be one he sticks to.
O’Sullivan said: “I’m not going to be chasing rankings points, I’m not going to be going to China six times a year, and if I’m not prepared to do any of that I might as well find something else to do.
“But you never know with Barry, he’s always changing things. He might go, ‘Look Ronnsy, I’ve got a little tournament for you, you can turn up, do two weeks’ practice’.
“And I might go, ‘You know what, I’m up for that’. But I’m not up for the constant putting my life into snooker.”
O’Sullivan was carrying a 9-7 lead over Trump into last night’s third stanza of their four-session semi-final, after edging ahead earlier in the day from a 4-4 overnight stalemate.
The fact O’Sullivan can engineer a lead over a player as talented as world No 3 Trump, despite sitting out almost an entire season leading into this tournament, shows his talent remains unique. To trade it in for a life away from snooker would seem a gamble, given his earning ability, but O’Sullivan insists he is tired of the sport that has brought him over £6 million in prize money, and huge sums in endorsements.
“I don’t want to be a celebrity, I don’t want to be on the telly, I don’t want to do any of that sort of stuff,” O’Sullivan said. “Snooker’s been great to me but I find it hard to manage my levels of expectations.”
There has to be a degree of scepticism when it comes to retirement announcements from O’Sullivan, given he has been threatening to quit since he was a teenager. And breaks of 90, 93 and 60 against Trump in yesterday’s opening session showed he still has the appetite for competition at the highest level.
The quality of that tussle could not be replicated by last-four debutants Barry Hawkins and Ricky Walden in the second semi-final though, with the pair limping through their afternoon session, Walden going from 6-2 to 9-7 in front despite his opponent remaining without a half-century break.
Chester-based Walden fired in 106, his third century of the match, to lead 8-5, but then saw Kent cueman Hawkins claw his way back.
Hawkins had struggled badly on Thursday, managing a top break of just 36, and his break-building trouble persisted.
He was determined to improve on that meagre score and reached the same mark in the 14th frame before taking on an optimistic pink. Instead he ran the pink into a red. Fortunately for Hawkins it did not prove costly.
And when Hawkins finally did get going on a break in the next frame and went beyond 36, he allowed himself to make a small fist pump. He ended on 47, still without an elusive 50 break.
Walden would have kicked himself had he been level overnight, and he at least avoided that thanks to a break of 53 in the last frame of the session.