Ronnie O’Sullivan admits claiming he ‘doesn’t care’ and playing down his stellar achievements is just a way of coping with pressure.
The Rocket is now widely recognised as the greatest snooker player ever to pick up a cue after equalling Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles last year.
And that means world No1 O’Sullivan, 47, can set a new record at the Crucible theatre this year if he lifts the famous trophy for an eight time in Sheffield.
O’Sullivan, a winner of 39 ranking titles and seven Masters crowns, has irritated some of his army of fans by claiming in public that snooker means little to him these days.
But there have been times in recent years when the mask has slipped, and the real and raw emotion has poured out of O’Sullivan.
Beating Mark Allen in the final of the 2018 UK Championship saw O’Sullivan overtake Stephen Hendry’s record of 18 successes in snooker’s three ‘major’ tournaments.
That saw him celebrate wildly with his fans and support group – leaping onto the barrier surrounding the arena in York, then going walkabout in the fans with the trophy.
That was followed by a total release as O’Sullivan, the sport’s box office No1 for more than 30 years, then sat in his chair and poured water all over his head.
Then when becoming the first player to make a 1,000 centuries at the 2019 Players Championship a beaming O’Sullivan milked the reaction from the crowd and potted the key red left-handed to a standing ovation.
And just 12 months ago O’Sullivan collapsed and sobbed in the arms of beaten World Championship final opponent Judd Trump after finally equalling Hendry’s mark of seven crowns.
O’Sullivan, who has won the Champion of Champions and Hong Kong Masters titles this season, said: “I suppose playing it down is part of my coping mechanism. I have worked a lot with Steve Peters.
“I try to get a perspective on the game and on my life, and I think that is better now. I don’t want to be defined by snooker, a result, achievements. If they come, great
“But yeah, I probably play it down. I will be trying my hardest this year, obviously. I think I have another four good genuine attempts at it.
“If I don’t make it this year, maybe I have another three. I have probably got another four good attempts in me to do it.
“I do care, of course, I care. I just try to have a better perspective on it. It is a big part of my life, but not all of my life. I am not going to invest everything into it.
“If it happens, great. I don’t have to be fully focused 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I can switch off 5-10 minutes before every match.
“Once I put my cue down, you know I try to forget about snooker and enjoy my life.
“But obviously you get excited at this time of year, it’s a big tournament. You want to get your game right, you want to be feeling going into the Crucible that you have a chance to have a go.
“I am definitely getting excited. Listen, I haven’t done much in the ranking tournaments either this year, so it would be nice to have a good run.
“I know I have won a couple of tournaments but they didn’t go towards my ranking points.
“The only big tournament we had to go at this year was the UK Championship. The rest of them have been like Home Nations. It is hard to get your teeth into tournaments like that.
“When there is a good tournament, you want to be in it for as long as you can.
“The only time I have been surprised when I won it was 2020 – I literally didn’t have much of a game. But all of the other years I won it, I wasn’t overly surprised.
“I thought ‘my game is good, I have a chance here’. The other years I have gone there I have thought, ‘hmmm, I am probably going to get found out here’ – and I have.
“So, I usually have a good idea before going into Sheffield whether I will get through - or at least very early on in the tournament.”
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