Ronnie O’Sullivan admits the string of former UK Championship winners falling by the wayside in York has given him a good laugh. The Rocket beat long-time Essex rival Mark King 6-3 at the Barbican to move into the last 16 as he chases an eighth title in the first major of the season.
But plenty of the 45-year-old O’Sullivan’s rivals for the crown have already gone including Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy - with John Higgins joining them later in the afternoon on Monday.
And O’Sullivan, who made breaks of 108, 70, 84, 52, 63, 53, also reckons he has earned favour with the ‘snooker gods’ for all his hard work and dedication over a 30-year career.
Going for 21st Triple Crown title, he said: “You hear about the other UK champions losing. I have a little chuckle when I see all these other big names being bombed out.
“They see other people bottling it and twitching up all over the gaff, and I’m thinking ‘Beautiful’. I am pleased to be through. Mark is a tough player, I knew it would be tough so I was trying to focus on my work with Steve Peters.
“Since the World Championship in 2020 I have been playing exhibition-style snooker and that is not good enough when it comes to the nitty gritty.
“If it was there, great, if it wasn’t I was giving up. But match snooker is different, and I owe it to myself. I may not have long left so it’s one last effort really. You can’t predict form, but you can control the control-ables. It doesn’t come naturally that level of work for me, as it does for John Higgins.
“But if you do work at it, sometimes it lands in your lap from the snooker gods and they reward you at some point. However you have to do your duties for that to happen. I wouldn’t say my views on the snooker gods are exactly deep! There are gods everywhere – snooker gods, other gods.
“I always like to call them the snooker gods as they have been pretty good to me. I praise them and count my blessings for giving me the opportunity not do what I do. But I have to apply myself, get out of bed and do your part with some hard yards.
“I try not read too much into my matches as it upsets me sometimes and can put me in a doom and gloom frame of mind. It was what it was today, and I am just pleased to be in the next round. And overall I am in a really good place with everything and have my life in a really good situation.
“It’s just win-win all over the shop right now, I don’t see any losses anywhere. No doubt having said that something bad will happen to stop me in my tracks!”
Higgins became the sixth former UK Championship winner to crash out of this year’s tournament after O’Sullivan’s game had finished. The three-time winner lost a thriller at the York Barbican to young Chinese speedster Zhao Xintong 6-5 after being two up with three to play.
And Higgins, who had lost in the final of the last three events before the first major of the season, joins Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui and Mark Williams on the sidelines.
World No26 Zhao, 24, is a prodigiously talented prospect and with this victory is into the last 16 at the UK for the first time.
But dejected Scot Higgins said: “It’s just like the other 10 times coming to York losing 6-5. It’s what happens to me here. I missed a red at 5-4 up which was unforgivable, I had the match at my mercy. I guess it’s the York curse for me, which is a shame as it’s a lovely place. I have just never felt comfortable playing here, and done better at other venues in this event.
“But he was by far the better player, I nicked a couple of frames but I wouldn’t have deserved to win. I was all over the place really. He has so much ability. You can see he is learning and round his game, but doesn’t want to take the attacking prowess away from his game. He is actually a joy to watch.”
Zhao said: “It was a great match and win for me. I got that chance in the last frame and managed to take it. John is a legend and very hard to beat, but I did it this evening. I think I can win the tournament if I carry on playing like this.”