RONNIE O’Sullivan has admitted that he will only know if the current strategy of playing such a limited schedule is a success or not at the end of the season.

The Rocket is by his own admission rusty and underplayed so far this term, having had a brief run in the Paul Hunter Classic and a first-round exit in Shanghai.

In the context of the campaign and further big tournaments looming at the Champion of Champions in Coventry and the UK Championship in York, getting past Ben Woollaston in the first round of the International Championship in Chengdu was crucial to at least earn another competitive match against Anthony McGill, and also to help gain some momentum.

The five-time world champion, who lost his Crucible crown to Mark Selby in May, knows his approach relies on making the most of his appearances on the circuit.

And he also wants to show China and in particular Chengdu what he can do, with a last title in the country more than five years ago in Shanghai – while at the International Championship he has never gone past the last 32.

O’Sullivan said: “When you don’t play in as many events as the others it is important to get the results when you do play, there is more pressure to get a result and some momentum.

“I am lacking matches. When you play regularly you find your groove more, but I haven’t played a lot in the last six months and it shows.

“But I can make a proper judgment on that at the end of the season. If I am sitting there having won a Masters or even another world title, I will have had a great season.

“I had three quick matches in Germany at the Paul Hunter Classic before falling away, and lost in the first round in Shanghai.

“I felt rusty in that, and would have liked to do better and had a decent run. But I am not playing as much as the rest, so I make certain allowances.

“I also knew then that I wouldn’t have another tournament for six or seven weeks – so really my season starts here and I look at it as my first tournament.

“After this it cranks up with the Champion of Champions, UK, and the Masters. The International Championship is a big event still only in its third year – and the people there haven’t seen the best of me.

“China as a whole hasn’t seen the best of me for a long time, I haven’t had too many good results there for a while.

“I didn’t travel there much for three years and I haven’t won there since the Shanghai Masters five years ago. That is a long time considering how many tournaments they have.”

O’Sullivan has resumed running after a series of niggling injuries – and also joked he would almost rather set a half marathon personal best than end his China drought.

He has been seen pounding the streets around the hotel in Chengdu this week and added: “While I would love to do well this week, I would still probably just take a 78-minute half marathon time over the title in Chengdu.

“I stopped running for a bit after injuries but something was missing, it’s what was keeping me happy and I wasn’t seeing the friends I did it with.

“I was hitting the mini bar like you wouldn’t believe in Shanghai eating Toblerone and drinking Diet Coke, sweating like a lunatic and knew what I had to do. So it’s back on in a big way.”


Photograph by Monique Limbos