RONNIE O’SULLIVAN’s presence in the draw enhances any tournament and his current penchant for carefully selecting which events he enters has perhaps made him more dangerous than ever.
His rivals know that when O’Sullivan turns up it is because he wants to play. He isn’t merely going through the motions as had sometimes been the case in previous years.
O’Sullivan’s pick and choose policy stems from two interrelated component parts of his personality. One, most obviously, is that he is supremely talented at snooker and believes he can win tournaments and therefore does not need to slog round the circuit trying to protect his ranking position.
The other is that he has the inner confidence not to fret and worry that he is doing the wrong thing. Some top players seem to have played in just about everything not through love of the game but fear of what might happen if they don’t. Good on them for supporting the sport but it hasn’t always led to the best performances.
O’Sullivan is actually playing more snooker than he was a few years ago when there wasn’t much snooker to play. He seems to have struck a good balance, entering the major events and then selecting a few smaller tournaments to keep himself ticking over.
The risk is rustiness. He wasn’t as match sharp as Alan McManus in Shanghai and paid the price. Ben Woollaston certainly had chances to cause an upset in Chengdu on Sunday but O’Sullivan survived this opening round test and is now off and running in the International Championship.
I thought he summed up his current approach perfectly in his blog for Eurosport, where he compared himself to Daniel Day-Lewis, the three time Oscar winning actor, saying: “He is so committed to the role that he can't appear in too many films because it is exhausting. I can only peak for so many tournaments because it can get very tiring trying to hit your best form all the time. Sometimes if it doesn’t come off, I can get a bit frustrated and annoyed.”
To extend this analogy, if winning the Masters or Welsh Open – as O’Sullivan did last season – is There Will Be Blood or Lincoln, then the odd early exit is Nine. Even the greats have their off days [ironically Day-Lewis also starred in The Crucible, but enough already].
O’Sullivan today faces Anthony McGill, who beat McManus in the last 64. Anyone who disputes the five times world champion’s continuing importance to snooker should look at the crowd, which will surely be sizeable in a tournament so far poorly attended in the wake of Ding Junhui’s absence.
The balance he has found in his life and career makes O’Sullivan as potent a threat as ever some 22 years into his professional career. It may well once again be a case of best performance in a leading role come Sunday.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.