AHEAD of his return to full ranking-event action in Shanghai, Ronnie O’Sullivan has been reflecting on his World Championship loss to Mark Selby at the Crucible in May.
The Rocket went into that match as a warm favourite, a five-time world championship winner having breezed to the title for the previous two years.
In addition he had seen off Leicester’s Selby with relative ease in the Masters final at Alexandra Palace in January.
But Selby, who had scalped O’Sullivan in big finals from large deficits in the past, roared back from 10-5 adrift to win 18-14 in a gripping climax to the annual showpiece.
O’Sullivan still feels he lost the match in the last two frames on the Sunday night, when Selby made his highest break of the first 17 frames (62) to close to 10-7 in the last of the session.
And despite all the improvements under the guidance of sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters O’Sullivan admits that Selby still has the ability to stymie his best efforts.
O’Sullivan, 38, warmed up for the biggest tournament of the season so far at the Paul Hunter Classic European Tour event in Furth, won by Mark Allen.
And ahead of his return to Shanghai and a tournament won by Ding Junhui 12 months ago he said in the first of a two-part interview: “I wasn’t surprised by Selby’s comeback.
“And initially my reaction was just ‘At least it’s all over’. You probably saw me smiling as I went to shake his hand.
“It was probably three of four days later that I really started to think ‘I’ve just lost my world title’ and it sunk in.
“But those two frames at the end of the first day were massive. I was thinking ahead that I could be 12-5 up overnight.
“So when he took those last two I felt like I was 10-7 down. We had played 17 frames and he had a highest break of about 60.
“So when I came out on Day Two I got what I expected, a full-on tactical battle. I don’t mind them, but two days of it was mentally draining.
“But I know I was lucky to beat Joe Perry; and the match against Shaun Murphy was a bit strange, he could have pushed me a lot closer but didn’t believe that he could.
“And I came up short in the final against someone who was more determined and ready to scrap it out a lot harder than me.
“I was actually quite pleased with how I managed my emotions in that final, it was really tough. The standard wasn’t that great but it was never going to be.
“There were a lot of long drawn-out frames, colours off spots and down cushions, and often I was coming to the table thinking ‘I can’t make a 30 here’. It wasn’t on.
“And I wasn’t playing well enough to make something of these tiny opportunities. I did a reasonable job getting to 14 frames in the end.
“I respect Mark’s mental skills, the way he approached that match and never gave up.
“Even when he is not playing great he never gives in and I wish that I had that type of resilience.
“But as far as the game and the way he plays it, it is difficult for me to relate to the way he plays shots and the way he thinks about shots.”
On taking part in Shanghai, an event he skipped last season, O’Sullivan – who opens up against Scottish veteran Alan McManus on Monday, added: “It was a big decision to come to Shanghai but I have always loved the city as a place. It is fantastic for anyone who has never been, and one of my favourite events.
“I had an issue with flying and also with limiting my tournament appearances wanted to make it worthwhile when I did come, because I won’t do many separate commercial trips.
“So I have arranged to do a few bits and pieces while I am over – though my main focus is of course the tournament and that is a reason why I played the Paul Hunter in Germany, to be warmed up. I have played competitively, and am not arriving cold.”
In the next part of the interview which will appear soon on Inside Snooker O’Sullivan talks in more detail about the clash of styles with the new world champion, a contrast he knows makes for compelling viewing.
Photograph by Monique Limbos