RONNIE O’SULLIVAN will not defend his UK Championship title next month as his sabbatical from professional snooker continues due to private unresolved personal issues.
It is fashionable for those in the public eye to live their lives like an open vein while people they’ve never met provide a running commentary from afar but O’Sullivan has a right to keep his business private, even though he knows it will lead to wild speculation.
When he will return to playing action remains to be seen but as he has not entered the tournament he will be taking up a studio punditry role with British Eurosport, for whom he already presents a snooker magazine programme.
O’Sullivan would rather be playing but the studio work is perhaps a portent of what is to come. After all, he turns 40 during the event. Not even he can stay at the top forever.
O’Sullivan also withdrew from the 1998 UK Championship when defending champion and missed the 2012 event when he was taking a season off. That ended with him winning a fifth world title but he has suffered some high profile defeats since.
He has also had some notable successes, in particular at the first two stagings of the Champion of Champions and at last season’s UK Championship, when he beat Judd Trump 10-9 in a thrilling final.
He has been playing regularly, and impressively, in exhibitions but there is nowhere near the same level of pressure present on those occasions as in a big championship.
O’Sullivan is the game’s leading box office attraction so his absence is disappointing for the tournament but by no means a fatal blow. The event, like any other, depends on the quality of the snooker played as much as the personalities involved.
However, new stars need to emerge to keep the general public interested. With O’Sullivan a non-starter, York represents a chance for someone else to take the spotlight.
O’Sullivan has his detractors but most will hope he does return to action and soon. There’s been no shortage of controversy during his career but it is far outweighed by his achievements.
He will surely talk a good game from the TV studio but he can still play one. It’s just a question of when the king across the water returns.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.