Tuesday, 27 April 2004
Rocket Ronnie talks about his mentor Ray Reardon, playing Stephen Hendry, his feelings about converting to Islam....
...and getting into the boxing ring with his good friend Prince Naseem!
Ronnie O'Sullivan is through to the semi-finals of the snooker world championship after beating Anthony Hamilton 13-3 on Tuesday night.
His speed and skill at the table was watched by his new mentor Ray Reardon who was coaching him in an afternoon practice session.
Our Kate Linderholm caught up with the man they call Rocket Ronnie to talk about his relationship with the veteran player, his friendship with Sheffield boxer Naseem Hamed, converting to Islam and the prospect of playing Stephen Hendry.
So tell us about your relationship with Ray Reardon.
He’s got a lot of wisdom to offer and some of the things he’s said to me already have really helped me.
Basically he just says,"just go out there and do more of what you do." And sometimes he has a little go at me for not doing that and says y'know "just go out there and do it."
And he's right, but sometimes I doubt myself and er.. it's learning from them experiences and what works and I think being able to work with Ray is amazing, amazing really. I'm just very lucky that he said yes to working with me.
It's early days but, y'know please God that things work out for the both of us and we can just enjoy it.
Because we certainly have fun on the table and talking about snooker and it's so good to be able to talk to someone like Ray, of Ray's stature.
Steve Davis would be the same, Stephen Hendry would be the same, Terry Griffiths is the same - just to be able to talk on a level with people that have done at the highest level is, erm, it's amazing really.
Another big name from a very different sport I understand was in tonight: Naseem Hamed. Good friend of yours of course the Sheffield boxer. How did that friendship come about?
Erm, well obviously Naz is a very keen snooker fan, loves his snooker. He wants to learn about snooker, he wants to be able to make a hundred break, that's his ambition.
Is he any good?
Yes, yeah I mean he practices enough to be good. I mean, he's a very good potter. Some of the balls he pots are quite amazing as it happens. He just needs to learn how to control that cue ball but again, that's taking the game into another level then obviously.
But y'know he wants me to teach him how to do that and I can assure you it's not going to be an easy job because snooker's a tough game.
And Naz perhaps not an easy person to teach necessarily?
You're quite right there because he likes to do things his way! But that's why he's a champion, because he does things his way and that's what separates him from the rest.
So y'know you have to be a little bit patient with Naz, let him do what he wants to do and have his bit of fun and then say, right y'know. Just be gentle with him, because you've got to see what he wants from it and he's got to enjoy himself.
He's on at me to sort of like work on with him on the snooker side. We're going to go to Tenerife in the summer because he's going to be training and we're going to have a snooker table shipped out there and all done up.
So in between training sessions we'll have an hour, couple of hours of snooker, I think that's something that he enjoys, it'll keep him nice and fresh and y'know keep him just doing something he enjoys in between boxing sessions.
You don't do any boxing do you?
Yes, yes I will be training with him. I'll be running up Mount Tidi with him, which is y'know high altitude. That's my game running: I do a lot of running.
I'll do him on the running, I'll probably do him on the snooker but I probably won't get near him, I don't wanna go near him in the ring! But he's told me that I've got to get in the ring and he's going to spar with me.
Are you going to do it?
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean Naz ain't gonna hurt me. He's just going to teach me and I'm certainly... it's quite a frightening experience 'cos I've seen my mate get in the ring with him the other day and I just thought "I don't know how he can even look at him in the ring."
I mean outside the ring's alright, but in the ring he's whoo, quite surreal... He is fierce and plus he holds his hands down by his side, he makes you look silly. That's what I'm letting myself in for, but hey I come from a boxing family so why not get in there and have some fun.
I understand, I'm not sure this is true, he was instrumental in your conversion to Islam. He was part of it wasn't he?
I'm not actually, I'm not a Muslim. It was something I was talking about and Naz is a very good friend of mine and I spent a lot of time with him and his family.
I just love his family: I love him and I love his family, they're great people and er, y'know we chat about things.
It was spoken about y'know and I was always looking for certain things and it was something I looked into but I didn't fully commit myself.
But you never know, somewhere down the line, one day I might become a Muslim, but y'know at the moment I'm in search of other things. Once I've finished with all that sort of business then I can er, have another look then...
What's it like coming back to the Crucible as a venue? What are your feelings about the place?
Love the Crucible, there's no tournament like it. This is the greatest tournament that snooker players can play in. Erm, it'd just be nice if we could play in some other theatres 'cos this is an amazing place y'know it just makes your juices flow.
Seventeen days here of heaven, that's what it is, I feel like I'm in heaven when we come here to play. I don't want it to end.
You must be chock full of adrenalin at this point, what do you do to relax after a game like this?
I just watch a film, y'know I've got some friends with me so we play a bit of Trivial Pursuit and y'know all that sort of stuff.
And when I'm not playing I go out and have a run or do some sort of exercise, y'know I keep myself occupied - and do a lot of rest as well, just to chill and save my energy for obviously the big games.
You don't who you're going to be playing next but you know the press at least are going to be talking about a possible semi-final against Stephen Hendry.
It's a mouth-watering prospect for many people. Can you play the way you did today against someone like Stephen Hendry?
Yeah, oh definitely. I think it's probably more chance of me playing well against Stephen than there is against anybody else - because y'know he's the sort of player that you know you have to raise your game and any sort of mistake is going to be punished heavily.
And, phew, the adrenalin is going to be flowing from the off so I'd expect that he'll make me play well. The brain will kick in and say "this is the time to produce."
I think I'm capable of performing, you know. We've had games here at Sheffield where he's had five centuries, I've had five centuries in a match. You know some real heavy scoring and that's our game to get amongst the balls and score heavily.
We've had some real good battles over the years and they seem to be getting better and better. I've sort of raised my game and he's sort of like always looking to raise his game.
I think over the last couple of years the games me and Stephen have had have been the best games that I've ever been involved in. Deadly, you know, some real good stuff.
If we can repeat that form the fans'll be in for a treat and that's something I relish and I'm really excited about it.