Rocket in a stew

Nov 20 2005
Peter Shuttleworth, Wales on Sunday

RONNIE O'Sullivan's recipe for snooker success is simple - just add carrots.
Arguably the most naturally gifted player of all time, Ronnie insists he has no intention of ditching the game he loves - despite suggestions to the contrary.
He wants to be remembered as the finest ever player to grace the green baize, but in order for the mercurial world No 1 to pacify his tortured soul, change could be as good as a rest.
So in order to get his potting passion bubbling again, 'The Rocket' is prepared to make a splash on the eight-ball pool circuit across the pond in the US. As a philosophical O'Sullivan puts it: "Sometimes if you just eat potatoes you become sick of potatoes.
"You can boil them, make chips or have a jacket potato but after a while you want something a little different. "Maybe you want to put a few carrots in the pot, some celery or a swede and add a bit of salt and pepper and it becomes a nice bit of stew. And I like stew.
"So snooker is my potato and pool is my carrots.
"It's like anything. It's nice to have a few things boiling in the pot, it gives it a bit more flavour and a bit more spice and variety.
"I like to enrich myself by having a variety of things on the boil otherwise things become too predictable."
Move aside Plato, or should that be Gordon Ramsay!
O'Sullivan adds: "Pool is something new for me and it's kind of a trial period.
"I'm not taking Pool too seriously but I want to play in a competition now to suss out the opposition and see how much I'd have to improve.
"It's all about getting the blend right.
"People automatically assume the transition from snooker to pool is easy because the pockets are bigger but that's nonsense.
"It's tougher than it looks and if you've any aspirations of doing well then dedication, effort and time is needed because the game deserves respect."
Snooker is still gripped by the collective fear that the game is close to losing its great entertainer, its flawed genius, its iconic figure in the wake of O'Sullivan admitting his 'disillusionment' with the sport.
But the two-time World Champion admits a string of perplexing public utterances, including 'I can't take much more of this' and 'I probably won't play next year', are often made in the 'heat of battle' and should be taken with a pinch of his favourite condiment.
"Getting p***ed off is part and parcel of sport," he explains, with perhaps a little less eloquence.
"It's all about riding the wave and being patient.
"A team sport is easier when you're unhappy because you can hide but in individual sports, sportsmen's vulnerabilities are all the more striking. And I'm just a human being who is not always as cool and relaxed as people think.
"Sometimes people hold you to things you say when it is said in the heat of the moment," said O'Sullivan.
"But everyone forgets the 50 positive things you say about the game.
"I want to win many more titles and I want to stay world No 1 for a long time - is that the wish of someone who is fed up with the game?
"The measure of a great player is how many titles you win. Stephen Hendry has won seven World Championships, 36 titles and has been in the top two in the world for more-or-less 15 years and that's an amazing achievement.
"If I achieve half of what Hendry has I'll be satisfied, and to remain in the top eight for the next ten years will be an achievement.
"I want to be classed as an all-time great when I eventually retire.
"Whether I'm one of the great snooker players of all-time is for other people to judge. If at the end of my career, some old pros debate the best players and I was in the top four or five I'd be happy.
"It depends whether judges put results ahead of style and entertainment. Sometimes it's hard to be successful and entertaining. I'm a naturally attacking player so people like watching me play for entertainment value.
"I don't want to change my style of play as I haven't done bad thus far but what drives me now is to beat Hendry's record so there's no question about my all-time status."
The Rocket has come of age in terms of tournament victories as his five major title victories last season - not including his fourth BetFred Premier League crown - ensures O'Sullivan hit 18 and is the third most successful player on tour behind Hendry and Steve Davis.
The Essex showman is the youngest player ever to win a ranking tournament, the 1993 UK Championship aged 17, while his two Crucible successes were in 2001 and 2003.
O'Sullivan has fired six maximum 147 breaks including the five fastest on record and is just as comfortable with the left hand as he is with the right. He's got the lot. Double Welsh Open champion Ronnie is back in Wales this week for the last leg of the Premier League snooker event at Cardiff's St David's Hall, before next month's play-offs. O'Sullivan has already qualified for the finals in Manchester but he wants to pour some more cash into the coffers.
"I'll keep on my snooker journey as long I keep winning," said O'Sullivan. "But the difficult thing is when I've stopped winning, I might still feel I'm capable of winning tournaments.
"When you're used to winning, you always believe you can win titles. That's why many sportsmen go beyond their best years as they win off memory, they still believe they are capable of winning a title.
"I suppose you could put Steve Davis in that column. He knows if he hits top form he can win a title, it's just a case of being consistent."
O'Sullivan may be planning his 30th birthday bash but he's still a child at heart and loves being centre of attention, a fact endorsed by my first audience with him at this year's Wales Open.
I spoke to O'Sullivan as he sat eating a ham sandwich, with mouth wide open, in the middle of the press room.
And there's no indication that the habitual fidget, who hops up and down in his seat like an excited school kid, growing up. "Age is just a number," he says.
"I know many 60-year-olds who act like teenagers and teenagers who act like 60-year-olds.
"I've a young soul and all I want to do is enjoy myself."
O'Sullivan clearly follows his Welsh coach and mentor Ray Reardon as he said of the six-times World Champ: "He's 73 going on 23! Ray's not just a world-class player but he's a worldly guy.
"Forget sports psychologists, I'd rather spend a bit of time with Ray. "He keeps it simple and that's what most things are about. It's like Gordon Ramsay having a chat with Jamie Oliver. They have food in common while Ray and I both love snooker."

BETFRED Premier League Snooker rules:
n IN its 20th season, it is the world's only major snooker tournament played in a league format.
n THE field consists of seven top stars and each plays the others once over the best of six frames, making a total of 21 matches.
n TWO points available for a win and a point for a 3-3 draw and following the round robin section of play, the top four players move forward to the big money play-offs.
n TOTAL prize fund is £250,000 and the money for the round-robin section will be dished out on a 'frames won' basis with £1,000 awarded for each frame won. In addition, there is a 'Double Your Money' bonus for a break of 100 or over of another £1,000.
nTHE champion receives £50,000, the runner-up takes home an additional £25,000 and the beaten semi-finalists make an extra £12,500 each.
n A PLAYER has 25 seconds to complete each shot. Any shot that takes longer will result in a time penalty being awarded. A player will be allowed five time outs per match.



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