RONNIE O'SULLIVAN knows he is in the last-chance saloon for the Crucible.
A misfiring Rocket takes on defending champion Ding Junhui (below) at the BGC Masters at Alexandra Palace this afternoon desperate to kick-start his career.
And O’Sullivan, 36, has now slipped to No.16 in the world rankings.
That means the four-time Masters winner could struggle to be back at the top-16 only invitation events.
And more importantly, three-time world champion O’Sullivan has his work cut out to be in Sheffield in April.
O’Sullivan, without a ranking title since the Shanghai Masters in 2009, said: “I am going to have to do what I haven’t done for two-and-a-half years.
“And that is to win a ranking title either at the German Masters in Berlin or the Welsh Open in Newport.
“I am pretty sure I am going to need to win one of them and that would give me a very good chance of assuring my place at the world championships.
“With the high standard in the game now it’s hard to be confident you’ll win one of the next two ranking tournaments but I will give it my best shot.
“I am lucky to still be in the top 16, so that is a big bonus that I don’t yet have to qualify for tournaments.
“At least two people had real chances to knock me out.
“Mark Davis was within a frame and Ricky Walden could have done it in Munich. I was let off the hook.
“It was strange following it, it was so out of my hands and results that could have gone against me went my way.
“But I was playing massive catch-up after last season and I still am for the next rankings cut-off point in February.”
O’Sullivan, regarded by several of his peers as the greatest player to have played the game, has also quit Twitter in the UK after being warned by World Snooker for bad language.
He added: “I liked Twitter and used it a lot, it was a good laugh. But I am an instinctive sort of person and I would just put straight up there what I was thinking.
“There was a bit of banter going on between the snooker players.
“But I have had a couple of letters now and to be honest I don’t need it – disciplinaries, fines and bans. I have enough on my plate.”
The last time O’Sullivan faced Ding at the Masters in 2007 was a disastrous night for China’s No.1.
Then still a teenager, he finished the final in tears after a 10-3 drubbing by O’Sullivan.
The Rocket turned Good Samaritan, putting a consoling arm round his opponent and talking him into finishing the match.
Now 24, the Sheffield-based world No.9 is an altogether tougher proposition, having beaten Hong Kong’s Marco Fu in last year’s showpiece.
And O’Sullivan, who so far in his snooker career has compiled more than 650 competitive centuries – second only to Steven Hendry – said: “I can’t believe that final was five years ago.
“It seems like only yesterday. I don’t know where that time has gone.
“It’s hard to know exactly what was going through Ding’s mind that night.”
And showing his sensitive side, the temperamental O’Sullivan, who has battled against depression, added: “All I saw was another human being that wasn’t feeling his best.
“It was a natural reaction to see if he was all right, you don’t like to see other people upset in the arena like that.
“I just thought it showed he cares about what he does.”