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Page last updated at 06:22 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 07:22 UK

Rocket fires up the Crucible

Date: 17 April-3 May 2010 Venue: The Crucible, Sheffield
Coverage: Live coverage each day on BBC Two, BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website (UK only), updates on BBC Radio 5 Live. Full TV schedule

Ronnie O'Sullivan

O'Sullivan shows his frustration

By Mark Ashenden
BBC Sport at the Crucible

Ronnie O'Sullivan declared last week that playing well was like hosting your own party, while playing badly left him demoralised at letting people down.

If Monday afternoon was anything to go by, 976 fans enjoyed a lively bash at the Crucible before the host got grumpy for losing his bubbly only to re-discover the fizz at closing time.

Chigwell's finest scrapped his way to a 7-2 overnight lead against Liang Wenbo in a World Championship round one clash that emphasised why 'the Rocket' is just so mesmerising.

Phenomenal pots, easy misses, continual twitching, lightning centuries (a pair of them), moodiness, and a minor run-in with an official.

RONNIE O'SULLIVAN AT THE CRUCIBLE
Debut: 1993 - Lost 10-7 in R1 to Alan McManus
Appearances: 18 (including this year)
Winner: Three times (2001, '04, 2008)
Semi-finals: Five times (1996, '98, '99, 2002, 2006)
Quarter-finals: Three times (1995, 2005, '07)
Second round: Three times (1994, '97, 2009)
First round: Three times (1993, 2000, '03)
Overall record: Played 53
Won 39 Lost 14

The ragged opening session summed up his season perfectly, a season that includes a Shanghai Masters crown, a Masters final defeat and a fall at the first hurdle of the China Open. His number one status is also heading towards John Higgins.

"Ronnie is the Tiger Woods of snooker without Tiger's consistency," Phil Yates, Times correspondent told BBC Sport.

"It's really strange because the two sportsmen he really loves - Tiger and Roger Federer - he is everything they are, apart from the consistency and motivation for every tournament."

The frustration of not "turning on the style", as O'Sullivan put it, came to the boil in the seventh frame as a fluffed red induced a hand gesture from the fuming Rocket. A referee warning followed.

All part of the package and attraction, suggested Yates.

"He does controversial things and says silly things. But players don't realise the gratitude they owe him. At a time the sport has perceived problems, he's been such a boost - like Alex Higgins in the 1970s," the veteran commentator said.

"Over the last decade, Ronnie has been the most influential player to drag the game up. He's the biggest box office attraction and the most talked about."

Tickets for O'Sullivan in Sheffield were off-loaded months ago, out-selling every other player by a mile.

New snooker chief Barry Hearn, awaiting player approval for his radical proposals to revamp the sport, considers O'Sullivan a "nutcase" but loves the man and knows he is integral to any renaissance.

Ronnie O'Sullivan
Consistency and motivation are the only things O'Sullivan lacks

It is a view shared by BBC commentator and Snooker Scene magazine editor Clive Everton, who has covered every world championship since it moved to the Crucible in 1977.

"Ronnie is a running soap opera. In a world of sport, people become stars - not because of what they do on the table, or pitch, or the court, but what happens off it," Everton said.

"He's been marvellous for the game. Over the last 10 years, snooker publicity has revolved around him. There's always so much to write about him."

Despite the uninspiring nature of much of Monday's encounter, there were magical moments to stir even the sleepiest of old-timers wearing cartoon ties in between the younger fans in their 'Rocket' t-shirts.

A long red in the third sparked a 100 break, followed by a six-minute 108 to make it 3-1, an 86 in the eighth and a 56 in the day's final frame which could have been a maximum 147.

So how does the three-time world champion enthuse fans such as Rolling Stone guitarist Ronnie Wood and artist Damien Hirst?

John Parrott, winner of nine ranking events and the 1991 World Championship, gave his reasons.

"He's got a fluency around the balls and an ability to look at the table with a computer-like brain to work out where and why he's going," the BBC pundit said.

"I wasn't so slouchy myself, but this boy when he's in full flow has produced half a dozen of the best performances I've ever seen."

Everton added quick and instinctive to the list of descriptions. "Top players can do what Ronnie can do, but nobody can do it quite like him. He makes the game look preposterously easy," he said.

RONNIE O'SULLIVAN FACTS
Born: 5 December 1975
Lives: Chigwell, Essex
Fact 1: In debut season aged 16, he beat Jimmy White at the European Open 5-1 in less than an hour
Fact 2: In the 1997 World Championship first round against Mick Price, he made the fastest-recorded maximum break (and also his first) in five minutes 20 seconds - average of one shot every nine seconds
Fact 3: In 2007 against Ali Carter at the Northern Ireland Trophy, he became the first player to make five centuries (including a 147) in a ranking event best-of-nine match, winning 5-2

O'Sullivan has been smashing records since his first century at the age of 10 and a 147 aged 15 in the English amateur championship. He now has nine maximums to his name.

Yates even suffered a beating on the baize at the hands of a 10-year-old O'Sullivan with the help of a 60 break.

"He was so small he couldn't put the blue back on its spot," he recalled. "It was obvious he'd be something special.

"He came back a year later and I didn't see him for smoke. I told everybody then he would be world champion.

"Stephen Hendry is the greatest player of all time [winner of seven world titles] but at his best Ronnie is unstoppable. Beating Hendry 17-4 in the 2004 world semis was pretty sensational."

The eyes of every fan lit up when O'Sullivan's name was discussed during the interval. And you certainly cannot argue with two ladies in the merchandise booth revealing their biggest selling product was the Ronnie teddy bear.

Everton believes O'Sullivan would have been world champion many more times had he not been so affected by the imprisonment of his father, who is due for release soon.

The man who loves his running remains favourite to lift the world trophy on 3 May and whether he adds to his current collection or not, his influence on the sport has been and will continue to be hugely significant.

606: DEBATE
Rosco

If doubts remain about why Ronnie O'Sullivan is no normal snooker star, head for your local club and play with your left hand and then your right hand. Easy?

Against Liang, half of O'Sullivan's shots were with his left hand. "He can change to his left and make century breaks which just isn't fair," Parrott insisted.

"Out of all the sportsmen in the world he must be as talented as any. I know Tiger Woods is great right-handed, but I can't believe he's as talented as Ronnie with a golf club in his left hand."

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see also
Final scores from the Crucible
20 Apr 10 |  Snooker
O'Sullivan warned after gesture
20 Apr 10 |  Snooker
O'Sullivan on top against Liang
19 Apr 10 |  Snooker
O'Sullivan the favourite - Selby
16 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Gritty Williams sees off Campbell
19 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Hendry survives scare at Crucible
18 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Selby pleased with his play
18 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Ask the experts
29 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Higgins edges out battler Hawkins
17 Apr 10 |  Snooker
World Championship results
15 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Century breaks
17 Apr 10 |  Snooker
Snooker on the BBC
08 Apr 11 |  Snooker


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