World Championship snooker 2021: ‘It almost killed my greatest day' – Ronnie O'Sullivan exclusive
World champion Ronnie O'Sullivan tells Desmond Kane how good fortune as much as intense focus is needed to emerge victorious over 17 days at the Crucible. The six-times winner revealed how he was almost forced to quit the event in 2012 after being violently sick ahead of the final with Essex rival Ali Carter, a match he cites as his greatest moment at the sport's blue-chip tournament.
Ronnie O'Sullivan celebrates lifting the 2012 world title after his 18-11 win over Ali Carter
Published 16/04/2021 at 14:32 GMT | Updated 16/04/2021 at 15:35 GMT
It was sick and remains perhaps the sickest performance of his rocket-fuelled 29-year professional career.
Ronnie O’Sullivan continues to cite his 18-11 win over fierce Essex rival Ali 'The Captain' Carter in the 2012 World Championship final as his finest triumph in the sport, but has revealed for the first time how his greatest day at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre almost became a nightmare on Norfolk Street.
I just remember waking up and being sick all morning. And just thinking: ‘what’s happened to me?' .
Having ended a three-year wait to claim a 23rd ranking title at the German Masters with a 9-7 success over Stephen Maguire only three months earlier, O’Sullivan would progress to end his four-year wait for a fourth World Championship with an inspired performance against Carter, who he had defeated 18-8 in the 2008 final.
He pieced together 12 century breaks at the Crucible nine years ago, including the highest break witnessed in a world final of 141 moving 5-3 ahead, a contribution matched by John Higgins in the 2017 final against Mark Selby.
“My best moment was in 2012 when I enjoyed it from start to finish,” said the record 37-times ranking winner.
I enjoyed pretty much every session of the whole tournament and probably played the best snooker I’ve ever played.
Despite his fondness for the consistency of his technique, long potting and break-building that overpowered Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson and Matthew Stevens in reaching the 36th world final at the Crucible, O’Sullivan revealed how he was almost robbed of his return to glory.
“I’ve had plenty of bad sleeps in Sheffield and recovered from them. That’s a minor,” he told Eurosport.
“There are other things that can happen during those 17 days when you think: ‘God, how do I deal with this one?’
“Like your tip coming off. That’s a nightmare when you have to put a new tip on and have to play through this. Or you get food poisoning.
On the morning when I played Ali Carter, I was spewing up all morning. I was ill. I was absolutely knackered when I went out for the first session. I thought: ‘I’ve come all this way and I’ve been spewing up all morning’. I had spots on my face and I felt awful.
“But I got through the first day and on the second day I was flying. I thought ‘wow’. But that first day could have killed me off.
“I had done all the hard work only to fall ill on the day of the final. You need a bit, and sometimes a lot, of luck in that tournament for everything to fall into place for you.
Ronnie O'Sullivan struggles during the first session of the 2012 final at the Crucible.
Image credit: Eurosport
I’ve never told anyone that. I just remember waking up and being sick all morning. And just thinking: ‘what’s happened to me?’
“It probably was food poisoning and I was shocked I was able to play that well feeling so bad. In the evening I struggled a bit, but the next day I was as fresh as a daisy.
“I was fortunate with that one.”
O’Sullivan begins his title defence against tournament debutant Mark Joyce at 10am in the first round on Saturday morning (LIVE on Eurosport) before they play to a finish at 7pm with the first man to 10 frames the first man into the last 16.
Joyce completed a 5-4 win over O'Sullivan in the last 32 of the 2017 China Open to enhance his self-belief. The first round can be dangerous times for seeded players struggling with then amateur hopeful James Cahill toppling a beleaguered O'Sullivan 10-8 in a major shock two years ago.
Best of 2020: Watch moment Ronnie O'Sullivan clinches sixth World Snooker Championship title
"I don't make any excuses and James Cahill played really well, but I was battered. It was horrendous. It was food poisoning. One of those things, what can you do?"
It was the Irish writer and poet James Joyce who wrote in the celebrated 1922 novel Ulysses: “A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”
O’Sullivan, a golden snooker genius without compare, feels you have to be prepared to accept errors will be made over such a long period to discover the key to enlightenment in the Crucible's darkened environs.
'I'm not nervous at all' - O'Sullivan 'excited' to defend world title
“I wish I could say there was a time when I felt: ‘this is my time, I fancy it this year,” he explained. “There are tournaments where you feel like that over a week when you are feeling alright and think: ‘Yeah, I can hold this form for a week'.
“But with Sheffield, it is over such a long period of time. It is very difficult to hold that level of form for 17 days.
You come into the tournament and want to be playing well a week before it. You’ve really got to hold it together for a month. If you can do that, you’ve got a chance, but if you can’t it is really difficult.
“You can’t really go in there with any type of confidence. You just have to take it session by session, frame by frame. Just keep going through the motions.”
Liking it to the cue sports equivalent of the demands of a triathlon, O'Sullivan said: "It becomes like the Ironman.
It’s the equivalent of the Ironman. You swim for three miles, you bike ride for 100 miles and run for 26 miles in a marathon. It is the equivalent of that.
“There is a lot that can go wrong for you. You eat a bad meal in the semi-finals, you feel a bit ill and that’s your chances gone.
“A lot of things have got to come right over that 17 days. Over a week, there is less chance of anything going wrong. It is rapid matches, bang, bang, bang, and its over.
“The Crucible is different. You are pushing on for three weeks so you have to manage yourself well.”
Conquering the Crucible remains a cure for wellness like no other in snooker.
"It’s like an ultra marathon," added O'Sullivan, who will be awarded a golden ball by his sponsors ROKiT for a seventh world title and 147 kegs of beer for a 147.
There’s no point sprinting off at 100mph and dying at mile 50 when you’ve still got another 50 miles to go.
First up is world number 46 Joyce on Saturday when the snooker journey of a thousand miles begins with a single stroke.