It would be fair to say Ronnie O’Sullivan nailed it during his first match at the English Open, his first competitive win of the 2020/21 season. The six-times world champion recovered from trailing 2-0 against Brian Ochoiski to complete a 4-2 win on Monday evening, rolling in knocks of 51, 113, 55 and 52 after his French opponent had pieced together a run of 105 in the second frame.
In true unpredictable fashion, he did so with his nails painted pink for a breast cancer charity, a varnished performance that ended up more Harvey Nics than Harvey Chandler. A win-win situation for himself and publicity for the charity Future Dreams. Don’t be surprised to see him don the mascara quite soon.
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“Maybe more guys will show some bottle and put pink varnish on! I had it done in a nail shop. I have to thank my fiancé, too. I really like it,” he told Eurosport after his victory.
He might see it as putting lipstick on a pig, but one suspects O’Sullivan prefers the ritual trudge to test for Covid-19 behind closed doors in Milton Keynes than be confronted by the K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley, a much-maligned venue for the English Open in pre-pandemic times, which he felt had a whiff of urine commenting that “every day in Crawley is a day lost in my life”.
In the current climate, he is no longer hindered by the low-level fame of fans shouting ‘C’mon Ronnie’ during matches or people seeking him out for selfies. Which just leaves the snooker and a manicure to attend to. Another win-win situation for the Rocket man.
As is standard for any O’Sullivan interview, a marvellous sporting stream of consciousness, what he is saying does not quite chime with the reality. Or which direction his future plans might take the next day, the next month or the next year. Hardened tour professionals Ali Carter, Neil Robertson and Alan McManus all felt O’Sullivan was ideally positioned to win a sixth World Championship in August, mainly due to his inimitable ability and an absence of fans in or around the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. They were proved visionaries as he fairly careered to a victory at an event that had started to look beyond him over the previous six years.
Suddenly Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles at the venue is back on the table when all had looked lost after he somehow managed to lose 10-8 to amateur James Cahill in the first round in 2019 in which the pressure valve seemed to suffer a blow out.
Which makes you wonder what course of action he will take over this campaign with the snooker season marooned behind closed doors in Milton Keynes for the foreseeable future and every event apart from the UK Championship in York in December due to bed down in Buckinghamshire.
He opted against the Masters last January due to the aggravation that the baying, sometimes boozed up, crowd brings to the Alexandra Palace, but there is a fair chance that the Barbican Centre in York and the Alexandra Palace will both provide a sobering experience, ghostly backdrops unless there is a dramatic transformation in the ongoing joust with the pandemic.
‘I think this could be here to stay’ – O’Sullivan on his nails
“I won’t play a lot of the events where the circus is around, unless I like the town,” said O’Sullivan prior to the English Open. “So York, I have to accept the circus there because I really love York and it’s a real good holiday for me. London, the Masters is a no-no for me, if I never played in that again I wouldn’t be disappointed.
“World Championships is a bit like that, unless Covid is still lingering around next year then I’d quite look forward to the peace and quiet in Sheffield that I had this year. I’m a lot happier when I do what I want to do and set my own rules.”
If the Masters goes ahead at the Ally Pally, it is likely to be in the same circumstances as the World Championship with no fans or no hassle which would beg the question: why would O’Sullivan not want a slice of that action?
A few years ago in Northern Ireland, O’Sullivan suggested he might miss the 2018 World Championship to film a TV series, but in the end he continued his sequence of never missing an appearance at the Crucible since 1993.
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It is hardly a huge excursion to make it from Essex back to old London town for an event that still plays a huge role in his psyche having lifted the Masters a record seven times since becoming the youngest player to win the elite event at the age of 19 in 1995.
During his sabbatical from the sport in 2012/13, he even washed up at the Masters to watch a turgid semi-final between Mark Selby and Graeme Dott when there was no need for him to be anywhere near the tournament.
Ronnie O’Sullivan seals victory over impressive Brian Ochoiski
“I feel more sorry for Ronnie missing than anyone else because I feel it is a huge career mistake for him,” said the World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn earlier this year. Don’t expect him to make a similar call this time.
Expect to see him compete at Alexandra Palace. With or without the gloss.
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