O'Sullivan under 'no pressure' as he launches title defence after year absence
Published 20/04/2013 | 05:00
Ronnie O'Sullivan returns to the World Championship today claiming he is under no pressure to succeed and that his 12-month sabbatical has allowed him to see "the bigger picture".
'The Rocket' has been the game's box-office star for the past 20 years and has won the Crucible title four times.
However, at 37 he is aiming to become the oldest world champion since Ray Reardon won his sixth title in 1978 – when the professional game was very different – at the age of 45.
Having played only one competitive match all season following a self-imposed break to sort out problems in his personal life, O'Sullivan is throwing himself in at the deep end in Sheffield, and the scrutiny on his progress will be intense.
The former world No 1 admits he doesn't know whether he's going to fall flat on his face after such a prolonged absence from competitive play, but he has the appetite for the big occasion – and he usually thrives in such situations.
"There is no pressure on me," said O'Sullivan. "I still love snooker, but there's more important things in life.
"I haven't played on any match tables for a year, so I'm going into the unknown. At the end of the day I will embrace (the challenge). There's a bigger picture now. I might get smashed at Sheffield, but then I'll be back. I have nothing to lose. It's easy to do it when you've got nothing to lose.
"Winning it when you've got everything to lose is more impressive than doing it as an underdog. I still think when I look out there, 'you know what? I'm up for this'."
Defending champion O'Sullivan, who faces fellow veteran Marcus Campbell in the first round, has struggled with demons throughout a colourful career and, although he admitted his personal problems are yet to be resolved, he will be fully focused for arguably the biggest challenge of his career.
"As a professional sportsman you want your private life to be settled, and that hasn't been the case over the last three years," said O'Sullivan.
"Hopefully they will be resolved. All I know is that I have to make a start. I have tried to put things on hold and get things resolved; if they are not resolved then I will readdress them."
Opinion among his fellow professionals on O'Sullivan's return has been mixed. The Australian Neil Robertson, the 2010 world champion, believes it would have been "weird" if O'Sullivan had not defended his title.
That view was shared by 1997 winner Ken Doherty, who said it would have been a "farce" if O'Sullivan had not played in this year's £1.1m event. However, four-time world champion John Higgins and fellow Scot Graeme Dott, the 2006 Crucible winner, have both said they "couldn't care less" what O'Sullivan does, although both also added that they were glad to see him defend the title.
But in the eyes of Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker, O'Sullivan's return to competition has "offered a different dimension".
"His return is something we all welcome," Hearn said.
"He's a great, great player. He's an enigma of a person because, on his day, he's capable of doing the most amazing of things. It's great to see he's picked up a cue again."