RONNIE O'SULLIVAN realised it was time to return to professional snooker when he started playing practice matches with the delivery man from his local Chinese takeaway.
O'Sullivan yesterday announced that he had come out of his self-imposed exile from snooker to defend his World Championship in April.
'The Rocket' has only played in one tournament since he won the last of his four world titles in May – the Players Tour Championship in Gloucester, where he lost to the unheralded Simon Bedford.
O'Sullivan did not miss snooker initially, but he soon re-discovered his love for the sport when he challenged Alex, a delivery driver from his local Chinese takeaway to a game.
"I started to hit a few balls and get a bit of a buzz," the 37-year-old said. "I was playing a few shots, hitting a few 80s and 90s, clearing up, and I thought 'wow, I'm playing okay'."
Scoring comprehensive wins against a man who delivers chicken chow mein for a living does not mean O'Sullivan will take the Crucible by storm in seven weeks' time, of course. The Essex potter admitted yesterday that he was taking a huge gamble by returning to the game.
He conceded he could "get smashed" in Sheffield.
"If I did come back and run through the field it would be a fairytale, a dream for me – but I don't expect it," he said.
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn welcomed O'Sullivan's return.
He said: "It's fantastic news. The event would not be the same without the defending champion."