SINGAPORE — He had just won a record-equalling seventh world championship, earning the respect and adoration of not only fans worldwide, but also his rivals and peers.
One would expect Ronnie O'Sullivan to look back fondly on his World Snooker Championship triumph last month, when he ascended again to dominant heights to become the oldest winner of the prestigious tournament at age 46.
Well, not quite, as he put it with a nonchalant shrug during an interview with Yahoo News Singapore at his new snooker academy at The Grandstand on Monday (13 June).
"To be honest, I didn't actually want to win another world title. I was really happy with what I've already done for the game, and I was enjoying myself for the last six, seven years - no pressure, having fun. But if you're going to win the World Championship, you have to expect pressure, and that's not much fun, so I didn't really want to go through that.
"I won it, but I didn't enjoy it. It's crazy, you know?"
That quip sums up O'Sullivan, easily the most compelling character in snooker throughout his 30 years as a professional player.
The Englishman's seemingly-effortless brilliance has long bewitched audiences - first on TV and then on the web - and, after entertaining fans for so long, few would begrudge him if he wants to bask in the glory of his extraordinary accumulation of trophies, accolades and records.
Yet, the man dubbed "The Rocket" remains essentially a purist at heart - his immense love of the sport driving him on, chasing the perfect game, playing his all-out attacking style, gunning for that maximum break of 147. One senses that records and world titles are mere by-products in his quest for sporting perfection.
"It's a strange one, I'm the opposite of what you should be - you should be wanting to the world championships," he mused.
"But I just listened to my gut instinct. My gut always tells me if something's right, and I don't question it. And I've done all right, I think."
Giving back to the sport after tumultuous career
It has certainly not been an easy rise to greatness for O'Sullivan. He endured a rough upbringing, having to take care of his young sister after both his parents were sent to prison.
While his natural snooker talents were evident by the time he turned professional at age 16, his brash and vocal personality got him into clashes with authorities. Coupled with his well-documented battles with depression and drug-related issues, and many feared he would go down a similar path as Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, the volatile two-time world snooker champion who drank heavily and died penniless in 2010.
The turning point came in 2011 when O'Sullivan met psychologist Steve Peters, who helped him overcome his mood swings and became his close friend. Rejuvenated, O'Sullivan won four of his seven world titles from then on, and regained his standing as one of the greatest snooker players alongside the likes of Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
Nowadays, he is eager in giving back to the sport, Being an advocate of Asian talents in recent years, he has opened his first Ronnie O'Sullivan Snooker Academy in Singapore, and hopes to open more in the continent.
"Having a facility like this for someone that wants to come and play snooker is brilliant," he said.
"If one day, you get some young boy that comes in, has an amazing talent for this sport, at least you can provide an environment where they can develop their skills, and hopefully one day become a champion.
"It's important to get the first one right, and then it's a lot easier to show other people what you've done, so they can replicate it."
One thing is for certain: O'Sullivan, a frequent critic of long-drawn and defensive play, will be encouraging his proteges to attack the game like he does.
"If I was coaching somebody, I would coach in the way I play. That's the only way I know how to play, that's the way champions play.
"I'm not against slow play, I just don't think it will get you to the highest level."
Enjoying the sport is most important for O'Sullivan
Despite the immense adulation back in his home country after his momentous seventh world title triumph, O'Sullivan seems to be at his most comfortable and relaxed in small intimate settings, such as at his new academy.
On Sunday, amid only a handful of snooker fans in attendance, he made another maximum break during an exhibition match, to delighted roars all around.
It was typical of someone who once said he prefers playing the world championship with zero audience at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield. "My biggest fear is embarrassing myself, and with no crowd, there’s no one to embarrass myself in front of."
It was once a struggle for O'Sullivan to reconcile his status as one of the most popular snooker stars ever, but he has made peace with that, and can see himself going on for a few more years as the face of the sport.
"I said I'd do another two more World Championships. So yeah, I'm definitely going to complete that. And then we'll see where we are," he said when asked if he will carry on into his 50s.
"I'm not bothered about world championships. I like the smaller tournaments where I can just play snooker. As soon as you get to the big tournaments, everybody gets too excited. And for me, I don't want to get too excited. I'd just like to do it for as long as I can.
"I just want to enjoy it. The most important thing is to enjoy it, have fun."
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