Ronnie O’Sullivan begins his bid for World Championship glory on Monday, admitting he has to end his six-year Crucible drought.
The Rocket is the favourite for this year’s tournament after one of the most spectacular seasons in his illustrious career.
Five-time winner O’Sullivan, 43, is back at No 1 in the world rankings for the first time in nine years after winning five of the 10 events he has entered.
Snooker icon Ronnie O’Sullivan will begin his bid for a sixth world title in Sheffield on Monday
He arrives in Sheffield having set a new record of 19 Triple Crown wins, and equalled Stephen Hendry’s mark of 36 ranking titles.
He also became the first player to break the 1,000 century-break barrier — enough to strike fear into both Monday’s amateur opponent James Cahill, who is Hendry’s nephew, and the rest of the field. But O’Sullivan has not lifted this trophy since 2013.
He knows that time is running out to add to his triumphs on the biggest stage — or have any chance of matching Hendry’s seven successes.
He said: ‘Losing the 2014 final to Mark Selby was a big one in terms of getting past Hendry’s seven world titles and made it a lot harder. It is probably out of reach now. Winning one is hard enough, two would be extra hard and as for three… I am not greedy, I want to play and compete, and it won’t stop me having fun. In my heart I think it is possible I can win this again, but it won’t be easy, you’ve got to really want it here.
‘Of course I would love to but all the other players want that title. If I don’t win it in the next year or two you could probably say I might never win another one. So if I am going to do that, it will have to be this year or next year.
THE ROCKET’S CAREER
World Championship wins: 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013
Century breaks: 1,008
Maximum 147 breaks: 15
Tournament wins: 71
Career winnings: £10.8million
‘I don’t think people out there realise what this event is like. It is longer than the Olympics — it is an absolute monster.
‘Ironically, the last two times I won it in 2012 and 2013 it felt quite easy and comfortable, because I kept my emotions in check, not too excited or too down, and I sailed through it.
‘My stamina should be OK, I keep myself quite fit and healthy for the late finishes. But I don’t want to become someone about whom people say, “He’s just not good enough any more”.
‘Fatigue can be a factor, we are talking about fractions and at 11pm if you are tired that can be a miss or a poor safety shot. The further you go in the draw, the more those are magnified. The key is to get into a groove and a rhythm, and I haven’t really done that since 2013. Get into gear, and pace yourself.’
James Cahill, who is Stephen Hendry’s nephew, will be O’Sullivan’s first-round opponent
O’Sullivan let a big lead slip in the final against Selby five years ago, already troubled at that time by off-table issues. Those included a protracted court battle over custody and access to his children, and other draining financial battles.
He added: ‘I took my eye off the ball a bit at the World Championship from around 2014 onwards. I know that, and I did well to stay in the game.
‘No one really knows what was going on behind the scenes in those three years. It was crazy that I was trying to play snooker at the top level and coping with all this other stuff.
‘But I came out of that a year ago and I am able to be more settled again. Last season was the first one for a while I could fully focus on playing, I just overdid it on the travelling.
Hendry holds the record for World Championship titles with seven — two more than O’Sullivan
‘This year I think I have got that right, tailored it down to what would give me a life and also play snooker. It is a compromise, if you want to compete with the top players.
‘I don’t necessarily think I am the best player. There are many good ones out there — John Higgins has always been one of my favourites, incredible player, him and Selby are fantastic.
‘I am very different to those two in style, I play a very open, aggressive game, they play more in percentages. The fans naturally gravitate towards me for that reason.
‘But what pleases me is that I am able to get results playing in that way, because sometimes that is not easy to achieve.
‘You can leave yourself wide open a lot of the time, but if you attack well enough you don’t.’