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Snooker bigwig hails O’Sullivan’s ‘mature’ call to skip rest of season

Ronnie O'Sullivan celebrates with his son Ronnie, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn (left) and Fred Done of sponsors Betfred after his victory in this year's final of the World Snooker Championships. Photo credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA wire Ronnie O'Sullivan celebrates with his son Ronnie, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn (left) and Fred Done of sponsors Betfred after his victory in this year's final of the World Snooker Championships. Photo credit: Anna Gowthorpe/PA wire

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
9:48 PM

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn would love to see a refreshed Ronnie O’Sullivan return to the tour next season.

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But even Hearn, who has known the Chigwell cueman for nearly 25 years, admits it is hard to say whether snooker has seen the last of the four-time world champion.

It was confirmed yesterday that O’Sullivan, who turns 37 on December 5, will skip the rest of the season, having played only one match so far.

He will be absent from the UK Championship in York next month, the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January and, most notably, will not return to defend his world title at the Crucible in April.

Nor in 2013 will he be in Newport for the Welsh Open, Berlin for the German Masters, which he also won last season, or two major ranking events in China that would have hoped to have attracted him.

Snooker’s biggest draw is laying down his cue to focus on dealing with what Hearn called “personal issues” and O’Sullivan’s manager Django Fung outlined as “his health, travelling, children and family”.

Hearn hopes it is not the end for O’Sullivan, but said: “It’s difficult to say. Ricky Hatton has come back after three years in the wilderness so you can never tell.

“I’ve known Ronnie since he was 12 and I’d like to see him back to the bubbly character he used to be. He needs total time away from the game.

“It’s a good decision he’s made. He’s got a lot of issues to deal with and he’s not particularly well.

“He wants to take a complete break and see how he feels. I’m very relaxed about it. He’s got a lot on his mind, and of course he’s retired more times than (Frank) Sinatra.

“It’s a sensible, mature call to say, ‘I can’t just play at it’. It just piles up on you, and it probably feels like it’s a release.

“The game is in a strong place at the minute. We’ve had a strong start to the season and there’s a new number one in Judd Trump.”

O’Sullivan has battled depression during his career and recently suffered badly with glandular fever. As Hearn alluded, he has often threatened to quit the sport, even from the early stages of his career.

He has played just one match in competition since landing his fourth world title at the Crucible on May 7, losing to the then world number 76 Simon Bedford at a minor tournament staged in Gloucester at the start of September.

Should O’Sullivan, widely considered the most naturally talented player of all-time, commit to next season, he would almost certainly find himself outside the world’s top 32, needing to win at least two qualifying matches in empty snooker halls just to reach the venue stage of tournaments.

He has already slipped from ninth to 20th in the rankings this season and his exit, whether it proves short-term or not, comes barely six months after snooker lost another major star when seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry retired to a new career of promoting pool in the Far East.

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