O’Sul­li­van wants to cre­ate a league of his own

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - SPORT -

FIVE-TIME world cham­pion Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van claims he is “ready to go” and start his own snooker tour.

The sport’s most pop­u­lar and mar­ketable player beat Ken Do­herty 6-5 in the sec­ond round of the UK Cham­pi­onship in York on Sun­day, but as is of­ten the case, it was what he said af­ter­wards which took cen­tre stage.

For some time now the 42-yearold has railed against the sport’s tour, in par­tic­u­lar its 128-player flat draw which of­ten sees lead­ing names play­ing first-round matches against low-ranked play­ers in what he con­sid­ers to be re­mote venues.

O’Sul­li­van re­mains a part of that tour, pick­ing and choos­ing events and by al­most every­one’s as­sess­ment re­main­ing the great­est player in the world.

How­ever, he says if enough play­ers are will­ing to go with him, he wants to form a break­away, more elite com­pe­ti­tion, akin to the Cham­pi­ons League in foot­ball.

His claims came after it was put to him that his great ri­val and friend, John Hig­gins, had said he is con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment.

“If he wants to play and finds the tour a bit of a grind, when you’re a top player, win­ning matches, trav­el­ling from here to here... I’m just wait­ing for four or five un­happy play­ers, be­cause I can’t go and play on my own. I’m ready to go,” O’Sul­li­van, who is the de­fend­ing cham­pion in York, told a press con­fer­ence.

“If some­one of­fered me the op­por­tu­nity to play on an­other plat­form, I would be gone to­mor­row. But un­for­tu­nately, with snooker, you do need an op­po­nent.

“For me, it’s a chance to maybe get John, the Chi­nese kids that have been banned, I know a cou­ple of other Chi­nese top-ranked play­ers that are not happy to keep trav­el­ling over to play qual­i­fiers at Barns­ley.”

O’Sul­li­van is un­doubt­edly one of the great­est en­ter­tain­ers snooker has ever had. In York he could pass 1,000 ca­reer cen­turies and many be­lieve his name props the sport up.

“There’s seven play­ers... that’s what I’m hop­ing for, enough play­ers that are a bit fed up and maybe want to play in a Cham­pi­ons League-style, where you still play for tro­phies, prize money, a onetable setup,” he added.

“I’ve got 15 years left in this game, I still think I can play to mid-fifties, eas­ily, so there’s no rush.”

O’Sul­li­van in­sists he does not want to ri­val the cur­rent tour, which hosts tour­na­ments all around the world, and reck­ons seven-time world cham­pion Stephen Hendry could come out of re­tire­ment to join him.

“I’m not look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive tour, I’m look­ing for seven or eight real top-qual­ity play­ers, Cham­pi­ons League style, ATP at the O2, best of the best, ev­ery match is a fi­nal,” he said.

“Ab­so­lutely. It’s a risk. I’m look­ing for peo­ple.. you can’t ex­pect peo­ple to come for noth­ing. Hendry’s up for it, bring him out of re­tire­ment, me, Hig­gins, three or four other good qual­ity play­ers.”

O’Sul­li­van says he has back­ers and ad­mits play­ers may pre­fer World Snooker’s tour be­cause of the op­tion to play at the Cru­cible and the Masters, but be­lieves lead­ing names hav­ing to play un­her­alded ones causes prob­lems.

“You don’t see Ley­ton Ori­ent turn­ing up to play (Lionel) Mes- si at Barcelona. They might play in the FA Cup, not week in, week out. It’s de­mo­ti­vat­ing,” he said.

“I think Messi would get fed up hav­ing to come out and play Hud­der­s­field Town and Ley­ton Ori­ent. He wants to play against (Cris­tiano) Ron­aldo, hear that Cham­pi­ons League mu­sic. I think there’s room for two tours.”

O’Sul­li­van be­lieves Hig­gins may have grown weary of the rigours of trav­el­ling around the world, and said in ten­nis Roger Fed­erer would not be asked to “come out at Rich­mond Park and qual­ify for Wim­ble­don”.

O’Sul­li­van plays Zhou Yue­long in the third round on Mon­day and World Snooker has been con­tacted to re­spond to his com­ments.

Its chair­man, Barry Hearn, did tweet O’Sul­li­van, in re­sponse to the player’s claim that Chi­nese pair Yu Delu and Cao Yu­peng, banned for match-fix­ing on Satur­day, had been harshly treated.

“Please keep such stupid com­ments to your­self. Your get­ting ridicu­lous and I ex­pect bet­ter from a player of your stand­ing. Enough,” Heard said.

Back on the ta­ble, Sh­effield­based Ding Jun­hui bat­tled back from 4-2 down against Matthew Selt to emerge 6-5 win­ner.

The 31-year-old Chi­nese pot­ter – who has lived in the Steel City since he was a teenager – strug­gled for flu­ency, but man­aged to close out vic­tory and faces fel­low coun­try­man Xiao Goudong in the third round.

“I tried so hard and I was happy to win,” said world No 8 Ding. “I wasn’t mak­ing big breaks so I had to find an­other way to win.”

But it was the end of the road for North York­shire’s Paul Dav­i­son. The 47-year-old from Pick­er­ing – the only York­shire player to emerge from a tough first-round draw – lost 6-1 to Yan Bing­tao.

In a high-scor­ing af­ter­noon ses­sion, Luca Bre­cel knocked in three con­sec­u­tive cen­turies in his 6-5 win over Liam High­field, while David Gil­bert bagged four tons to see off Peter Eb­don 6-4.

I think Messi would get fed up hav­ing to come out and play Hud­der­s­field. Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van wants to cre­ate snooker’s ver­sion of the Cham­pi­ons League.

PIC­TURE: PA

CLOSE CALL: Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van had to bat­tle back from 4-1 down to beat Ken Do­herty at the UK Cham­pi­onship yes­ter­day.

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